Part Three: After Pictures of a Landscape Design

This blog post concludes a series of posts following the installation of a design project by B.B.Barns Landscape. Post one, which includes the before pictures and the overall idea of the design, can be read here. Post two, which is the installation process, can be read here. 

The design is the creative work of Amy Nies, landscape designer for B.B.Barns Landscape and the inspiration of Jason Hanna, Customer Relations Manager.

(To read more about our landscape services, click here.)

This particular design follows the design techniques of Thomas Rainer of Phyto Studio in Washington, D.C. and author of the book, Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes. For more information on Thomas Rainer and his visionary designs, read here

This is Rainer's concept of design, relying heavily on the use of groundcovers instead of mulch and planting an area with plugs to reduce cost and allow for tighter planting.

The emphasis in this design is on the use of plugs (blog post two discusses the significance of plugs). As you look over the before and after pictures, notice how the mulch disappears and in its place are groundcovers (grasses and sedges) and perennials (coreopsis, catmint, foam flowers, and black-eyed Susans), then shrubs and trees. The goal is denser plantings to reduce maintenance for the homeowner, and create a more ecologically friendly and natural garden. Nothing looks more unnatural than landscapes full of mulch but no plantings. The pictures below show the process, please click on each picture for more on the design, and refer to Nies' design for plant names.  

Design done by Amy Nies, landscape designer for B.B. Barns Garden Center. 

This is a typical, newly planted suburban landscape: lots of mulch, a few new trees,  scattered evergreen shrubs, and the addition of a few perennials or flowering shrubs. This type of planting--a lot of mulch and few plants--is done because most homeowners prefer less maintenance, and assume this type of landscape is the way to achieve that. Mulch does help with moisture and weed retention but it has it's own level of maintenance and cost, and leaves huge swaths of land under-planted.   

 If  you refer to Nies' design above, you see the use of plugs to create a more naturalized planting with grasses in the foreground of this picture (Little Blue Stem or   Schizachyrium schoparium ).  A native grass that is drought tolerant and beautiful in every season, it will eventually fill in the mulched area, reducing the need for mulch and giving visual appeal all year (the grasses can be left through winter for interest, cutting back in late spring). In front of the grass (not seen in picture) is a groundcover called Green and Gold, or   Chrysogonum virginianum var. Australe  .   For seasonal theme, the Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum' is behind the grasses.

If  you refer to Nies' design above, you see the use of plugs to create a more naturalized planting with grasses in the foreground of this picture (Little Blue Stem or Schizachyrium schoparium). A native grass that is drought tolerant and beautiful in every season, it will eventually fill in the mulched area, reducing the need for mulch and giving visual appeal all year (the grasses can be left through winter for interest, cutting back in late spring). In front of the grass (not seen in picture) is a groundcover called Green and Gold, or Chrysogonum virginianum var. Australe. For seasonal theme, the Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum' is behind the grasses.

Long view of the landscape pre-installation. All mulched areas are now filled in with naturalizing plants, reducing maintenance and mulch.

Plugs used here are Carex laxiculmus 'Bunny Blue Hobbs'. A silvery blue sedge, it gets 12" tall and mounding. Perfect for a shade-to-sun spot and used as a groundcover. Creeping thyme (surrounding stone steps) is also used as a groundcover. For the seasonal theme, perennials are incorporated. 'Walker's Low' catmint, 'Goldstrum' rudbeckia, 'Full Moon' coreopsis, tiarella foam flower, and more. Refer to design for a full description of plants. 

Blank mulched area now planted with plugs used to naturalize and reduce weeds and maintenance.

Little Bluestem grasses and Bunny Blue Hobbs mixed with Coreopsis x 'Full Moon'. (This part of the landscape not shown in above design.)

Already, without much plant growth in this first season, the beds look more natural. As Rainer said,  "You don't see little circles of mulch in nature." No, you don't. That doesn't forget the mulch entirely, but minimize it as the designer and gardener (the homeowner) begin to work together toward an ecologically friendly, but still aesthetic, environment.  The title of one of Rainer's blog posts is Nature In The Future Will Look More Like a Garden. Based on the premise that nature is being urbanized at an unprecedented pace, a pace that suburbia is not attempting to mitigate at present, Rainer believes the long, grassy continuance of America's backyard is the logical place for nature's restoration. 

If nature is being developed and is no longer "out there" then the landscape designers and horticulturists, who take their cues from nature, have a responsibility not just to create visually pleasing gardens, but to create ones that mimic nature. A stark difference from the tree, shrub, perennial, and annual we plant in our garden beds. Rainer's work suggests that suburbia is severely under-planted, and our circles of mostly mulch are proof. Planting dense plant populations creates less work for the homeowner in the long term (short term, until the plugs, have filled in, the weeding will be more intensive) and is more visually appealing while aiding the need for diverse, pollinating plant population.

The design above, inspired by Rainer's vision, is the first of many B.B.Barns Landscape hopes to install using this technique. As we look to the future of gardening, we also look to the future of nature, since nature may now be in a garden. 

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach, and blog writer.

B.B.Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.

Bsnner picture provided by Thomas Rainer of Phyto Studios.