Some of you out there may already be aware that I got my horticulture credentials in January of this year (2014). This is in an effort to perhaps expand my business...and try something new. Just like turf, I've always been pretty good at working with trees and shrubs. As I've gone around working on turfgrass for the last few years, folks would always drag me over to some poor azalea or magnolia and say, "Is it okay? Is it going to live?" Or, they'd ask me, "What can I do in this area here?" So, I decided to validate what I already know, and increase my overall knowledge, in the realm of horticulture.
Horticulture is the branch of agriculture that deals with the art, science, technology, and business of plant cultivation. It can include a wide range of food bearing plants and non-food bearing plants. It is the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, sprouts, mushrooms, algae, flowers, seaweeds and non-food crops such as grass and ornamental trees and plants. It also includes plant conservation, landscape restoration, landscape and garden design, construction, and maintenance, and arboriculture. (I'm also studying for my certified arborist exam. I'll save that surprise for later - if I pass!)
For now, out of all the stuff I mentioned above, I'm going to just stick to trees, shrubs and woody ornamentals. So far, I've completed several projects that I've pretty much done on my own. If customers are not in a real hurry for their project to be completed, I'm your guy. And, it is not unusual for me to work WITH the customer on their landscape. That certainly cuts cost.
My Dad had a great knack for plants and shrubs. Although I've always worked in the landscape since childhood, I don't have evidence of "official" projects over the years. But I do have some pictures of a recent project behind my home. I guess you could call it a "case study". I did this a year ago when I was going through my course of study and taking my exams. As you can see in the first picture, I had turfgrass growing right up to the brick walls of my house. That's a wonderful thing. But, after living there a couple years and really enjoying the backyard, something was missing.
So, what did I do first? I certainly did not just pull up in my truck with a bunch of plants in the back ready for planting. With my limited experience as a staff officer (Because most of my time was spent in command - HOOAH!), I started to devise a plan. That plan began with measurements. Troops, you have to "define" the area you are working in...what part of the battlespace do you want to influence? If you are going to "center" things within the design, or plant locations are relative to other things; that's important. You need to measure.
Then I did a soil sample of the area. Yep; just like you do with turfgrass. You need to know the current status of your soil. So, later, you can determine what "amendments" or changes you need to make to the soil. Then you go into plant selection. What works well in that particlular location; taking into account the soil (or what you can do to the soil), drainage, sunlight - all sorts of factors.
Logic dictates that you identify plants NATIVE to the region. I live in the coastal plain of Virginia, but not too far from the Piedmont region. That can tell you alot about the soil as well as climatology. (Do you know the annual rainfall in your area? Mine is 43 inches a year.) Having native plants most likely suits the design especially if you are trying to compliment a particlular architecture. And, native plants reduces your aperture for plant consideration - like I knew palm trees were out of the question.
Once I knew what I wanted, I then started thinking about placement. In fact, the best way to do that is with a drawing, a visual representation of the measurements. Not an artisitic rendition (You wouldn't want to see my results of that anyway.), but more of a technical drawing, a "top view" of the area and where the plants should go. I try to do a scale drawing using graph paper. Where do the plants fit? How does it flow? How do they fit? And a real important piece of information - what will be the size of the plants at maturity? Here's some pictures immediately after completion.
Not bad. Simple yet elegant, right? Notice how I "squared off" the beds. Curves are always better. I can go back a curve it out some more later. This was an experiement after all.
I used three Steed's Hollies around the air conditioner, which will eventually conceal that equipment. I used ten American Boxwood, eleven Delaware Valley White Azaleas and an assortment of hostas (also known as plantain lilies, particularly in Britain, and occasionally known by the Japanese name giboshi).
Here are some pictures I took yesterday (July 2014).
I also put down some paving stones for access to the hose. And I spent a few bucks and got a fancy hose hangar. I also used my favorite mulch, shredded cedar. Shredded cypress is also good.
I have installed some lighting and some drainage solutions for the downspouts - the downspout splash guards were still making mulch float away.
Here's my AAR (After Action Review):
This was a good project (real good PT - physical training - hauling all that stuff) and ended up looking okay. My only possible error is perhaps miscalculating how well the azaleas and hostas would bloom and how quickly they'd grow.
Crowding, root competition and poor airflow are bad things. I may have to go back in and expoand the bed, move the plants further apart and/or further out into the yard.
Guess its a good thing I'm not a surgeon.
The following was a good challenge. But, the difference was working with an existing landscape. This is a townhouse in Lorton, Virginia. I like townhouses. I can execute missions on a townhouse all by myself and in a timely manner. Here's the "before" pics.
Basically, the customer had an evergreen tree that was out of control. The tree was rubbing against the house. It was making it difficult to get in and out of the front door.
And, worst of all, the tree was starting to annoy the neighbor, to the left, whose garage door was immediatley adjacent to the tree. The tree was scratching their car coming in and out of the garage. Not cool.
Here are the "after" pics. Trimmed all the way up and all the way around.
Removed the first two feet of branches.
Took special care to make sure there was no encroachment on the neighbor's garage door area.
While I was there, I also trimmed the hedge and cleaned up some of the mulch.
In July of 2014, I completed a rather interesting job. It was another end unit townhouse. In this case, I did all the work and the mission included the front of the home and down the side. This is in the Kingstowne area of Alexandria, Virginia. Here are the "before" pics.
Terrible soil. The soil had all sorts of debris in it. Probably from construction. I removed what I could. And, I used some organic matter to be mixed in with the existing soil. Again, another challenge dealing with, and integratiing a design into, an existing landscape. I ripped out all that lavender to the right of the small spruce. It was not doing well and it had gotten out of control. The lavender was starting to interfere with people walking on the walkway.
The side had a huge hedge that was out of control and a pine tree nobody could walk under. I'm telling you, you gotta master your plants. Do not let them master you.
Here's some "after" pics. Some new crape myrtles and black mulch. That's what the customer wanted. I'm not a big fan of mulch that has been dyed. But, any mulch is better than none.
More mulch on the other side of the front walk. Bedded out the entire landscape. Did some aggresive pruning of the hedge, taking up off the ground and away from the siding (some of the growth had started growing under and into the siding - pulled that out). Installed some day lilies.
Took off the lowest branches of the pine tree about 7 feet up so even I could walk under it (I'm 6 foot 6.).
I even incorporated a drainage solution since there were lots of problems with downspout run off.
I had to leave right after I was done and I haven't been back to take any final pictures. Maybe those pics later.