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Front Garden Re-Do

posted in: Home and Garden
Front (service-side) garden “before”

As an avid gardener now making a living as a garden writer, I’ve gotta have a garden.  No question.  But the one I toiled in for the last 26 years was too much for this baby Boomer, so downsizing to a townhouse hits the spot.  Not an end unit, mind you – some of those lots are HUGE – but a regular townhouse.

So Old Greenbelt is it – as long as I could find a spot with some sun, which isn’t easy in this old-tree neighborhood.  But find sun I did – dappled in the back and pretty darn full sun in the front.  Sold!

So above is what I found when I bought the place last fall – some scruffy lawn, a few overgrown boxwoods and the usual allotment of azaleas.  Now I have nothing against lawn – in somebody else’s garden.  For me, lawn care is a big bore, and with a space this small it’s possible to stuff it full of things that bloom without spending a fortune.  (See, I’m acknowledging that lawn is cheap, cheaper than almost anything else, at least to install it.)


So, here’s a good view of the lawnless space with its new flagstone patio, in two connected rectangles.  I love sitting in the garden and a landscape architect friend suggested this flagstone patio because the color complements the gray building.  And what the heck – flagstone is beautiful.

redo2In the foreground of the photo are the three Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangeas (H. aborescens or smooth, Annabelle-type hydrangea) that I’m excited about.  It’s a bit shorter than Annabelle, reportedly on stronger stems that are less likely to droop, and it’s PINK.   I’ve never grown this type of hydrangea before but it’s native to our region, blooms a long time, and likes the partial sun/shade I could give it here in this spot.  On the right is another view of the Invincibelles, shown behind the Japanese Carexes that do a great job creating filler in a new garden.  These rather dull but very useful plants are from my old garden, where they won’t be missed, as they’re just three of dozens of divisions from the original plant I bought 25 years ago.

Back to the hydrangeas – notice I bought three of them?  Despite the smallness of this garden, I’m trying my best to avoid the dreaded “onesies” – the tendency of plant-lovers like myself to buy one of everything.  You know the look – interesting, but kinda chaotic?    Even in tiny spaces, massing of plants is essential for the type of garden I seem to like best, so that’s the goal here.


Above is another example of massing – this time of the chartreuse-leaved Spirea ‘Ogon’ that you see in the foreground.  It’s one of several light-colored Spireas that breeders have brought to the market lately and they add enormously to the garden all season, long after their blooms have faded.  (This one has white blooms in very early spring.)  They’ll grow quickly to about 4-5 by 4-5 feet.  I bought five and am considering buying two more to complete the short hedge they’ll eventually create.

The simple black bird bath was chosen it because it matches the black patio furniture, and around it are other bird and butterfly-attracting features – some Agastache (the best plant I’ve ever grown for attracting hummingbirds), some ‘Red Husker’ Penstemon and a dwarf, sterile butterfly bush called ‘Blue Chip’.    I’ll be adding more plants to fill out the space and attract still more critters for me to watch from my patio and kitchen window.


Above you see the five Apricot Drift roses that I’m very excited about.  Like the extremely popular Knockout family of roses, Drifts bloom repeatedly throughout the season and are virtually (or literally) disease-free.  These guys will spread a bit to fill in, but won’t get any taller than a foot and a half or so.  True groundcover roses.  Behind it is the stunning Japanese Snowbell that’s technically my neighbor’s but the view and the fragrance are mine to enjoy.


This shot shows the foundation plantings, which get only an hour or so of late afternoon sun.   To the right of the door are three ‘Burgundy Wine’ Nandinas I just bought, chosen because the red foliage matches the red of the large Japanese maple nearby in my neighbor’s yard.  In front of them I’ve planted some of my favorite Euphorbias – E. amygdaloides.  It prefers almost complete shade and best of all, is evergreen.  I had lots of it in my last garden and the current owner was kind enough to give me a few.



On either side of the front door are two brand-new ‘Goshiki’ Osmanthus – and here’s a close-up.  I’ve admired one growing along the north side of the Brookside Gardens Visitor’s Center, where it brightens up an otherwise dark spot, and finally have the perfect spot for two of them.  They’ll grow slowly to 4-10′ by 4-10′, but can easily be kept within bounds with a little pruning.


Coming soon – the back back (“garden-side”) make-over.

Follow Susan Harris:
“Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV.

4 Responses

  1. Michelle
    | Reply

    A year after your front and back garden re-designs, I’m wondering if an update will come our way. Would be fun to see how things have filled out. And maybe some other gardens about town to feature? I’ve copied the cut bamboo screening (on a small scale) and will likely add more until our evergreens have grown a another season or more.

  2. Susan
    | Reply

    Thanks, Layanee! And Doug, any time.

  3. Doug Love
    | Reply

    Come by 3 D Plateau Place and see my gardens.
    I’ve built them up so I don’t have to crawl around
    in them any more. I’m thinking of doing this for
    others if I don’t get a NASA job soon.
    The subscribe feed isn’t working. I’d like to subscribe.

  4. Layanee
    | Reply

    Inside and out, you are making great progress. Love your new patio and plantings.What fun.

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