Renovating a neglected rental property into a functional and comfortable home was a significant challenge, but one that that these young homeowners, Katie and Evan were up to. Both trained as architects, they knew what to look for, what they were getting into, and understood that this was going to be a long term project. When it came to renovating the landscape, however, Katie had the perfect solution – her mum (i.e. me)! In fact it was no surprise to see that my daughter was already planning her garden wish list long before she asked for a landscape design as her Christmas present in 2013.
The Site Challenges: 2013
Overgrown shrubs and trees created a prison-like feel from inside the home.
Parking on this suburban road was difficult yet the driveway would not accommodate their own vehicles as well as those of visitors.
Low power lines restricted safe planting heights
Fences between neighboring properties was not possible yet some things definitely needed to be hidden, including a bright yellow hydrant at the corner of the front garden
The existing downspouts poured water via a flexible pipe across the pathway – neither functional nor safe
The Wish List
A sitting area in the front garden that was private, yet was friendly enough to invite neighbors over
A focal point from within the home
Easy access to the new patio from the front door
Remove lawn entirely
Plan ahead for their future family
A design that they could implement themselves over a number of years as time and budget allowed
The Original Design
The idea was to create a patio surrounded by gabion walls to suggest a sense of enclosure. the gabion walls would be capped to double as a sitting wall for extra guests.
Layering easy-care plants would add to the buffer between the house and the street. These were selected to offer year-round interest with dramatic bark, colorful foliage and seasonal flowers. Pots were tucked into the borders as focal points and pathway markers.
Adding a dedicated space for 2 vehicles at the front of the property would ease parking concerns.
Starting the Transformation: 2014
The early stages were hard physical work. Trees, shrubs and grass needed to be removed, endless rocks dug out, run off from the downspouts needed to be re-routed and a lifetime of weeds addressed. Digging, sheet mulching, and patience were employed in equal measure.
Design Evolution: 2015-2020
2015: When installing a design one usually builds the infrastructure – patios and paths – before planting. But Katie is my daughter after all, so it was no surprise that she wanted to start with the plants. Our first major shopping trip for new plants was in spring 2015.
As it turned out that was no bad thing as although it made later patio preparation a little trickier, these plants had time to mature over the intervening years, and as the plants grew in it became apparent that the gabion walls were not necessarily needed for privacy as the tree canopies and filtered shrub foliage were sufficient – a cost-saving option.
2019: After four years it was time for the patio. Opting for the clean contemporary lines of dimensional pavers, a rectilinear shape rather than the original oval made more sense as it would be easier to lay and have less wastage since no pavers would have to be cut.
2020: The finishing touch was the selection of furniture and soft furnishings. I love the colors they chose! Shades of blue from navy to teal and turquoise are repeated while orange and red accents add a youthful punch. All these colors are repeated in the surrounding flowers and foliage.
Other than one or two strategic shopping sprees many of the plants were extras from my own stock, gifts, or random samples that would work better in Katie's garden than my own, so we juggled the combinations on site and adapted the planting plan as necessary.
The container grown Purple Ghost and Orange Dream Japanese maples that Katie had enjoyed in her earlier rental homes finally found permanent spots in this garden where they have filled out to become beautiful specimen trees.
A sterile butterfly bush (a share from my garden) will soon be covered with fragrant, deep blue-purple flowers that attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Viewed from the front window this is always a show stopper in summer.
At this time of year (early May) the Lemony Lace elderberry and Grace smoke bush are just growing in after their annual coppicing. By summer they will add bold color to the corner. Yet in spring, their reduced height allows the couple to enjoy the neighbors lilac tree in full bloom.
The shady border by the new parking area features winter blooming hellebores intermingled with spring flowering Jack Frost Siberian bugloss, variegated Solomon's seal and feathery ferns. In summer and fall late blooming black-eyed Susan's bloom surprisingly well under the river birch canopy while the chartreuse foliage of a Little Honey oak leaf hydrangea adds sparkle beneath the towering conifer.
From the patio the yellow hydrant is hidden behind layers of Portuguese laurel, Rainbow drooping fetterbush and autumn ferns, a wonderful evergreen tapestry.
Pots nestled into the borders are refreshed seasonally, allowing Katie to play with fun combinations. Regular readers may recognize a few of the containers as I have featured them in some of my online courses in the past!
None of the plants chosen need complicated pruning. The spirea get trimmed for size control and we did some limbing up on the river birch this winter but otherwise it's easy care.
Just for Anna
The future family became a present one with the arrival of Anna in 2017, so having easy paths for tricycles and fun treasures to discover suddenly assumed greater importance. (A bonus for me was a budding assistant photographer).
The Result: a hidden oasis
Hidden in plain sight, this colorful, private sitting area reflects both the youthful style and the personality of its homeowners.
It's a perfect spot for bedtime stories or an evening glass of wine. A place to take a Zoom call or to chat with the neighbors. It is inviting yet private. As Katie said:
I loved it the moment we went mega-shopping, but it really feels like it’s becoming our oasis now.
It's certainly a far cry from where they started and I couldn't be more proud of them.
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