Many homeowners tend to see their yards simply as the space between their house and their car, a perverse stretch of green that requires watering just so it can flourish into something that will then have to be mowed.
Lisa Arnett and Bruce Jorgensen, on the other hand, prefer to see yards more as outdoor rooms - designed to be as comfortable and aesthetic as the rooms inside a house.Designer Arnett and landscape architect Jorgensen, with the architecture firm of Gillies Stranksky Brems Smith, think that people would use and appreciate their yards more if they took the time to design them well.
"Landscaping is always the last thing people think about" when they build or move into a new house, Arnett says. "But it should be one of the essentials of a home." It should, in fact, be an extension of the indoor design.
There is more to landscaping than sod and a few pfitzers, say Arnett and Jorgensen. Landscaping, done well, is an art form.
Yard art can include not only actual pieces of sculpture incorporated into the greenery, but also an aesthetic use of retaining walls, paving stones, fountains, fences, shrubs, trees and ground cover. Arnett catagorizes them all under the heading of "visual excitement." Even a swing set and a dog run, she says, can be aesthetic if they're designed properly.
Eric Lyman, a local landscape architect who teaches a do-it-yourself course each winter that is sponsored by the Utah chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, says the ancient Romans had the right idea about their yards and their gardens.
Those gardens, he says, were "outward revelations of the inner spirit." Lyman always advises his students: "Let your site, imagination and personal tastes be the inspiration and not what your local nursery has on sale."
Local landscape architects and designers offer these pointers to Utahns interested in bringing artistry to their yards:
- Start with a master plan. "Most people run down to Fred Meyer and buy something on sale and stick it in their yard," Lyman says. "That's like buying a piece of furniture without thinking if it's compatible with the rest of the room."
With a master plan, Arnett says, the homeowner can plant in stages, taking several years to finish a yard.
- Think about what your yard needs are - dog run, play area, barbecue area? - and what style of landscaping is compatible with your house. Think of the outdoors and indoors as connected, Arnett says.
- Remember that shrubs, trees and ground cover have textures and shades, and should be arranged with that in mind.
- Don't overplant. People forget that plants are organic, which means they continue to grow, Lyman says. Trees and bushes need room to spread out. And don't plant trees and bushes too close to the house.
"People need to be patient," says Jorgensen. It takes five years for most landscaping to fill in. In the meantime, he says, fill the bare areas with petunias and other annuals.
- Plant shrubbery, trees or ground cover instead of lawn. "Plants require less than half the water that grass does," according to Jorgensen.
Look for plants with low water requirements, suggests landscape architect Jan Striefel. There are more such plants than most people realize, she says. To help conserve water it also helps to group plants with similar water requirements together in one spot.
- Landscape so that you attract attention to the main entry. - Think about incorporating a piece of sculpture into the landscaping. The Phillips Gallery, for example, leases sculptures to homeowners at 3 percent of the cost, per month. For Sylvia Davis' concrete cats, for example, that would amount to about $9 a month.
Some people get frustrated because they don't use part of their yard but aren't sure why, Jorgensen says. "It's like a room no one goes into." That's when a yard can use remodeling and that's when a landscape architect can help, he says.
In one or two hours, at a cost ranging from $25 to $75 an hour, a landscape architect can provide a consultation that includes advice about focal points, patio configuration and height and location of new plants.
For homeowners who prefer to design their own yards, the University of Utah's Division of Continuing Education, in cooperation with the Arboretum, offers landscaping classes each winter quarter. The Utah State University Extension Service also offers landscaping classes, usually in the winter and early spring.
In addition, the Arboretum offers free lectures every Thursday from June to September on topics ranging from lawns to ornamental flowers.