Saturday, September 20, 2003

Grow your own Landscape

An attractive yard is a sound investment; to do it yourself takes planning, patience and creativity

By Beth Burwinkel
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Colleen Smith works in her back yard with daughter Hannah, who shares a garden with her sister.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
It happens all the time: After months of anticipation, people move into their new dream houses - to bare walls, empty rooms, undressed windows and yards made up of little more than fresh sod or seed and straw.

What's a new homeowner - financially drained from the closing and saddled with competing new-house demands - to do?

If landscaping is near the top of the list, they can hire a professional. Or they can conduct their own research and gradually do the work themselves.

"A good landscape adds value to your home," says Tom Fryman, a landscape architect who teaches landscape design classes at the University of Cincinnati. "Install a nice landscape and you are going to come out ahead."

We talked to two couples taking the do-it-yourself route who are spreading the work and expense of landscaping over several years.

Ken Smith sketched out a landscape plan for the front yard before his new Mason home was completed. He and his wife, Colleen, asked their builder to install an extra flower bed in the front yard.

After moving into their house in fall 2001, the Smiths waited for the new sod to become established before making improvements in early 2002. First, they fenced the back yard - a necessity for Sam, their border collie mix. Then they tilled a square in the back yard, amended the soil with topsoil and compost and created a vegetable garden.

They planned island beds in the center of the back yard and in one of the rear corners. They bought a lot of the plants at end-of-the-season sales and installed the island beds last fall.

Ken planted a dawn redwood, a green ash, a sunset maple and a purple leaf plum.

"We really have been experimenting a lot," Colleen said.

Since their older daughter, Hannah, 5, shows a strong interest in gardening, the Smiths created a children's garden this year for Hannah and her sister, Lauryn, 14 months. In early April, they created a plot outside the dining room window and planted cosmos and bachelor buttons from seed.

Also this year, the Smiths designed a deck and hired a contractor to build it.

Next year, they hope to install a patio next to the deck and create a landscape bed in another rear corner of the yard.

The Smiths began gardening together after they married in 1995 and moved into a townhouse with a small space for plants. When they moved to a single-family home in West Chester Township in 1997, they had more space for gardening.

Colleen, who says she's no expert, picked up tips from members of a garden club she joined in her West Chester Township neighborhood. She scours a local garden center's newsletter for ideas and pays attention to landscapes in other yards. She enjoys visiting with gardeners.

"Someday maybe I'll be the person people ask for advice," Colleen says.

Classes are offered

Lisa Adams took a landscape design class at the Warren County Career Center before setting out to landscape the yard in her new Mason home.

During the class, Adams learned to create a landscape plan. She and her husband, Matt, implemented a piece of the plan this summer.

"I've got phases," Lisa says. "That's really the way you have to look at it. It's probably a five-year plan by the time we're done with everything we want to do."

Adams, who has lived in her house a year, created landscape beds at the back of her yard this year because she wanted to look out the kitchen and family room windows to see trees and shrubs.

The couple chose a combination of deciduous and evergreen trees and flowering shrubs, including weigela, burning bush, potentilla, barberry and spiraea, maple, pin oak, white pine and Canadian hemlock.

"I learned a lot from the class," Adams says. "Some of the things I put in before I took the class are definitely planted a little too close together."

In the fall, Adams would like to do some work on the side yard. Next spring she hopes they will build a deck and fence the back yard.

"We have some island beds planned for different parts of the yard," she says.

The Smiths' four-year plan

Fall 2001: Ken and Colleen Smith moved into their new home. The back yard was freshly laid sod.

2002: The Smiths fenced the back yard, set up the girls' play set, tilled the topsoil to create a vegetable garden and planted several trees and two island beds in the back yard. They planted a birch tree in the front yard.

2003: The Smiths designed a deck and hired a contractor to build it. They landscaped around the deck and created a children's garden for their girls with annuals.

Plans for 2004: Next spring, the couple wants to install a patio next to the deck, add more perennials to the front- yard beds and plant ornamental grasses around the electrical box in the corner of the front yard. They also hope to add a garden bed in another backyard corner.

Learn landscape design

Are you looking for a class to learn more about landscape design? Here are a few places to check:

Live Oaks, Scarlet Oaks and Diamond Oaks campuses: 771-8881.

The University of Cincinnati: 556-6567.

Cincinnati State Technical and Community College: 569-1644 or 569-1645.

Warren County Career Center, Lebanon campus: 932-8145.

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