Thoughts on landscape design in the urban southeast.
I guess little kids can remember different sorts of things. I can remember a couple of the houses that I lived in during the early 1950s in a small town in the piedmont area of North Carolina. These houses didn’t have closed foundations, but were built on top of concrete block columns. I guess I remember this because it made it easy to go play under the house on hot summer days. I have a vision of myself sitting under the house, quietly playing with my toy soldiers that I had ordered from the back page of a comic book.
Knowing what I do now, I assume that these houses built on blocks were either pre-war homes or some that were thrown up quickly to take care of the needs of home-coming soldiers or those moving to town from the country. Urban living was changing fast in those days. I can also remember my father taking me to visit in a new neighborhood where the outside walls of the house went all the way to the ground. I guess I remember because I felt sorry for those poor people—where would they play on a hot summer day?
And here’s how this relates to landscaping. Most southern houses built during the first half of the twentieth century were perched up on a set of block or rock columns. This left an ugly space at the bottom of the outside walls and people started planting shrubbery in front of the space to cover it. And this is where the term “foundation planting” came from.
To this day, even though the outside walls now go all the way to the ground and there is no ugly space, we refer to our landscape gardens as “foundation planting.” When I first started working in the landscaping business during a housing boom30 years ago, contractors would call and say, “Hey, John, I need a ‘close the loan special’. That’s exactly what they wanted. I found that a “close the loan special” meant to smooth down the front yard, plant 5 plants on one side of the front door, 7 plants on the other side of the front door, throw out grass seed and cover it with wheat straw. I was very happy when my business got to the point where I didn’t have to do this any more.
Now, we have come to realize that since we don’t actually need foundation planting in the original sense of the phrase, we can extend our landscape plantings and gardens out into the yard and strive to create an effect that the house grew in the middle of a garden. It is all relative to the view. One of the rules of residential landscaping is to guide the visitor to the front door. What better way is there to accomplish this than to build a garden around the entrance walkway?
An entrance through a garden is designed to be peaceful, to make the visitor comfortable, and to give a promise of being welcome.
It is also interesting to build a well designed and colorful garden in a spot which would ordinarily be relegated to grass. The de Wits of Kingsport, Tennessee have spent several years tending and manicuring this front garden which contains dianthus, a perfectly shaped eastern red bud, and trailing roses among other delights.
The concept in this article swings around the dimensional viewing of a landscape garden. A garden is an art form that may be viewed from the inside out as well as from the outside in. I once thought there was a fourth dimension in landscape gardens. I thought that dimension was time. But, now, I wonder if there are not more sub dimensions within the fourth dimension. As John Denver said, “It keeps changing fast, and it don’t last too long.”
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