In Landscape Design, Practical Doesn't Have to Mean Ugly

Air conditioners, meters and junction boxes can be camouflaged.
Air conditioners, meters and junction boxes can be camouflaged.
By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, November 4, 2006

We often overlook the practical components of landscape design. These include the utilitarian areas of your property and the utilities lines that provide electricity, gas and water. They are the elements that make your garden function.

Utilitarian features that might be considered in a landscape design can include firewood -- that is, a place to stack it. Don't leave it in a heap in the yard. A stacked pile not only looks nicer but also seasons better, keeps the bottom layer from rotting and allows air circulation between logs, keeping them dry. During the months you burn firewood, keep some covered to have a dry supply. Stack it as a design element to separate two garden rooms.

A potting table provides valuable work space and tool storage. It should be within reach of your garden hose to have running water. Depending on placement, use a trellis as the back, with a plant trained on it. Build it to double as a bar for entertaining.

Composting is a given for your utilitarian area. Choose an out-of-the way location, because, from a design standpoint, it's difficult to do anything but hide compost. Even using a state-of-the-art compost barrel, bin or other receptacle, it's still yard debris.

Parking is a necessity in the American landscape. It can take innovative thinking to work parking into your landscape design in an aesthetically pleasing way. Driveways are usually a harsh expanse of paving, and parking on the grass is unsightly as well as bad for the lawn. But there are ways to improve the appearance of your parking space. Permeable pavers allow percolation of water. Grassy pavers allow grass to grow through them. Some are made of concrete. Others are heavy-duty plastic and of honeycomb-like structure capable of bearing considerable weight. The honeycomb is filled in with soil so that you can grow grass, and the structure prevents a vehicle from compacting the soil. They are useful for establishing and maintaining turf in areas of foot or vehicle traffic and are available from garden, home improvement or building supply centers. Constant traffic will still break down plant material.

To soften the appearance of a driveway, consider expanding it into the service area to keep both cars and utilities out of view from your ornamental garden spaces. Or consider curving it to disappear behind a grove of trees or shrubs.

If you are building a home, include the garage in your landscape design. Try to keep it from facing front or dominating the front of the house. Provide a way to comfortably go between the house and the cars, especially when carrying groceries or moving items in and out of your home.

If you looked at a garden without its plants, it would be a mass of wires, pipes, steel, plastic, soil, wood and concrete. Through this tangled network run the utilities that make your home and garden work. You wouldn't have landscape lighting, irrigation, an outdoor kitchen, a water garden, a deck, a swimming pool or security without an infrastructure of utilities.

Fortunately, almost all utilities are now installed underground and, therefore, much easier to hide. The challenge is keeping track of where they are so you don't accidentally dig into them.

Here are general guidelines for utility depths. Confirm these with your local utility companies.

· Electricity: Minimum of 18 inches, 36 inches preferred.

· Gas: No standard depth, 24 to 36 inches preferable.

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