There is something ineffably serene about a well-landscaped garden. Stepping into such a landscape, you feel an atmosphere of beauty, unity and calm. Karen and Keith Marshall's garden is like that — it soothes the soul.
When the Marshalls bought the 2 1/2 acres on the Phoenix/Talent border in 1997, the house was surrounded by a scrub oak forest. Karen felt there had to be a view hiding on their hillside, but all you could see were oaks. They began a judicious cutting program which opened the home to magnificent views of the Rogue Valley in several directions. Now they can see from Table Rock to Ashland.
If you want to avoid one common mistake when planting your trees and shrubs, then Karen Marshall has some advice for you. With the prevalence of clay soil in the valley, many people opt to use commercial potting or topsoil to give plants a good start.
"Unfortunately, when the roots go through the amended soil to the native soil they encounter a shock," Karen says. Coming from good soil into hard clay, the plant roots are not prepared for the work it takes to get through the clay. In effect, the hole becomes a pot, limiting the growth of the roots.
"You need a transition zone, a soil interface," Karen says.
She recommends filling the bottom half of the hole with the dirt removed from the hole, but amended with 40 to 60 percent organic matter such as compost or cocoa fiber. The top half of the hole can be good topsoil.
And remember, a rule of thumb for holes is 1.5 times as deep as the container it came in, and at least twice as wide.
Open space for planting was cleared amid the oaks. Karen considers trees the "bones" of any landscape, and they planted a lot of them, including evergreens like coast redwood, sequoia, pine, and cedar. Deciduous trees include birch, dogwood, cherry and maple.
A key to Karen's design is her use of multiples. Where some might put one beautiful flowering cherry in an entrance, Karen has clustered three. Walking into the front yard through an iron arch planted with climbing roses, the three cherries are immediately in view. The small swirl of lawn is surrounded by numerous plantings in contrasting heights, densities and colors. A berm adds interest and also hides the rainwater diversion drain between the hillside and the house. A clump of white birches contrasts with the cherries. A small pink magnolia anchors one corner.
"It's important that you do your transitions so the house is grounded to the landscape so it looks like it could have grown there," says Karen. "You have to take into account the style and color of the house, as well as the type of soil and watering conditions and circulation through the yard."
Karen planned the gardens for optimum spring color, year-round color and interest.
"It's important to have lots of evergreens and conifers for winter structure and color," she says. "People think of maples and liquidamber for fall color, but you can get beautiful [fall] color from ashes, cherries, Japanese maples, birches."
One planting area in her garden contrasts maroon barberry with dwarf blue spruce, again with multiples of both. Such color contrasts pop up on all sides of the gardens. Annuals and perennials supplement the color palette.
She has also smudged the line between ornamental and food gardens by using strawberries as an edging plant, and planting a flowering border in front of a terraced plot of potatoes.
"I don't think what I have done here has any particular style," Karen says. "It's just things I like. You have to take your cues from the site. If you have an existing feature, like beautiful trees or rock outcroppings, you use that."
"A successful project is usually a blend of what the site has to offer and how people want to use their outdoor spaces," Karen adds.
Meandering flagstone paths replicate the curvilinear designs of the beds. The garden incorporates decks and terraces for entertaining, as well as carefully structured vignettes from various windows of the house.
"A garden has to evolve," Karen says. "And there are just three rules: It has to be designed well. Then it has to be installed well. But perhaps most importantly, it has to be maintained well."