People a few streets away from us are landscaping. Well, I use the term loosely. What's actually happening is they're selling their house and the real estate company is putting in place some garden elements to make the property more saleable. That's the plan, anyway.
Previously, the section had nothing but a straight row of rather desperate pittosporums along the road frontage. Now they've been joined by a row of palms, and three rows of other things I don't know the names of. The rows are straight and at strict right angles to one another, the plants are evenly spaced in a single line, and the property now looks like a school.
Unless you're living in the UK or Christchurch and aiming for a formal garden, there are other ways to create an appealing landscape than to plant things in single, straight rows. I know this, because I'm in the process of planting a border to separate the orchard from the house garden (that may sound quite grand but the reality is different). I've been looking at books, magazines, the internet and various examples of civic planting in an effort not to screw it up.
Borders, be they for visual separation, to define a boundary or to provide protection from the wind, can benefit from curves, layers and diversity. Plant straight rows of one species, and what you get is a shelter belt.
Having said that, it's quite difficult to visualise a beautiful border when all you have to start with is a flat piece of lawn. But here's a trick. It works pretty well for any kind of new garden bed. Select the start and finish points of your border and stick a peg in at each end. Run the hose in a straight line from one end to the other. Decide how wide you want your border at its widest point, and decide where that point should be - hopefully not right in the middle. Find two more pegs and mark it. Define the front and back boundaries with more hose, moving it around until you have a shape you like. When you're pleased with it, mark the lines with spray paint.
Your border can be single- or double-sided. If it's up against an existing wall or fence it can be single-sided, with taller trees at the back, medium shrubs in the centre, and low-growing plants or ground covers at the front. If it's double-sided, site the larger trees in the middle and layer your plants along both sides.
If you want a fairly structured look, or if your border is quite short, limit your plant palette to a few species. If you're after something wild and casual, you can afford to go a bit mad.
Ours is about 15m long, and the taller back line has three evergreen magnolias, an acacia, two photinia robusta, three hibiscus, and an olive - an eclectic collection dictated not by my superb design skills, but by what was on special at the nursery. The olive was given to us by a friend and I couldn't bear to waste it. Having said that, I've deliberately chosen trees that can be pruned to maintain a limited height, and that will attain a similar width. I've steeled myself to plant them a reasonable distance apart, having learned the hard way that taking half of them out again five years down the track means hard work, mess and a border that looks awful for another couple of years.
The middle tier so far has camellias, Mexican orange blossom, acanthus, toetoe and fatsia. I'll slot in a couple of clumps of irises, and when the nice man with the tractor who mows the paddock behind us next comes, I'll see if he'll move a couple of big rocks in there to break up the space.
And the front row - well, all suggestions welcome. Having had a two-acre section to fill I've always been focused on trees and large shrubs, so I'm at a bit of a loss for smaller, low-growing plants to edge the space and, hopefully, provide some colour.
The end result will be a layered border chock-full of trees and plants, with graduations of height, a variety of textures, and year-round colour, and it'll never need weeding. In my dreams.