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Design – Two Ways

Revolutionary Yardscape

Everywhere you go there are instructions on how to be more ‘green’. The Reduce, Reuse, Recycle logo shows up on recycling barrels, and on our clothes. We organic gardeners have certainly been recycling as we turn our garden and kitchen waste into valuable compost, but a whole new level of reusing and recycling is turning up in the garden.

I’ve managed to rescue chicken wire fencing and cardboard from our transfer station, but in his new book The Revolutionary Yardscape (Timber Press $22.95) Matthew Levesque takes the idea of reuse to strange and wonderful places in the garden..

Levesque has worked as a builder and remodeler so it is no surprise that he looks to demolition and construction yards for raw materials. We can all look to the transfer station, a neighbor’s remodeling project or second hand and re-use stores for material to use in unexpected and stunning ways.

I learned some new words like gabion, the wire or metal cage that can hold riprap stone or other materials, often used in road building to control erosion. Levesque uses stacked gabions to hold large light fixtures he has made out of glass half spheres and plumbing hubs. Talk about a sculptural light fixture!

Levesque uses tubes and pipes of various materials, wire of various sizes, metals, plastics, glass, stone and timber to make planters, seating, lighting, tables, paving, barriers and ornaments.

I was fascinated by the number of items he found to make a trendy rain chain that would direct water from the roof. Instead of an expensive and decorative rain chain he begins with plain heavy chain from the hardware  store, then doubled or tripled lighter chains, on to heavy copper wire spiraled using a broomstick, short plastic or ceramic tubes linked on a heavy wire and groups of old keys linked on wire. How much stuff do you have in your basement or shed that could be turned into a handsome rain chain?

Levesque gives advice about basic tools that will be necessary, and simple techniques. He does give directions for particular projects, but this is also a book that will get your creative juices flowing. You’ll never look at a stack of pipes or chimney tiles the same way again. In fact, he warns this may be a problem. He says sometimes you just have to walk away from those intriguing and thrilling bits of junk you found.

Perennial Gardener's Design Primer

Stephanie Cohen and Nancy J. Ondra focus on the plants in the perennial garden and the healthy ways they can be maintained and combined in their new book, The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer: The Essential Guide to Creating Simply Sensational Gardens (Storey Publishing $24.95).

Both Ondra and Cohen have written other books about gardening; Cohen also teaches advanced perennial design at Temple University. This book will keep you busy all winter making up plant lists, not only of perennials but of ‘perennial partners’ like grasses, bulbs – and annuals – as well as sketching out plans for new gardens, enlargements of a garden, or renovating a garden. My husband has put his foot down about building any more gardens, but I was happy to see it stated in black and white, that enlarging a garden doesn’t count as a new garden.

I find that the first difficult thing about designing a garden is choosing the plants. You need to put plants together that need the same conditions, sun or shade, wet or dry. Do you know enough about the plants you like to be able to do this? No problem. Cohen and Ondra have provided several pages of charts that will give cultural requirements for hundreds of plants including bloom season and size. After you have your plant choices you can begin to design, with the advice and tips they give you in From Dream to Reality.

If the dream needs some inspiration this book includes 20 plans for a variety of gardens from a formal border, a meadow garden, a cottage garden and gardens for shade or sun or easy care.

The section on color gardens was useful to me because last spring I made a blue and white garden. This was not because of any design I had in mind, but because I had removed an out of control shrub and didn’t have any idea what to do next. My solution was blue and white plants, delphiums, daisies, salvia, and snow in summer, because blue and white always looks pretty together. Cohen and Ondra give plant lists for a white garden (shades of Sissinghurst) and a hot orange garden, as well as others. These suggestions are helpful if you love a color or color range but don’t know quite how to put it together.

Of particular interest to me was the section where the two of them reveal their own gardens from brand new beds, to an enlargement to a renewal. It is always fun to see what the experts create for themselves, and what their thought process looks like.

These books are perfect for whiling away those quiet evenings after the holidays, when the year is new and all things seem possible. You might want to start keeping notes.

Don’t forget – today is the last day to leave a comment on my Dec. 1 post to participate in my Blogoversary Giveaway.

Between the Rows   November 27, 2010

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