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Landscaping, A Thoughtful Approach
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

February 10, 2002

With the first warm breeze of spring a wee thought tickles the gardening part of our minds. As we look at the catalogues, knowing that doing some serious planting is far too early, a little thought threads its way into deliberate cognition coalescing into one word: landscape. 
Landscaping has taken many forms from the elaborate parterres of the Renaissance to Lancelot Brown's natural lines in eighteenth century England. Garden plantings have alternated between the Victorian's precise carpet beddings to Monet's exuberant chaos. We continue these traditions urged on by that wee thought. We create works of art blending natural beauty with the contrived placement of objects. We add plant materials, alter the contours of the ground and plunk down a variety of bits and pieces, from rocks to sundials to gazebos. Here's a caution: without careful design and planning, however, a gazebo in the middle of the yard will always be nothing more than a gazebo in the middle of the yard.
The practical goal of landscaping is to satisfy the requirement of an alteration. The purpose a retaining wall is to hold back the earth: the purpose of a path is to lead one's feet to a specific destination no matter how pleasant the journey. Once these parameters are met, we can look beyond function and focus on the wholeness of our design. How well does it unify the environment?
Unity is attained by the application of design principles (balance, repetition, variety, emphasis, sequence and scale) to the design qualities (line, form, texture and colour). That's quite a statement. In varying forms this guideline is repeated in almost any designing sphere from interior decorating to automobile manufacturing. These elements and qualities interact in an infinite series with the challenge being to fuse them into a pleasing workable whole.
The key to achieving unity is planning. Before you start to sketch, write down exactly what you want to do and why you want to do it. Decide: how involved is the project, is it a one summer effort or will it be spread over several years, what accommodations must be made during construction. You may be surprised at some discoveries you make during this exercise. 
Now you get to indulge in the fun part- drawing your masterpiece. Have fun and let your imagination run wild. Swooping curves, elegant terraces and exotic plants are all permissible. But . . . and there always is a but, no matter how intricate the design tie it into its use. Does that wonderfully curving path from the patio to the shed have the proper substrate to support the traffic? Is the rose-covered trellis wide enough for a wheelbarrow of compost to pass through?
There are four more steps before implementing your masterpiece. These are the fiddly administrative bits that aren't quite so fun but are certainly very important. Visit the building inspector: will that bit of terracing alter the natural drainage patterns illegally? Visit the professionals at your favourite nursery: will those exotic plants survive? Visit a trusted contractor: can this design be built? Finally, visit your bank account: no comment necessary.
Landscaping gives us the means of presenting nature's wonderful diversity in a pleasing fashion that draws the eye, invites comment and inspires new gardeners. As gardeners, what more could we ask?

Dan - Diploma in Agriculture, University of Guelph, 1979 and Diploma in Horticulture, University of Guelph, Kemptville Campus, 1999. In between, and a little bit on the other, been a soldier, an orchardist [10 yrs manager of a large commercial orchard] and a social worker [ten years as interpreter, advocate and linguistic analyst focussing on deafness]. Currently employed at a large garden centre/ nursery as the wholesaler. 

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