Alternative Landscapes for Challenging Terrain

Sometimes no matter how green a thumb you have, poor soil or the lay of the land - not to mention the climate - will simply not allow for the lush landscape you’ve always dreamed of.

On the other hand, you may not have a green thumb or even wish for one - you want a landscape filled with plant alternatives like architectural features, patios, even ponds. It is possible to find landscaping solutions for botanically challenged settings that, nevertheless, create visually appealing scenes with a minimal use of plants and a reliance on alternative features.

Challenging terrain or an unenthusiastic gardener - it amounts to the same thing. You require a landscape that relies on some easy-to-maintain hardy plants that can be grown in your area, and features that have little to nothing to do with gardening. For example, instead of rolling hills of green vistas, you see a stretch of cobblestone, a sea of gravel. Landscaping with a minimal use of plants need not, however, be the barren wasteland one might envision. Landscaping with the following features may actually transform your scenery into an enjoyable place to relax and entertain.

First of all, few landscapes have nothing growing. Such places might be called deserts, might resemble the moon. So consider your climate: what grows naturally and what types of plants need minimal care. Generally speaking, you'll want to consider ornamental grasses for ground cover. Some require no mowing. Many grow in very poor conditions, even steep slopes.

Ornamental grasses can bloom, grow low-to-the ground, grow shoulder-high, and boast interesting colors, textures and shapes. Also, there are hundreds of tough plants that may prove ideal for your conditions. Just adding a few of these to a hardscape may be all the greenery necessary for a beautiful scene and prove more visually interesting than ordinary lawns.

If the soil will not support plants, don’t purchase any plastic concoctions from the craft store yet. Consider containers for several hardy species. Containers are available in many sizes from large stone planters to tiny terracotta pots. Glazed earthenware or even rustic wood planters will allow you to incorporate plants into the setting that could not otherwise be used. A few well placed hanging baskets and large containers will add all the necessary charm needed for bricked patios, decks or paved courtyards. If the landscape is filled with hills and steep slopes, choose an ornamental grass like creeping phlox to cover the area.

Another alternative for the non-gardener is to carve out some space for an easy to care for ground cover, a large patio, a garden structure or two and let Mother Nature take care of the rest. A prairie or woodland scene has a rustic allure that even the most formal gardens can't always rival. If however, your lot is in the city, you can still add a touch of ground cover for effect and install a patio or deck with a few container plants. Your patio furniture and accessories will go a long way to creating an inviting situation.

Plants aside, there are other ways to build a breathtaking landscape - build, being the operative word. Architectural features can be as small as an arch or as grand as a pavilion. Installing patios either at ground level or raised should be considered along with enlarged porches, gazebos, pergolas for difficult gardening situations. Platforms and decks can be built right into slopes or atop one to overlook the valley below. Think how much more appealing a plain grass-filled yard might be with an alternative paving of cobblestone transforming it into a courtyard style patio.

Gazebos can be anything from simple open-air structures to elaborate brick and window models used for entertaining purposes. There are many styles to choose between, but any structure will add additional interest to the landscape as well as provide a place to entertain or enjoy the outdoors. A patio or deck has greater potential to take up space, or rather, to fill in your landscape and make it seem less bleak. Attach a pergola to an area of your patio and you very nearly have added an outdoor room to your home. Architectural features can be built from wood, stone or brick. Match them to the style of your home for a seamless look.

Another landscaping alternative could be to put in a large pond or another type of water feature. Water gardening requires considerable gardening maintenance, but a pond without pretensions - a clear body of water and nothing else - can still add stunning beauty to the landscape. Keeping the water healthy requires some upkeep, but no attractive landscapes are without some maintenance. Water is a great way to add life to a landscape. Encircle your pond with a paver or an easy-to-care for ground cover and you have a wonderful all-season landscape. For a small lot, consider a stone fountain surrounded by no-mow ornamental grass. Pools, basins and cascades are other water features to consider.

Finally, you can add variety to a flat dry space with rock. Pebbled pools and gravel streams can mimic the look of water. Arrangements of rocks and rock-loving plants will create height and variance and are very easy to maintain. A rocky landscape can be softened with some painted architectural features and use of colored stone. With the addition of some tall container plants and an attractive patio, this landscape can be a breathtaking alternative that is easy to care for.

While a rose garden has its special charm, roses aren’t for everyone. You do not have to be a great gardener to have a terrific landscape. By relying heavily on other features, you can make minimal use of plantings and still create a lovely setting for family and friends to enjoy.