Green Scene

'Lernscaping' Your Way to the Garden of Your Dreams

By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, July 25, 2009

Even if you have some horticultural knowledge, you probably consider landscape design abstract. It's difficult to visualize an entire garden rather than a single element, such as a flower, tree or trellised vine. Hence, the big picture should be broken into smaller parts to better understand it.

About 25 years ago, I developed a system called "lernscaping" to assist homeowners in creating a garden that reflects their personality. This approach will help you communicate with garden center personnel or a landscape professional before digging soil to one spade's depth or purchasing any nursery stock.

There's no way to include the entire lernscape questionnaire in this column. However, here's the essence of the checklist, which should give you some basic idea of what sort of landscape fits your desires, personality and budget:

-- Reflect on your childhood. You probably identified a preference for certain landscape elements at a young age. Maybe the sounds of a babbling brook remind you of fly-fishing with your dad or walking along a stream with a friend. Perhaps your favorite recollection of springtime in Washington is picnicking in Rock Creek Park -- the fresh smell of the green lawn, the crunch of leaves underfoot and the musky smell of woodland.

-- Consider elements that stimulate your senses in the garden: sculptures, colors, rocks, fragrances, paths or textures of paving. What themes do you prefer? Formal fountains or water cascades over rocks? Symmetrically geometric paving on lawn or curved, sweeping patios surrounded by planting beds?

Let these thoughts and images form the framework of your design.

-- Get to know your outdoor space. Pay careful attention to dimensions of the property, compass aspects, drainage patterns and location of underground utilities. This will ensure that your garden is usable and that plants grow. By becoming familiar with all features of your property, you'll save time, money and aggravation in the later stages of landscaping.

Make a list of your garden's vital statistics. It should include measurements of design areas, compass points and hours of sun, pleasant and unpleasant views, drainage patterns and underground utilities. Before you dig, call 811 or go to the Miss Utility Web site,, to find lines and avoid fines that come with damaging or cutting them.

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