Stunning garden design is inexpensive with the smart ideas Kentucky garden designer Jon Carloftis used to transform his backyard.
When Jon Carloftis and Dale Fisher bought an older house in Lexington, they decided to save money by fixing up existing structures
in the backyard instead of tearing down and starting over.
Today, the yard lives anew. Divided into a series of smaller spaces, it feels bigger, more welcoming, and more useful. “What we really wanted to do was create an environment that brings the outdoors in and the indoors out,” says Jon. Jon and Dale hope their backyard inspires others who have put off making needed changes for fear of breaking the bank.
Rather than removing an unused asphalt driveway one the side of the house, Jon covered it with a thin layer of mixed pea gravel
and crushed gravel. This formed an attractive, no-brain-to-maintain floor for a central courtyard that’s great for grilling
out and entertaining.
Shrubs and flowers bordering the space create an outdoor living room, complete with a cast-iron fire pit for cool months, a birdbath, pots spilling over with flowers, and a faux-bois bench in the center. A large galvanized horse trough planted with ‘Green Giant’ arborvitaes provides an evergreen backdrop for the bench. Planting in containers (such as this trough) allows for flexibility as needs change or plants grow.
The old garage walls weren’t plumb atop the French doors. To disguise this, Jon added brackets to the front and laid a wood plank atop them. They support lightweight fiberglass planters filled with flowers. The look: a lush conservatory. “I wouldn’t have done it if the garage had been straight, but thank God it wasn’t,” Jon says.
Jon converted the old garage into a potting shed where he could store plants and gardening supplies. Adding interior bracing helped straighten the sagging walls. To jazz up the floor, he painted the asphalt white. Next came new doors. “We wanted more light in there, so we took off the old garage doors, got three sets of interior French doors, and put two coats of exterior white paint on both sides,” he recalls. “Each set cost $120; so for $360, we changed the whole look of the place.”
A few steps past the fountain (also accessible to the gravel courtyard) lies a small, hidden-away lawn. This part of the yard used to be completely open to the neighbors. Jon and Dale added an inexpensive privacy fence to the perimeter. Then they planted trees, shrubs, and perennials in front of it. Today, you can see neither fence nor neighbor. Jon’s dogs love playing on the grass. Friends and neighbors like sitting out on the tiny green oasis too.
Dale and Jon hardly ever visited the forlorn screened porch. So they glassed it in and transformed it into a bedroom. Today,
doors open onto a small terrace adorned with chairs and a gurgling fountain. Above the terrace stands a wisteria arbor built
of pressure-treated pine held aloft by fiberglass columns.
“I love fiberglass, because unlike wood, it never splits,” Jon explains. “You can paint or stain it any color you want. With cap and base, each column costs about $100 and will last forever.”
Among this garden’s most interesting features is the living gate at the end of the remaining blacktop driveway. It rolls open to let you in and rolls closed for privacy. Like the planter sitting behind the bench in the backyard, this structure starts with a galvanized horse trough filled with soil and planted with arborvitaes. The trough measures 2 feet high and deep and 8 feet long and cost about $140. To move it, Jon built a wooden brace for the bottom and attached an old piano dolly he had in his basement. Using this planter allowed Jon and Dale to circumvent a neighborhood rule that says fences and gates can’t be taller than 6 feet.