How to customize your yard

10 ways to put your owner's stamp on the landscape

In The Garden

May 19, 2002|By Mike Peters | By Mike Peters,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Some garden plans are clearly meant to impress the civic club. But the best designs offer more than "street appeal" -- they bring a smile to the owner's face.

That may mean giving more attention to the back yard, where you spend more time, than the front. How about big pots of colorful tropicals around your whimsical poolside chairs? Space for native plants? An edible border of multicolored mustards?

"I plan my garden as I wish I could plan my life, with islands of surprise, color and scent," writes Diane Ackerman in her book, Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden (HarperCollins, $25).

Whether you savor your landscape from bay windows, the patio or the deep embrace of a hammock, tailor the garden for your own maximum enjoyment. To build your personal garden retreat, consider these ideas.

1. Plant for flying friends. Most gardeners are eager to lure hummingbirds, and many hardy, colorful plants are magnets for these beautiful creatures. Pentas (the old-fashioned red ones) and buddleia will lure not only hummers but butterflies, too.

2. Plant for all seasons. How can we get more year-round color? We often do most of our planting in the spring, so we're most susceptible to the charm of plants that bloom from March to May. Mix plants with different flowering times to maximize the beauty of the garden year-round.

3. Bring on some buzz. Bringing wildlife to the garden is a visual treat. When you attract bees, you get choral music, too. And whether you grow ornamental flowers or edibles, you need pollination. 'African Blue' basil is one of many flowering herbs that lure bees. (Other basils will, too, but you'll probably want to pinch out flower buds on sweeter basils to produce more leaves.) Bees also love thyme and such flowering vines as purple hyacinth bean.

4. Plant for your nose. "What is that?" we've heard nursery shoppers murmur as they walk near 'Roberta,' the lusty pink rose that says "come hither" from 30 yards away. (It's also called 'Heritage' in the David Austin rose collection.) Many roses will keep a garden fragrant. So will hyacinths in early spring.

5. Say it in chartreuse. Alone, this color seems suitable for black-light posters or gummy worms. But garden designers could use chartreuse more -- and more effectively. When coloring a garden, try using lemon-lime as a transition. It is a great foil for power hues such as fluorescent pink, and it also complements most reds. Bedding plants include coleus and day lilies.

6. Plant for yourself. If you like an old-fashioned flower that's not in vogue today, don't wait for Martha Stewart to rediscover it. Plant it! Some designers gag at yellow and pink together, some think it's divine. If it looks good to you, it looks good.

7. Add more textures. Why settle for mere "leaves" when you can have swords, orbs and big feathery plumes, too? Look to ornamental grasses for specimens or shimmering drifts of "fountain" grass.

8. Supersize it. Hardy hibiscus deliver flowers as big as your head, while sunflowers can have a statuesque presence, especially varieties such as 'Mammoth Russian,' 'Soraya,' 'Giant Sungold' or the new 'Cappuccino Hybrid.' Giant alliums are the original blooming onions: big, loud and proud balls of glory.

9. Plant for twilight. If late afternoon or evening is your favorite time to sit on the patio, remember that whites and pastels show up best in twilight. Nicotiana can look scraggly by day, but at dusk the flower glows with an ethereal beauty (it's fragrant at the end of the day, too). Phlox paniculata 'David,' the 2002 perennial of the year, is an evening charmer.

10. Plant for dinner. Generations ago, folks needed a garden to produce food. Today, the edible landscape is a growing trend for city dwellers who don't have to grow their own groceries. No grocery-store tomato can compete with the taste of home-grown; raising your own salad greens and herbs adds interest to your meals and your garden.

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