Films shed light on good gardening

Go to the movies this weekend and discover what really centuries-old European landscapes can teach us. Their beauty is seemingly eternal, surviving world wars, financial troubles and the deaths of their original owners.

Two recent films, "Atonement," filmed in England, and "The Water Horse," made in Scotland, have a home and garden displayed prominently in their setting. Both landscapes, still beautiful, are redolent of former glories, yet contain little.

Isn't that the core of elegance? Simplicity. Landscapes should begin with what they end with, especially if the details are low maintenance and require little water.

A simple trinity of what those landscapes contain: the meadow, trees and a focal point. With these three elements, you can take almost any house and landscape and create an award-winning landscape that thrives beautifully with little maintenance.

First, the meadow - in America, it's known as the lawn. The shape and placement of your lawn frames the home and provides access for the foot traffic of people and pets. It must be both aesthetically pleasing and functional, allowing you to walk where you need to go - the siren call of form and function.

Lawns can be walked on, of course, but areas that demand more protection and pathways are commonly placed leading to the front and back doors, to the dog run, a woodpile or a garbage can. Do be selfish and make it easier to walk to areas you use repeatedly. This selfishness translates into grace and ease of living. And that translates into a higher value for your home.

Next, the trees. If you don't have any, and have the space, include a taller canopy layer and a smaller, understory strata. For added interest, choose several different kinds: evergreen, deciduous, fall coloring, blooming, berrying, unusually-colored or peeling-bark.

Lastly, a focal point. Interestingly, both movies had the same one: A stone fountain. Not the type bought and installed, but the ones created on-site, for permanance, with stone and mortar. Where to place the focal point is critical. It must be easily seen from viewpoints both inside and outside the house.

Designing your landscape with this trinity - meadow, trees, focal point - passes the crucial test of good landscape design. What does your landscape look like in February? If a landscape is beautiful in February, it'll probably be beautiful all year. Spend the same money/time/labor on perennials and deciduous shrubs and you'll create a landscape that is beautiful, at most, for a few weeks.

Instead, spend those same resources on beauty that will last. It wasn't an accident that both films chose the same type of beautiful landscape.

Stone Mountain resident Tara Dillard designs, installs and writes about gardens. E-mail her at taradillard@agardenview.biz.