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|KCMag.com: THE SECRET GARDEN|
There’s an old saying: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” In the gardening world, the saying takes a different spin: “How do you have a beautiful garden in the spring? Plan, plan, plan.”
That’s the mantra of Kristopher Dabner, owner of The Greensman (7213 Troost Ave.) and architect of some of Kansas City’s premier gardens.
Oh, but where to start? Dabner has clients fill out a questionnaire that helps them understand what they want their outdoor living space to be: Will there be a lot of entertaining? How many people? Are children involved? Are there pets to consider? What colors do the homeowners like? How much ongoing maintenance is the homeowner comfortable with?
The other big question: How much money does a homeowner want to spend?
“That’s really important to know upfront,” Dabner says. “A lot of people are afraid to give that number, but it’s important. If a job is really $25,000 and you only have $15,000, there’s a problem. To get the most bang for the buck, you have to know your price point.”
Dabner is quick to emphasize that it’s important to have a budget and that beauty can be achieved at any price point.
One of Dabner’s creations sits along Ward Parkway. It is a good representation of what anyone can do with a backyard that needs to be utilitarian for entertaining, kids and pets, while also being aesthetically pleasing.
Once a homeowner determines what he or she wants in an outdoor living space, Dabner sets about drawing out a plan. “It’s about spatial design,” he says. “If you have a nicely designed space, it doesn’t matter what it’s made of. You can go to a place that’s very high-end that doesn’t flow well.”
When a homeowner is planning a new landscape or garden design, one of the critical decisions is the ratio of annual to perennial flowers and plants that will be used. There are obvious pros and cons to both.
Annuals are a mixed bag––they are beautiful, but only for one year. On the other hand, if you plant an annual and don’t like it, you’re only stuck for one year. Perennials are easier to maintain––once they’re planted, you’re good to go. On the other hand, if you end up not liking something, you have to pull it out and start over.
Dabner often recommends perennials in the ground as a more permanent start to a landscape, with annuals in pots that can be changed yearly. For instance, if a homeowner is hosting a special event with a color scheme, annuals can be planted that blend with the theme.
Dabner also points out that gardens are not static. “They are living creations,” he says. “They are always changing, with things thriving and dying.”
Plants and non-flowering blooms are a great way to keep a landscape looking good throughout the year. Dabner used boxwood shrubs both to define areas at the Ward Parkway property and to add color throughout the winter. “They also add a finished look to the area,” he says.
Other plants that can help achieve that look include hydrangeas and blue spruce, which he used in conjunction with the boxwood shrubs at this house to define specific garden areas. That’s an easy way anyone can set off an area of a yard and give a landscape a finished look (third spread).
After working through the questionnaire and figuring out what flowers and plants a homeowner wants, Dabner encourages painting––spray painting, that is. He suggests homeowners spray-paint a layout in the yard. It helps define where furniture and plants should be and can help a homeowner really see how things might look. “You can see if you really only have space for a table for four on the patio,” he says (right).
Having made a plan in January and February also means that once we start to thaw out in March and April, homeowners are ready to take advantage of sales and early-season deals on plants and flowers.
“You can watch the sales,” Dabner says. “Maybe you can buy the one-gallon plants rather than the five. But you can only take advantage if you know what you need.”
At the Ward Parkway project, Dabner worked on the layout to meet the homeowners’ desires to be able to see much of the backyard from inside the house and to take advantage of as much of the space as possible.
A large gazebo covers a patio for dining, but it’s within eyesight of the pool, so parents and children can be in the same space without being in one another’s way. That was important here, as the homeowners enjoyed entertaining other families.
They wanted enough destination points so that everyone could be accommodated, but not have to be bumping elbows. There are multiple seating areas, so the kids’ table has as much panache as the adults’.
A corner of the yard also houses a large treehouse and play area. This family has children at various stages of growing, so it was important to have areas that accommodated those still wanting to play on a slide and those able to be in the pool alone.
The answer? By spreading design elements out, parents can see what’s happening from anywhere in the yard or inside the house, and another of Dabner’s themes is fulfilled—use your whole yard.
“Have different destination points,” he says. “Maybe instead of just one patio, you want a dining patio and then do a second one with a fireplace or a living room set.
“Really think about how you will use the space. Maybe you won’t entertain outside but want a great cutting garden––where should that be?”
Another tip to a great outdoor living space in the spring, Dabner says, is to get friendly with neighbors and others in the community who love to garden. “Ask them what works, what doesn’t,” he says. “Real gardeners love to trade plants and to share their knowledge.”
Yes, there are trends in gardening and landscaping as with any creative endeavor. But some have more staying power than others. Fire pits are always popular as are fountains, both of which these homeowners wanted to incorporate into their outdoor space.
But by far the most important thing for homeowners to keep in mind when planning a landscape: Garden and outdoor living space is for their own enjoyment, Dabner says.
“[Choose] what will bring you the most joy, not what’s in style or what Martha Stewart says you should have,” he says.