Updating the front garden



Last weekend while Jack was working in the backyard I tackled the front yard, a project that has been on my list since Spring. I hacked, trimmed, yanked, planted and installed a new drip watering system. There’s much more than what I’m showing you here, but this is the fun stuff. Who cares about me going kamakaze with a hedge trimmer?

Anyway, when I was putting down the final round of mulch my neighbor came over: “Boy, that sure does look better. I didn’t want to say anything but that purple stuff was kinda out of control. It didn’t look good anymore!”

Dude, I could not agree more. It looked terrible!

These first few pictures are from last Spring when we planted a few perennials and lots of annuals.


Look at those gorgeous hollyhocks standing up back there. A month later they were eviscerated by slugs. I’m going to try them again in the backyard. Anyway, this pretty look only lasted a couple of months before the perennial bushes like the lavender grew like gang busters, smothered everything nearby and took over. I didn’t trim back when I needed to, which would have preserved things better. But I didn’t, so they went beyond woody and the entire garden turned to poop. Ugh.

This time I had a new plan.

It’s a little late in the season to go crazy with annual color so I opted to just redo the foundation plantings. Now, I do have some oddball design challenges. There are some existing gargantuan bushes and shrubs that must be worked around. We live in an old 1915 bungalow in the historic district of our downtown. Our little house was converted into a business at one point—hence the big bushes—as were many of our neighbors. Slowly the neighborhood is being converted back into charming little homes. At some point we will completely re-do our front yard, but for now I just have to make do.


This is actually an “after” photo. I forgot to take “before” photos to show you the hideousness, but trust me, it was ugly. Things were so overgrown that you could barely see that three-foot high ornamental in the middle. I ended up pulling almost everything out. Everything that got overly woody got yanked. Other plants worth salvaging have been reused or transplanted to other parts of the property.

The new strategy was to use the ornamental as the high-point and keep everything nice and medium- to low-growing.


I also needed to choose plants that were extremely hardy. Turns out those mammoth bushes are a haven for slugs. Before we realized it slugs ate all our annuals last year. It was maddening!

Also, given that we’re already well into Summer I just wanted to develop structure and keep it low maintenance that way I can see how it performs for the rest of the year and then add layers of annuals next Spring.


These red geraniums were another salvage. I seriously can’t kill these things. I never water them or pick off their buds, but they just keep on growing and thriving. I don’t get it. They were growing into a big long unattractive hedge that I was developing an unhealthy hatred of. So, I busted them out, divided them into three and replanted them in a triangle around the center point. The geraniums should provide a nice medium-height bush with color. For additional medium-height structure I added lavender back in (that I’ll now remember to trim back regularly) along with some other slow growing feather shrubs and dwarf lily of the niles. All of these plants can be trimmed and sculpted as they fill in and I’m hoping that will give me a great foundation. At least that’s the plan, we’ll see what actually happens.


When choosing the plants I did pay particular attention to height, color palette and the scale of the leaves. I wanted a variety: large leaf to fine and feathery leaves, dark green to silvery colors.


Finally, I planted some swaths of ground cover in two heights. Here’s a succulent variety that I just love. It grows three to four inches high and has these nice big two-toned leaves. To complement and contrast I put in some super petite-leaf thyme that only grows one to two inches high and gives off darling purple and white flowers. We tested it in another spot of the front yard and it has done extremely well, so I extended it into this side of the garden to help tie the two areas together.


I got a chance to clean up our pots. Somehow this space had become a cluttered graveyard of potted plants that were sad and neglected. Yuck. And what a thing to have next to the front door!

For a little height I put a Ruby Red grapefruit tree in and then took absolutely everything away except these three pots. It’s nice to be reminded that simple is good.


And here’s what my front window box looked like in January. Attractive, huh? It’s those darn geraniums again—I can’t kill ’em! In between them were vinca that were so big and beautiful last year, but frosted over the winter. I pulled those pink geraniums and they’re now blooming in pots all over the property.


In March I ended up putting in new vincas and this lovely purple trailer that I can’t remember the name of. We have the white varietal growing in the window box outside our bedroom and it has done wonderfully, even surviving the frost of the winter. While I don’t expect these window boxes to be perennial it’s fun to figure out what works.

So far, so good.


2 responses »

  1. Looking good. It is amazing how out of control flowers and shrubs can get. I am constantly trimming between April/May into Sept/Oct. One year our shrubs in the front yard took off – must have been 6 to 7 feet high – looked like an out of control jungle – not attractive at all. Uniformity and the less is more approach I have found to work the best, especially in the front yard.

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