Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood...

Today marks the most beautiful day of the year to date…85 degrees and sunny, not a cloud in the sky, with just the right amount of breeze swirling around to keep everyone refreshed.  It’s far too nice out to stay cooped up inside, so I’m sitting on a blanket smack dab in the middle of the park with a stack of home design magazines.  Talk about a perfect day.  Between all the kites, dads and sons playing catch, the woman to my left in some sort of yoga handstand, and the guys directly in front of me playing Frisbee and begging for attention (not gonna happen fellas), I’d call today a textbook park experience.  The gangs all here.  I’ve spent the last two hours or so reading through the latest Architectural Digest (Gerard Butler is on the cover…allow me to reiterate once more, today=perfection), Martha Stewart Living, Traditional Home, Fine Gardening, Southern Living and a few catalogs from neither here nor there.  I’ve read home advice of every variety, much of which I’m excited to pass on to all you fine folks over the next few days.  Today, however, I can’t help but focus on the great outdoors.  

About once a year, my Dad takes me on a tour of our backyard.  My parents live on a little less than three acres, but he’s spent many years cultivating our small piece of earth into a beautiful display of wildflowers, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, a small vineyard, exotic plants, and a few of the loveliest arbors I’ve ever seen.  It’s absolutely magical to watch everything come back to life.  On our latest walk through he pointed out his most recent additions to our Garden of Eden…a trio of Goji plants, a transplanted chestnut tree that may finally bloom this year, a new area for wildflowers, and a small pond he made using only a shovel, stones, water pump and Tupperware (eat your heart out Martha Stewart).  It takes a lot of work to maintain but I can’t imagine a more wonderful place to escape to.  Save the remote possibility you’re selected for Extreme Home Makeover, you probably won’t be able to transform your yard overnight…but there are some simple things you can do to begin the process of creating a beautiful outdoor space.  I asked my Dad for some pointers on where to start, here’s his best advice.  

Consider Using Pots

The quickest way to create a beautiful outdoor space is with a varied selection of filled pots.  The process of selecting pots is nearly as important as the flowers you’ll choose.  The size, color and arrangement of the pots is what makes a beautiful aesthetic, so take the time to choose ones that coordinate with each other and your space.  Here are a few pots we just love:

These jewel toned flower pot trio from Unbeatable Sale jumped out at us right away- and at only $30 for the set they’re quite a steal.
Seibert & Rice have a large collection of fine terracotta pots which all coordinate...we especially love the Cachepot Romano in their Boutique Collection.
Run over to your local Lowes if you like this Wasabi Sunrise Planter, we thought it was lovely. 

Choose pots with different heights and shapes.  Move them around, much like you would re-arrange furniture in your home until you get it looking just right.  Consider using decorative blocks to create a staggered effect.  Take advantage of the flexibility this easy option provides and experiment, add, and move at your discretion.  

Read labels carefully before you make your plant selections

While it’s true not all plant labels are created equal, there are a few things you should search for before selecting a plant.  Here’s a quick tutorial on label reading:

Sun or Shade- 
“Full Sun” means the plant needs six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day.
“Shade” means about three or four hours
“Part Sun” and “Partial Shade” plants fall somewhere in-between

Hardiness Zone-
You can pretty safely assume any plants you buy locally should be well within your areas zone, but if you’re ordering off the internet make sure you do your research first.  

Check out the above map to determine what hardiness zone your area falls into.

Spacing and mature height-
A label will usually recommend how far apart plants should be spaced based on how wide they will be when they’re fully grown.   
There’s lots of other valuable information on a plant label, like it’s botanical name, water needs, or even what types of birds it attracts.  The more you know about a plant, the better your chances are of finding one perfectly suited to your yard.    

The most common mistake rookie gardeners make is a poor arrangement of their beds or pots.  It’s very important to choose plants based on what they’ll look like fully grown, otherwise you’ll end up with a tall plant blocking a short one, or an arrangement that lacks sufficient room to flourish.  The second biggest potential mistake is failing to select plants based on how much sun exposure your yard provides.  While you don’t need to have a plan set in stone before you choose your plants, you should have a good idea of where they’re going in your yard…otherwise you’ll risk selecting plants that simply can’t thrive.      

Mix and Match

Mix vegetables with flowers or throw some herbs in the mix to create arrangements that are both beautiful and beneficial.  Tomatoes, Peppers, Carrots, Radishes and Lettuce don’t take up much space and are actually rather beautiful.  Certian herbs, like variegated or red basil, can be decorative as well.  Use your imagination…we know you’ll come up with some spectacular combos. 


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