By Candy Venning

My e-mail is populating with inquiries about garden plans. Many are homeowners looking to do the work themselves in phases as well as some who are already working with contractors but want to see a cohesive plan to guide the build. With that in mind I wrote two articles with specific tips for front or back gardens (link in bio on @vennigardens on Instagram) Too long, didn’t read? Here’s a quick rundown of some odd little ‘designer tips’ you may not have thought of.

  1. Try and look at the whole garden – Go out to the back fence, hang out under a tree, or realize that, while sitting somewhere different, you may have the most privacy and the best view in a spot you hadn’t thought of before. If you suddenly realize most of the things you’ve planted could be in the wrong place – they can be moved! The number of clients who are ready to design the entire use and ‘flow’ of a garden due to one mildewy rose that they never planted in the first place…don’t let this happen to you!
  2. The best way to add privacy to a garden is a pergola or a privacy screen covered in climbing plants – anything from Scarlet Runner beans to native Clematis virginiana. If you’re not ready for proper 12’ posts going into 4’ holes in the ground, filled with cement (which can also support a hammock or swings) then shortcut to an umbrella. Though a really nice patio umbrella is not necessarily cheaper, it’s mobile and adjustable. The other way to get privacy is to plant native trees such as Oak or multi-stemmed large shrubs such as Serviceberry, Redbud, or Pussywillow. (Skip the cedars – they’re the wrong shape, skinny at the top and wide at the bottom. You want an upside-down cone because your fence already gives you privacy up to 6’)
  3. Reduce your maintenance; Small gardens can easily ‘lose the lawn’.  Sod is often compacted and unhappy in smaller yards, especially in shade. Instead try oversized winding flagstone walkways with plantings along the edges, mulch paths that come to rest under trees, patios surrounded by shrubs (see above) – it makes the garden inviting and different. Fido will still find places to poop. Lawns aren’t necessary to grow puppies or people. (And I would argue that the ‘minefield’ a lawn becomes with a dog, is a good reason to get rid of the grass!)
  4. Bird bath – if you’re prepared to maintain a bird bath (regular water changes) and wait for the right one to come into your life (most are pretty tacky) – they can provide a charming sculptural focus and an ultra-low-cost water feature. A few ripples or the reflection of a blue sky and a collection of Robins or Goldfinches flicking water in all directions is amongst life’s great joys. Final point, do a little research to make sure you’re not creating a trap for birds to be hunted by local cats (height, cleanliness, escape route, the right distance from windows etc.)
  5. Garden furniture – this is something I’ve struggled with over the years – and I have to say that when Ikea started designing affordable, stackable, lightweight and contemporary outdoor patio options – I was relieved to avoid the ugly, bulky sets sold at hardware stores for the last 30 years. However, bucking all trends, I’m currently using a series of large stump rounds as seating and side tables with a stack of sturdy cushions for guests – I also built in a low, stone, seating wall. It gets me around the whole winter storage and maintenance issue. Whether you choose benches, stumps, loungers or Adirondack chairs, there is nothing quite like a set seating area to draw people out and off the deck into a garden destination.