Photo: Steve Bender

Question from a new reader:

"Dear Grumpy,

We are newlyweds and have just moved into a new house. The only problem is that the yard and garden areas are atrocious! We don't know where to begin to deal with it. What are some quick and relatively inexpensive additions that will make our lawn and garden the talk of the neighborhood come springtime?"

Answer -- My guess is that your atrocious yard and garden already are the talk of the neighborhood, so the pressure is off. (Just kidding!) Actually, Grumpy appreciates your eagerness to beautify an eyesore, but temper your enthusiasm with a little patience and planning. Sure, go ahead and clean up debris and trash now, get rid of dead plants, and prune back something that is way overgrown. But don't do any major digging or planting until spring.

Why? Because in the middle of winter you don't know everything your yard has. Bulbs and perennials are still dormant and out of sight. Some shrubs and trees you think are weeds now may turn out to be diamonds in the rough. Once everything starts growing in spring and identifies itself, you can calmly decide what you want to keep and what you don't.

Also, sun and shade patterns in winter are very different from those in summer. You wouldn't want to plant a shade-loving plant in a shady spot now that turns into full, blazing sunshine later.

In the meantime, order a copy of The New Southern Living Garden Book from Amazon or buy one at your bookstore (list price $34.95). It will give you lots of great information about thousands of different plants and ways to grow them.


Once you've decided what plants you like and determine whether they'll thrive in your area, hire a local garden designer to draw you a garden plan that will make your garden the talk of the neighborhood for all the right reasons.