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4 Secrets to Successful — and Stunning — Landscaping

Landscaping is a dance we dare not do alone. Our green thumbs are barely enough to keep the office plant alive, let alone allow plants to flourish our grounds in a picturesque manner. There are many tips, tricks and secrets those within the landscaping industry hold, and thankfully, we know a guy (well, two guys). Gavin Duke of Page|Duke Landscape Architects sat down to share some of his insider knowledge.

As is wise with all projects, Gavin suggests defining a budget. By determining how much money you can give to the project and what your priorities are, you can make a plan of attack. Gavin also gives us insight into where to save and where to splurge. Cutting costs on things such as hardscapes and spas will let you dedicate more dollars to larger plants and outdoor lighting. Additionally, he directs us to plant native plants, which comes with advantages. And finally, don’t forget about the importance of layering and scale. Here are the insider tips you likely never considered but will be glad you now know!

Master landscaping with advice from Gavin Duke of Page|Duke Landscape Architects. Image: Alyssa Rosenheck

Master the art of landscaping with advice from Gavin Duke of  Page|Duke Landscape Architects. Image: Alyssa Rosenheck

Choose Where to Save

Landscape design can often come with a higher price tag, but being wise in your spending decisions will help cut costs. When you hire a landscape architect, you are counting on them for their expertise and creativity, as well as their advice on how to spend your hard-earned money. Below, Gavin offers some top places to save:

1. Ornamental grass gives a lot of bang for one season. Dogwoods or redbuds can be planted with the grass to give seasonal interest throughout the year.

2. I wouldn’t do too elaborate of a spray irrigation system. I would recommend doing a drip irrigation so you save money in the long haul by not wasting airborne water. Regional plants should be able to survive without an expensive irrigation system after two to three years.

3. In hardscapes, people always think they have to do stone. There are porcelain pavers that have the same look without costing as much. Saving on a gravel drive, versus a concrete drive, could also be an option.

4. There are many ways to splurge on [swim] spas, but there are also ways to save. You can find something with the aesthetic you want with cost savings. One is “Diamond Spas,” which is copper or stainless steel — and about half the cost.

By making wise decisions, you can cut costs on landscaping design and architecture.

By making wise decisions, you can cut costs on landscaping design and architecture. Image: Reed Brown Photography

Related: 5 Important Landscaping Features You Should Never Ignore

Choose Where to Splurge

Now comes the fun part! By cutting costs with the aforementioned suggestions, you can now make wise decisions on where to put the big bucks. Gavin grounds us by reminding us to spend money where it will have its biggest return (soil and larger plants) but lets us have fun with the lighting and entertaining areas. Here are his suggestions for how to splurge:

1. The first area to splurge would be in the soil. You can have the most luxurious plants but if they don’t have proper soil and drainage, the plant won’t thrive and won’t do its duty — whether it be design or functionality.

2. Splurge on the backdrop, and save on the front. Magnolias and hollies are going to be more pricey but have a bigger benefit. They can offer perimeter screening and act as backdrops to the garden.

3. The cost of outdoor furniture is typically a big number. To get anything that is going to last, it will take a splurge.

4. Splurge on outdoor lighting! I have seen a lot of beautiful houses that are badly lit. I would recommend soft, long-term LED lighting (in the 2700 Lumen range — wattage varying) to benefit the look and curb appeal of the house.

5. Splurge on lawn entertaining areas. A subsurface and intricate drain system means it can rain, and within hours it will flow through and retrain structure.

Outdoor entertaining areas and outdoor furniture are worth spending a little extra money!

Outdoor entertaining areas and outdoor furniture are worth spending a little extra money! Image: Reed Brown

Related: This Dream Home Won a Prize for ‘Most Livable.’ See Why!

Plant Native Plants

The many benefits of planting local plants range from requiring less water to supporting the local ecosystem. Lucky for us, many plants call the South home. They can withstand the heat and humidity of summer and look good while doing it. Gavin tells us there are far too many to list, but here are a few that first come to mind:

  • Coneflower
  • American Boxwood
  • Dogwood/Red Buds
  • Azaleas/Rhododendrons
  • Beautyberry
  • Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are one of our favorite plants that are native to the area. They add drama and depth to this garden. Image: Reed Brown

Related: These Beautiful Photos Bring a New Appreciation for Changing Seasons

The Devil is in the Details

“No matter the materials/finishes, make sure the design is right,” Gavin advises. It is easy to dream about the finished product, but it is the small details along the way that make that final product perfect. “Organize the space properly and proportionally. Two things to keep in mind: layer and scale,” Gavin tells us. In layering, “a backdrop of evergreens helps to set off the beauty of woody, perennial and annual plantings.” Creating layers will help the landscape look lush and aesthetically pleasing.

In terms of scale, Gavin urges us to remember that the danger of scaling things inside is that they always diminish once you take them out the door. “I suggest full-scale mock-ups of garden elements (i.e. sundials, lanterns, containers, etc.),” he tells us.

Layering and scale are two things to keep in mind when planning your landscape design! Image: Reed Brown

Whether your thumb is green or not, take these tips to heart when planning your landscape. And remember, the experts always know best!



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