Landscape for our Climate, and for Your Lifestyle

The experience of your house begins when you turn the corner onto your street; your house sits in a neighborhood and has a relationship with the adjoining properties. It will inevitably be compared to surrounding properties, and you want it to always be considered most desirable. Remember the first 15 seconds; you have only one chance for a first impression. Do not waste it.

Clear and simple design concepts apply across all types of landscapes; you want your home to stand out so consider:

  • Clean Lines with Defined Edges
  • Scale
  • Circulation
  • Design for Maintenance

To sell your home or for your own enjoyment, the same concepts are true, what appeals to you about your homecoming experience is something you should focus on and develop. The sight of your neatly mown bright green lawn surrounded by trimmed hedges, the hoop on the garage and the clean court on the driveway, or the clusters of graceful Japanese Maples underplanted with Spiraeas and Dwarf Rhododendrons, “What it is” is not as important as “How it is.” Is it healthy, do all the pieces seem to relate to each other, and is it clear where to go and what to do?

There are things to understand about landscaping in Southeast Alaska, it is really different here. Plants that grow easily in Seattle may require extra care, or may not work here, most homes do not even have dirt, it was excavated away when the home was built and replaced with sterile sand and gravel, and you cannot just pop seedlings into flowerboxes and expect to have a long enough summer to enjoy them for months. But once you discover the basics of working in this environment your landscape can be as exciting and successful as the wild world you see all around you.

Landscape design starts with the site and exposures; these are givens. You can change a lot of things but not where you are or which direction you point. These determine how much sun, at what time of the day, how cold in the winter and how long the snow stays. Almost everything else is up to you.

Your sense of what is comfortable; needs of your family, your aesthetic preferences, and how much time you feel like working in the yard are individual choices. The same site can be approached in many ways according to the individual who is calling the shots. If your family is rambunctious, with lots of playing outside and your yard is a magnet for soccer and badminton, a large open grassy area is essential. Recognizing that our rainy climate means the lawn will be wet a lot influences your choice of grass varieties, but more importantly it will suggest your lawn be planted on washed sand rather than soil. Kids can play on sand lawns without making a muddy mess. Remember lawns only look good when they are well maintained; so be ready to fertilize, mow and lime the grass regularly. Lawns are simple, a series of easy tasks if the end result is one you enjoy, but a burden if a smooth green turf is not that important to your lifestyle.

If your lifestyle is such that the call of sea and forest pull you into the wider world with every opportunity, choose a landscape style using the natural cycles of the environment to do most of the maintenance for you. Look at the surrounding wild world and emulate the elements that will be most pleasing. The most labor free landscapes are those where the whole space is planted, and plants grow together to make a surface taller than most of the weedy competition.

This is the Eaglecrest model; it can be done with native material or with dwarf Rhododendrons, Spiraeas, Potentillas and dozens of hardy perennials. It will require better soil, and the best for this is a native peat soil. Using this soil means that Rhododendrons and Japanese Maples can be grown in Montana Creek or even on the exposed rock fill of Simpson Avenue in West Juneau. Native Peat is the reason our wild world is so verdant, it can create a garden that will support exotic shrubs, native blueberries or full sized trees immediately, but it is not for running on or playing ball.

Don’t hesitate to contact a professional landscape designer; their experience can save you years of trouble. Our maritime climate means colors stay brighter longer, perennials grow more lushly, Rhododendrons push boundaries of hardiness zones and Raspberries weigh branches down with their burdens. We can have glorious yards and gardens; there are examples in almost every neighborhood. You can have one too, it is all about understanding the way things work where we live.