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Kansas City landscape designer, Brian Kissinger, has a name for gardeners who try to solve their landscaping problems with hedge trimmers. ‘I call them the hack- backers,” he says in all sympathy. It takes imagination and planning, not just pruning shears, to repair the problems created by overgrown shrubs. In Kissinger’s view, a pair of dense, gigantic junipers on either side of a front door is a classic symbol of misguided landscaping at older homes. He calls these shrubs ‘a nightmare of symmetry.” Newer homes usually present an entirely different challenge. They are blank slates with perhaps a swath of driveway as the dominant feature.
“People want to make their homes look better,” Kissinger says. Most homeowners, however, do not know quite where to begin with landscaping projects. A master plan for the whole yard is always a professional’s first step; choosing plants comes last. The plan helps identify problem areas and define the strengths of the landscape and goals of the homeowners. The plan should be the backbone that supports your ideas, so that whether changes are implemented in one month by professionals or as a two-year project on your own, there will be continuity between, for example, plantings around the front door and the path to the herb garden. Without a master plan, efforts to impose order upon a hodgepodge of intentions are often wasted. Take time with the plan; it is a design for the long term. Turn to i4ture for inspiration. Instead of planting a hedge of one shrub, try a textured combination of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. If mature trees are already established, consider planting spring-flowering understory trees such as dogwood and magnolia to add a splash of color and drama and to provide new focal points in the garden.
Take a look around inside your house, too. The way you decorate says a lot about your priorities and interests. For clients who like clean, simple lines in their home, Kissinger says, ’I try to repeat that in the landscape. If your decorating shows off a mix of antiques with modern styles, mix it up in the garden, too.” A more attractive entrance area is usually z priority in design projects. “A feeling of welcomeness” should be part of a home landscape, Kissinger says. Other landscaping goals include improving views from inside the house, particularly from the kitchen windows. Some families need an open area for a swing set or a lawn for games. Some people want more light, some want shade. A green sweep of lawn is the dominant feature of most home landscapes, but to save mowing time, people are making lawns smaller and extending shrub borders. Flower beds are becoming larger, and perennial flowers are more popular than ever. Four-sea- son interest is important these days, and so is low maintenance. Ground-cover plants are popular, practical and easy to establish under trees. Durable paths of chipped bark look neat where tra5c makes even the toughest grass a challenge, and bark walkways never get muddy. Kissinger’s landscape design o5ce in his restored Kansas City home shows many of his ideas in practice. When he bought the property, the yard was typical of many older houses, Kissinger relates. It was boring. Now he uses his garden as a classroom to show oA’ the heavily planted, diverse, bold landscaping that he favors. His rich designs imitate Nature on one of its best days.
The elements of Kissinger’s style are simple; carefully chosen color combinations in a variety of heights and textures and self-reliant plants that make a yard and garden interesting year-round. In his back yard, he has eliminated grass in favor of a simple wooden deck that extends to a wilderness of young trees – oaks, hollies, pines – with rhododendrons planted beneath them. The deck could be a dance floor on the edge of a forest. Kissinger’s practical plan creates a visual barrier to the street, and the dense plantings block tra5c noise. A jet of water splashes back into a pond set in a simple square in the deck, Large, colorful Japanese Koi Aash and roll through the water. The yard’s clean lines would satisfy the most fussy gardener, but the variety could keep a five-year-old occupied all day. At the entrance to a client’s home, Kissinger took out cement stairs with an iron railing and a straight, narrow side-walk and replaced them with large pads of wooden stairs, like miniature decks, that fan out from the front door to a wide, graceful sidewalk that curves to the street. Bold ornamental grasses, yuccas and shrubs in a variety of colors and textures add depth to the design. The plantings reach into the yard and seem to greet visitors at the street, but also increase privacy for the homeowner. ”We just screened off the entrance a little hit,” Kissinger said. ”You love your neighbors, but sometimes you don’t want to walk out your front door and have to say ’Hi’.”

Landscaping changes take imagination and determination and often, an expert’s suggestions will help. Whether you intend to work with a professional or do the job yourself, consider this advice from landscape designer, Brian Kissinger.

– A well-thought-out plan is the most important part of any landscape design, Use your home’s plot plan to make a map (double-check all the measurements). Copy the plan (enlarge it a little, too) and draw your present landscape on it. Use extra copies to sketch out ideas.

– Every landscape has strengths and weaknesses, Decide what to keep and what to take out. You may have to be ruthless. Removing overgrown trees and shrubs can be traumatic, but having sketched the look of your new landscape may give you the courage to make the cuts.

– Observe traffic patterns in your yard and work with them, It will be difl’icult or impossible to grow grass where dogs run, under trees, or under the children’s play equipment. Be realistic.

– Make sure your proposed planting sites drain ivell, Dig several test holes and fill them ivith water; if water stands in the holes 10 to 12 hours, the grade of the yard may need to be changed. This is a job for professionals.

– Take the time and trouble to improve the soil before you plant anything. Organic material such as compost improves the soil’s structure and adds nutrients. Send soil samples to your local Extension Office and follow Extension agents’ advice.

– Resist the temptation to plan a landscaping project as you wander around a nursery or garden center. Keep your plan in mind, or better yet, in hand.

– When you buy plants, ask for advice on their care at the nursery or garden center. Make your own decisions, but follow planting and care direc- tions. A professional landscape architect nr garden designer should provide writ- ten maintenance instructions.

– Many gardeners want more color in their landscape, but remem- ber that green is a color, too. Gray green, olive green, blue green, and deep, for- est green look dramatic together, and form sophisticated combinations with fis- sured or smooth trunks of trees, red holly herries, diEerent shapes and textures of leaves, and the bony branches of deciduous trees in winter.

– When designing paths and borders, consider the style of your house. Straight lines are very formal. Symmetry is formal. Curves are almost always more re.laxed.

– If you have a large yard and want to landscape it yourself, phase in the work, Assign priorities and work on one phase at a time.

Spring plantings, a woodsy effect with shrubs and small trees (12), and a thick and colorful planting area around a front door (13) with a garden bench show how the parts of a landscape design add up to a whole.
A curving path to a front door. Instead of typical foundation plantings, this area has color and texture from rhododendrons and ferns in a design that appears as one complete thought, from a low green border to taller plants that accent without overwhelming the house. Bony branches of a carefully pruned tree are in the background.
Color, texture, and variety are choices even if you do not have a generous yard. In this container garden on the front stairs, Kissinger put his principles to test in small pots to dramatic effect.
A low stone wall and an iron fence along the property line do not have to look abandoned. Bright combinations of plants, including spring-flowering trees, set the mood for the landscaping even on the side of the house.
In Kissinger's backyard, there is no grass, simply a deck that extends to the edge of his highly planted yard like a dance floor on the edge of the forest.
Some of the "dance floor on the edge of the forest" in Kissinger's backyard.
More container plants arranged on generously proportioned stairs that lead down to a brick walkway. The setting creates depth and excitement; it is anything but boring.
Kissinger's low-maitenance area, planted with pines, cacti, yucca, and spruce, with a non-organic mulch of white stones. The area is in a sunny, sourthern exposure. Bright Orange California poppies bloom constantly from spring until frost and re-seed freely.