When Shane and Erin Street moved into their house in Hoover, Alabama, they faced a situation familiar to many of you. They inherited a landscape composed mainly of cheapo meatball shrubs, like dwarf Chinese holly and dwarf yaupon holly, that the builder planted for a buck a pop so he could meet the code. Excuse me for a moment while I yawn.

Now Shane and Erin weren't exactly expert gardeners. In fact, THEY KNEW NOTHING. They thought a hydrangea was that metal thing out by the curb that fire trucks hook up hoses to. Pruning was something that happened to your fingers when you stayed in the water too long. Get the picture?


Not knowing what was good and what was bad, they just let things grow, only taking out the pruners when it was necessary to hack a path to the front door or garage so they could pass by. Eventually, this laissez faire gardening caught up with them. Thanks to overgrown bushes, they couldn't see out of front windows that started just two feet from the ground. The row of spiny Chinese hollies bordering the front walk looked like it was placed there by Morticia Addams. A giant wax myrtle engulfed one corner of the house, while a humongous Chinese privet that came up by itself obscured the front. The desperate couple took the only action that could save the day.

They called on me -- the Grumpy Gardener.

Grumpy to the Rescue

Fortunately, Erin works with me at Southern Living. She's writes our Live Healthy blog and is our health and beauty editor, a hazardous occupation that frequently involves spas, fine dining, and margaritas. To help with her home's monumental makeover, I brought in my colleague, Rebecca Reed, who has lots of experience with residential design. Rebecca devised a plan to not only redo the landscape at a very modest cost, but also make simple improvements to the front of the house to update the look.


Rebecca (left) gives Erin the good news about her yard's impending salvation.

So Here's the Plan

1. Rip out all the existing, ugly plants.

2. Reshape the front beds using graceful curves instead of straight lines.

3. Plant low-growing 'Flirt' nandinas from our Southern Living Plant Collection against the house under the low windows.


4. Add a sweep of 'Marc Anthony' liriope, also from our Southern Living Plant Collection, for year-round, low-maintenance color. This liriope combines striking variegated foliage with lavender-pink summer flowers.


'Marc Anthony' liriope

5. For seasonal color, add groupings of three more easy-care perennials from our Collection. 'Princess Dark Lavender' verbena grows low, spreads widely, needs little watering, blooms from spring to fall, and takes blazing hot sun. 'Ragin' Cajun' ruellia forms a mound about 14 inches tall with nonstop bright scarlet flowers. 'Queen Mum' agapanthus is a surprisingly hardy lily-of-the-Nile, taking temperatures as low as 15 to 20 degrees. It stands about 3 feet tall with spectacular white-and-violet blooms.


'Princess Dark Lavender' verbena (right) with 'Marc Anthony' liriope


Ragin' Cajun' ruellia


'Queen Mum' agapanthus

6. Plant two tall-growing white 'Natchez' crepe myrtles near each front corner of the house to provide seasonal color and eventual shade. (The house faces due west and the front yard is hotter in summer than Eva Longoria.)

Finishing Touches

Once the plants were in, Erin and Shane turned their attention to the house. Per Rebecca's suggestions, here's what they did.

1. Front doors need to be welcoming focal points. This one wasn't. It stood flush with the front of the house exposed to the elements. Rebecca designed a simple wooden arbor planted with fast-growing 'Lady Banks' rose to frame the doorway. (The reason the rose isn't bigger right now is that some doltish contractor with no connection to this story thought it was a weed and chopped it back.) Then the Streets painted the door a handsome dark red to pick up colors in the brick front.


2. Paint the shutters caramel-brown to update the look.

3. Replace the old electric lamp by the front door with a more stylish one.

4. Paint the white garage doors cream-beige to reduce glare and make them less noticeable.

5. The front stoop needed pots of color. Sarah Thelen of Myers Plants & Pottery in Pelham, Alabama helped us out. One pot features purple fountain grass and caladiums. Another contains 'Little Black Magic' dwarf elephant's-ears from our Southern Living Collection. 'Little Black Magic' dwarf elephant's-ears gives you the same leaf shape and color as 'Black Magic,' but grows only 2 feet tall, making it perfect for pots.


So Let's Recap

Enjoy these before & after shots taken from various angles.













Whatcha think?