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ike a smash hit at the theater, an enchanting landscape relies as much on what happens behind the scenes as it does on the drama before your eyes. A yard's backstage—its service areas—should organize tools and trash, cars and compost, vegetable and cutting gardens, even places for pets, so that each gives its all to the performance.

SERVICE AREAS

ASSESSING SERVICE-AREA OPTIONS

Tired of backing out the car every time the lawn needs mowing? Making visitors hike from the street because there's no place for them to park on your property? Tethering the dog with a chain that soon tangles? Though not the most glamorous parts of a landscaping scheme, service areas—convenient but inconspicuous—should be intrinsic elements in your yard's master plan.

The pages that follow shed light on the process of planning and building storage sheds, driveways, and kennels. Here are some other points to ponder as you plan ways to put your yard at your service.

• Paving options

For driveways and other service areas, you'll need sturdy, good-looking surfaces that require minimal upkeep from year to year. Here are your major service-area paving choices.

  • Concrete lasts for years with little maintenance. It also offers you many ways to introduce texture, pattern, and color to your landscaping scheme. For more information on working with concrete, see pages 122-129, 158-163, 242245, 248-249, and 282-287.
  • Asphalt costs somewhat less than concrete, but working with large expanses of it requires expertise and equipment beyond the reach of most do-it-yourselfers. The final surface texture of an asphalt installation depends for the most part on the size of the aggregate used by the asphalt supplier. Color usually varies only with age. When first installed, asphalt is a rich black; after a few years, it weathers to a medium-to-light gray, unless you reseal with a tar-based coating. Asphalt can be tinted, but you'll probably find the cost of doing that prohibitive.
  • Loose fills—including materials like rock, pebbles, and sand—can be installed with less grading and less subsurface preparation than concrete or asphalt, and they cost less than either. Also, loose fills that have been in place for several years make an excellent base for concrete or asphalt paving.

The most economical loose fill to use depends on the materials readily available in your area. Loose fills come in a variety of colors, too. The biggest problem with them is that they don't always stay in place. Besides migrating to the lawn when children are around, loose fill can stick to shoes and the treads of car tires, wash away during rainstorms, or be shoveled up with snow in winter. Loose fill also is not a good choice for a steep drive. To learn about installing loose fill, see page 123. • Brick makes an elegant surfacing material for service areas. Cost ranges from moderate, if the bricks are set in sand (see pages 154-157), to very costly, if you decide to first pour a concrete slab, then mortar the bricks to it (see pages 124125). Some bricks can become quite slippery when they're wet; these are not a good choice for steep drives.

•Vegetable gardens

Raising even a few juicy tomatoes or crunchy radishes is an enjoyable, delicious, and informative experience for the entire family.

As you plan the crops for a vegetable garden, bear in mind that some plants require much more space than others in proportion to their yield. Corn, for instance, though nearly everyone's favorite, produces relatively few ears per square foot of garden. Tomatoes, on the other hand, produce pounds of succulent fruit in only a few square yards of space.

Location is the key to a successful vegetable garden. Vegetables need lots of sun—at least six hours of full sun per day for warm-season crops such as melons, corn, and tomatoes. Plant tall crops where they will not cast a shadow over smaller plants. Perennials, such as asparagus and rhubarb, should get a spot that is free of traffic and undisturbed by the plow or tiller.

The quality and nature of the soil also are important to a vegetable garden's-success. Most plants do best in slightly acid soil. To test for this, and for the soil's fertility, use a soil-testing kit, available from most garden-supply outlets. Your county extension office also can arrange for a test at the nearest soil-testing station. Even the poorest soil is easily improved by adding compost, manure, and other organic matter. See below for more about compost heaps.

• Cutting gardens

Tempted to bring the beauty of a flower garden inside? To enjoy your own cut flowers without giving up the wealth of color outside, plant a cutting garden.

The best place for a cutting garden is a separate and relatively unseen site set aside specifically for growing indoor bouquets. It could be in a backyard, or simply tucked behind a taller flower bed that's intended for show. If space is tight, or if you just don't have time to tend two gardens, design a single garden that's so well planned, varied, and abundant that flowers cut from carefully chosen sections won't be missed. Or combine your cutting garden with a vegetable planting area.

To assure a steady supply of cut flowers throughout the growing season, make your cutting garden a time-share proposition: In the fall, plant a spring cutting garden of bulbs. When they blossom, plant annuals. By the time the annuals fill out and claim the space, the bulb foliage will have matured and withered.

For a listing of popular landscape flowers, see pages 320-323.

• Compost heaps

As mentioned earlier, a compost heap provides a thrifty way to organically nourish any type of garden—and lets you recycle leaves, clippings, and food wastes that would otherwise be thrown out.

Give careful attention to the location of a compost heap. You'll need a fairly level spot with reasonably good drainage. Avoid placing the heap in a depression where the compost could become waterlogged during a wet season.

Your location also should be close to a water supply—or at least within reach of a garden hose—so if the compost becomes too dry, you can easily sprinkle it down.

A shady spot is preferable because too much sun will dry out the pile too frequently. The heap also should be close to your garden, accessible to a wheelbarrow, and screened from outdoor living areas.

Though not absolutely necessary, an enclosure around your compost heap makes the pile much easier to build and maintain. An enclosure also helps keep loose materials from blowing around your yard.

The type of bin you build can be simple or elaborate, depending on the construction materials you decide on. Bricks, concrete blocks, wire, snow fencing, and wood all work well. If you use wood, however, bear in mind that the same bacteria working in the compost pile also will be trying to break down the wood, so use only cedar, cypress, redwood, or pressure-treated lumber.

Construct a three-sided enclosure with removable slats or boards on the fourth side so you can reach the pile to turn or remove compost. Don't use the side of a building as one side of the enclosure. This, too, could decay.

Also remember to build your enclosure so air can get in to nourish the bacteria. Lay concrete blocks so the holes are horizontal; if you use wood, leave space between the boards.

The most common size for a compost bin is 4 feet square by 3 to 4 feet high. A pile less than 3 feet high tends to dry out; one that's taller than 4 feet is difficult to turn. If you need more room, you'll find two small side-by-side bins are much easier to manage than one large one, especially when it's time to turn the compost.

You needn't worry about adding a floor or cover to the bin. Microbes and earthworms coming up from the soil beneath the pile are necessary players in the process. And if your pile is rained on, the shower will save yon the trouble of hosing it down.

CREATING THE ULTIMATE STORAGE UNIT

Efficient, good-looking storage units don't just happen. In fact, planning one is an evolutionary process that should unfold over a period of time. First, you need to inventory the items you want to keep in it. Next, ask yourself what other jobs your storage unit might do. Then, decide where to locate it. Finally, come up with a design that will harmonize with your house and overall landscaping scheme.

Bicycles, trash cans, garden tools, patio furniture, the lawn mower, barbecue equipment, sports gear, ladders—the candidates for shelter in a storage unit could (and sometimes do) fill a two-car garage. As you list the things you'd like to get out from under foot, note the dimensions of each and add them all together for the approximate number of cubic feet your structure should contain.

Realize, too, that space alone is not enough. Organization is at least as important: Gardening, outdoor cooking and entertaining, and family activities go more smoothly when the items you need are properly stored so they're ready when you are.

Perhaps when your inventory is done, you'll realize that you don't need a full-blown storage unit at all. If so, look for tuck-away spaces under decks or benches, or in handy corners.

•Think multipurpose

The best storage units do a lot more than just hold things. They also solve other problems, such as creating privacy or providing a protected place to nurture seedlings. The examples shown at right and on the opposite page are five cases in point.

Your shed can be freestanding or attached to a house, garage, carport, or other outbuilding. It should be sited and styled so it's not only convenient and accessibile, but also compatible with its surroundings. Keep the structure in scale with your house and yard, and develop a design that complements rather than competes with the architectural styling of your home.

eaves, consider hanging a cupboard from them.

This one holds all sorts of things up off the ground, away from possible water damage.

Matching siding and paint make the unit look like part of the house.

each approximately 4x8

feet, stand at the rear of a freestanding deck. A

ramp betwem the sheds makes it easy to wheel heavy equipment in and out of storage.

A If your home has deep

eaves, consider hanging a cupboard from them.

This one holds all sorts of things up off the ground, away from possible water damage.

Matching siding and paint make the unit look like part of the house.

Two facing sheds.

each approximately 4x8

feet, stand at the rear of a freestanding deck. A

ramp betwem the sheds makes it easy to wheel heavy equipment in and out of storage.

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