"Landscaping is one of the last expenditures on a house, though it's one of the first things the public sees," says Plato Touliatos.
His business, Trees By Touliatos, covers 20 acres with 83 species of trees, 12 aquatic gardens, perennials, herbs, sod, and even fish. It provides a starting point for homeowners looking to spruce up their surroundings. People can wander the acreage, select what vegetation best suits them-- and their budgets-- and either install it themselves, or contract with Touliatos to do the job.
Much of the fun of landscaping is in the planting and installing. The same might not be true of aquatic features, a popular trend in outdoor design. Most of us aren't equipped to diagram, dig, and install a pond on our property. Both Touliatos and Jesse Howley at Stringer's Garden Center, however, can take care of that. Stringer's also stocks your garden variety, well, gardening supplies for do-it-yourselfers.
Howley encourages the trend toward low-maintenance gardening, and suggests natural ground covers like creeping jenny, and one he claims is misunderstood and misused: monkey grass. "Everyone hates it, because it looks uninspired, but people use it the wrong way," he says. Monkey grass should be planted in place of mulch to "create a focal point," for other plants.
Like pond installation, a few other tasks around the yard could use an expert, lest we surround ourselves with dead flowers, flooded gardens, and a leaning gazebo in our quest for beauty on a budget.
In addition to beautifying a property, landscaping offers the added benefit of lowering energy consumption. Touliatos explains that shade trees like oaks, maples, and certain crepe myrtles have long been mandatory in the steamy South. "Plant them on the east and west sides of the house to intercept the summer sun," he says.
The right trees can also help get you through the cold months. Those in the know suggest a judicious use of evergreens -- too many can block the precious winter sun, while one strategically placed in the northwest corner of a yard can divert prevailing winter winds. Otherwise, make sure you plant deciduous trees, like oaks and maples, that drop their leaves and allow the sunlight in. Howley likes sweetbay magnolias, short shade trees that you can plant "four feet from your house and they'll never give you a foundation problem."