Madison’s east side is peppered with adorable single and multifamily homes that often have oddly shaped yards. The homes have taken priority on the landscape, and the result can be somewhat harrowing. The lucky have parking; the fortunate have small yards in the front, side, or back; and a few have patios, porches, or walkways. What the areas lack in luster space-wise often counters with character. They deserve special attention as they still impact our lives in a great way, if not even greater ways, as they are often our only connection to the outside.
A yard makeover doesn’t always need to be a huge undertaking. Often changing an approach or adding shrubs or seating can have a great visual effect without a punishing impact on the budget. And it can often be done in phases. The following are phase one makeovers on three east side homes. The homeowners plan to extend their yard time, so we started with what would have the most impact. Budget concerns were high for all.
The owners desired more privacy and to screen in their dining room since the sidewalk is close to the windows. There were utilities that needed to be hidden while remaining accessible, and we wanted to include some existing plants. A formal walkway wasn’t necessary, but a stone utility path provides a visual across the yard that makes it appear larger.
The shrub species chosen are fine and lacy in foliage cover or dense and shorter in height. All spark enough interest to catch the attention of passersby. A Merrill magnolia planted a few feet away from the couple’s frequented table fills the open spring windows with creamy, saucer-sized blooms, while other soft greens and textured grasses fill in and hold ground all summer and fall. The planting color scheme is simple, creating an uncomplicated space with variegated plants, coniferous shrubs, and delicate purple and creamy flowers. The 300-square-foot space is divine with a total project cost at $2,600—35 hours of labor and $1,000 in materials.
This home is owned by one person and shared with one or more renters who almost always have dogs. The client was interested in reducing mud in the ever-present shade and creating a space she would possibly venture into or enjoy more from the porch or kitchen, all while canine residents run free. The main objective was to make the space visually inviting from every angle—two side entrances, a garage entrance, and a door from the kitchen—and leave room for space development as the owners decide how they want to use the property.
The biggest addition is the path completing the area between the garage, porch, and backyard; a very permeable flagstone path will feed the statue tree and keep the mud at bay. We reused existing herbaceous hostas along the garage—mixing the variety a bit—and then added three Aronia melanocarpa chokecherry on an intentional burm to create a light and airy screen between the ground and the bottom branches of the arborvitae.
The client’s table is a coffee destination. Vegetables adorn the side yards, leaving the space in back for shade, relaxing, and petting pooches. Total cost $4,100—54 hours of labor and $900 in materials.
This young family had several requests but settled on an update of their front yard. The area was wrangled with the invasive weed Aegopodium bishop’s weed and overgrown by undesirable shrubs, so we began by removing the unwanted. The owners expressed a strong desire for lots of interest; bright colors; and inviting, varied textures. The wide angled path felt like the only natural approach and pleasantly contrasted the perpendicular feel of the house, driveway, and sidewalk. The small stone path connects the driveway and offers a cut-through.
The planting scheme is a true treasure of seasons, and will consistently have interest that will only grow as it matures. We planted several tall shrubs and many lovely herbaceous perennials, anchored by one multistemmed Crimson Frost river birch. The utilities were politely hidden, and the small spaces were given extra attention to be sure the yard was equally enjoyable from the inside and for drive-by views. The flower colors and rich textures will surely delight everyone and attract many the pollinator guests. The terrace vegetable box was added by the homeowner and contains the soil removed for the path and shrubs. Total cost $5,900—58 hours of labor and $2,800 in materials.
As a longtime east side resident, I understand the value of a yard and outside space no matter the size. But when square footage really counts, so do your decisions. The result should be pleasing on a daily basis and offer you more to enjoy at your home.
Karina Mae is the designer and team leader at Garden Search & Rescue.
Garden Search & Rescue