Before & After: front garden makeover

There comes a point when you just need to start again – and that was essentially the verdict after visiting this Seattle garden. A combination of overgrown shrubs, inadequate pathways, and piecemeal 'fixes' just weren't cutting it anymore.

Before: Dr. Seuss-like spurge spilling out of wooden raise beds flanked the broken concrete pathway.

The homeowner loves the outdoors and wanted the garden to be naturalistic in design, featuring layers of plants with varying heights and textures as well as the incorporation of boulders including a dish rock to attract birds and butterflies. She loves to watch the birds and specifically wanted to include a variety of plants that would encourage them into the garden.

There were several shrubs and conifers worth saving as well as a beautiful mature dogwood tree but otherwise all plants were removed and the land regraded.

The Wish List

Before: without a master plan the front garden had evolved over many decades and several homeowners. It desperately needed an identity.

  • Low maintenance and drought tolerant once established
  • Year-round interest
  • A place to grow edibles
  • Plants to encourage birds

Additional Insights and Challenges

Before: Narrow, slippery side paths were barely functional and many of the plants had outgrown their welcome

  • Structure and a focal point were needed
  • The pathways needed revising and updating. Existing secondary paths were much too narrow
  • This was a traditional brick home and the horizontal mortar lines between the brick were 'busy' visually .
  • To work with the budget the design was drawn and installed in two phases: the east side (right of the path) first, then the western portion.

Design Solutions – Phase 1 (2021)

Structure & Materials


BEFORE. Where's the house?!


After: Charcoal grey paint was an inexpensive way to update the homes foundation – and provide a perfect backdrop for the colorful plants. With overgrown shrubs removed both the garden and home can now be seen.

The space was organized around the custom raised steel planters, the defining circle adding clear structure and a focal point to the front garden. This was also a practical way to grow edibles in the only sunny part of the garden.

The main pathway nods to tradition with a basket weave cobble paver edged with a contrasting soldier course. These large cobbles also distract the eye from the brick detail on the home. The soldier course extends around the gravel circle, while side paths are now wider and paved.

A 2-foot wide tamped gravel strip was left adjacent to the home. I call this the 'window washing walk' – somewhere to put ladders when you need to clean the windows! Black steel edging holds the soil in place.

Plant Selection

Spring vignette, thriving in partial shade

A framework of colorful foliage is always key to year-round interest – and using evergreens that aren't just green. Golden grasses, blue conifers and colorful succulents mingle with a myriad shades of silver and green.

Design Solutions – Phase 2 (2022)

Only completed in late fall 2022, this section under the dogwood tree is still growing in (and waking up), but colors and textures repeat the theme of the east side, with boulders and a custom steel house number sign adding the finishing touches.

The parking strip has not been included to date.

After: View from home looking towards the street

The golden yellow foliage of Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre 'Angelina') is sprinkled throughout the design. In shadier areas it is more chartreuse but this evergreen succulent is still a welcome splash of sunshine. It's a great little plant to visually connect different areas.

After: colorful, easy care and welcoming.

Installation by the talented team at Berg's Landscaping

Final Words

Here's what the homeowner said:

My front garden is a welcoming place that brings me joy. I love the elements of nature that are incorporated into the landscape. I also love the vibrant colors in the garden that change with the seasons.

On that note, it's goodbye from me for a few weeks as I begin a busy travel season. Of course I'll be visiting lots of gardens so look for photos from this years Chelsea Flower Show, Kiftsgate and more. Enjoy the season!

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  1. Lynn Dickason on May 2, 2023 at 3:50 pm

    So bright and clean: so refreshing to come home to! I know they're thrilled every time they drive up!!

    • Karen Chapman on May 3, 2023 at 7:41 am

      Thank you – it is so welcoming now and a much better reflection of the homeowners!

  2. Karen on May 8, 2023 at 11:38 am

    How stunning. May I ask where you acquired those fabulous rusty patina iron urns/raised beds?

    • Karen Chapman on May 26, 2023 at 9:44 am

      Thank you! This was a custom design and fabrication