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When Choosing a Place - Garden v House

One can find many "reality" programs on the telly. Those programs featuring real-estate (i.e., shopping for homes) are especially popular. I occasionally watch an episode (whichever one my wife has chosen) at dinner or while consuming an adult beverage after a day at the computer or working in the garden. But I cannot watch very long without getting frustrated, for they never cover the mechanicals (i.e., HVAC, electricity or plumbing). Any half sane prospective buyer should consider these critically important features immediately (e.g., age, condition, adequacy, absence, etc.). These "reality" programs are supposedly more than entertainment. I invariability start grumbling, talking over the channel chatter and referring to the participants as ignorant idiots -- afterall, I am the mad botanist. This is when the spouse pauses the program waiting for me to shut up or leave the room -- preferably both.

Likewise, I find it frustrating that many people, dare I say most, who are interested in plants and gardening DO NOT consider the equivalency of mechanicals (the land) before purchasing a property. Why is this important? There is nothing like space and native soil. You cannot make it and just about every property in new subdivisions lacks it. The too big homes are often also too close, poorly sited and the topsoil was scraped off and sold prior to construction. The take/the rape was done by what I and others refer to as the landscrapers (no typo) AKA "developers." The landscrapers have no interest in the gardening (plant growth) potential of the property. They have two goals: (1) to make it easier to build and (2) to maximize profit by maximizing profit via the number of homes (McMansions) in the available space. Moreover, many of the sites ARE NOT suited for a house. The property would be better utilized as a common green space, but the landscapers do not see it that way.

I do consultations (I refer to them as assessments) for homeowners hoping to make their place a nice garden. I feel bad often having to inform those in new subdivisions that their property has little to no potential for that purpose. About the best most of them can hope for is a few pedestrian specimen plants and a planting bed or two, often necessarily elevated because of the available space, poor soil and drainage. If a few tolerant common plants is all they want, fine. But a wonderful garden. Ain't gonna happen. Most of the owners are shocked and/or disappointed. How can that be? All we need to do is bring in some "topsoil" and then make a couple of trips to the garden center. Presto -- a beautiful, mature, low maintenance, never changing masterpiece. They saw it on the telly, or at least that is what they deluded themselves into believing would be possible. They want me to tell them what they want to hear and believe. Instead, I give them an honest objective answer. Moreover, there are many other factors in play besides the soil (e.g., slope, drainage, light (E), buildings, utility lines, space, existing vegetation, previous activity, easements and other restrictions).

I indicate in my Rantings book that anyone interesting in gardening should evaluate a potential property for the related factors and be willing to pay a premium if they find a place that qualifies as good. Those considering a home in an older neighborhood (say pre-1970) can sometimes have good aboriginal soil but often face the prospect of an aging or neglected mechanicals and landscape, the latter usually from ill-advised woody species and/or improper placement -- let's call it the my idea or incompetent landscaper design approach. Moreover, gardeners are far less likely to move. Research shows that the average person currently stays at a property eight years. In the early 2000's it was only half that long. Hell, it takes at least a decade to have a garden start coming into its own. FYI: flat usually means limited potential and probable ponding issues.

You can have a wonderful house and a magnificent garden BUT it will require you to consider BOTH (land and buildings) at least equally BEFORE purchasing a property. Additionally, be advised that a great garden, regardless of size, requires a substantial commitment of time, effort and money. A key factor, often overlooked, is maintenance -- it is ongoing and can be overwhelming. Alas, most people are too lazy and/or cannot afford to have a beautiful garden even if they have an appropriate property. They either (1) don't care and their place looks like a dump or (2) are impatient and want and attempt to get a never-changing trophy "lawnscape" instead -- a few lollipop trees, some meatball shrubs and a drug dependent rug that they can over manicure. Throw in a few prominent annuals for color. Boring. Sterile. No thanks!


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