Monday, April 25, 2011

The Front Garden: here’s what I’ve been up to, chapter 1 (the homework)

Reworking my front garden has been an exercise of gardening in phases. Phase One went on all winter as I evaluated the plants I had, hunted down the plants I wanted to add, and thought about adding a few larger rocks to the mix. You’ve all been along for this part.

The rest of this phase involved identifying the planting look I was after, there were a few key images I kept coming back to over and over. Some of these were photos I had taken at Cistus…like this one of an upright Manzantia. The Manzanita I planted last year is growing at a great windswept angle; I wanted to be sure to include this form.: Another Cistus photo, I like the over planted “mashed together-ness” and the different textures here: Especially this airy, yet course and wiry texture: Next up is this random photo I found online and saved (my apologies I have no idea where this one came from, so I cannot properly attribute it, please let me know if you can). In my opinion this one has big rocks done right. They relate to the house and I can only assume the surrounding landscape as well (and my god how I would love to live there!). Of course the “Arizona- esque” landscape I’ve featured countless times figures large, especially when it came to influencing my plant choices. Part of the desired look meant using things that had winter interest (it helped to shop for plants in the winter!) and hardiness, no more watching as the anchors in my garden were struck down in winter (fingers crossed, all of them). Phase Two occurred in late March when I removed the things that weren’t part of the future plan. These items are in the red circles in this picture (this picture is so ugly I almost didn’t include it. How can I call myself a gardener? YUCK). Two of the three shrubby Euphorbia that had been in place since day one (roughly May of 2006), had to go. After all only one of them regularly looked good, time for the others to disappear.

The same for the Hakonechloa (Japanese Forest Grass). There was a time when I purchased this plant every single time I stepped foot in a nursery. I couldn’t get enough of it! Well, the trio in the front garden didn’t like full baking sun (maybe that’s why they call it “forest grass ya think?”) and it added no winter interest once I cut it back in January (these are the three small circles closest to the sidewalk). Gone! Okay, moved elsewhere actually, I couldn’t just get rid of it.

And of course the Camellia went away too.

The nagging question of whether or not to incorporate larger rocks into the design was solved rather unexpectedly and a great deal of the credit goes to Jane (aka “The MulchMaid”). We were having a conversation about just that as we stood looking at my front garden. She casually said something along the lines of (sorry Jane, I’m paraphrasing here) “I guess I picture something rounder, not craggy.” I had previously dismissed large round rocks seeing them as something to be found in old lady gardens sounding a bed of roses. But when Jane said that I suddenly remembered my visit to Jungle Fever Exotics and these pictures became part of my inspiration photos too: Yes the rocks in the first picture are fairly large, but it’s the spirit of the thing that got me…not those rocks in particular. So off I went to buy a few “medium” sized rocks to add interest, and drainage. Perfect! Plus the fact that I could easily lift them myself was an added benefit! So… plants and rocks bought, non-keepers relocated…it’s time to start planting. That’s Part 2…(to be continued)


  1. I love that Manzanita in that first photo and the rocks definitely add that Arizona-esque look you're going for. Can't wait to see the next phase.

  2. tis the season for reviewing designs in the yard (and acting on them!). Great call on the rocks, looking forward to seeing part two.

  3. Yeah, that camellia didn't really fit in with your garden style, did it? I know what you mean about falling in love with certain plants and trying them again and again even when they don't like your conditions. I'm mad for that Japanese forest grass too, and only the fact that it's not sold here (too hot and dry) has saved me from trying it. :-)

  4. See how productive a long winter can be? (Ducking...) I can tell by following your thought process that it's going to be fabulous. And I was gratified to see you admired an overplanted mash-up. Does that ever describe my style.

  5. Loree, this looks so exciting already!

    I love the plant selections you're drawn to and your inspiration photos show such a clear direction. I like the "mashed together" look too, but I find it very tricky. And I think you're smart to take out the unhappy plants and the ones that just don't fit your new vision for the front.

    I'm honored to be credited with a tiny spark in what will be a major creative endeavor at the danger (Front) garden. Your rocks look like just the thing to shelter plants and create drainage. Just the other day I was re-reading V. Sackville-West's Garden Book and she said she thought almost any plant did better, both winter and summer, if it could get its roots down beside some stone. It struck a chord with me, too.

    I can't wait to see your next couple of posts!

  6. I'm with you...I spend all winter re-evaluating things and trying to be really objective about what is and just ISN'T working. I've realized that the biggest thing is to simplify and try to be more cohesive...and as you said, don't keep thinking a plant that's not happy where it is will suddenly get happy! I can't wait to see what you've come up with...whatever it is, I'm sure it'll be divine!

  7. I'm with the"Mashed together" brigade as well...nice ideas.

  8. I think we are gardening in the same groove. I was at Cistus last November--the first day of the "big freeze--and parked right next to the upright Manzantia. I didn't notice it until I was leaving. They were pretty frantic about covering up plants, so I didn't think they wanted to play Q&A any more with me.

    I made a mental note to find out what it was, and of course if Cistus had any available. I've not found it up here in the Seattle area. I think this looks like a fabulous plant.

    Love this post and look forward to parts 2,3 ...


  9. It'll be pretty when you're done! Love the rocks. Isn't it hard to wait for the end result . . . a few years (or decades, for trees) down the road when things finally fill in.

  10. Fun, fun, fun. I love projects like this.

  11. 'Mashed-togetherness' ..I'm with you ! Just dig it up and move it somewhere else if warranted. What else is a shovel for ?

    Love before-after stuff..really looking forward to the next installment.

  12. Bonus points for showing your garden at not its best. I think REAL gardeners don't always have the most together gardens since plants are so interesting that they don't always just stick to a simple planting scheme and forget it.

    The organized chaos effect appeals to me too. It's not the consensus in this household, but interesting things really start to cook when plants start to grow into each other...

  13. I am giddy with anticipation to see what you are going to do. Definitely rocks are needed. Too bad you can't get some bigger ones in there. But isn't it crazy that we have to buy rocks anyway? When I was putting together my front planter a couple of years ago I gave my husband a mission. He was to collect as many rocks and boulders that he could "and life" and bring them home. He is in sales and drives a van. He was such a sweetheart and did a super job. But now I think it's time for another planter and another mission! Hee hee!

  14. Grace, me too! (meaning for me the phase when they're all grown up).

    Ryan, and I'm looking forward to seeing your new plantings!

    Pam, no it didn't...but I did really love it! Sill it's good to have it gone. Wait til you see my garden in July (I love that I can say that!)...I've got at least 6 Hakonechloa growing in the back garden. Perhaps you'll take home a small division you can plant somewhere shady?

    Denise, no need to duck, my aim isn't that good. I'm afraid the current state of the plantings might just underwhelm...but in time...

    MulchMaid, you really are to credit with turning on the light-bulb! Yesterday after I read your comment and then looked at the Jungle Fever pics again I was almost ready to go buy more rocks and go crazy. But then when I looked at the front garden I realized I just don't see it there. Maybe it's my limited design sense or lack of imagination but I've still kept the rocks minimal.

    scott, divine huh? We'll see. Simple and cohesive...doubtful.

    linda, it's a club!

    Van, I'll try to get you the name of that Manzanita...and I like that you assumed there is a #3 and possibly more! (actually right now just 2 and 3, I think 4 will happen after the house is painted).

    VW< yes! Especially for one as impatient as me.

    K&V, love doing them or reading about them?

    ks, I hope to not dissapoint! But I am spreading them throughout the week. Number 2 on Wed and #3 on Fri.

    James, "it's not the consensus in this household"...reading that I realize I've never even asked my husband what he prefers. Yikes.

    Candy, that's a smart idea! Plus then he has some ownship in the project too.

  15. I'd call that Arctostaphylos viscida, but there are so many kinds, it's hard to be certain. Nice pics! I have tons of native rounded rock here. In fact that second to last pic kind of looks like my soil if you go down about 2'.


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