Beautiful landscapes evolve slowly, affordably

After several holiday parties this season, meeting new people and hearing laments about landscape costs I cannot contain myself. Is a beautiful landscape expensive? No. But the cliché, we believe what we see, goes deep into the psyche.

There is a template for beautiful, affordable landscapes. First, get a landscape plan. Already, pennies are dictating. Will you delegate the plan or do it yourself? I completed a landscape plan late last summer for a client on a tight budget whose husband will install the plan. She wrote recently and said they wouldn't be installing any of the landscape for quite awhile due to the economy and reduced hours at work.

Knowing about their free labor and expanse of backyard lawn waiting to be transformed into garden rooms with shapes, focal points, trees and shrubs, I said, "Put in your shapes." It's also what I said at the recent holiday parties.

What does it mean to put in your shapes? Create the beds where your trees, shrubs and focal points will be placed in the future. Don't worry if the future is three years away. Creating the shapes of your garden rooms will indeed, without plantings, create garden rooms. Move plantings that won't remain in the long-term plan. Cover the bare soil of your new garden rooms with free mulch. Many counties and tree-cutting services offer free mulch.

Next, find free plants. Ask gardening friends or neighbors if they have any holly, oak, red bud, maple, hydrangea, hellebore, eastern red cedar or other desirable seedlings popping up they don't want.

Focal points are created with Dumpster-diving eyes. Drive slowly on garbage pick-up days to peruse the offerings. Remember, Picasso was a Dumpster-diving artist.

Living in a beautiful landscape helps live a beautiful life. Mother Teresa was proof living a beautiful life isn't about having money. An extreme example, but most people I tell about putting in shapes for their landscape look at me weirdly. It's my mission to change the weird look into a look of excitement and understanding.

Cost shouldn't delay a landscape. Get a plan and put in the shapes. A landscape with shapes only is fabulous in person but plain dirt on TV, hence, shows similar to Ground Breakers. Create a plan, put in your shapes, put in your shapes, and lastly, put in your shapes.

Stone Mountain resident Tara Dillard designs, installs and writes about gardens. Her most recent books include "Garden Paths and Stepping Stones" and "Perennials for Georgia." E-mail her at taradillard@agardenview.biz or visit www.agardenview.biz.