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irrigation design basicsIrrigation is not an essential part of a landscape. You don’t have to irrigate a landscape. Your good plant choices and proper timing for planting will help the plants do alright without irrigation. Irrigation is for landscapes where you want a higher level of quality. Plants love having a reliable source of water. The amount of irrigation you need is dependent on what level of plant quality you are willing to accept.

Compromise is an important word for irrigation design. A perfect design provides even, head-to-head coverage. Good irrigation design, though, reduces that coverage by omitting heads in low-moisture requirement zones like mulched beds under trees and along the edges of buildings.  Check your design to see if there are ribbons of landscape that can make do with a row of heads on only one side. Narrow strips of land between a sidewalk and a curb can be planted in a drought-tolerant grass and may need no irrigation at all. On steep slopes, consider running a line of heads at the top of the hill and allow the water to run down the slope. This can provide adequate coverage all the way to the bottom. Adequate is acceptable in many circumstances. Consolidate high-moisture requiring plants and irrigate only what has high needs.

You need to design with compromises because some zones in the landscape are difficult to access or the plant material is not worth the extra cost. On public projects, irrigation may not be allowed. The budget may be limited. Irrigation systems deteriorate. Without regular maintenance, an irrigation system might last only a couple of years before leaking and damage cause it to be turned off permanently. Your

Good Pruning Requires An Aesthetic Reference for Quality

Being Raised Right

This is what the tree looked like before.

pruning mistakes

















This is what it looked like after it was pruned.

pruning mistakes

Some people might say, “There’s no accounting for taste.” I don’t agree. This obvious pruning tragedy was a result of a missing aesthetic reference for quality. If you were never taught what is beautiful, you won’t be able to recognize beauty or appreciate it enough to preserve it.

Contractors can be taught. A maintenance work plan must be specific about how work should be accomplished. It must be specific about the consequences of non-compliance, and who will be responsible for monitoring the work. Follow through with punitive fees for not following clear maintenance specifications.

High quality maintenance pruning is something that comes naturally for some people, but others need to be taught. Crews can be taught by trained supervisors. Field trips to see both good and bad examples of pruning can help. You cannot assume that everyone working on your landscape project will be sensitive to natural forms and artistic shapes. 

Free Plants Every Spring

A New Year with New Beginnings

free plants every springWe’ve been having a warm spell this February, and I am encouraged by the new sprouts emerging from the garden cloche cuttings I stuck in the ground last fall. I buried some stems of my favorite shrubs as deeply as possible into moist soil and covered them with large upside-down jars for the winter. To hedge my bets, I surrounded the glass jars with bubble wrap to keep the stems extra warm and toasty. Then I pulled pine straw around the bottom to keep out cold winds. When the weather warms in the spring, I pull off the jars and, voila! New plants.

free plants every springIt’s easy to build a collection of garden cloche jars. The traditional bell jars are quite expensive, but I visit thrift stores and yards sales for fifty-cent versions. Old floral containers work just fine. The handy handle topper is missing, but I can manage without it. The bigger the jars, the better.

The jars act like tiny greenhouses, holding in moisture and sunlight and warmth. Some shrub species accept this propagation method very willingly—Hydrangeas and Roses, especially. Can you have too many Hydrangeas and Roses? I don’t think so!

Looking for the Best Winter Blooms?

Nothing Beats Pieris for Cold Weather Flowers

winter flowers, winter landscape, winter bloomsOne of my favorite plants shines when all the others are dormant—Pieris. It is also called Andromeda, but Pieris is easier to say. It has some wonderful features. It is evergreen with beautiful, shiny leaves. It is tall and narrow, but not too tall—one of the few plants that actually fits long-term in the tight places near entrance steps, flanking doorways, without spilling out on to the sidewalk and blocking the way. In early spring the new foliage is bright red. In fall, the flower buds are crimson. Not only that, this polite little plant blooms its heart out with large clusters of pinkish white bells in January!

The Callaway Gardens Vegetable Garden

The Victory Garden is Defeated

victory garden south, callaway vegetable gardenIt was sad to see the recent closing of one of the greatest gardening displays in the United States. The Callaway Gardens Vegetable Garden showcase is no more, as a result of shifting priorities away from horticulture. There were not enough visitors. This wonderful gardens simply could not last during the repeated recessions of the last couple of decades. The venue displayed home gardening on a grand scale.

The John A. Sibley Horticultural Center

Sadly Missed

botanical gardens, horticulture, horticultural centerSwiftly and silently, the powers that be decided to close one of the greatest horticultural displays in the United States. Sibley Center is no more. Callaway Gardens has shifted priorities from horticulture and floral beauty to resort and golf. That is the way with wonderful gardens. They simply cannot last during prolonged recessions. I am so happy I was able to spend a lot of time there when my children were young, so they could see ornamental horticulture done on a grand scale.

Sibley opened in 1984 as part of an expansion inside Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA. It was designed by Robert E. Marvin and Associates to be a showcase of energy-efficient blending of indoors and out, with folding walls that could be open during warm weather and could close to protect vegetation from extreme cold. 

About Shrubs

professional plant advice, sage leafI am a plant nerd. My fascination started at summer camps and state parks, touring woodland wildflower trails with experts on edible natives and shady stream ephemerals. In college I was motivated to study landscape architecture after being inspired by Mary Wharton, my professor and author of A Guide to the Wildflowers & Ferns of Kentucky and Trees & Shrubs of Kentucky, books I still refer to today. During my landscape architecture internship, Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses was the essential reference in the landscape industry, and I read it cover to cover. It was such a privilege to hear so many great plant experts speak, and even better to visit their home gardens.

My background is in landscape architecture with a strong emphasis on horticulture. I did a lot of industrial campus plans and municipal work before being hired to review landscape design plans for a state department of transportation, and I worked, early in my career, on large-scale planting and irrigation plans. I did lots of residential work, too. I got to know the green industry and gained practical experience in how to keep plants alive and maintain them. You get to know plant species after specifying several hundred of them on a single site!

I reviewed thousands of landscape plans, and also provided technical advice for anything related to landscapes, wrote contract specifications for planting and grassing, wrote maintenance specifications and work plans, and created statewide policies for roadside landscape projects and permits. I also helped create a statewide landscape grant program and vegetation management permit policy which provided ongoing funding for the program.

It has been great fun doing all this, but what good is it for a single person? I want to share the practical and experiential advice I learned with you. It takes a long time to become a professional landscape design and plant expert, because so much of what is realized comes from hearing the stories and experiences of in-the-field landscape industry professionals. I never read that the Red Maple species are much stronger in storms than its cultivars. I learned that while riding in a truck to a construction site with a seasoned landscape contractor. An owner of an industrial landscape maintenance company explained to me how sensitive Sweet Gums are to root disturbance. A garden club lady taught me not to prune back perennials with hollow stems in the fall to avoid rain rotting out the root system before spring growth could begin. Being a master gardener volunteer for many years gave me a wealth of information from agriculture extension, too.

What do I want to tell you about shrubs and ornamental plants?

• You have thousands of choices. Choose wisely and you will avoid lots of pruning later.

• Flowers provide color, but you can achieve longer-lasting interest and a more sophisticated landscape composition by using foliage color and textural contrast.

• You can use the tips and guidance on this web site to use plants to their fullest potential and create some amazing landscapes. It may seem simple to pick up a truck-load of container plants, walk around on a site with shovel in hand, and plant them.

The devil is in the details, though!

I want to share as much as I can with you about what I’ve learned over the years, but you can find detailed information in my Advanced Guide to Shrubs eBook, coming soon. I would love to hear your comments and about your roadside enhancement stories and experiences, too.

Advanced Guide to Shrubs, professional plant advice







You might also enjoy the Advanced Guide to Landscape Grants eBook, full of practical tips for applying for funding and making your beautification project a success.

Advanced Guide to Landscape Grants









Professional Pruning Techniques

Pruning Creates or Maintains a Shrub’s Natural Form

topiary, pruning shrubs, professional pruning techniquesTopiary is a delight. Controlling nature is an impressive show of power. Too much power corrupts, according to Lord Acton. I will paraphrase his famous words—Put down your electric shears.

Good pruning is like a good haircut. There are times when a dramatic, Avant guard, blunt cut is exciting, but most trimming should look natural. The best way to prune is to clip away anything that challenges a plant’s natural shape, and hide the cut deep within the remaining foliage. Limit the tortured, manipulated geometric shapes to theme parks and special display areas. Pruning shrubs into unnatural shapes brings decline, cuts off potential blooms, and is inappropriate for every setting (except a formal parterre garden).

Avoid the temptation to create green balls and trapezoids out of foundation evergreens. It’s tacky. I’ll leave it at that. Professional landscape designers create maintenance specifications that prohibit the use of electric shears for this very reason. Look at the excellent example of specialty shearing in the photograph. Everything tapers to a wider base, so sunlight can reach all the branches. This topiary menagerie has lasting quality because the professional pruning crew understands plant material.