Gardening: Make a list of your landscaping priorities.

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This patio setting is framed by its plants. For landscaping, keep the sequence of improvements in mind, especially for long-term projects.

Special to the Star-Telegram

We’ve spent much of this year just getting by – recovering from the aftermath of February’s cold.

By now we can assess those parts of our gardens that are most in need of repair, but for some of us, it’s a daunting task.

Where can we turn for professional help with our landscape designs? Where can we find inspiring ideas?

With several decades of working within the nursery and landscaping industry here in North Texas, I can offer a few pointers. These would be the tips I’d give to a friend.

  • Make note of those landscapes you really like and take photos of the parts that most catch your eye. You might even knock on the door and ask whom they’ve used. Most folks will be flattered with such a question.
  • Ask for names and referrals at your favorite independent retail garden center. They probably have good working relationships with local landscape designers. They’ll be happy to give you several names. Some of the most creative landscapes in North Texas have come from the minds of landscape designers. They may or may not have had formal schooling in the field, but they have great knowledge of plants and a wonderful feel for how to combine them into attractive plantings that will mature nicely together.
  • Many nurseries even have their own staff members who do this kind of design for a fee. Ask for addresses where you can drive by to see how their jobs look. If they’re reluctant to share actual addresses, at least ask to see photographs.
  • If the nursery has a wholesale division (probably using another entrance, often out in the back), they probably work with landscape contractors. Those are the men and women who are out on the front lines picking up plants and delivering, planting and maintaining them for their customers. They don’t have storefronts of their own, but they’re some of the most important people in the industry. They’re in your neighborhood daily. Get to know the best ones who work around you. Some of them have good command of basic design principles.
  • Registered landscape architects represent the ultimate in training when it comes to planning fine gardens. They’ve had formal schooling, and they are licensed in Texas. If you need to have a bridge or retaining wall built, and if there are elements of physics involved, they know how to design them. Plus, they understand scale, proportion, balance, even drainage – all those things we mere mortals might overlook.
  • However, there are two places I find that landscape architects can fall short. First, some of them aren’t as well versed on the plants that they’re using. They’ve been trained in architecture schools rather than in horticulture. And second, there aren’t very many landscape architects who work on residential designs – at least not of everyday homes.

Things to gather as you plan your design

Fall and winter are great times to work with landscaping planners. They’re not as busy now, so you won’t feel so rushed. Here are some suggestions of things you’ll want to consider as you get ready for the first meeting.

  • Make a list of your landscaping priorities. Do you need recreational space for kids or grandkids, or are you planning a pool or a greenhouse? Mark it all down. Have your needs changed as your family has matured? Perhaps some of the old features need to be taken out and replaced. This is the time to do it. Put those on your list.
  • As mentioned, collect photos of things that you like that you see in others’ gardens. Make a list of things you don’t like about your own landscape. Remember that you’re creating another “room” to your house, not just painting a green stripe around its perimeter. Get full use out of the effort.
  • Keep the sequence of improvements in mind. Long-term things that either take years to mature or that would disrupt their surroundings were they to be added later need to go first. That list would include new hardscaping (patio or deck, walks, fence, etc.), new turf (to be planted beginning next April), any new trees or large shrubs, groundcovers, and finally annuals and perennials.
  • Take this opportunity to create new bed designs. Perhaps the old shrub and groundcover beds were under-sized, or maybe they were long and rectangular (visually boring). This is your chance to create a garden with flair.
  • If you’ve paid close attention to what I’ve just written, you’ve seen your own number called many times in this process. Much of this planning needs to start with you. Your landscape must reflect your own tastes and personality. It has to fit comfortably. No matter whom you hire to help you, this is going to be a team effort, and you can either be the quarterback or the receiver. Either way, it’s going to take both of you for you to score the touchdown.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am. Join him at www.neilsperry.com and follow him on Facebook.

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