It's what our mentors said to do:
Don't fuss too much with all that drawing on paper. People can
imagine better if you use a garden hose to outline new beds.
One day, standing together on the roof of a house and
considering lines drawn in the bare soil of the yard, we discovered
we had a childhood pastime in common. We both loved to draw lines
in the snow.
Janet would shovel the new snow of the back yard to sketch the
floor plan of a house, or simply create meandering paths. Steven
outlined snow forts. Both of us would then go into the house to
look out the upstairs windows, admire the pattern and plan the next
We still do it, and love it. Especially since the process so
often fits into the normal day's work when we're most in tune with
practical change and making things simpler. (Many people have
enjoyed the process with us at Garden by Janet &
Steven sessions. There are many of those on our calendar
now, including three very special
No hose, just tape, scratch or food coloring
With due respect to our Mentors, we
don't like the garden hose as a
drafting tool. Even in fine weather,
hoses and gardeners are at odds. At
design time in winter and early spring
a cold hose is even more uncooperative.
We use bright rope or cloth measuring tape (above,
right). Or, when the drawing board's clear we do even less.
Then we scrape with a shovel (photos below) or use a spray
bottle filled with water and food coloring (above,
left) to mark the snow.
If the snow -- or even a disaster such as described below --
creates a clean slate for you, why not play like a kid with some
design ideas? No matter how wild you get, it's simple to erase and
Spring's around the corner and it'll bring garden fever. It's
good to have a plan to channel that energy.
Picture it: You have a simple, established landscape.
Suddenly one day the center of the yard has to be ripped
Sadly, septic field replacement is rarely optional, when its time
You grit your teeth and wait for the machinery to be gone.
What's left is pretty bare... with an invisible hindrance: A
tank there where those white pipes converge. A tank
that is close enough to the surface to make the soil dry, hot and
not great for lawn growing. A tank with a big clean-out port that
must remain accessible.
So you drag your shovel around to draw lines
that will make the tank area a no-lawn space. That enlarges that
front bed, which pleases you. That bed always bugged you for being
undersized and grave like, as if soil had just been dumped there
one day and
never quite settled.
You place a big flat stone over the septic tank access, so you
can tip it out of the way like a manhole cover when necessary.
You spend $100 on four shrubs and 15 perennial groundcovers in
small pots, each one chosen for ability to grow well in sun and
shallow, dry soil: Rug juniper (Juniperus horizontalis
'Blue Rug'); perennial carnations (Dianthus
gratianopolitanus); Angelina sedum (S. rupestre);
threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata).
You mulch it.
(You also seed in a drought tolerant lawn and focus on enriching
and aerating because the septic system contractors used fill sand
and packed it down to parking lot airlessness. Eventually it will
be green and soft out there.)
Your outline has become a low care groundcover bed.
Just like the line you scratched in the sand, it's also in
better proportion than what was there, and easier to mow