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Conceal and Reveal to Make Gardens Enticing
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
"Conceal and reveal" was the phrase Dr. Neil Odenwald shared with those attending the Gulf States Horticultural Expo in Mobile at the end of January. Odenwald is the author of several books, including the "Identification, Selection and Use of Southern Plants for Landscape Design" and the new "Bountiful Flower Garden" co-authored with William Welch. Those in attendance were landscape architects, designers and nurserymen from Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. Odenwald challenged them to make the landscape a "garden of participation."
The ideas of conceal and reveal and a garden of participation go hand in hand for a good landscape design. You can't see the whole garden from any one point, so visitors walking out the back door see only the portion of the backyard that is revealed, not the whole thing.
Once out in the garden and in the first outdoor room, you notice another location revealed through a "door" or "window." As you and the visitors are enticed to go to the next location, you have become an active garden participant. In the new room or location, the room where you started is now concealed. Whether or not the garden ends there is up to you, but hopefully it will continue to another room or two.
These gardens can be gardens of fragrance, encouraging visitors to stoop down to catch some exotic aroma. Around a corner hidden by evergreen shrubs might be a water garden, a bench, statuary or even a herb garden, all features that invite participants to sit, touch or taste.
The conceal-and-reveal idea not only makes the garden interesting, but it transforms the home like almost nothing else can do. Take a look in your neighborhood as you drive to work or school, and look at real estate buyer's guides to see the homes for sale. It becomes woefully apparent that landscaping was put on the back burner at many homes.
I had the opportunity to see how long it was taking homes to sell in my area, and found most were sold after about 180 days. A few sold faster, but many were on the market for a year. While I know they could have been overpriced or perhaps had purple walls and shag carpet, my instinct tells me that landscaping was not one of their bragging features.
When you look at nice houses that have five shrubs, two trees and nothing else, you get the feeling that the owner never really considered it a home, but only a stopping off place on the road of life. The owner may have watched a stock portfolio closely to maximize investments, but the home value was somewhat stagnate. Home values can increase 15 percent with good landscaping, and 15 percent on a $200,000 home is a nice return when it comes time to sell.
Spring planting time is just around the corner, and trucks full of trees, shrubs, flowers, and hard features like furniture and fountains will be arriving soon. Now is a good time to look at your landscape and ask if it conceals and reveals outdoor gardens or rooms. Has it become a garden of participation? Making it into one can be easier than you think.