Trees, shrubs and flowers are a beautiful addition to any yard. But what takes an ordinary yard and makes it extraordinary? Often, it’s a detailed design.
Judy Nauseef, a landscape designer in Iowa City, has been in the business for 30 years. With a background in the fine arts and a love for the outdoors, she found her great passion in designing gardens and landscapes.
“Landscape design is everywhere,” she says. “It’s on every street, at every shopping mall.”
Once you start to pay attention, Nauseef says, you can find inspiration all around you.
“There’s so much out there to look at,” she says, noting websites like Pinterest or Houzz and gardening magazines are all filled with good ideas.
If you decide you do want to make some changes to your current garden or even start a new one, Nauseef suggests doing your research and really thinking about your yard and its logistics.
“Get as familiar with your space as you can,” she says. “It’s important to observe it in all seasons. Make a little map for yourself so you can plan things out.
“Find out your property lines and the size of your lot. See where the sun rises and sets, where it’s sunny and shady, and where the wind blows the snow in the winter. Then, make a wish list of what you’d like in your yard.”
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Creating a detailed plan is a crucial step in the process — one that many people may skip. But with the proper layout and construction, your garden and landscape will thrive.
“You want to be able to enjoy it and not have to redo it down the road,” Nauseef says. “If you plant too close to your house, you’ll have to constantly prune the trees or shrubs.” This is where a landscape designer can come in handy.
“They’re trained to take everything into consideration,” she says. “A landscape designer can help you with paths through the yard, how wide they should be, what materials to use or how large patios need to be … a lot of practical things you might not think of when you’re planning by yourself.”
Another great resource is the Iowa State University Extension office. “They have master gardeners available there that you can ask questions of, and they have a great website with hundreds of free downloads,” Nauseef says.
As you lay out what plants you want in your yard, Nauseef says shrubs are a great place to begin. “Starting with your choice of shrubs is important because they will be there a long time and bring a lot of variety to your yard,” she says. “Not all yards have room for trees, but almost all have room for some shrubs. Make sure you choose ones that are of a good size and think about placement as well. That can give you almost immediate structure.”
THINK ABOUT EVERGREENS
“Figure out if any evergreens will work in your yard,” Nauseef says. “They provide greenery year-round, are hearty and are also great for birds.”
As for the rest of the plants that will fill your garden, you can select varieties that you like for their color, shape, smell or beauty.
“You want plants that people want to look at carefully and lean over,” Nauseef says. “You want a garden that is peaceful, safe and comfortable.”
Once you make your selections, another design element to consider is water and drainage. Issues with water flow are common and can lead to larger problems down the road.
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“Almost every project I work on has water problems,” she says. “Sometimes it’s as simple as fixing the grading of the lawn around the house. Or it could be changing the placement of downspouts or tiling. Once that’s done, a lot of problems can be quickly resolved.”
Nauseef also stresses it’s good to consider the bigger picture when planning your landscape. “With all the discussion today about climate change and the loss of native species — plants, birds, bees, butterflies – everyone can do something to help,” she says. “You can make your garden more beautiful for yourself but also for the environment. Being careful with your water is important, and so is growing plants that help with the entire life cycle of insects
Incorporate native plants and insects into your garden, she notes, can be a great way to make your landscape more functional and sustainable.
“If you’ve gardened for a long time and want to try something new, learning about native species is a great way to try a new challenge,” Nauseef says. “Iowa is a great place to garden, and the more people who do it, the better.”