DELMARVA ALMANAC

Landscaping Design Tips From Jan Kirsh

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Fall is the perfect time to think about Spring gardening and landscape design tips from Jan Kirsh.

As the weather starts to cool we start to think about putting our gardens to bed for the winter. This is actually an especially good time to think about what we want to do next Spring since preparing the soil in Fall assures a good head start for next year. But before you start working on that you have to have a plan.

I asked sculptor Jan Kirsh who is also a sought after landscape designer to give us a few tips about designing our gardens.

Jan Kirsh:
"Drainage is an issue. I think drainage is the number one big challenge because we're so flat. And with our recent weather climate change, it rains a lot and irregularly. We are finding that the weather patterns are extreme. We may have four inches of rain in a day and half and then it may not rain again for three weeks. It's just so variable. So I would say that. I try site plants that would do well in the environment. I am becoming more and more conscious just over the last two years of the extreme cold that we are experiencing. But I choose carefully and I try to site groups of plants together that make sense not only visually: you know that the colors and texture work. But there habits should be the same, so that they're all compatible.

"You have to assess, you know, this is the north side of the house it's colder in the winter. Here is the south side. This wind is not going to be blowing so much on this side so I can plant things that maybe need a little more protection. You have to simply just pay attention to the compass. And, what does nature give you?

"The more organic materials, no matter whether your soil is sandy and you live over on the coast, or whether you are in Royal Oak over between Easton and St. Michael's and we have heavy, heavy clay and terrible drainage there. It doesn't matter everybody wants to have organic material mixed in with their soil. I counsel people who have a very small garden budget to the first year all they do is work on their soil. Put pots around with fabulous annuals for color. But do a bang up job on preparing the soil the first year and next year your plants are going to do well."


Jan also recommends that when choosing plants you carefully research the ultimate size they will grow to. Otherwise they could quickly grow too big for the spot you have put them in and no amount of pruning or thinning will keep them from taking over. If there is not enough room for the plant's root system it will not succeed. If they are a tree, will there be enough room between it and your house when it is full grown? Another problem to look out for is that some lovely trees actually do not live longer than 15 years and are shallow rooting like the Leyland Cypress which is prone to being uprooted from our sandy soil after heavy rain and wind storms.

Choosing plants may also depend on whether you don't mind planting annuals every year or if you are trying to establish beds that require less yearly maintenance. The more you learn about the plants you are going use ahead of buying them, the more you will know how much care they will need in order to succeed. But there are some other considerations.

Jan Kirsh:
"No matter if I am designing a garden that's over in Northern Virginia, or I am working at the beach, or you know if I am working here in Talbot County; I really like the garden to look like it belongs in the setting. I like the garden to serve the house well. The architecture of the house really has to be the leader. But the house and the garden really need to talk to each other. And I want the garden to look like it just flows, right from the doorstep. That works best for me. And then I am about color and texture and I love designing gardens that are not just four seasons but six seasons. I mean we really take advantage of the shoulders of our seasons.

"If someone has a strong preference for shades that they've used in their house, I love to repeat the colors inside the house out in the garden. I think that is a wonderful thing if you are looking out the window at the same colors that you are surrounded by in the house. But then there is the layer of whimsy and art and color and just that thrill of walking outside. I want some special little something to be happening."


Jan suggests that adding one or two personal touches like a statue or unusual plant container in key places can accomplish this. Another recommendation she makes is to plant masses of one type of plant with one color. Individual specimens are fine for intimate spaces where you will be up close to enjoy them. But they may get lost in the overall view of things. Big splashes of color can make for a showy display.

The bottom line is that with some Fall planning and preparation you can a have a garden that helps take care of itself so you can enjoying being in it more than you do working in it.

If you would like to find out more about landscape design services provided by Jan Kirsh, visit her website: jankirshstudio.com

Get links to more gardening resources on our Living Coastal page: delmarva-almanac.com/living