Starting a Landscape From Scratch

Someone posted in a facebook group asking for advice for landscaping and starting a garden for a brand new “blank canvas” yard.

My thoughts, speaking as someone who also started with a “blank slate” and made a mix of good and bad calls.

Make note of the sun and shade patterns over the course of the year. Where are the wet spots when it rains? If in a snow area, where does the snow stick around longest, where does it melt first? All this tells you about your micro-climates, which can be good when you are picking a spot for a finicky plant.

Focus on the quality of your soil. You can buy the best plants in the world but if you have crappy soil “stuff ain’t gonna grow”. Hint: if you need a jackhammer to till the ground, it’s crappy soil.

Order a lot of veggie / tree / flower catalogs and also visit the library and check out a huge stack of “idea” books. Go to the local garden center and look at the plants they have for sale. This is great for seeing how the flowers actually look “live” and not just in pictures.

Get a topographical map of your property (you can usually get them from the county/city offices), make a zillion copies of it, and work out your ideas. Dream big. Be picky.

Start with annuals and “disposable” plants your first year. This gives you time to spend a year just watching the yard and thinking about what to plant where, what trees you would like, what are your favorite plants, and realistically, identify (and rule out) what would you really love to grow but it just isn’t going to work in your garden zone. (I’m looking at you, olive, avocado, and grapefruit trees). Remember that it’s easier to dig and move a small flower than a tree, once you’ve planted it.

Be willing to fail: not everything you plant will live. Make DAMN sure before you plant anything potentially invasive (like mint). Because that stuff will not only live, but THRIVE.

Topsoil and compost for the garden.

Topsoil and compost for the garden.

This is what it looks like when you get a truckload of ten cubic yards of mixed compost and topsoil delivered, and this is why I took the day off today. I’m doomed. But I’m going to have amazing veggies this year. I can already taste the carrots.

This weekend’s project is to start moving this into the vegetable garden raised beds.

Uses for Dead Tree Branches in Landscaping

Uses for Dead Tree Branches in Landscaping

We had a dead elm tree in our backyard, which I honestly was fine with for the most part, because a dead tree makes all kinds of wild things very happy. The local woodpeckers are well fed. Last spring a raccoon decided it was a wonderful place for a nest and raising babies. (At least until she encountered our cats…and it had been such a great neighborhood until those feline low-lifes moved in…). The tree was alive when we bought the land, but it was old and sadly did not survive the construction process. This month, it split and fell during a windstorm.


Shopping for Topsoil, Compost, and Mulch

Today’s fun was a massive purchase of topsoil, compost, and mulch from The Rockpile, which is one of my favorite local garden and landscape supply stores. The shopping list: 10 cubic yards of their Premium topsoil blend (a mix of locally sourced topsoil, sand, and leaf compost), 10 cubic yards of compost, and another 15 cubic yards of mulch. The good black mulch for the front yard, to look nice, and the “organic brown” for the backyard, where I’m more focused on sheer “keep the weeds down” functionality than on “let’s wow the neighbors”.

About half the topsoil and compost is going to enhance and raise my main vegetable garden, as that area ends up with a lot of standing water after heavy rainstorms, and needs more building up  than than I can generate from my compost pile!  The rest will go towards adding fruit trees and building new planting beds in the front and back yards. I’m looking also at filling in a little along the north side of the house, where the land slopes down from the house towards our swale/drainage ditch.  I want to turn that area into a small path with plantings to the sides.

While I was there I also ordered two tons of decorative blue granite “river pebbles” to fill in  the edging between my back patio and the house.  I suspect there will be plenty extra, but I have no doubt I can “find a spot”. 🙂

I’m planning on five separate deliveries, so that I don’t kill myself trying to deal with all of it at once. For reference: 1 cubic yard of topsoil = about 13 wheelbarrow-fulls. I’m calling this my springtime exercise program.

The Rockpile, Avon, Ohio - photo of garden center building with flower pots and flowers in front.

The Rockpile – Garden Center and Landscape Supplies in Avon, Ohio

(Note: I do not receive promotional consideration for this post. I just like The Rockpile and I believe in supporting local businesses. I did receive permission from them to use their photo).