<strong>Midsummer’s Dream: Six rules of the green thumb</strong>

Published on June 27, 2014
Garden path

As you kick back in your yard this month, drinking in the benefits of a hot weekend, I urge you to do some dreaming.

With the beauty of the summer garden before you there is a distinct advantage to dreaming about how you would change things in your garden later this season or next.  I am here to assist you in this process with six rules of green thumb that will guide you down a garden path of success:

Here is how you get there:

Know where to go:  Begin with a path system that is simple, clean and generously wide.  And always provide a way ‘home.’ Avoid dead ends, as people will always hesitate to walk down them. Do not mix up the materials used for your path system without a purpose in mind for doing so. For main artery paths make them at least 1½ metres wide, to accommodate two people walking side by side.Mind your step: Changing elevations will create the impression that your yard and garden are larger than they actually are. The popularity of the ‘sunken living room’ proved that a long time ago. Stairs with a six-inch (15 cm) rise or lower are most comfortable to navigate.  Grass or no grass? I am a fan of lawns. I am also a fan of mass perennial plantings, perennial ground covers and even porous parking places have their place in the density of downtown. A lawn is the most sophisticated ground cover of them all: able to withstand foot traffic, drought and without the rigorous maintenance schedule that many suppose. Know that a lawn has its’ place, mostly where it compliments existing hardscaping and gardens, where ‘play activity’ is anticipated and where the cooling effects of it can be taken advantage of, like around the deck and patio.  Flowers are nice: but there is MORE: Impulsive creatures that we are, we often reach for the shrub/perennial/annual that provides us with the longest lasting dash of colour – we often interpret this as ‘value for money.’ However do not overlook the outstanding non-flowering features of many plants. Look for bark colour, fragrance, and of course texture in the form of deeply veined leaves.Sit and Entertain: A backyard garden design will include space for lounging, cooking (barbecuing) and entertaining. Be sure that you provide enough space to do the job justice. Leave at least one meter around chairs (measured from the assumed position of the chair as you would sit in it at the table) and lounges.  Avoid steep slopes or even the slightest drop-off where the edge of your patio or deck meets the lawn/pathway or garden bed.  If that is not possible, remember that railings serve a purpose here.Safety:The ‘railing’ around the deck and patio is just the beginning where safety is concerned. Be sure to secure paving stones well (no wobbles!). Consider garden lighting from a safety point of view: it can help immensely while walking around the garden after the sun goes down and it can enhance your garden view in ways that you have never imagined. Create stairs and sloping pathways that are gradual and in no way surprise a visitor. 

While I encourage you to dream about the changes that you plan on making to your garden consider hiring a professional garden designer or landscape architect to help you put it together.

 I am a firm believer in second opinions – I hired one when I was designing my 10-acre garden eight years ago and have no regrets even though I wrote a book on the subject. As my gardening friend Denis Flanagan likes to say, “There is no garden more difficult to design than your own.” In fact the advice that I received from my garden designer more than paid for itself in saved mistakes and an all-round better design that has served my purposes. Dream your summer away, dear gardeners.

Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday morning at 8:40. He is spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden.  Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com.