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Saturday, January 23, 2010

So Here's the Plan...

Over the last few weeks, I've spent a lot of time dreaming about how I want our garden to look. I started scratching around sketching things out on paper, but then, being me, I decided to digitize it in Photoshop :-)

Here's what we have right now. I'm concentrating on the back yard here, so I haven't filled in any detail in the front yard yet.

Figure 1 - What we have now

Our problems include drainage issues and utility boxes that need to be hidden. In addition, I decided, right after my husband laid the stones, that the border that we put in last year is just too shallow to accomodate the plants I want in there.

Another problem is shade. The patio faces north and so only gets sun in the late afternoon. That makes it a wonderful and shady place to sit most of the day, even in the heat of summer, but the lawn along the back of the house has really been struggling.

I think that shade, combined with a downspout that dumps gallons of water in the area every time it rains, are probably the cause of the poor lawn performance.

Figure 2 - The plan for expanding the border

The first thing on the agenda (much to my husband's chagrin) is to expand the border. There's a utility easement containing the telephone and cable lines (electricity comes in overhead)  We have a pretty good idea where the cables are because there is a trench across the yard where the soil has sunk and it lines up neatly with the telephone utility box. However, a reader who read my blog on suggested I call 811 and have the utilities come out a mark their lines, so I did that at the weekend and they should be out this week.

Since we're also dealing with fence-to-fence sod, courtesy of our builder, I discovered the easiest way to create beds and borders was to outline them with whatever material we're using (stone left over from the builder in this case), dig planting holes if we have anything to go in the ground when we're at this stage and then lay down landscape fabric (or sheets of newspaper) and a hefty layer of mulch over the whole thing.

Over time, this kills off the sod underneath and next year we'll be able to dig, add soil amendments and add plantings.

To solve the problem of the area that doesn't get much sun, we're going to put in another border on the back of the house. Again, we'll edge it and cover the sod with landscape fabric and mulch to kill off the grass. Eventually the area can be planted with some low-growing plants and groundcovers that can handle a combination of shade for most of the day with late afternoon sunlight - hostas perhaps. We also want to put a rainbarrel under the downspout that dumps into this area, with an overflow pipe to run any excess water to the shallow swale that is supposed to drain water off the property. we'll be able to get fresh rain water from the barrel to water the plants on the patio.

Figure 3 - Placement of the Rainbarrel and Arbor/Bench

I've added the rainbarrel in the above image, as well as my solution for the utility box eyesore. The builder put in some bushes to hide the boxes, but they're just not doing a great job. I thought we could add a bench and arbor on a small paved area. The bench will hide the boxes from view when we're sitting on the back patio, and when we're sitting on the bench, we'll be facing the other way - problem solved!

This is the sort of thing I have in mind -- photo courtesy of

The expanded border there will allow us to surround the area with flowers - perennials, annuals, maybe a flowering shrub or two. I can just imagine sittng there watching the butterflies!

Figure 4 - The Final Plan for the Back Garden

So here's the final plan. Please excuse my very vague representations of the actual plants! I'm holding off on making any plant purchases until we have the border ready for them.

I'm hoping that this plan will give us the Green and Serene retreat that we have been looking for. My husband freely admits to being a "Non-Gardener" and has given me full rein to go ahead with the planning process. Although I've noticed recently he's started to roll his eyes when I suddenly jump up from my computer and say "You know what else we could do?"



Curbstone Valley Farm said...

Our last home had a north-facing back garden, which in many respects was a good thing as the valley temperatures in summer were often intolerable. However, it can make growing a grassy lawn a challenge. Ultimately we ended up with a yard that was either terraced cobblestone patios, pond, or garden bed. We entertain a lot, so the patios actually were useful. I'd always been a lawn-o-phile, and was afraid to eliminate the lawn at first. Once it was gone though, I didn't miss it at all! Best of mowing! It was much nicer to have beautiful plants that grew well, than struggle with balding grass. It also allowed me to put the little bit of sun we had to good use for some hardy roses. Now, if I could just manage to hold off on buying plants until I had somewhere to plant them! Good luck with the rest of your planning...just remember, just when you think it's all done, you'll think of something else you can do too! No garden is EVER finished!

Jean said...

Ha, non-gardeners just don't get it, do they? :-) It sounds like a rain garden might be an idea as well. I think your ideas sound very exciting. Good luck with your plans!

Kyna said...

I love the idea of an arbor with a bench :D I really want one of those, but my yard is so wide open I think it would look weird sitting out in the middle of the yard by itself lol. Good idea for hiding the utility boxes though. Do you have any idea what you want to grow over it, or are you going vineless? :)
I really want to buy a latticed vinyl utility screen to put around our a/c unit this year.

Annie in Austin said...

Hello Jayne,

It's really interesting to see your plan for an almost-brand new house & garden. We've made gardens at 5 houses, but none of them were new - not sure I'd be up to it!
I keep a blog for my cooperative gardening group, the Divas of the Dirt, and Diva Sophia had the same kind of problem with visible utilities in the back right corner of a very shady yard. We did a similar fix - placing a bench diagonally in front of the utilities with a wide sweep of granite path leading to the bench from the patio, an area where grass never grew...partly shade, and partly from two very bouncy dogs!
From our experience I'd say you were on the right track ;-]

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Kathleen Scott said...

You are SO smart to do your planning up front!

The arbor is a great idea. You'll be able to see all your lovely plantings. And you could plant coral honeysuckle--the native variety: to climb up the arbor. It's evergreen-ish and a host for hummingbirds. You'd get to see them from your porch.

Will you want a path from the porch to the arbor?

There are some other hummer-attractors for your low-growing shade area too. Look at Texas Betony and see what you think:

You'll have a good time making your place beautiful.

Jayne said...

Thanks for the links Kathleen. I love honeysuckle, but had shied away from the invasives. A native is just what I need! And I've never heard of Texas Betony, but it looks perfect. My cats will be forever in your debt!

Corner Gardener Sue said...

I'm always for increasing the size of flower beds. I forgot to say in my other comment that I hope you are feeling better. My husband's asthma has been flaring up. It's no fun feeling under the weather.