Returning to the Garden: A Progress Report

front yard landscape
Photograph by Michael Krakora, Krakora Studios

A year ago, we featured A Garden to Grow With—One Family’s DIY Approach to Landscaping. The article told the story of a busy family’s landscaping project. With the help of a professional landscape designer and their own sweat equity, they transformed their front yard into a beautiful and welcoming garden. Now, after four full seasons, we are checking in to see how it’s going.

The homeowners worked with Jeff Epping on the design. Jeff began with an assessment of the homeowners’ lifestyle and time they’d have to commit to gardening. Although they love to garden, they have a young family and limited time for maintenance. As the homeowner said in a recent visit, “We want to focus on raising kids, not grass.” They hope to spend more time gardening when their children are older and possibly include the children as well.

With this in mind, Jeff’s plan used plants that require less care, but provided a layout that would allow for other more complex plants to be added as the family’s lifestyle allows. By starting with perennials that are hardy and require less dividing as they mature, he set the homeowners up for success in establishing their garden and combined it with the flexibility to plug in other varieties in the future.

Planning paid off. With respect to maintenance, it has only required minor weeding and a fresh layer of mulch in the spring. They have not yet made any additions or alterations, but the opportunity to do so is there when their time commitments change.

Before starting his design, Jeff made an analysis of the lot, which is on the large side and includes a partial canopy of hickory and oak trees. Turf covered most of the area, and also included some daylilies and hostas. His approach was to create a clean slate, but also salvage some of the existing hostas to fill in the new design. Jeff worked with the homeowners to come up with an installation approach to match their skills and DIY ambitions. His crew managed some of the more challenging aspects, but the homeowners contributed their own labor in the planting process. They are pleased to report that all 183 plants came back in the spring! This is not only testimony to the care they took in planting, but also for choosing plants appropriate for the light and soil conditions.

In his design, Jeff added a mid-layer of smaller ornamental trees to the already-established upper canopy. Shrubs are used to fill the lower plane and, as a bonus, provide winter interest so that the garden has beauty in all four seasons. After one year, the plants are still young and have yet to fill out. It will take a few years before they mature and become more robust, but the effect Jeff was going for is still evident and will continue to improve with age. The homeowners are thrilled with the aesthetics and how it has improved the curbside appeal of their home. Furthermore, they feel it was a good neighbor thing to do since many neighbors have nicely kept gardens, and have complimented them on the changes.

Another benefit to landscaping is that it brings nature to your front door by providing a natural habitat. When asked if they have noticed any changes, the homeowners noted there do seem to be more birds and butterflies. They have also seen fox and flying squirrels.

The homeowners decided to include some hardscaping as part of their project, and it’s being used even more than they expected. It’s small and intimate—ideal for a couple of chairs. And it’s tucked in a corner—not to be too exposed, but just right for waving to neighbors passing by. They find it an especially relaxing spot to read a book or share wine with a friend. They even purchased an outdoor firepit to extend their usage of the space into summer and fall evenings.

The homeowners love their new garden. The approach worked well for them, and having a strong plan from a professional made it a success. It completely changed the first impression of the home from a plain design with sparse planting to an inspired landscape rich in color and texture. Furthermore, they now enjoy the space more than they ever had before.

These days, they look forward to landscaping their backyard, where more sun gives them opportunity for colorful plantings. They also anticipate more hardscaping to create an outdoor room for entertaining larger groups. In other words, they’ll be creating more gardens to grow with.

Andrew Wanek, AIA, is a licensed architect and principal of Ginkgo House Architecture.

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