From dinky lawn to alpine meadow Essay

“Nature paints in swaths of one plant, then another, and putssmidgens of them somewhere else,” says landscape architect JohnHerbst. He followed that observation to create the look of an alpinemeadow when remodeling the front of his house in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

In the sloping garden, he planted bands of ground covers andcompact, low-growing shrubs accented with boulders, then punctuated therolling, low masses with taller shrubs and trees. The result is agentle garden with subtle textures and year-round color. Before, a driveway had swept within 15 feet of the house. Herbstpulled the driveway back and redirected it to approach the house lessabruptly. He then regraded the entry and improved the soil, usingmushroom compost for annual beds and a mix of nitrogen-fortified woodshavings for the acid-loving plants. Rather than create a formal, geometric plan, Herbst designedeye-catching curves and swoops.

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A bermed peninsula to the left of thegraveled parking area partially blocks the view of the garage and putsthe focus on the entry walk. The main walking surface is exposedaggregate, with ragged edges that seem to fracture into layers of shale.Rich, green Irish moss (Sagina subulata) grows in the gaps and softensthe sharp edges. Though the walkway looks 5 to 7 feet wide, it actually extends 12to 18 inches farther on both sides, creating a hidden lip to support theshale. To form the walkway’s angular, irregular edges, Herbst usedaluminum flashing. He bent the flashing where he wanted, put it inplace, and secured it with staples shot into slender stakes spaced about6 inches apart and at every bend. Between the concrete and shale, he left voids for soil–plantingpockets for moss that extend into the garden and wrap around bouldersbrought to the site.

Farther from the walk, he switched to masses of bearberry cotoneaster (C. dammeri), heath (Erica carnea ‘Vivelli’), andlow-growing Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ and macranthaazaleas. Smaller clumps of sedums, Mentha requienii, and alpine bulbsborder rocky areas. Low-growing annuals tucked in among permanent plants provide colorall year. In summer, Herbst plants geraniums, lobelia, and petunias.He switches to chrysanthemums for fall color, then to flowering kale inwinter and early spring.

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