winter

Designing a Winter Wonderland

Designing a Winter Wonderland

It’s all very well knowing that for a garden to look good in winter it has to have “good bones“. But what do you do when a foot or more of snow turns those bones into a lumpy graveyard? Seriously – since when do white lumps look like anything other than just white lumps?

When I went to bed last night there were just a few flakes falling gently. We woke abruptly at 4.30am to the sound of our frozen sump pump singing its last grating swan song, followed shortly after by our 1 year old puppy, Molly, growling at the deep blanket of snow that had fallen overnight.

I couldn’t wait to get outside (in daylight) to take some snowy pictures of the pristine landscape. That idea was quickly abandoned as Molly tore outside with glee, snow-surfing, jumping, sliding, and running. And eating the snow. Which she then threw up – together with her breakfast – as soon as she came back inside. Clearly the serene aspect of any images I might take were lost.

One coffee later and suitably bundled up, I headed out into the moonscape. But what to take pictures of? I let my camera do the talking, drawing me to vignettes that told a story even though in that moment I didn’t really understand what that story was about. Until I got back inside and looked at the images on my computer. I then quickly realized that my best snowy scenes were those that featured color, texture and/or form – elements that stood apart from the amorphous white blanket.

Color

Turquoise containers and a colorful glass sculpture create a dramatic counterpoint to the white backdrop

I have both blue and orange containers in my garden and they look stunning in the winter landscape – far more dramatic than the charcoal grey or rustic green ones I also have. This glass sculpture by Jesse Kelly is not hollow so is weather proof in my PNW climate.

Colored dogwood twigs would be another way to add color to a snowy scene but you would need a significant grouping of these to stand out. The colored bark of trees such as coral bark maple (Acer palmatum Sango Kaku), Bihou Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’) or Pacific Fire vine maple (Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’) would be sturdier and be easier to see. (Incidentally my white barked Himalayan birch trees (Betula utilis  var jacquemontii) only stand out marginally in the winter garden when they are backed by tall evergreens. They are more eye catching in summer and fall.)

Textured bark

River birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’) have become one of my favorite trees for year round interest. The peeling bark is outstanding. I have a clump of three multi-trunked specimens at the back of our home. In summer they mark the entrance into the meadow. In winter they stand as sculpture, perfectly framed by our back patio doors.

The warm mahogany bark of the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is a close second favorite, seen above adjacent to our little garden cabin.  This is the scene we look out onto every day from the kitchen. The cabin porch is lit at night making it seem utterly magical. Notice how the blue cabin door stands out in the vignette also – unlike my golden conifers, blue conifers and broadleaf evergreen shrubs, which are all here but buried under snow.

The cabin itself is a wonderful focal point, a reminder that structures can also be used as scene setters in the winter garden.

Form

This triple arbor anchors our island border. As a structure it stands out, but also its vertical and arched forms contrast with the surrounding garden which is mostly comprised of mounding or vase-shaped shrubs and trees.

It clearly establishes a focal point and an invitation to explore.

If you’ve got snowy weather, grab your camera. You might be surprised at what you capture.

Inspired Design – Updating the Front Garden

BEFORE

BEFORE – the existing garden included some lovely trees and shrubs but there was no sense of a plan or understanding of how these plants would mature. The lawn was also an arbitrary shape – a common mistake when grass is added as an afterthought.

This beautiful home was suffering from ‘plant-it-and-sell-it-itis‘.

I see this problem all the time; builders are usually required to landscape the front garden when construction is complete, so a haphazard selection of trees and shrubs are planted with little regard to their mature size, texture, form or even the homes architecture and five years later it is overgrown, over-crowded and needs to be completely re-done.

The problems

BEFORE

BEFORE – trees were planted too close to the home, blocking light and threatening to undermine the foundations.

  • Large trees were planted too close to the home, blocking light and threatening the foundations.
  • Shrubs were planted too close together and would ultimately become much too large for the space.
  • Rather than framing the home, this landscape appeared to be strangling it!
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BEFORE: an odd assortment of conifers and deciduous trees did little to welcome guests

The solution

  • Use plants of a more appropriate size
  • Space plants correctly
  • Add some additional color for winter interest while also varying texture

Other design criteria

  • This busy professional couple are new parents so the design needed to be low maintenance.
  • They wanted  some lawn to remain
  • The irrigation system needed upgrading

Inspiration!

The arched trim detail became the springboard for the design

The arched trim detail became the springboard for the design

I took my design cue for the shape of the new borders and lawn from this trim detail on the home.

Typically I would design a more serpentine shape but I liked the idea of reinforcing this detail and it mimics the sweep of the attractive roofline. I felt this would also provide a stronger connection between the home and the landscape.

AFTER - the revised borders mimic the arch detail and give the home some breathing space

AFTER – the revised borders mimic the arch detail and gives the home some breathing space while welcoming guests with its ‘open arms’

The lawn provides a negative space, keeps the traditional look the homeowners prefer but also enhances the theme by repeating the arc in the trim detail.

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Plant selection

A Fireglow maple (Acer palmatum ‘Fireglow’) was added to the left side of the garden (away from the three square windows that were  blocked by the original cherry tree), and its burgundy foliage will be a colorful highlight from spring until fall, contrasting well with the golden threadleaf cypress that we saved. Even in winter the burgundy stems add a subtle color detail.

Midwinter Fire twig dogwoods  (Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’) add a splash of color in winter, showing up well against the dark green foliage of the existing rhododendrons. They also repeat the color of the heavenly bamboo planted adjacent to the sidewalk, visually expanding the space.

if only you could smell this...

If only you could smell this…

Overgrown Alberta spruce that once flanked the pathway were replaced with fragrant winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’) – a wonderful, gold and green variegated, evergreen shrub. What a perfect way to make guest feel welcome.

While there are many cultivars of heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica), my number 1 choice is always Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo for its tidy mounding habit and colorful foliage. Unlike the gangly specimens planted by the sidewalk (most likely the species rather than a select cultivar), these have a more refined appearance yet need no pruning. IMG_0598 Ample room has been left to allow them to grow to their mature size of 3 feet tall and wide. I love the way the red foliage echoes the Midwinter Fire dogwoods.

Also working with those warm shades are the Winter Chocolate heather (Calluna vulgaris ‘Winter Chocolate’). In spring this brick red foliage will transition to bright green and orange with lavender flowers in late summer. This is most definitely NOT your ‘builders basic’ heather!!

Winter Chocolate heather - delicious

Winter Chocolate heather – delicious

Although I had to remove two large Colorado blue spruce since space and scale simply did not accommodate their mature size, I added two Wells Special Hinoki cypress for sculptural interest year round. I was also able to re-use several variegated boxwood, Rainbow drooping fetterbush and Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica).

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With appropriate spacing and attention to four season interest, this revised design will offer color and beauty, with minimal ongoing maintenance beyond annual trimming of the dogwoods to maximize their color potential

Other plants that will come into their own in successive seasons include;

  • Rhododendron Impeditum – blue-grey evergreen foliage and lavender blooms in spring
  • Little QuickFire hydrangea – panicles of creamy-white flowers in late summer, fading to rose on a dwarf deciduous shrub that has stunning fall color
  • Evergreen succulents – rather than a traditional groundcover I added golden Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) under the Fireglow maple and Hinoki trees and rosettes of our native, green Oregon stonecrop (Sedum oreganum) connecting the existing weeping birch trees to the sidewalk.

The results

A front garden to be proud of, that fits in with the neighborhood yet stands out as one of carefully considered design.

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I look forward to being able to photograph this garden again in summer, but when a newly planted landscape looks this good even in the depths of winter you know it’s only going to get even better.

How does your front garden look?

Design by Le jardinet

Installation and hard work by Berg’s Landscaping

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Reflections

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My Mum was one for frequently reminding me to “count my blessings“. Whether it was for an unexpected gift, for food on the table or for a warm home. She taught me never to take these things for granted, to give thanks and to freely share. In a social media dominated world where we tend to measure our success against the fairy tale posts and dreamy images shared by our peers, family and friends, we can easily lose our attitude of thankfulness in our anxious determination to do more, be better, aim higher.

The start of a New Year is more than turning a metaphorical page in our Life Book, as much as the pristine new leaf promises everything will be an improvement on our previous, less-than-perfect chapters. I believe it is also a time to pause and reflect on the blessings of the past year. Human nature is such that we tend to think of all the sad, negative or worrying things first; loss of loved ones,  political uncertainty, financial concerns. I’m not suggesting these can, or even should be casually swept aside as though they are of no consequence, but I encourage you to take a few moments to reflect on the good and for me that is often tied to the garden.

So as 2016 wanes and 2017 comes into sharper focus, I’d like to share with you some of the many garden-related blessings that I received this year.

Spring

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Is there any greater gift than love?

We were quite literally speechless when our friends at Berg’s Landscaping said they would like to build a new patio for us as a gift. I remember just standing there  unable to find any words to adequately express how much such generosity meant to us. I mean these guys are BUSY – with their own installations as well as most of mine so how could they possible have time to do this for me? And patios aren’t cheap. And we had drainage problems to deal with, and broken concrete to remove, and I wasn’t even going to be in the country, and……

This was a blessing with a capital B and we remember and give thanks for these wonderful folks every day.

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And talking of love, is there any greater love than that which a parent has for their child? I miss my parents so much yet am grateful for the life lessons they taught me by example and only hope I can continue to live up to their standards and expectations. When Mum passed away in October 2015 I wanted to buy something as a special keepsake. She loved gardening and we spent her last days poring over photographs  of my new patio being installed (thanks to my husband Andy emailing those to me each day) and other images taken of my garden throughout the year. It therefore seemed fitting to treat myself to something for the garden. I selected a very ‘grown up’ patio set with deep teal cushions and a beautiful propane fire table. These were such a luxury for us. I can promise you that every single day as I look out at our garden or settle into those deep cushions I remember my dear Mum. She would have loved this: I can almost hear her saying “Well done Karen“.

Summer

Foliage inspiration from 4 Seasons Gardens LLC, Portland, OR

Foliage inspiration from 4 Seasons Gardens LLC, Portland, OR

Talking of a parents love for their children we are blessed to have both our grown up children living in the same state, with our daughter Katie being just two miles away. As she and her husband are renovating their first home  their interest in gardens is growing so I was delighted that she accepted my offer of a trip to a garden tour in Portland for her birthday treat this year. Being able to share one’s own passion while exchanging ideas, discoveries and garden dreams with my daughter has been an unexpected blessing for sure. There’s also a sense of coming full circle as I have so many memories of learning from my own parents and grandparents.

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When work and play meld together you know you are fortunate. I was invited to visit Bailey Nurseries in June to see their production greenhouses and learn more about the new shrubs and roses that they are propagating. As a designer and writer I was thrilled, but you may be surprised to know that this invitation came about as a result of a glass of wine! A year or so ago my coauthor Christina Salwitz and I were enjoying a glass of sauvignon blanc after a day of garden tours  in Pasadena, CA. When it came time to pay our tab, to our great surprise we were told it had already been paid “by the gentleman with the blonde hair”. Well that gentleman was none other than Ryan McEnaney, PR & Communications Specialist for Bailey Nurseries whom we had spent only a few moments chatting to earlier!  So our friendship and business relationship began over that glass of wine – and continues to this day.

Fall

Snoozing alligator in the Audoban Swamp, Magnolia Plantations and Gardens, Charleston, SC

Snoozing alligator in the Audoban Swamp, Magnolia Plantations and Gardens, Charleston, SC

I truly value my membership with the Garden Writer’s Association (GWA). I have met many wonderful folks that have helped me in my writing career and am always inspired by the garden tours and educational seminars that are the highlight of each annual conference. This year the conference was held in Atlanta – an area of the country I had never visited. I decided to fly out early and combine it with a visit to Charleston, Beaufort and Savannah. Unfortunately my timing wasn’t great, coinciding with a crazy tropical storm that flooded streets and sidewalks but I did still manage to visit historical Magnolia Plantations and the adjacent swamps where surprisingly large alligators were just ‘hanging out’!

Charleston chic

Charleston chic

I also loved seeing the colorful window boxes, interesting architecture and ancient live oaks in the area. This vacation was an unexpected bonus, especially as Andy joined me for this leg of the trip.

While we saw many wonderful gardens both large and small in the Atlanta area on our organized excursions, perhaps my favorite was the one some friends and I took on  our own, returning to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and seeing the Chihuly exhibit lit up at night – unforgettable.

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Winter

Winter in the PNW is a slower time of year in the garden. While there are still chores to be done it is also easy to justify a rest after the frenzy of fall clean up.

Andy and I decided to head to our favorite retreat for Christmas: Mountain Home Lodge in Leavenworth, WA. In winter the steep road is closed so you are transported to the lodge by  Snowcat vehicles. The seclusion is an inherent part of its appeal – the gourmet meals come a close second (and we didn’t need to grow, prepare or clean up after them!!)

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Snow blanketed the earth offering perfect conditions for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or tobogganing – or just sitting on our porch snuggled under a blanket and watching the sunrise.

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As you reflect on your favorite memories from 2016 I hope that your garden was a part of the good times. Maybe sharing lunch on the patio with a friend? Or watching the fall colors change? Or marveling at the pattern of light and shadows? Do share your reflections in the comments below or on my Facebook page – I’d love to hear them

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes. It speaks to me of the beauty and wildness of Nature, but it also guides me as a landscape designer.

 

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912.

 

May 2017 be a year of blessings for you all, both given and received.

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Evolution, Renovation and Rejuvenation – Revisited

Updated trellis structures transformed this space

Updated trellis structures and a clean plant palette transformed this space

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.

BEFORE - the old arbors were beyond help

BEFORE – the old arbors were beyond help

The problems

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.

BEFORE - a series of photos with text helped to communicate ideas

BEFORE – a series of photos with text helped to communicate ideas

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.

What’s new?

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.

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Yuletide camellia added my clients favorite color while repeating the yellow found elsewhere. Photo credit; Monrovia

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.

Winter flowers on the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood continue the red accent color

Winter flowers on the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood continue the red accent color

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.

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

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!)

The unusual flowers of Cathedral Gem sausage vine

The unusual flowers of Cathedral Gem sausage vine

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!

Heuchera Tiramisu foliage perennial plant with leaves in amber shades of gold, yellow, orange, bronze, red

Heuchera Tiramisu marries the golden yellow and amber shades. Photo credit: Monrovia

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.

Sweet Tea heucherella mingling with aucuba

Sweet Tea heucherella mingling with aucuba

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.

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L to R: Japanese forest grass, Pink Frost hellebore, black mondo grass

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.

Finishing Touches

Clusters of container gardens planted in a similar plant and color palette added to the sense of unity while offering additional seasonal color.

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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.

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Front Garden Re-Imagined

BEFORE; After over 40 years it was time to re-think this space!

BEFORE; After over 40 years it was time to re-think this space

How do you know when it’s time to re-think the front garden? Certainly overgrown trees  and a fractured driveway are clues but spray painting the lawn green last summer was the final ‘Aha!’ moment for my Greater Seattle area clients. Yet funnily enough when I initially suggested a complete renovation they innocently asked “Which tree would you remove?” and were rather alarmed when I said “Both!”

Gardens grow and evolve so it really isn’t surprising that a landscape installed over 40 years ago is now in need of an overhaul, but identifying the problems and finding creative solutions can sometimes take a professional. This  garden is not viewed from the home’s interior, being separated by a fenced courtyard. However passers-by and visitors see this space and it offers an important first impression of who and what is beyond: what we often refer to as curb appeal. It suggests  the quality and style one can anticipate beyond the fence as well as a glimpse into the personalities of the homeowners  – whether we like that idea or not! When putting our homes up for sale this curb appeal is paramount, but even for homeowners like these who have no intention of moving, making a good first impression is important. After all you don’t typically greet guests with your hair in curlers I assume?

The problems

Damaged driveway

The driveway was beyond repair

Poured concrete driveways can last  30 years before major cracking occurs, so this one was well past it’s sell-by date. While the size of the driveway was adequate the paths felt awkward, especially if trying to navigate around parked vehicles. They were too close to the garage wall.

Useful if you have an extra trailer to park perhaps, but this concrete pad was no longer needed

Useful if you have an extra trailer to park perhaps, but this concrete pad was no longer needed

Additionally a previous homeowner had added a concrete pad to the right of the driveway that was no longer needed so this was a good time to re-think that space. Defining the property boundary and screening the neighbor’s garbage cans would be helpful too.

Overgrown plants

When a cute little conifer becomes a monster....

When a cute little conifer becomes a monster….

I wonder how small these towering conifers were in the mid 1970’s? Certainly much smaller than they are now! When large trees have lost their ornamental value, are casting excessive shade, their  roots are causing problems and their scale in relation to the home is all wrong it may be time to consider removing them.

Likewise after years of increasing shade the understory shrubs have slowly defoliated and become susceptible to disease.

The lawn

The lawn wasn’t being used – except by the neighborhood dogs!

Seattle may be known for its rain but last year went down in history for its unprecedented summer drought. Unless you spent hundreds of dollars on watering your lawn the chances were that it turned brown. I have to hand it to these homeowners for seeking a remedy but I’m not sure that spray painting the lawn green is going to catch on as a long term solution.

The first question I asked was why they needed a lawn at all. Like many homeowners it was simply there by default. Yet it served no purpose while taking time and money to fertilize, water, mow and edge regularly. While there needed to be a ‘negative space’ in the front garden, that doesn’t have to mean grass.

Dogs!

Actually the problem is less dogs than their owners who seem to think it is perfectly acceptable to allow their canine companions to use this space as a bathroom! Words fail me……

Seriously folks, if your dog has an accident clean it up.  Ugh. Anyway, while I can’t offer dog-owner training classes I can try to design the space to deter paws.

The solutions

I needed to come up with a plan that addressed all the above problems, was easy to maintain, had an understated elegance and level of artistry that reflected the home’s interior and private gardens yet  did not feel incongruous in the neighborhood. Here’s what I came up with.

Front Landscape Design for blog

AFTER; cleaned up, colorful yet doesn't stick out like a palm tree in a forest

AFTER; cleaned up and colorful yet doesn’t stick out like a flamingo in a forest.

Revise the hardscape

Parking pad becomes path. The Ivory Halo red twig dogwood will stand out well against the matire conifers

The extra parking pad became a path, leaving room for more plants and screening. The Ivory Halo red twig dogwood will stand out well against the mature conifers

The additional parking pad to the right of the driveway was removed and replaced with a path to the side gate. Both this path and the one which leads to the front door were angled to facilitate easier access.

Down to the bare bones

It always looks worse before it gets better!

It always looks worse before it gets better! Installation and hard work by the talented team at Berg’s Landscaping

The overgrown  trees and shrubs were removed, stumps ground out and the area graded to provide a berm around the perimeter of a central space. The homeowners wished to keep the laurel as they like having a hedge against the fence but everything else was removed.

No more lawn

Where once there was lawn, now there is a gravel garden

Where once there was thirsty grass, now there is a drought tolerant gravel garden

What would traditionally have been a lawn was re-created as a gravel garden. Landscape fabric was laid under a 3″ decorative gravel that the clients selected. Metal edging keeps this from migrating into the planting beds.

Hand selected boulders were added to the bermed planting beds while a few were placed to deliberately ease the transition to the gravel area.

Some boulders were strategically placed to project from the planting bed into the gravel

Some boulders were strategically placed to project from the planting bed into the gravel

The plant palette

The planting beds were shaped to accommodate two specimen trees; one was a weeping dogwood that was transplanted from the courtyard. The other was a topiary pine that the clients selected for its architectural style. This makes an excellent focal point when viewed from the home as well as the street.

It took several nursery trips and a fe adventures before we finally found the perfect tree!

It took several nursery trips and a few adventures before we finally found the perfect tree

To balance the existing laurel and complete the informal hedge I added a number of H.M Eddie yew. I haven’t used these before but like that they are slightly fuller than the Hicks yew and do not produce berries. Together these evergreens formed a backdrop to colorful foliage shrubs including  Ogon spirea which has feathery gold leaves that really catch the eye as the shimmer and move in the breeze and the bronze-toned Coppertina ninebark which boasts spring flowers, red fall color and exfoliating bark.

Winter interest comes from the many different evergreens including Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo – an excellent mounded form that does well here and Midwinter Fire dogwood which has stems that range from red to gold.

I love dogs but like my clients want them to keep their paws on the sidewalk! To discourage them I added the berm and boulders, then interplanted with a number of thorny shrubs including the rich plum colored Concorde barberry and the dwarf coral hedge barberry which is evergreen and has orange flowers in spring. At the last minute we also added Wood’s Compact kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Wood’s Compacta’) which will form a dense, twiggy groundcover.

Screening

No matter how much we love our neighbors we don’t necessarily want to see their garbage cans. With that in mind I added a number of evergreen and deciduous shrubs that will quickly grow in to provide screening while still being ‘neighborly’.

Finishing Touches

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To complete the gravel garden I created planting pockets near the boulders. Mexican feather grass and an assortment of hardy succulents add color and texture in an understated, naturalistic style. (Be sure to check if Mexican feather grass is invasive in your area and ask a professional to recommend an alternative if necessary)

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I kept the color palette to red and green for the gravel garden succulents but added golden Angelina stonecrop to the main panting beds

The homeowners found the most perfect container to place by the front gate; the colors repeat the hues of their home while the texture suggests it was a treasure discovered at the bottom of the ocean – love it!

They planted it with a simple purple fountain grass for summer interest: the dark color was needed for contrast. Adding other plants would have been too fussy.

Post script

I asked how things were faring with the dogs and was told that so far people are being respectful. “We do have the occasional dog prints on the mulch but no little gifts have been left for us, yet. We have actually observed people allowing their dogs to wander up the small embankment and back down as they are walking on the sidewalk with their dogs.” Let’s hope that decreases as the plants grow in.

Is it time to re-think your front garden?

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