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Patch Powwow with ... Chuck Baum, Landscape Architect

In this installment, hear a few tips and tricks from an experienced gardening expert.


Local landscape architect Chuck Baum stopped by the Garden Club of Montclair on Monday to discuss the artistic principals of landscape and garden design. Before his presentation, the Patch sat down with Baum to ask him a few questions. 

What are some of the rudimentary elements of landscaping?

Lines, composition, scale, proportion, texture, color theory: all of the things make the difference between a pretty little collection of plants and a real work of art in the landscape.

But the first rules are vision and budget. You need both. They have to marry together, so you start with that, but you don’t limit your creativity by your budget because you can be very creative and make beautiful art with a very low budget and low-cost materials. 

When it comes to garden design, how does Montclair as a whole stack-up?

Montclair is a wonderful area. In New Jersey, I have a self-perpetuating career because winter comes and kills everything! ... But Montclair is full of Victorian and Colonial homes, which I love. 

Do you have a favorite street in Montclair?

I like Midland Avenue. That whole section of town ... has had a renaissance in the last few years. 

What is in vogue now for landscaping and gardening? 

A lot of people call me asking for English gardens. But what is always in vogue in Montclair is a gorgeous but low-maintenance garden. 

What seems to be the trend now is the elimination of grass lawns, too. People want to make them smaller and smaller. Grass lawns I think are terrible investments because they are a monoculture, they need a lot of chemicals, they are susceptible to disease, and you have to water them a lot. 

What I am doing is taking lawns out and putting in expanded shrub or ground covers, and expanded gardens. 

Do you have a list of deadly sins you have compiled during your experience when it comes to landscaping?

Stop buying so much mulch! I see more landscape investments destroyed by piling up mulch on tree trunks and shrubs because it kills them.

What people want is succession in their gardens. I tell people it takes a year to make their garden. When you start, go shopping every two weeks and buy things that have one bud and get a bunch of those. Plant those and leave a lot of space.

Two weeks later, go shopping again. See what’s about to bloom and buy some of those. 

Do that the whole season, and next year it will all just happen.

Another big mistake is that people tend to create a hodgepodge lodge. People put in a little of this, a little of that with no composition and no sense of proportion. People buy these cute little trees and shrubs, plant them 3 feet from the house and in five years the cherry tree is eating the front porch! 

My advice is to look at a plant's mature height and width.   

A lifelong gardener, Baum received a degree in biology from Montclair State University. He is a former Montclair resident, and operated an art gallery in town for nearly a decade. He now works as a landscape architect and contractor for New Garden Network. He currently lives in Verona. 

Madelyn & Alan Milchman October 16, 2012 at 05:21 PM
We have been working with Chuck for about 2 years now and our garden is beginning to look like the one I have always envisioned. We love his artistry and his ability to translate that into a practical, affordable plan, that suits the various site difficulties in an existing property. He is also, delight of delights, reliable! The Milchmans
Cary Africk October 16, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Chuck is superb! He would be my top choice for installing a garden! He had great advice for me during a recent renovation. Best piece of advice in this interview? "I tell people it takes a year to make their garden. When you start, go shopping every two weeks and buy things that have one bud and get a bunch of those. Plant those and leave a lot of space." You can't design a garden in February, and expect to install in by June 1st. Materials are available not all at once, and your choice of a particular tree, shrub, etc. just might not be available at all.


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