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Beware the seduction of magazines

If you're new to landscaping and want a low maintenance landscape, beware of beautiful pictures in the pages of gardening magazines. These "plant centerfolds" have been around for decades.

That's not to say you can't enjoy these landscapes. Though they may not fit your site, wallet or lifestyle, there is plenty to learn from them.

Colorful flowers are one tool typically used in seductive gardening photography. On the page, of course, it makes no difference if the flowers used are tasty to deer, require a lot of water, need regular deadheading or go dormant each winter. If it's the colors that are drawing you in, use the same hues but different plants. Most of us choose one of three color schemes: shades of green, oranges and reds or pastels.

Many plant pictures are loaded with a plethora of perennials and annuals. But forget that if you want a low maintenance landscape. For a garden that requires less upkeep, choose only trees, shrubs and groundcovers. When looking at shrubs to fit your site, consider their size at maturity, not the size when bought. In addition to requiring less maintenance than perennials and annuals, shrubs are significantly cheaper over time. Most take up more square footage as well.

It would be helpful if the plant pictures you're perusing came labeled with a square footage cost at maturity and a square footage cost to maintain. Those are the details you won't know as a beginner.

Lawns are another common subject of these gardening photo spreads. When flipping through them, pay attention to whether or not you prefer curving shapes or rectangular ones. Stick to broad curves if you're a fan of the former. Tightly curved turf edges require greater effort to mow and weed-eat.

Decide how you want to edge your turf. Most often, a plain trench is best. Simply dig a small trench 3 inches wide and 3 inches deep. This type of trench is aesthetically pleasing, cheap and low maintenance. If you want to use bricks to edge your turf, stay away from mortar bricks with holes. The holes are a great environment for slugs, which are bad for turf and plants.

Focal points (statues, benches, urns, etc)... are another strong feature of seductive landscape photographs. The ancient rule, "keep it simple sweetie," should be your motto. Don't attempt too many focal points - one per area is a good rule. Focal points are also effective when plants are not blooming or have lost their leaves in winter.

It's about time for a plant magazine that features more accessible gardens. Until then, knowing these simple facts will help you extract useful ideas from ridiculously idyllic landscape photos, and begin turning them into your own beautiful, low maintenance landscape.

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