I originally published this post in November 2011 on my old blog and continue to see the images re-pinned on Pinterest as well as receiving emails about the custom trellis design. Since it clearly struck a chord with so many I decided to re-post it here, with larger photographs, some new images and minor text updates.
Sometimes it only takes a few simple changes to transform an outdoor space.
Gardens evolve; trees grow, shade patterns shift, personal tastes change and before you know it what once was beautiful now looks tired and untidy.
This garden surrounds an elegant home in Bellevue, WA. The original landscaping was done 15 years ago and has been tweaked a few times since then. However the narrow garden border at the back of the home was in need of help. The arbors were sagging and the overgrown Armand’s clematis (Clematis armandii) which smothered them made the space feel dark and dated. Climbing hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomalis) had been added to fill in the back of these arbors but never bloomed so did nothing for the space.
Two Hinoki cypress had seen better days as they struggled with the reduced sunlight and of course there had been the endless ‘hole plugging’ that we are all partial to. In fact I am probably to blame for at least some of that. Whenever I removed something from the container gardens for this client I always asked if she would like it for the garden… So there was a hellebore here and a clump of black mondo grass there resulting in a mish-mash of plants. That onesie-twosie thing!!
The wish list
Yet all this took was a little editing and the replacement of two arbors with something more modern to achieve an artistic, cohesive design. The new look better reflects both the homes traditional architecture and the homeowners desire for something “professional, clean and organized”.
Having designed container gardens at this home for several years I had a good sense of plant preferences, color palette and style. I was therefore asked to draw up a planting plan for a low maintenance design that would be mostly evergreen yet offer lots of color.
When renovating a mature garden such as this one, it isn’t always necessary to draw a scaled plan. I simply took a series of photographs to work from and made notes on the health of plants, soil quality, key problem areas etc. By adding text to the images I was able to communicate my vision for a new planting plan effectively with the clients as well as Berg’s Landscaping who were going to be doing the installation and building the new arbors.
What goes? What stays?
I started by removing all the little ‘bits’ which had been added over the years such as Japanese anemones (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica) and Kenilworth ivy (Cymbalaria muralis) together with the monster evergreen clematis, two sad looking Hinoki cypress and a few other under-performing shrubs and perennials.
I decided to keep the aucuba, even though they look a bit spindly right now, as they are tough shrubs that pack a lot of color into a shady garden. I will prune them in spring to encourage more branching. Likewise the magnolia has seen better days but I am going to give it some TLC and see if it can’t be revived and returned to its former glory.
The aucuba, magnolia and Charity Oregon grape (Mahonia x media) were all broadleaf evergreens that suggested a color scheme of yellow and green – a good start but not vibrant enough. With the Hinoki removed I needed to add two new substantial shrubs. I knew the homeowner’s favorite color was red so I decided on two Yuletide camellia (Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide') with their striking red winter blooms, highlighted by a large central boss of yellow stamens.
The other major addition was the deciduous tree Ruby Vase Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica 'Ruby Vase'). This more columnar variety is an outstanding tree for narrow spaces.
With rich fall color that lasts for many weeks, beautiful bark, red winter flowers and burgundy new growth in spring it was the perfect tree to replace an old madrone, adding height as well as four season interest.
The new trellises
The new trellises completely change the whole look and feel of the back garden. Using cedar and recycled metal panels they have created unique focal points. Whereas the old arbors seemed dark and heavy these are light and airy. The addition of the rusted metal panels lends a modern touch without appearing too contemporary.
The metal panels were found at a local architectural salvage yard and the cedar frame designed around it to fit the space. (No, I do not have any formal plans for this design – the napkin has long since been thrown away!)
Such structures deserved a special vine yet there aren’t a lot of options for evergreen vines which bloom in the shade. I was excited therefore to hear about Cathedral Gem sausage vine (Holboellia coriacea) introduced as part of the Dan Hinkley collection in 2011 by Monrovia. This beauty has fragrant white flowers in late winter and early spring, thrives in the shade and is hardy to zone 6. Of course as luck would have it, none were available locally and I needed four! Monrovia went out of their way to help me and the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA generously agreed to let me tag these onto his order so I could have them in time. Great team work – thank you!
To add sparkle and color under each of these I selected the golden leaved Tiramisu heuchera to partner with Pink Frost hellebore ( a favorite of the homeowner) and the transplanted black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) for a totally evergreen, modern combination.
Being mindful of the request for color I also added clusters of the richly colored Sweet Tea heucherella under the camellias. These large, bushy, evergreen perennials contrast well with the glossy camellia foliage while their deep red veins will form a subtle color echo with the camellia blooms. Sweet Tea also blooms for months creating a delicate frothy appearance as their tiny white flowers dance on slender stems.
The final detail was to simply add more of the Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) to complete a sense of rhythm along the entire border length.
Clusters of container gardens planted in a similar plant and color palette added to the sense of unity while offering additional seasonal color.
The end result was fresh, colorful and interesting. Although new plants were added the look wasn’t fussy or over-planted but rather clean lined and tidy. It made sense.
Don’t be afraid of tackling the renovation of a mature garden border. Work with a designer to create a master plan and bring new life to your outdated space.