The change of seasons means it’s time for a landscaping refresh — fresh mulch, perhaps some seasonal plants and generally just an update to start the season anew. Whether you’re doing the work yourself or hiring someone to help, it’s not uncommon for some of the most obvious — and important — aspects of landscaping to be overlooked. In an effort to help you avoid these common issues, we talked with Gavin Duke of Page|Duke Landscape Architects, a Nashville-based landscape architecture firm with an impressive client base throughout the South. Here, Gavin shares the most common things that people overlook when it comes to their landscaping, and offers beautiful examples of how attention to these details can up your landscape game.

1. Use the right soil.

Before anything else, make sure you are using the right soil type for your property. “When you’re planning a major project, you want to have good soil to work with,” offers Gavin. “In Tennessee we have a lot of clays that are deceptive, so you might be planting in clay when you need a fertile, sandy loam with organic content. Although you may have soil that is black in color, it may not be fertile.”

Gavin says that many times, people just dig a hole and put a plant in it. “Planting in clay is sometimes like putting a plant in a bathtub. The ‘tub’ will hold water; it won’t perk and drain properly, so it sort of suffocates the plant.” So ensure you’re setting your plants up for successful growth with the right soil. But how do you know what’s the right soil? A simple way to find out if your soil type will allow your plants and flowers to thrive is to take a sample to your county agricultural extension agency or consult a landscaper.

Example: The Truxton project

When the basics of soil preparation occur, award-winning execution prevails. Page|Duke recently was recognized for its work on a project in Nashville’s Belle Meade neighborhood, which enabled the addition of gardens and expansions that “appear as if they had always been there” when blended with an existing pool, tree canopies and landscaping. Further refinement occurred with such added details as an “autumn sunset” pea gravel (rather than mulch) to prevent mud splash on the newly painted white brick home.

Page|Duke Landscape Architects seamlessly executed

Page|Duke Landscape Architects seamlessly executed the addition of landscape that looks as though it had always been there. To pull that off, a key step was ensuring they were using the right soil. Image: Reed Brown Photography

What a stunning view!

What a stunning view! Image: Reed Brown Photography

The brilliant minds at Page|Duke opted for a beautiful shade of pea gravel to ensure that muddy mulch was never an issue.

The brilliant minds at Page|Duke opted for a beautiful shade of pea gravel to ensure that muddy mulch was never an issue. Image: Reed Brown Photography

2. Consider sun exposure as it relates to specific plants.

“You don’t want to put a shade plant in the sun and a sun plant in the shade,” says Gavin. “And you don’t put some ornamental grasses in deep shade, where they require sun, for example. You can even see in some cases, with some plants that require sun, there might be a row of them, and then the plants go underneath a canopy — all of a sudden, it’s stunted growth, and you’ll see evidence that some things respond to photosynthesis.”

Examples: Crater Hill and the Governor’s Mansion

Response to the light requirements of plants is elemental to creating an evocative palette of landscaping, as seen at the spaces of Crater Hill or in a visit to the governor’s official residence, a magnificent and respectful nod to its original builders, the Ridley Wills family. The current estate, once a family’s “country escape,” now features a sweeping great lawn for entertaining visitors, an added greenhouse and vegetable and flower gardens.

Page|Duke's "Crater Hill" project is a perfect example of the importance of taking into account the sun and light requirements each plant has.

Page|Duke’s Crater Hill project is a perfect example of the importance of taking into account the sun and light requirements of each plant. Image: John Chiasson

The stunning gardens of the Tennessee's governor's mansion is another example that shows how specific plant species light requirements vary.

The stunning gardens of the Tennessee Governor’s Mansion provide another example that shows how specific plant species’ light requirements vary. Image: Matt Fisher Photography

Here's a look into a beautiful courtyard at the Tennessee Governor's Mansion.

Here’s a look into a beautiful courtyard at the Tennessee Governor’s Mansion. Image: Matt Fisher Photography

3. Consider zone recognition.

Zone recognition is third on Gavin’s list. “For each plant, there have been tested ‘hardiness zones,’ so if you have a plant you think is really wonderful in New Orleans — fig ivy, for example — and you want to plant it in Tennessee, it might survive if we have these mild winters, but eventually, it’s going to get snapped by zero-degree temperatures,” he says.

Examples: The Boxwood estate and the Nashville Public Library 

Page|Duke implemented the best of what thrives in Tennessee to such projects as the Nashville Public Library, where patrons enjoy an enduring extension of interior features in exterior courtyards. Likewise, in the landscape and gardens at the Boxwood estate in Belle Meade, Page|Duke masterfully and appropriately used boxwoods to create an intriguing lift for the original Georgian property.

The use of boxwoods on this residential design by Page|Duke puts to use the hardiness of this shrub when faced with the Tennessee climate.

The use of boxwoods on this residential design by Page|Duke puts to use the hardiness of this shrub when faced with the Tennessee climate. Image: John Chiasson

Careful selection of trees and shrubs ensure a breathtaking finished product, as shown in this photo of the Boxwood estate.

Careful selection of trees and shrubs ensure a breathtaking finished product, as shown in this photo of the Boxwood estate. Image: John Chiasson

The courtyard at the Nashville Public Library is just one example of thoughtful consideration to what plants thrive in your region can produce amazing results.

The courtyard at the Nashville Public Library is just one example of how taking into consideration what plants thrive in your region can produce amazing results. Image: Page|Duke Landscape Architects

Such structural plants as laurels, boxwoods and yews are ideal foundations for landscaping, as shown here when we peek into the courtyard of the Nashville Public Library.

Such structural plants as laurels, boxwoods and yews are ideal foundations for landscaping, as shown here when we peek into the courtyard of the Nashville Public Library. Image: Page|Duke Landscape Architects

4. Make sure you have adequate drainage.

Next, “Make sure you have somewhere for the water to go,” says Gavin. Landscape architects often solve drainage problems by using French draining beds, perhaps “a perforated pipe we put in low with a pea gravel base around it so that if you get saturated conditions, the water does not sit there and cause mildew or a situation where the plant could actually drown.” He also suggests being aware of slopes on your property and of any drainage you have around the base of your home.

SB TIP: When planning, remember some plants — the bald cypress, for example — have “wet feet” (i.e., constant moisture), whereas others — rhododendrons and azaleas, for example — do not.

5. Respect the roots.

Finally, Gavin stresses the importance of respecting existing root canopies. “I’ve seen people plant beds around bases of trees, not realizing they’re taking a lot of nutrients from an existing tree.” Although a mature tree may not die for a couple of years, it may be affected in a third year from competing with other plant material too long.

As you take to your garden spaces to rejuvenate them for fall, you now have more expertise on how to create inviting — and successfully cultivated — landscapes. Happy planting!

See more of the amazing work produced by Ben Page and Gavin Duke of Page|Duke Landscape Architects on their website — pageduke.com.

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