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Layered landscapes are attractive to people, creatures

By Cathy Peck, Master Gardener

Last week’s early snowfall emphasized the advantages of designing a layered landscape. Delicate traceries of the beautiful white crystals graced every tree branch, shrub and perennial. Those landscape choices, instead of an end to summer and autumn, presaged the yard as a year-round source of pleasure.

Layering a landscape can mean the inclusion of plants of varying heights, but also those of different colors, textures, and densities. Beyond the aesthetic enjoyment layering creates, it very importantly provides a variety of habitats for birds and other creatures. They beings bring life into the landscape throughout the seasons.

Attracting a variety of birds to your yard is often a matter of providing diverse environments. Tall trees attract species that trill from the treetops. Midlevel trees allow them to swoop quickly to feeders in winter. Densely twigged shrubs such as mock orange give them safe escapes from marauding merlins or owls; evergreen species provide shelter during storms and cold weather. Different levels offer a variety of nesting sites too.

Fruiting species and seed producers such as grasses, annuals, and perennials, especially those native to the local area, provide food and attract insects that are best suited to the birds, pollinators, and other species. Cultivars developed elsewhere are lovely but are not necessarily well adapted to local creatures. A mix of native and developed species can give you the chance to grow new and interesting plants but still provide food and shelter sources for the creatures that are often stressed in the constantly decreasing native habitat. Their varying heights also suit different species.

Another advantage of the fruiting and native species is the variety of colors they can provide. Tree bark may be diverse in color and texture. Evergreen species vary in needle color and texture and their bark is certainly diverse. Birch trunks offer punches of white on the horizon as well as an interesting texture where insects can hide or birds can cache seeds. Oak bark is rough but native cherry trees have smooth bark with light-colored lenticels. Those differences equal layering of another sort.

Adding man-made elements and natural objects can provide high and low-level landscape features. Birdbaths placed in open areas can be focal points; strong, tall entrance arbors can support wild grapes or kiwi vines; simple arbors will provide climbing space for morning glories that attract hummingbirds. Rocks arranged to simulate outcroppings will shelter many species but also provide sunning spaces for butterflies. Snags from deadfall will provide interesting tall shapes as well as insect banks and nesting sites for cavity nesters. Bird feeders can hang from pergolas and bird houses can be placed at many levels in a yard. Organic mulches provide a natural yet attractive transition form the soil to the plants as well as shelter for insects and other species. Mulches maintain a moister and cooler soil for low-living species and for those who live in the basement, the below-ground creatures.

A layered landscape supports fellow creatures but it also creates yards that are interesting and attractive to view and with which to interact. An attractive, layered landscape will provide enhanced real estate value, a source of quiet satisfaction, and, dare I say it, a source of pride. As you assess your yard this fall, think about these ideas. Now is the time to plan next year’s landscape changes when you have more time to critically think about what you want to achieve.

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For personal help with gardening questions, call 444-7916, leaving your name, number, and question. A local master gardener will call to assist you.