How not to plan a landscape–part one

“Planning is everything; plans are nothing”–General Patton

When it comes to gardening, I can’t say I’m much of a planner.  I do have an almost constant stream of ideas, but they never cohere into a grand whole.  Adding to that is my complete lack of visual-spatial ability, rendering me nearly incapable of reading, much less producing, a map or a blueprint (to come up with your own ed psych excuses, try this quick quiz).

So that left me somewhere back behind the usual starting point when it came to visualizing our new front space.  I stared out front from every window for hours upon end (not helpful), looked through landscape books and magazines (overwhelming–but then, I can easily get paralyzed in the shampoo aisle at Target); I even traced the yard and house onto graph paper, just like the books always tell you to do (but then had no idea what to do with it–please see my thesis contained in the second sentence of the first paragraph).

In fact, at this point of the process, all I could think of was what not to do.  I did not want to go traditional drought-tolerant (Mediterranean/native) for the following reasons:

We live in a ranch house.  Not a fabulous, Cliff May Atomic Ranch rendered faintly ironic with curated thrift store finds and one fabulous vintage Eames chair or Haywood-Wakefield table:

Cliff May picture

Fabulous ranch (Credit Anna Almendraia for the Huffington Post)

No, we have a “realtor ranch,” which is what realtors seem to call any one-story home without discernible architectural style, except maybe the “there are four more of this floor plan on this block” style.  This particular ranch house, built in 1961, has been customized by the previous owners to evoke a slight cottage-y vibe, by pushing out sections of the house and adding peaked roofs.  And it’s gray.  Kind of a June gloom gray, with dark red trim.

View of house before landscaping

Less fabulous ranch, with previous landscape

This being the case, and while I know the LA Times likes to feature in its living section people who’ll remodel or repaint the house prior to re-imagining the landscaping, we were not contemplating any such heroic undertaking.  Because excuse me a minute while I clamber onto my soapbox (I’m not as limber as I once was), but how sustainable is it to gut a house or even re-cover it in paint, sending materials to the landfill and spending lots of cash in the process?  (Maybe for you money is an ever-renewing resource, but at our house, we try to conserve it).  I know, I know that the people featured in photo spreads claim green by rebuilding their living rooms using seasoned timbers miraculously salvaged from a Maine barn inhabited by the original settlers.  But until I see one of these layouts of Extreme Fabulousness feature a house miraculously built from its own salvaged materials, I’m calling B.S.

So redoing the house in anticipation of new landscaping was not an option we would contemplate.  We had to choose landscaping that honored the house the way it was.  In my (hardly humble) opinion, Mediterranean/native looks good with the bones of:  modern, Spanish, Craftsman/bungalow, fabulous ranch.  Note from this point on how often these drought-tolerant landscapes are featured as examples with exactly these types of architecture, and let me know if you see anything different.

So, cottage, or at least cottage-y.  Cottage to me evoked the need for green, which is a problem, because so many water-wise plants are gray.  Gray on gray, no.  Even as irony, it doesn’t work for me.  So, not traditional drought-tolerant, and not-gray.  But also not-Marathon grass, we knew that, and not-annuals or anything else that would require particular attention (because our energy, as we saw it, was another resource to conserve).  Where did that leave us?  Well, not-anywhere.  So, unable to live with not-action, we decided at the very least to remove the existing lawn as a starting point.  Surely faced with not-lawn and a blank slate, something would come to us.

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