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December 02, 2016
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Tips from a professional: Plan, plant, persist & be pleased with yourself

Backing up to a wooded area, Gavalla created a dramatic scene, filled with blouders, “under canopy” trees, cascading grasses, shrubbery and low-growing ground cover that hugs the stone wall.
Contributed photos

Do your research: Make a list of which plants will do best in these differing conditions. Learn which plants are deer resistant. (For a long list of deer-resistant plants, visit the website: When purchasing plants, one of the most important sources of basic information will be right there at the store. “Read the tag,” Gavalla insisted. “It’s worth the few minutes you invest.” Finally, if you’re so inclined, your research might also include having your soil tested; based on the results, you can add the appropriate amendments, making it more or less acidic or adding minerals that may be missing from your soil.

Consider the dimensional perspective: Start with low ground covers and work up to taller shrubs and trees. According to Gavalla, one of people’s biggest mistakes is overcrowding; you need to leave enough room for potential maximum future growth. If you’re planting what he called “understory trees” (they live under the canopy of taller trees), consider redbuds, dogwoods, shadblow, or bay magnolias.

Decide which plants you like best: “It’s important for people to understand what they like,” Gavalla explained. “There are blue people, gold people and silver people, for example. I’m particularly fond of gold: gold junipers and golden mop (Pisifera chamaecyparis), Peabody’s gold-tipped arborvitae.” Now, on the drawing you’ve made of your plan, sketch your plant choices, placing them, as Gavalla says, “where they want to be.”

Consider other natural features: Rocks give a tranquil native kind of feel, according to Gavalla, but need to be in line with surrounding geology and ecology. Water features also offer a sense of tranquility. “The sound of running water is soothing to the soul,” Gavalla said. “They can be a little pricey and require maintenance, but if you’re willing, they can be awesome.”

Pergolas and trellises: These manmade features, from simple to elaborate, add interest, atmosphere and even privacy, helping to create what Gavalla calls a “fortress of solitude” (or FOS as he calls it for short). Some of the vines and climbing plants he likes include climbing hydrangea (“I love it”), clematis Japonica and silverlace vine (Fallopia baldschuanica), which blooms in mid-summer.

Label your plants: This adds a nice, professional look to your landscaping and helps others identify what you’ve planted. In addition, it also helps avoid a surprisingly common problem—believe it or not people frequently start weeding out the very ground covers that they planted intending them to spread. “When I weed gardens, I weed what looks like grass,” Gavalla laughed.