Dreary Rental to Secluded Retreat: Front Garden Transformation

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

Random, overgrown trees and shrubs engulfed the house and made the front garden unusable. Rock edging made mowing difficult and weeding a nightmare.

Overgrown shrubs and trees created a prison-like feel from inside the home.

Parking was at a premium and overhead power lines a consideration.

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

Privacy between homes was needed yet fences were not a realistic option. Rock necklaces were a nuisance.

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

A fire hydrant was really not the focal point this young couple were looking for

 

What were they thinking??? How NOT to divert water from a downspout

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 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.

Smooth concrete pavers with tight joints give this space a timeless yet contemporary vibe

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.

The road and yellow hydrant are now hidden from view by layers of plants

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.

Plant Selection

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.

This beautiful Purple Ghost Japanese maple moved from one apartment to the next before finally being allowed to call this home! Katie has done a lovely job of echoing colors from the surrounding foliage in her pots and furnishings.

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 dwarf gingko (left) is a favorite of Evan's. The butter-yellow color on fall is a garden highlight

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.

In spring the neighbors lilac bush can be enjoyed as the shrubs in front have been cut back. Soon the emerging feathery foliage of the Lemony Lace elderberry will fill in, as will the coppiced stems of a Grace smoke bush seen just behind the sofa

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.

Layers of evergreen and deciduous foliage partially screen the home while still offering an attractive road-side view. The dedicated parking area is inviting thanks to colorful foliage and flowers that change throughout the year.

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.

Anna decided to help me with my photo shoot – she loves "copying Nana".

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Layers of deciduous and evergreen plants create a filtered view from the street. A dedicated parking area makes things easier for visitors.

Hidden in plain sight, this colorful, private sitting area reflects both the youthful style and the personality of its homeowners.

The bright foliage of an Orange Dream Japanese maple frames the sofa perfectly.

Reviewing Anna's garden photography

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.

Subscribe to Receive Blog Posts

Gardening inspiration delivered right to your inbox from Le Jardinet

     

Family garden makeover

Apr 27 2021

2020 had many of us re-defining what was important. With movements and social interactions severely reduced, our homes became far more than just a place to eat and sleep, but also an office,  a home schooling center, and often a necessary oasis from the chaotic world beyond our borders. When a lovely family in Snohomish,…
Read More

The Art of Spring Bulb Displays

Apr 13 2021

Spring is season of promise. Cherry trees and magnolias are in full bloom, baby lambs and goats frolic in green pastures, and our favorite spring bulbs put on their annual display in a rainbow of colors. I recently enjoyed a visit to a client's garden that was a true delight with hundreds of daffodils, species…
Read More

When good plants go bad

Mar 16 2021

I have always loved the pristine white bark of the Himalayan white birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) and it was an obvious choice to anchor the far end of our island bed  where it was highly visible from many vantage points. When a colleague offered me two more I created a small grove of these,…
Read More

Color-Changing Evergreens

Feb 16 2021

Funnily enough, no-one has ever asked me to design a high maintenance garden, yet there is a common misconception that low maintenance translates to an endless row of boxwood or a border entirely devoted to rhododendrons. While these may be easy care they certainly won’t win any design awards. Yet evergreen trees and shrubs are…
Read More

Design Evolution: doing it your way

Feb 2 2021

As an independent designer I'm in the fortunate position of being able to design gardens that will be professionally installed by my recommended contractors*, by the homeowners themselves, or even by another preferred and local-to-the-site contractor. (*I never accept a referral fee so my recommendation is  based on the fact that they always do outstanding…
Read More

New Year, New Vintage(s)

Jan 19 2021

It's no secret that I enjoy a glass of wine in the garden. So imagine my excitement when I received an email from Proven Winners a few days ago, where the word "wine" appeared SEVEN times in just a few short paragraphs! Naturally they knew they would have my attention, so as I continued to…
Read More

From My Garden to Yours

Dec 22 2020

May the true spirit of Christmas shine in your heart and light your path. From my garden to yours xx  
Read More

Gifts for Adventurous Gardeners (& More)

Dec 8 2020

How much more STUFF do we need anyway? This year has changed my shopping habits. I visit stores as infrequently as possible and when I do it's because I need to hand pick something specific. Most of my purchases have been made online, whether  a wetsuit or new walking shoes. With the Holidays just around…
Read More

Reflections on Thankfulness

Nov 24 2020

Thanksgiving is going to look different for most of us this year. Rather than a large gathering with family and friends and the table groaning under the weight of an excess of delicious dishes, there will just be the two of us (plus an ever-hopeful pup!) and a simplified meal. In fact if the weather…
Read More

Layers in the Winter Garden

Nov 10 2020

Layering is a way of life here in the Pacific Northwest where on any given day, regardless of the season, you may be reaching for a fleece jacket one minute and peeling down to a T-shirt the next. As I looked outside early this morning the sun was just beginning to rise over the tree…
Read More

Welcome to My Garden Adventures

SE6A7058

I'm a serious plant-aholic. In other words I'm usually covered in a layer or two of soil, I drive everywhere with a large tarp for impromptu plant purchases and I'm truly passionate about sharing the joys of gardening.

Buy My Books Here!

 

 

Container Gardening Course

Enter KCHAPMAN20 to get 20% off

Architecture, interior design, and more ∨

Use the help of top home decorators to select matching bedside tables and a new lamp shade for your own bedroom design.
Collect and share photos of bathroom tile, bathroom vanities, shower curtains and bathroom mirrors to create your perfect home decorating style.

TV Interview

Archives