A handsome landscape is not always about plants. Many factors determine the attractiveness of a favorite outdoor spot. Balance, tidiness, color and harmony with surroundings all create appeal and comfort as friends join you on a porch, patio or in a garden room.

Most yards contain at least one large tree. Oaks, junipers (Eastern red cedar), sycamores and maples are just a few that bring welcome shade from summer’s hot sun. Unfortunately, growing beneath an oak or other large tree can be challenging. Without a doubt, a large tree’s surface roots make digging a challenge. Shallow-rooted plants or vining groundcovers are often the easy option. In addition, some trees, pines and native oaks particularly, summer irrigation may be detrimental to the tree’s long term health.

Vinca (common periwinkle) and English ivy are frequently planted around the base of trees. Vinca grows to about one foot tall, spreads by runners and blooms light purple flowers in early spring. Ivy has similar growth habit but no flowers. Though both look good from a distance, the area covered is basically unusable, unless you like to wade through ankle-high vines on your way to the shade.

Inside a Pin Oak’s drip line, I have grown a variety of Hosta, lilies, coral bells, violets and mums. I enjoyed the ever-changing display of flowers, but it did take regular weeding, water and love. This is an option for those who want to spend a little more time in their gardens.

I have seen homeowners create areas beneath trees that blended Vinca with hardscape and ornamental highlights. Randomly alternating flagstone and local, natural rock generates cohesion with the existing landscape and a home’s brick exterior. Blending flat and irregular rock surfaces creates interest; rounded river rock adds curves to a perimeter adjacent to a sidewalk or driveway. For those whose interests don’t include flowers yet still appreciate a handsome yard a blend of stone, statuary and eclectic highlights can form a near maintenance free area!

Using black as a color base, sunshine glinting off the bright, bronze color seat, a friend, Sue Thomas reclaimed a rusty tricycle she ran across at a garage sale. Dark and golden spheres and other subtle colors draw the eye without interrupting the black and bronze continuum. A carefully positioned concrete bench offered a place for reflection.

Apart from blowing away fallen leaves, this visual treat is a maintenance free area!

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