Today, we start a backyard Ecological Landscape Design with a theme, a prairie and pond. This should be fun, as we are going to put together a design with a strong form and a lot of plants. This design would provide a ton of ecological value compared to the existing lawn that is currently at this site.
Not only will the backyard have a small prairie, but we will retain a large portion of lawn as this family has kids and wants a large play area.
The design will also break up this long yard and add two more sections, one to grow food and another to relax on our patio.
I won’t go too much into the existing site conditions, but here is a copy of the plat of survey showing the property. Notice the long (175′) and narrow (60′) lot.
Most everybody wants an outdoor seating area, so we are adding a permeable paver patio to our ecological landscape design. This will allow rain water to infiltrate into the ground instead of running off to the storm sewer system. More and more cities are now requiring permeable paving to prevent run off being added to storm sewers.
Breaking a long yard into zones makes it more usable
One way to help make our long and narrow lot seem less like a bowling lane is to break it up into sections. That is what we are doing with the split rail fence. Not only are we creating a boundary to define our property, but we are also using it to subdivide out a section in the back.
The fence will also create a frame around what will be some pretty loose and wild plantings which will help make them more legible and seem less “wild”.
Laying out the ground plan
I have written several posts about developing the form of a landscape by planning the ground plane. For a couple of them, see Integrating your house and landscape and Curvilinear landscape design from line of force.
The form of this landscape is developed with the definition of grass and bed areas. A paver edge is installed to make a crisp clean low maintenance line. A spade cut edge could also be used to save some money on the installation . Although you do pay for it every year with the required annual refreshing of the edge.
The back area of the yard will be used for food production and will have a “No Mow” as well as NO chemicals lawn. It will be allowed to grow taller to suppress weeds and will only need to be mowed a few times a year.
We also add a pond next to the patio to create a nice focal point for those sitting at the patio.
Vertical Interest added
Let’s add some native trees to get some vertical interest in our ecological landscape design.
Four Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) are placed at the back of the bed to define the backdrop for the main garden area. They are also fantastic long lived trees that are great for wildlife and have stunning gold fall color. They also sequester carbon and help clean the air of pollutants, as does the next tree. We could probably get away with only three but they grow slow and we like planting more.
One Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana) or Ironwood as it is also known will be added in front of Hickory for a nice fall color contrast and to provide another great tree for wildlife. See this post for more info about this tree. We could opt for a little larger tree like a Black Tupelo (Nyssa Sylvania). Black Tupelo are native from the North Eastern US to Texas with hot red fall color.
Three clumps of Whitespire birch (Betula populifolia ‘Whitespire’) are planted behind the pond. These trees provide high winter interest ornamental bark as well leaves that flutter in the wind like Aspen.
Eight Techny Arborvitaes (Thuja occidentalis ‘Techny’) will provide a property screen on one side of the yard. Techny is noted for its rich dark green foliage that does not yellow in winter like many eastern arborvitaes.
Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) will be planted behind the garage. Canadian hemlock is a slow growing evergreen tree native to the Wisconsin and most of the eastern US that is declining in our forests due to an invasive pest, but as we are far away from forest populations, it should be fine. There are controls available if ever needed.
All of these plants are native to Wisconsin (where this property is located).
Here is how our site looks with these trees added:
Ornamental Trees & Shrubs added to our Ecological Landscape Design
Now we are going to add a specimen and the one non native tree, the Tricolor Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Roseomarginata’) . For more info on this highly ornamental tree see my post about this tree. We will also add a wonderful native multi-stem Shadblow Serviceberry tree (Amelanchier canadensis) at the back of the yard.
A group of three Redtwig Dogwood (Cornus serciea) will be placed next to the purple leaf tricolor beech to compliment it with a soft green summer leaf color as well as providing winter interest with their red stems. These shrubs are native to my area area of Northern Illinios/Southern Wisconsin as well as lots of the rest of the country and are a valuable plant for wildlife.
The last plants we will add at this stage are eight Haas Halo Hydrangea I introduced in my last post.
Here is how it looks from a side view.
Accessories added to make the Landscape more livable
Before we go any further, lets add a bunch of accessories to make this yard more functional for the owner’s family.
- Patio Funiture
- Swingset for children
- Swing Bench to sit in and watch children or just relax
- Sandbox play area in gardening area for children to play while parents garden
- Raised beds for vegetable gardens
- Dwarf Fruit Trees
- Bird feeder
- Bird Bath
- Compost bins in the gardening area
Here it is what this ecological landscape design would look like from a bird’s eye view.
Next time, we will finish this ecological landscape design by adding a whole lot of ground layer plants and landscaping around the patio. See you then.