Follow our calendar guide to turn your common yard into an uncommon delight. Rebecca Bull Reed shares a day-by-day account of this remarkable front-yard transformation.
Wow--what a transformation in just a few months! You can do it too.
It all starts with standing at your curb and making an honest evaluation. Before the first shrub is planted, take a good look at your home. To add depth to this house, we had homeowners Lynne and Mike Long remove their vinyl shutters and replace them with new wooden ones that they made themselves for about $150. Fresh paint colors on the shutters and door do wonders for updating the look. As for the yard, here's what we did in this Trussville, Alabama, landscape.
1. Start with a simple, smooth bed line. No wimpy curves allowed. When in doubt, swing it out. You won't regret the extra room when plants start to grow in. This bed line should start on one side of the yard and move your eye across to the other. Space plants within the bed so that they echo this curve. Why you'll be glad you did: Good bed lines can camouflage design flaws and waning plants. They also make it easier to mow the grass.
Give them breathing room. Too often we overplant the ends of our homes with a pyramid of plants that grow beyond their bounds.
Instead, work in layers. Beneath a single crepe myrtle, we planted seven 'Olivia' Indian hawthorns that will max out around
4 feet tall. Ground-hugging 'Purple Pixie' loropetalums and 'Happy Returns' daylilies front and flank this pairing. Why you'll
be glad you did: You'll save money now and spend less time pruning later.
photo: 'Purple Pixie' loropetalum is part of the Southern Living Plant Collection debuting this spring. The eight plants chosen by our editors for this initial release offer great solutions for common landscape challenges. Visit www.southernlivingplants.com to see all of the plants and find a dealer near you.
Keep your plant and color palette to a minimum. We satisfied Lynne's desire for saturated hues with groupings of 'Serena Purple' angelonias, 'Landmark Gold' lantanas, 'Double Knock Out' roses, and chartreuse sun coleus. Why you'll be glad you did: Clustering your plants creates a big effect. A garden of singletons doesn't look like much. Later, you'll wonder where your money went.
Sure, you want to be friendly with the neighbors, but who really wants to relax on the lone bench that sits beneath the tree?
By using plants, you can still survey your domain without feeling as if you're on display. Set back 10 feet from the walk
and staged on an 8-foot-diameter flagstone landing, our Adirondack chairs are nestled in a sea of hostas relocated from the
backyard and a collection of Halo Series hydrangeas. Why you'll be glad you did: You'll actually use the space.
photo: Contractor Joey Bischoff of Bischoff Landscape in Hanceville, Alabama, graded the sitting area prior to installing the flagstone so that it would be level.
Why waste money? Plants with interesting attributes should be used where they'll be noticed. 'Chocolate Chip' ajuga is a winner
when paired with autumn fern. We planted this combo by the front steps and along the path to the sitting area. Around mailboxes,
at the ends of walks, and along driveways are other natural choices. Why you'll be glad you did: "This combo is one of my
favorites," says Lynne. "I smile every time I see it."
photo: 'Chocolate Chip' ajuga is tough enough to be walked on occasionally, making it perfect for areas along a path.
A bleak beginning. It was suggested that we find another yard because this one required too much work.
Garden Assistant Jason Somerville and I sit down to design. It was like starting with a blank slate because nothing in front was salvageable except trees. We started with the bed line, then placed crepe myrtles and shrubs by the driveway and front steps. Homeowners requested color and lots of it. 'Double Knock Out' roses are a good choice--fast growth and plentiful flowers.
Meet with landscape contractor Joey Bischoff on-site to show plans and get input. A week later he tells us he will cut in
bed lines, prep soil, and lay a small sand-set patio (we're to buy the stones) for $3,000. It's money well spent.
Meet Joey at site to spray out bed lines and kill grass with herbicide. We plan to remove sod with a cutter in two days. I'm a little concerned that we may be pushing it. I like to give Roundup at least a week to work prior to removing sod.
Grading looks good. We added 10 cubic yards of good-quality soil to beds.
I think we could have used a bit more, honestly, but trying to keep a tight handle on budget.
Meet Joey at Pike nursery to pick stone. He suggests we hand-select since the area is small. I find out it is also cheaper because you don't pay for split or debris pieces that are often part of a pallet. We get $296 worth--enough to cover about 100 square feet. Joey gets started on our sand-set patio.
Everything is ready. Jason and I pick up trees and shrubs and head to homeowners' to lay them out. Plan is really close, so
we change it very little. When homeowners get home, they can start planting.
Like they don't have enough to do, we also ask them to take down their old shutters and make new ones (cost about $150). Assistant home editor Kiki Titterud suggests a moss color for the shutters and a soft red for the door. The difference is HUGE.
Everything has been in the ground for three weeks now. We're seeing signs of new growth. We're also hearing rumors about impending water restrictions. Our homeowners judiciously water every morning by hand even though they have an irrigation system. One day they do one side of the yard; the next day, the other side. We want to make sure the moisture is getting on the root-balls of the plants--not wasted on open ground.
It's getting really hot outside now, and the last thing our homeowners feel like doing is weeding, but they do after I have a cow. Both crabgrass and Dallis grass are becoming rampant. To get the situation under control, Jason, the homeowners, and I have a weeding party. It was about three hours of work, but it's done. If you work one area at a time rather than skipping around, it's faster and more efficient. It's also easier if you stay on top of the task by doing a little each day.
At 6 a.m., photographer William Dickey and I show up and get this shot. It's only been four months since actual work began. Water restrictions are now in place, but everything looks great. The 'Serena Purple' angelonias, 'Landmark Gold' lantanas, 'Double Knock Out' roses, and chartreuse sun coleus are phenomenal and have kept on going through those long, hot, dry days.