Window gazing

Front and back yards get our overall attention, but what about the little gardens seen from dining or sitting rooms? Open the blinds and look out the windows with an eye towards landscaping. Picture a path or a place that makes you smile, and then create that view garden. It's something you and your family will appreciate.

Mark the project area and start planning. "Whether it's 200 or 2000 square feet, a good plan is the most important first step," says Gary Krause of Jacksonville's Gary Krause Landscaping. Take cues from the existing landscaping, the style of your home and the views you want to preserve or obscure. That ugly fence is out; Mt. Ashland is in.

beautiful food gardens

View gardens can grow edibles as well as ornamentals. If your food garden is in a prominent spot, plant in handsome raised beds. Maintain them as you would any "front yard" hardscape. For more good looks, rainbow-hued chard adds color to partly-shady corners. Tall, dark, and handsome 'Tuscan Black Palm' kale (Brassica oleracea) is not only one of the tastiest of the kales but grows a three-foot fountain of long leaves. Plant a cluster of them three feet apart for a dramatic effect.

Eggplants, with their furry green-gray leaves, light purple flowers and attractive fruit are an eye-catching addition to an edible garden. And don't forget artichokes. At the end of the season leave a few globes to flower. Cardoon, grown for edible young leaf stalks, also has impressive flowers. These spectacular blue blooms will guarantee you won't miss them at the table.

Drew Matthews at the south Medford Grange Co-Op uses small tomatoes and peppers as ornamentals. Culinary herbs like lemongrass, lemon balm, sage, and comfrey add interest to an edible garden, as do red beets, rhubarb, and bright and edible nasturtiums.

Consider plants with year-round interest, soil amendments, irrigation and lighting systems when you budget. "Remember to plant in groups. Don't buy one of everything," says Medford Grange Co-op landscaper Drew Matthews.

Don't over-plant in size or density. A tree that will grow too tall will cause pruning headaches for years. "A variety of dwarf and compact varieties are available [since lot sizes are shrinking]," says Matthews. Instead of putting plants too close together, follow the planting guides given by nursery staff, on plant tags or in your garden book. Otherwise you'll watch your investment be devoured or distorted by the most vigorous plants by the third year. Instead, fill in empty places with annuals for the first few years.

For vertical interest, consider adding a trellis or arbor. Whether you prefer roses, clematis or honeysuckle, this feature will add planting space and a place for the eyes to rest. Perhaps a pedestal birdbath surrounded by gravel will complete your vignette. Daisy-shaped flowers perfect this scene.

Water features add movement, sound and, according to some Eastern cultures, good fortune to your yard. A cluster of hardy palms in large, boldly colored ceramic pots add the tropical flair to a small sitting area. Complement these with calla lilies or canna plants, and perennials like large-leaved hostas or strappy daylilies.

For the best window view, place ground covers and low growing plants closest to the window and larger shrubs and dwarf trees toward the back. Shrubs are a good value, low maintenance and add year-round interest to your landscape. Use them to cover features and soften edges.

Good choices for shady spots include 'Andromeda' Pieris japonica and Camellia 'Nucccia's Gem,' both with glossy foliage and white blooms. Krause likes evergreen Nandina compacta for its variegated leaves and year round interest. Here's a spot for a gazing ball, or a sculpture or garden statue. St. Francis, Mary and various depictions of the Buddha and Kwan Yin make inspirational choices.

Viburnum, hydrangea and honeysuckle provide fragrant blooms and add interest to partly sunny spots. These make a good backdrop for smaller plants with good foliage and blooms like the many Heucheras and interesting sedges and part-sun grasses.

"Mix deciduous plants with evergreens, perennials and then add colorful ornamental grasses. They'll turn color for most of the winter "¦ golden, brown, or red," says Krause. Grasses are easy to maintain, tolerate poor soil, and add color, texture and movement to gray winter days.

A window view that suits your esthetic taste means your garden provides visual pleasure inside and out. That's a bonus you'll appreciate on those hot summer days.

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