Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
1 Corinthians 3:17

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Whether your yard is tiny or mammoth, the idea of landscaping can sometimes be completely overwhelming. Where do you start? What should you buy? Can we even do this? When we had our first two houses built, certain plants and shrubs were in the contract so I didn't really have much to think about. One day there was an empty patch of soil in the front of the house, and the next there were boxwoods, burning bushes, azaleas and rhododendrons. Pretty typical plants around New England. The builders even planted two huge Maple trees out front, as mandated by the city at the time for all new dwellings.

Well, this time around, there were no blank slates, so to speak. Honestly, it took much longer to un-do the landscaping here than to actually plant anything after we'd finished. But we've come a long way in just two years. All those previous years of getting my hands dirty, and making plenty of mistakes - that original "builder's" boring landscaping didn't stay for long!- have helped me streamline what I want my landscaping and yard to look like. Here are a few tips if you're just starting out, or if you're contemplating making some changes. I just love puttering around the garden and putting ideas into practice...hopefully these will be some helpful tips for you.

Tip #1: Make a plan (but be flexible)

Think about what you really want in terms of landscaping, and how much time you want to have to invest in keeping on top of everything. That last part of crucial. I had designed so many mulched garden beds in our last home and every spring I got a stomach ache just thinking about having to tackle those edges yet again.

Identify what areas are just for play- you don't really want to plant a garden bed or a tree right where the kids are going to play soccer and badminton; where you want some shade; a spot where you'd enjoy gazing outside at a beautiful plant, and letting its fragrance waft in through an open window. Do you envision a patio, or a fire pit to gather around? These are all important things to consider when designing your landscaping.

Once you jot some ideas down, head to the bookstore or library- or ask around your neighborhood!- to learn which plants thrive in your area. There are tons of resources to help you make your choices. Now add some good options to your list, or better yet, sketch out some of your ideas with plants in mind, keeping in mind their mature sizes and sun/shade needs. Next, pick up a few plants and shrubs and lay them out where you think you'll be planting them. Keep an eye on them for a few days, making sure they get enough sun or shade. Move them around to get a different perspective, too- much harder to move things after they're planted in the ground. I know! If you're creating a large garden bed, you may not be able to fill in every single spot, and that's okay. It takes time for things to grow, which leads me to the next tip.

Tip #2:  Plant groupings of one plant or shrub for the greatest impact

We've all seen that sad-looking sparse band of tulips around the base of a tree, or the hodgepodge garden where everything is out of sorts because there's just a little too much going on. Plant flowers and shrubs together in a group rather than a single "line" and row for a much greater impact. Groupings of three, five and other odd numbers work best- just one of the tricks of the trade, I guess, because they really do look so much better. I used to think that this would limit what I could plant, but it really doesn't. It actually allows the plant to pop because a group of them stands out far more than an isolated one does.

Now, if you're planning a foundation garden, by all means consider creating a solid hedge-like row to act as a gorgeous backdrop for smaller plants. Some people prefer to stagger the larger plants slightly to avoid such a uniform look- the choice is yours. I love hydrangea so I've planted several in a staggered row on one side of our house; but on the other side, I've kept things more cottage-like, with a bigger variety of specimen shrubs and flowers planted in groups.
Tip # 3: Don't overcrowd your plantings

More than likely, the plants you're putting in the ground are going to be much smaller versions of what they'll become. Give them room to grow. Maybe even more than you think. Yes, you'll have lots of "negative space" for a little while, but there's nothing worse than having to deal with a shrub that has outgrown its home in just a couple of years. Use colorful annuals to fill in bare spots, or choose a monochrome theme to add a certain elegance to your garden.

Tip #4: Work with the space you've got

You can't change the pattern of the sun any more than you can will the temperature to stay above freezing in the winter, here in New England anyway. I think it's great to try new things and be a little ambitious once in a while, but if you continually choose plants and flowers that just don't thrive in your area, I'm afraid you'll be constantly frustrated and disappointed.

When we moved in here, we had to deal with what we lovingly called "the pet cemetery" out front. Twenty years of neglect in what might have started out as a lovely little garden area with a few trees really left it unmanageable, unsightly and a pain in the rear to try to clean up. In the end, the best thing to do was simply clear the area and start over. Sometimes a fresh start is the best remedy to any situation. But there are other things that I simply cannot change, like the deep shade on the north side of the house or the severe slope in the backyard.

Try to determine what you need to accept and what you can try to change. Don't be afraid of making mistakes, or of having to change things up here and there. Experience is the best teacher in gardening. I've been designing and planting gardens for over twenty years now, and while I've got certain basics down, there is still so much to learn!

Tip # 5: Take time to enjoy the view (and photograph your hard work!)
This one is rather self-explanatory, but in all seriousness, get out there and enjoy those blooms! And don't forget to document your hard work. Some of my very favorite pictures are the ones of my children, smiling beside their "birth" trees, or standing in front of a sweeping mass of pink phlox- you will always have the perfect backdrop for any photos with good landscaping.

I hope this has given you some ideas, or at least a little inspiration. Now go grab a shovel and make something pretty.  ;)

Here are some photos of the landscaping in our current home:

You can see all the empty spaces- and this was before I added a dwarf Rose of Sharon tree toward the left there- but this year, these plants are coming back triple-sized and I'm so glad there's room to accommodate them all.

These Columbine, lovingly referred to as "rocket ship flowers" by our youngest son, are some of my favorites. They take center stage in the foundation garden out front.

These plants may be tiny when first planted (this was two summer ago), but they'll be taking up lots more room in just a couple of years.

After a fall spruce-up... more annuals- like these mums- fill in those gaps beautifully while the main plants and shrubs are still small and growing.

You can read some other posts about our garden transformations by clicking on the links below :
Phase One of the Front Yard Transformation

Front Steps Make-Over for Fifty Bucks

To read about how to create a rock garden and plant on a slope, click here.

The following photos were taken at our former home, where we lived for nearly eleven years. I'm planning on writing a post about creating living fences- prefect for those new construct yards the builders clear cut- and some tips for creating borders and hedges with tons of texture, interest and color. I miss our yard!

The right grouping of plants add an interesting mix of color and texture.

Another benefit to planting specimen trees is the joy in watching their blossoms burst forth each spring. This is my beloved Japanese cherry tree, planted in honor of our youngest son's birth.

 And a variety of trees gives plenty of nesting opportunities- what a joy to watch!

Yet my very favorite thing about landscaping is how you can create special places outside for your family. Not only do things look beautiful and interesting, but the spaces are useful and inviting. Every summer, we sought relief in the shade of a favorite tree in the backyard, and especially enjoyed dragging out beach blankets, books and lemonade for a fun, leisurely afternoon twenty or so minutes.  =)

Happy Gardening!

sharing with:
Sew Many Ways 
DIY by Design


Trish Martin said...

These are some great tips. Your landscape is gorgeous. I love the variety. Thanks so much for sharing.

Sandra Lee said...

Great tips and beautiful pictures!

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