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Less is More
by Jerry Filipski
by Jerry Filipski


Gerald (Jerry) Filipski is the gardening columnist for the Edmonton Journal, a position he has enjoyed as a freelance writer for the past 12 years. Jerry also writes for Canadian Gardening, the new Alberta Gardener as well as for the lifestyle magazine of P&O ferries. Jerry also does numerous public speaking engagements including some major gardening conferences and workshops as well as question and answer sessions for Wal-Mart and Rona.

April 13, 2008

The best landscape designer and contractor has to be Mother Nature. Just take a few minutes next time you are out at the lake or on vacation in the mountains to look at the landscape objectively. If you are looking for a landscape that is low maintenance then take your lessons from nature.

Many gardeners get hung up with what is right and wrong when it comes to panning their landscape. Should the plantings all have odd numbers of plants in the groupings? Should you mix non-complementary colours? Should the design be formal or informal? Should you always have tall plants in the back of bed and shorter in the front? These are all rules that I remember when I took my landscape design courses but over the years I know that many of these rules are meant to be interpreted and are not written in stone. Mother Nature is an excellent example.

I spent many hours surviving my second home property looking at how to landscape it. The more I studied it the more I realized that I didn't want to do much to what was there already. The natural stands of trees framed the view. The plants growing under and in and around the trees filled in the spaces nicely. There were even shorter grasses in front of those shrubs that finished off the picture. Sure I'm going to clean up the space removing some of the deadfall and pulling a few weeds. I'm also planning on adding some favourite plants but in a way that they look integrated with the existing natural landscape. Some plants just look out of place in a natural landscape. Plants that are heavy bloomers, for example, would look better next to the house rather than placed in the natural scene.

Personally, I was not planning on creating a low maintenance landscape but it has worked out to be that way because I have decided to let Mother Nature paint the majority of the canvas. I'm just going to be the assistant. The plants I have always wanted to grow and are hardy out on our property in BC will find a home closer to the house where I can enjoy them. The natural setting at the back of the property and the view will remain unspoiled. Because I'm a huge fan of Rhododendrons and there are many that grow wild in BC, I plan on integrating the Rhodos into the natural landscape. I also plan on adding some native grasses and wildflowers to finish off the scene.

Think of it like an artist finishing off a nearly completed painting.

Some of the advantages of this type of landscaping are cost saving and the impact on the environment. Using native plants can be a very cost effective way of landscaping a second home. You may be able to transplant existing plants or often you can find a local supplier of seeds. Also, since these plants are acclimatized to the area they are in they usually require less water and require little, if any, fertilizer.

Take a few minutes to take in your natural setting and you too may realize that the best landscape is already in place. There are many good books on the market that talk about landscaping with native plants. 2 good ones are:

  • Natural Landscaping: Designing with Native Plant Communities by John Diekelmann
  • Grow Wild!: Low-Maintenance, Sure-Success, Distinctive Gardening with Native Plants by Lorraine Johnson and Andrew Leyerle

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row