clean slate in the garden

Marian ParsonsAll Things Home, Gardening156 Comments

I was really getting the gardening itch in late May, but with all of the traveling we had coming up, it just didn’t make sense to buy a bunch of plants and start a project we couldn’t finish before we left.  So, I had to practice patience!

Now that we’re home, we’re diving into some projects, including the front garden.  Monday of this week, we had some guys from our church’s youth group come out to help us dig up plants and bushes and move the rock out of the beds.  They were offering themselves for hire as a way to raise money for their upcoming service trip, so it was a win-win.

The work was hard and, because of the rain the night before, it was muddy!

Jeff and I worked along side them, so we could get as much done as possible. The boys even chipped in and helped with pulling up weeds, digging up plants, and shoveling rocks.  It took four hours, dozens of trips hauling buckets of rocks to the back of the house, and three boxes of pizza and then we were done.

This picture was taken last summer, but this is pretty much how it looked Monday before we started.  There were some pretty flowers and plants in there, but they were very haphazard and things had gotten a little out of control during the year the house was vacant before we bought it.  There also wasn’t anything in the bed that stayed green through the winter.  I basically had a bunch of sticks in the ground for six months.

And this is how it looked when we were done…

Crazy, right?!  It’s such a difference.  Of course, it’s naked right now, but it’s so nice to have a clean slate.

I ended up pitching everything except for the hostas, which I’ll replant in the bed, but in a different location.

It was such a muddy, messy job that Jeff had to break out the power washer to clean off the sidewalk, the porch, and parts of the driveway.

(Yep, the garage is on the to-do list this summer as well.  It’s a disaster and I can feel my temperature rise every time I go in there to look for something.)

Anyway, back to the garden.

So, now that I have a clean slate, we’re going to bring in some top soil and mix it in, just to loosen things up a bit.  We’re then going to plant and mulch.  Here is a rough sketch of my plan…

I had this vision of a vine growing on a trellis on the right side of the garden and meeting up with another vine that’s growing up the column to the right of the front door and over the porch.  In my head, it will add height and frame out the bench in front of the window.  Are you seeing it?  And, I’m already planning to wrap the vines in white lights during the winter, before they are pruned in early spring.

Then, in front of the porch, we’re planting three as-mature-as-we-can-afford boxwood bushes that will grow into a nice, low hedge.  (I’m not sure, yet, if I’ll prune them into a rectangular-shaped hedge or keep them as three individual balls.  I drew them as balls, so it was clear there were three bushes.)

Along the sidewalk, I’ll plant some white, flowering annuals, then smaller boxwoods, then the variegated hostas, all in rows that follow the curve of the sidewalk.  Now, the big question is what to put in the “middle”.  I had originally thought of a small ornamental limelight hydrangea tree, but as I sketched it out, it just looked like too much.  I’m going to get everything else planted and then I’ll figure it out.

Any suggestions?  I’ve done some searches for garden ideas in this shape and I had trouble finding what I was looking for.  I know it’s a common shape in suburbs, though, so I’m hoping some green-thumbed readers will have ideas.  I’m considering a concrete bird bath…maybe?  Or a low evergreen with a bluish cast?  Or putting in some fun annuals that I change out each year?  (If you do have plant/bush suggestions, I am sticking with white blooms and a traditional look for the front garden and I’m in zone 4)

Anyway, here is how it’s looking all cleaned up and with the small boxwoods set out…

We went to a nursery yesterday evening and bought some large green velvet boxwoods for along the porch (mature-as-we-could-afford was the second to the largest, which were about half the cost of the largest and only a bit smaller), a couple of sweet autumn clematis vines for the porch, and some diamond frost annuals for along the sidewalk.  I am so excited to see everything planted.  I’ll share more about the plants and why I picked them in another post.  For the larger boxwood, annuals, and vines, I went to a very nice nursery and there was a landscape designer who helped me make the selections based on the look I was going for.

The difficult thing about gardening for me, is that how it looks at the beginning isn’t how it will look in a few months or next year.  The unpredictability of the growth of each plant sometimes paralyzes me.  One of my friends who consulted with me on this garden shared that she “moves plants around like furniture” and that put me at ease.  (Jeff, plug your ears for this part.)  If I misstep and something in the front row ends up taller than something in the back, I can just move things around until I get it right.

I’ll share more as we make some progress over the next few days…

clean slate in the garden

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156 Comments on “clean slate in the garden”

    1. I’ll have to look into that. I love lavender, but I haven’t found any at our local nurseries. I haven’t hit all of them, yet, though!

    2. Phenomenal Lavender is hardy and has survived my zone 4/5 garden. If I order plants online I like The White Flower Farm.

  1. I agree with the moving plants around like furniture. It’s part of the fun of it. You try something– you decide it would be better in that other corner, so you move it. No harm done. It’s part of the editing process, just like you do so beautifully inside your home 🙂

  2. What about putting a feature in the middle (birdbath, statue, urn, etc), the large stones I spy in the pics, and some phlox around it. That would keep it low enough to not close off the porch and still have some interest.

    1. I was thinking a bird bath or other type of water feature as well, something low.

      Although copper bird baths are lovely and real copper has the natural ability to repel mold and fungus (for a time at least, all bird baths need to be cleaned on a regular basis), anything made of metal that gets full sun will heat the water too much for birds to enjoy (they usually use the water in spring/summer/early fall for drinking/bathing purposes) and the metal could actually burn their itty bitty little feet. Something in concrete or a faux-concrete looking resin would be better. A small water feature like a fountain might also be nice, it would likely still attract birds for drinking and bathing.

  3. Agree with Jenw. A feature of some sort. An urn with trailing plants might look nice and offer a little contrast. Whatever you do will look great!

  4. I would put in an ornamental birdbath……if you want you can always put a cascading plant in it rather than water. Then, I would plant lavender at the base. I am not sure if rosemary will thrive in your zone, but if it will it would give the most wonderful smell to your entryway. Looks good, and I also move plants like furniture!

  5. You could try bobo hydrangea which is a smaller variety than others.
    They have beautiful white blooms.

  6. I have a larger but similarly shaped pocket garden and I have lilies in one corner, a birdbath in the middle, and coneflowers interspersed (different colors – they come in so many colors!). The coneflowers would echo those purple prairie flowers you removed and be a nice nod to your new home state, and would attract birds and butterflies to your birdbath. I’d be prepared to cover the boxwoods with burlap over the worst of winter. As for moving things around, I do it all the time, and if a plant is too sissy to stand being yanked up and replanted, I don’t want it. 🙂

  7. I know you already bought the boxwood but maybe you could exchange them for something else. Anything but boxwood…. the bane of the natural landscape. Why not try holly? So much prettier and evergreen, too. There are many more choices that would have a pleasing, more natural look.
    Now in a formal garden, such as adjacent to a castle, boxwoods do have their place.

    1. Ha, I know some people feel that way about boxwood. I really love them, though. I like holly bushes, too, but I didn’t find one in this zone that I really liked. The ones I had in my PA house didn’t seem to be a variety sold around here.

      1. I love boxwood, and grow it all over my property, even propagate, its easy, leave it. And if you are considering a bird bath, how much sun does this spot get, because if a lot it will heat up and get messy. But that being said, lavender or any other low growing shrub (love the low growing hydrangea) would look great around a bird bath, or maybe just an urn on a pediment with seasonal flowers in it, some trailing.

        1. Yeah, the bath would get a lot of sun there. I already have a large concrete urn, so that would be worth trying.

  8. my vote is some sort of fountain in the center and I love the idea of the lavender as well vs the boxwood. Or maybe alternate the two?

    1. Great idea! I am worried about it deteriorating in the elements, though. That would be fun to put in the middle with some trailing plants, though!

      1. Easy solution!!! Just put the cart on cement stepping stones. So no ground to cart contact. Then put your bushy….lavender around to hide the step stones. When winter comes you can pick up the whole cart and put it in a sheltered spot on a porch or overhang area. The step stones come in brown (dirt like colors) and lots of different sizes to fit the feet of the cart.

        1. Oh…one more thing….if you go with the birdbath you should still put a step stone under it. It helps to balance it and give it a solid firm grounding. As well as not letting the soil get around the base and staining it.

  9. I think the hostas are going to be hidden behind the small shrubs. I would put the shrubs, then hostas, then white annuals. Maybe for a feature a gazing ball? You could do a color that matches the clematis. Otherwise maybe a dwarf sized pine or arbivitae , then you could add lights to that during the holidays.
    I know how back breaking removing rock is! Did it at our last house. At this foreclosure we live in now, there wasn’t any (thank god!). I control the weeds by planting everything close together so they don’t have a chance. I don’t even use mulch as it’s just a weed catcher. There are a lot of MN gardener Facebook pages to join that I’ve found with my new gardening hobby and also a lot that will give away and trade plants.

    1. Great tips, thank you! Yes, we have rock to remove in all of the beds around the entire house, we’re just going to work on a section at a time. It is really tough work. I think it will be worth it in the end, though!

    1. It is north/west facing, so the front of the garden gets quite a bit of sun and the back part gets shaded by the porch, so I need plants that will do well in sun and part/shade.

  10. We have 33 year old builders planting with some new stuff thrown in such as hydrangas A few
    years ago we were in Strausburg, France (sp) and I saw the most beautiful window boxes and wondered
    what kind of flowers were planted. So this year at our local nursery there they were! They are called
    ivy geraniums and they hang down over the window boxes. Stunning. I also have a huge one set in
    an antique wicker chair (tired chair) that is quite a focal point. Time to replace some of the above
    bushes and I will follow your lead. I do like boxwood. Did you know that you can cut it and put it in
    floral Styrofoam and make table Christmas trees. Only trick is to keep the foam moist.

  11. Do you sleep? My goodness you tackle it all. I’m going to do you a favor and take a break for you. You’re welcome.

    1. Ha! Awesome. Can you find a good period drama miniseries on Netflix while you’re taking a break for me? 🙂 Maybe eat some dark chocolate? Thanks!

      1. In gardens from the mid-Atlantic to northern New England, I’ve found that clematis roots appreciate a little more shade than mulch alone can provide. I stack rocks of 6″-12″ (NOT gravel or pebbles) around the base of the vines. They add visual interest and a natural touch as well.

        I’m volunteering to help Sandra Boff take a break for you with “The Last Kingdom” on Netflix. Vikings and Saxons, pagans and Christians, beauty and brutality. A visual feast with decent entertainment value.

        1. That sounds like a great break. Thank you for enjoying it for me while I was elbow deep in manure today! 🙂 Good to know about the clematis. I’ll look into that a bit more.

  12. An old rusty wheel barrow filled with blooming petunias or an old rusty piece of farm equipment in the middle?

  13. A fountain or a big bubbling pot would add so much. If you want any annuals, big leaf begonias are fabulous. Had them in a corner garden and it was a show stopper.

  14. MN winters can be tough on boxwood. I’m north of the twin cities and need to cover my boxwood with burlap every winter to avoid “winter burn”. Anything you pick will be beautiful!

    1. Oh, good to know! I bought the Green Velvet, which are supposed to be able to tolerate the winters in this zone. do you have that variety or a different one?

      1. I’m not too far away from you, and I have that kind of boxwood. It has done great. Also, I have gotten lavender at Garten Marketplatz, so that might be a place to check. (Unfortunately, it didn’t do well in my yard.)

        1. Oh yeah, I’ve been wanting to check out that place! I have heard from other gardeners here that lavender won’t always make it through the winter.

    2. I’m in an even colder zone, more like zone 3-4, here in Eastern Ontario, Canada. I grow lots of Green Velvet boxwoods (some are 4 feet now) and the hardiest lavender variety is Munstead for us here.

      1. Glad to hear! Yeah, my friend has a nice hedge of them and she didn’t mention needing to cover them, but I’ll ask her as well. Thanks for sharing!

  15. If you’re looking for a blue toned evergreen, take a look at dwarf blue spruce. Very hardy,slow growing to a max of 3-5′ tall, 5-6′ wide. Mine is the highlight of my winter garden

    1. Oh, good to know! Yeah, we want to look for a soil that will add some nutrients and we definitely don’t want weeds. I was using the word “top soil” generically and probably incorrectly!

  16. Our garden guy says don’t use top soil
    It has not been sterilized and contains weed seeds.
    I would check with your local peeps before adding to your garden

  17. The sweet autumn clematis will definitely fill in the trellises you have planned. However it may take a while… the saying about clematis is the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps and the third year it jumps out of the ground waving flags and shouting… We have one on a trellis next to our patio door. Now that it’s established, we cut it back to the ground every spring (since it’s autumn-blooming). I’m always quite sad when my husband does this, seeing my naked trellis, but by the time autumn rolls around, it’s back to it’s old unruly self with tendrils trying to get inside the house! Lovely white flowers when it’s blooming! (Chicago area gardener)

    1. Sounds great! Yes, I was a little nervous about putting in a vine that can be invasive, but I like the idea of cutting it back aggressively each year and then watching it grow again. I love the look of them, though! Those white flowers are amazing!

      1. Just be careful with sweet autumn clematis. In the fall, it scatters seed heads like crazy and it can become uncontrollable. Too bad because the flowers are lovely and it looks spectacular on a trellis or draped over a stone wall. Just give it a LOT of room. Ask me how I know this. 🙂

        There are other clematis that don’t spread aggressively. E’toile violette produces an abundance of blooms in dark purple with yellow centers but it’s well behaved and extremely cold hardy. I first read about it in Martha Stewart’s magazine and it’s one of her favorites at her summer house in Maine.

        1. Oh, good to know! I was a little bit nervous about getting something that’s so invasive, but we’ll give it a try and see how it goes. I appreciate the advice you shared from your experience!

  18. Hydrangeas always look good, however, if you are uncertain about what to plant, maybe start with an oversized pot. You can fill it with whatever annuals strike your fancy for now, while you research something more permanent. Also, would allow time to wait for Fall sales. This would give you immediate results. Raise it up, if possible, in order to add height to your area. Perhaps a pot on top of the birdbath.

    1. I love the dwarf Japanese maples and was going to suggest the same. Love the idea of a water feature too though. Looking forward to seeing what you do! You’ve come a long way with your gardening (recalling the “olden days” pre-anything gardening-way to go!) Have fun!

      1. Yes! Still so much to learn, but I have come a long way in the few years since I’ve made an effort at gardening.

  19. I have the most beautiful caladiums, large white, that have become the focal point. they will die back, but are so beautiful in summer. Big, showy white ones.

  20. If you want some good inspiration, there’s a great channel on YouTube called Garden Answers. Laura and her husband Aaron live in Oregon, which is zone 5. Their videos are very informative and beautifully done. You can find some great ideas on their for your garden. I can’t wait to see the final result. Gardening can be so relaxing.

  21. Don’t forget to use Preen spring, summer, and fall to keep weeds from germinating. You need to add ProMix, a mix of soil and compost to your existing soil instead of topsoil. Also, do you know to loosen the roots of shrubs, annuals, etc before planting? You can tell I’m an avid gardener.

    1. Such great advice, thank you! Yes, I will add some soil with nutrients. That is what I meant, but was using the wrong term. (Can you tell I’m not an avid gardener at this point?) I did know about loosening the root ball, though, and was planning on using Preen based on the advice of others as well. I appreciate the tips from a pro!

  22. You have a really pretty design going! It will be beautiful! I think a garden sculpture of some kind would look great in the middle, kind of adding a little texture by having a hardscape in there. A birdbath, or some other English garden sculpture out of concrete would look really cool. Have fun- so much of gardening is trial and error as you find out what “likes” your yard!

  23. Not fond of the vines, I think hanging baskets with annuals would look much better. I agree about a birdbath as a focal point.

  24. I use garden soil, like for vegetable gardens etc, as opposed to top soil. I was advised that top soil does have weeds and can contain bacteria as it isn’t sterilized. I’ve had very good luck with the garden soil and black cow!

  25. It depends on the look you are going for and what type of garden you wish to have.
    How bout a Weeping Pussy Willow Tree for the center of that garden or a fountain of some type? Would be nice to hear the soft trickle of water while pondering on the porch! So many decisions it can be overwhelming for sure.
    Whatever you do, it will look amazing as always!! 🙂

  26. I would suggest a grouping of pots that can be moved to suit your desire with some big beautiful rocks. You could also experiment w different plants and colors while you decide what would be best. 🙂

  27. Hi Marian,
    I love your style inside and outside! I’m a big fan of the boxwoods and hostas as well. If it were me, I would switch the row of hostas and small boxwoods and over time, eventually create a small hedge of the boxwoods with hostas in front. I love the idea of a dwarf hydrangea grouping in the center. I like the neat row of boxwoods keeping the hydrangeas tidy.
    I’m sure what you decide to do will be beautiful! Happy planting!

    1. Yes, I like that idea, too! I some of the hostas in my yards are monsters, so that’s why I put them behind the boxwoods. I figured I’ll shape them into a structured hedge and keep them fairly low. We’ll see, though.

      I didn’t know there were dwarf hydrangea until some other commenters mentioned them, so I’m going to look into that!

    I vote for the artist’s heart in you and your paint brushes!!!
    For you to fill in that central portion/ with a bloom or a few and you could have a beautiful english garden/check out Beatrix Potter style/with daisies, hollyhock, zinnias, snapdragons, oh myyyy foxgloves/(they do like shade best I think though)..maybe framed with a hardy rose climber for your trellis’s/the antique climbing roses are sometimes very hardy! whites or pinks I can see it!……..a little cluster of blooms that your artist’s heart and paint brush would not be able to resist!!!! ( even one plant of each! )
    That would be the feature I vote for….you do have a beautiful window and bench area which maybe you’ll find playing around with that once your basics are in the front….

    1. This is what I did this year, in front of the kitchen window, we had a fig tree, and 9 winters out of 10, the winter would kill it to the ground, so we dug up in early spring. There is a low boxwood hedge in front, and we placed a large urn on a pediment in the center, and this year we planted seeds, started with zinnias and a mixture of seeds called a Hummingbird Haven. I wanted a profusion of flowers to attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

  29. I do not remember not gardening or messing around in my mom and grandma’s flower beds. We always moved stuff around depending on if it was happy where it was or not. I also operate on the theory of “if you like it, buy it. You can always find a place for it.” So there is that.

    Now, I would certainly put something evergreen and tall-ish in the middle of that bed to balance out the front of the house – something like a Variegated Winter Daphne would be pretty. The hostas will be shorter than the boxwood around the perimeter of the bed, so I would consider swapping places and putting those in front of the boxwood. Alternatively, you can also put them in front of the larger boxwood at the back which would provide some contrast up against all the green going on up against he porch.

    Happy Gardening!

  30. I feel like it needs something to contrast with what you’ve bought, in both color and structure. Something like a gold or purple colored barberry (barberry is very heat-tolerant), or one of the ninebarks that change hue throughout the growing season. These come in varying heights. You could do a birdbath or feature and put two or three of these around it if there is space. Hydrangea are lovely, but when they’re not blooming they’re just big floppy green leaves.

  31. Besides knowing what zone you are in, the next important is light, how much and how long. Is it direct sun for over 6 hours a day? only 3 or 4 hours? Partial sun from a nearby tree? Do the hostas require shade in zone 4 like they do in the south? And I highly recommend a micro irrigation system that address the watering needs without getting foliage wet. Also use plants with the same water requirements so that ones that like dry soil aren’t placed in the same bed with those that love moist soil. Your landscape person should know. If there are water restrictions in your area the micro systems are usually exempt, which means you can water as needed. Ours is on a battery timer and runs from our outside spigot. cheap and easy to install. Perhaps a grouping of large boulders for interest? Otherwise I love the birdbath idea. Something other than plants I think to add year round interest and structure. Gardening is so gratifying. When you get ready for the backyard don’t forget nectar and larval needs of birds and butterflies in your area, plus pollinators will be good for your veggie garden! Hope you enjoy this part of making this house your home!

  32. Maybe it’s already been said, but hostas like shade. Plant some at the base of the clematis. It will keep the clematis roots cool, which they like.

  33. I love green and white gardens! Crisp looking and very calming. On a hot day they give a sense of being cool. I love my white hydrangeas.and my boxwood. We live in zone 5 and I understand the need for something beside sticks. For height there is also white delphiniums and white astilbe. The sweet autum clematis is beautiful, just a warning though. They come out pretty late in the spring so give them plenty of time to come up before you decide they are dead. Ask me how I know! Lol. gard

  34. My sweet autumn clematis does indeed spill over a trellis and bear white flowers, but it is not green all winter. It turns to dry sticks and I cut it back hard . It took years to attain the growth it has now.I think you have too many plants planned for that space and hostas should be in front of boxwoods. Shrubs are harder to move than flowers in most cases because their root systems are deeper and yanking them out often disrupts everything else. Chances are that bed is going to be snow covered all winter anyway, so forget winter looks. Most new gardeners expect too much too soon. Get your soil in shape by adding manure and compost, double dig and then plant.

    1. Yep, I read up on the clematis and knew it isn’t green in the winter. I plan to wrap it in white lights and I think it’ll look pretty covered in lights and snow. I’ll cut it way back in the early spring.

      I thought about putting the hostas in front of the boxwoods, but I have huge hostas in my yard, so I was afraid they would be too big. We’ll see how it goes! Thanks for all of the tips!

      1. Be sure to get the clematis that blooms on new growth. If you cut it back in the late winter or early spring, you could be cutting off that season’s blooms. Have you tried, or are you willing to try roses? There are some lovely white English climbing roses that would do well there.

        1. Yes, this is the variety that you cut back to about 12″ above the ground in early spring and then it’s full and blooming again by fall.

          1. That is exactly it!!! When I moved into my home, I had to let the three clematis that were planted cycle through a year or two so I could figure out which ones I had! Thankfully, I can cut them all back in early spring and not fight with dead-looking vines.

  35. Love the plan. You will love the Sweet Autumn and it fills in quickly. So beautiful in the fall! Maybe a small fountain in the center? The sound of water is so soothing and the birds love it. And I move plants around multiple times. Hope you share pics as no everything grows.

  36. Things to consider: 1). Sometimes bixwod are smelly like a cat box, unpleasant to walk by. Find out which type you purchased, not all smell badly. 3). The bird bath sounds wonderful. Get a cement one so birds can latch on; they slip in the ceramic/glazed pottery style and few realize this. LAvendar will bring hummers and five off theirflovely fragrance (and apparently stave off stink bugs). That’s my 2cents. I live your blog and all your creativelt, wishing I were 30 years younger!

    1. I rode home in the car with these and they seemed to be fine! Good to know about the birdbaths. My Oma had a concrete bird bath in her yard, so that is just what I would want. I also love the idea of lavender. I’ll have to see what will survive in my zone.

  37. Oh boy, you have a lot of good advice to ponder. I’m going to look at my garden and consider if some of those suggestions would improve the front of my house too!

    What talented readers you have!

  38. Hi, I live in Zone 4 too. If you want plant once and not bother again type of perennials, then daylilies which come in yellow, red shades are great for June – July blooming season. Lots of flowers, you can divide the mature plants to multiply the plants around the backyard. They always come back every year. Another plant which comes back is the asiatic lily – different colors – so you can take your pick. Sedum is another late Aug- Sept flowering option.
    I believe you already have Peonies in your garden so you can plan your color scheme accordingly for the front yard. Annuals can always be planted in pots for a burst of color. All the best!

  39. Such wonderful suggestions! My only comment is that I’ve several clematis’ at different houses but Sweet Autumn—let’s just say it really really likes where it is! I cut it back the end of the season and am pulling vines out from under the gutter and there are always vines that have made their way into the garage which it leans against! Still, you can’t beat the aroma!

  40. Soil, soil, soil. I like to mix up manure, peat Moss, good garden soil, and compost. I also think a nice Shepherd hook by a birdbath would be lovely. With a beautiful basket of flowers, of course.

  41. I have done the flower shuffle many times! One of the biggest mistakes I have made regarding plants is not correctly judging how much they will grow and multiply. They might look small and undersized going in but they grow fast and before you know they have taken over a space giving it a over grown look.

    Three great drought and heat resistant plants for summer are coneflower, black-eye Susan and lambs ear but watch out because they multiply fast as does lavender.

  42. Our current house has a dwarf hydrangea tree and I love it! Our last house had a bluish evergreen shrub “centerpiece” and I liked that too. Two houses ago we planted boxwood along our curved sidewalk and I loved it! One thing we have always done is plant 1-2 less than what the local nursery suggests (we live in Rochester too, so it’s possible it’s the same nursery) – friends had warned us that planting everything the nursery suggests will lead to very FULL landscaping, and we kinda like the space to see everything. MN winters can be brutal, but I’m sure that whatever you decide, it will look fabulous!

  43. I admire your ability to make a decision and then do it! I worry that I’m going to commit to planting something and then finding it doesn’t work. I finally decided on bobo hydrangeas and boxwood and planted them a month ago and even though they’re small now, I love them! I actually saw mature bobo hydrangeas for the first on a community garden tour in Rochester a few years ago and fell in love with them! I can hardly wait for mine to bloom! Also, Little Lime is a smaller version of Limelight. You could check those out. I’m not sure what your timeline is for your yard but in the Spring the Amish near Rochester have great prices and have started adding flowering shrubs and bushes. Have fun! There’s something so rejuvenating about digging in the dirt!

  44. Another fun project! But beware of the boxwood bushes, they must be always well trimmed into a perfect shape
    to look good and in your case to keep them small. They may not look so good when wrapped in burlap for the winter months. We have 12 giant boxwoods in France, they give the property the style of very organized park and punctuate the space and the look is formal ” jardin à la française ” which is the opposite of the natural english garden. The last years the boxwoods in many European countries have had diseases very difficult to combat and so time consuming and very costly. Last year an insect ( from China ) has devastated the boxwoods. It can, in a very few days eat all the leaves leaving a dead bush. It costs a fortune to spray several times we I think that this tiny insects that turn into caterpillars is now there to stay. Hope it will not come to this continent too, via overseas containers and wooden crates. But have fun creating beauty outdoors with whatever you chose to plant.

  45. Love all the great suggestions! Not sure if you are a rose fan, but there some beautiful climbing roses. Also, for height and visual interest all year, you can’t go wrong with ornamental grasses – they are beautiful even in the winter.

  46. Hi Marion,
    I just wanted to alert you to the sweet autumn clematis you want to put in you plant area.
    It is extremely invasive and will take over the entire plant area. I tried it one year and it went so crazy I had to pull it out. Just a word of caution with this plant. If you notice when you drive down the highway, and you see a white vine covering a massive space, that is the sweet autumn clematis. I have a Lady Diana clematis. She likes the sun, and produes a dark (lipstick) pink tube flower and she’s a beauty. Just a few ideas. You may also like black eyed susan… the self seed and you’ll get a few more every year… if you don’t like where they “spread”, just pull them out. I live in St. Louis…. hot here!!

    1. Yes, I read that! I originally had a climbing hydrangea in my cart, but the landscape designer told me they are painfully slow growing and will stay the same size for about 3 years. I do want something that will fill things out nicely in a reasonable amount of time. So, we’ll give it a try. I do plan to cut it way back each year, so hopefully that will keep it in check. If it does get out of control, I’ll just pull it and try something else.

  47. Your clematis may not be strong enough to support lighting in the winter. It tends to look a bit raggedy as the season goes on. Some clematis grow on new wood so these varieties need to be cut back each year. I live in Michigan. So I cut my twelve year old clematises about twelve inches from the ground in late September. Otherwise, our snowfall just decimates them. Without fail, it emerges in spring and by July it is anywhere from 8-12 ft. tall with hundreds of blooms. I always shade the roots with spring irises and provide it with strong support trellises. Intense summer sun can dry out the vine and the blooms can be messy. But, they are glorious in full flower. Any decision you make will be lovely. Just consider the sun or shade environment.

    1. Good information! I read some mixed advise about when to cut them back (fall or spring). It’ll be a bit of trial and error, I think!

  48. oh… saw one of your readers comment on BOBO HYDRANGEA…. Fantastic!! They stay small, and produce a bunch of white blooms. Waiting for mine to sprout which should be any day now.

  49. One more thing….. I have 2 dwarf Russian Sage Plants….. should give a little purple color.
    Don’t kow how available they are. They need full sun.

    1. While I love purple in a garden, I’m trying to stay away from it, because it clashes with this siding. I’m sticking with greens and whites.

  50. Divide your hostas to make smaller plants. They will not do well behind the boxwood. Boxwood have to be trimmed often or they look unkept. Don’t make extra work for yourself. After years of master gardening, I think (hope) that I have learned that the less maintenance the more enjoyment there is to gardening.

    1. Hmmm…so, where would you put the hostas? Leave them out entirely? Put them in front of the boxwood?

  51. Hi Marian,

    A few quick thoughts from a seasoned gardener:

    (1) Kudos to you for recognizing the importance of “winter interest” – planning a garden that looks good all year round. Maybe consider a woody tree/plant with interesting bark for the winter months? Or an evergreen like an azalea or rhododendron?
    (2) I know you already bought the boxwoods but there are so many to consider. I have Korean Boxwoods because they are (a) slow growing with a compact size and (b) no cat-litter-box smell. Some boxwoods can get quite large and you will be spending every year pruning them back. Do lots of research before you buy.
    (3) Sweet Autumn Clematis is beautiful but be warned – it can be invasive. In addition to growing quite large, it also reseeds easily.
    (4) Another thing to consider when buying plants – just because something is called “dwarf” does not mean it will remain small forever.
    (5) There is a GREAT new lavender that you can grow in your zone and it gets quite large: Phenomenal Lavender. Yup, that is its name. It is a hot new plant and I just got some for my gardens this year.
    (6) The thing I love the most about gardening is the camaraderie in the community. Ask your neighbors or fellow gardeners if they have plants they are separating and will share with you?
    (7) YES – a garden is a living, breathing creature that evolves with time. Do not be afraid to rip something out and try something new!! LOL – it is no different than when you move all of your furniture around.

    Most of all enjoy the fruits of your labor!

  52. FYI We have boxwoods and never trim them. I prefer the natural shaggy round look. Once you start trimming, you’ll have to always trim. I HATE TRIMMING BUSHES! I go with the natural relaxed look. They look good – not unkempt or anything.

    Also, instead of or along with top soil, look into adding mushroom compost to your beds. We got that advice from landscapers years ago when we installed our landscaping and I must say, it is fantastic. Everyone is always asking me what kind of fertilizer I use and I’ve yet to use any. Our beds were installed in 2003 and they look fantastic. The mushroom compost makes everything lush.

  53. What about a wind catcher, something with a little movement. But it would look lonely all by itself, so stick it in the center of a big pot planted with flowers and greenery.

    Or you could stack 3 pots, larger on the bottom, smallest on the top and put the wind catcher in them.

  54. One day f my fav bedding plants is what we call purple fringe. It comes in large and pixie sizes and in Bush or low growing. I use it to break up the greens!

  55. MY first question would be- what do you want to be the focal point? The window/seating area or your flowers and possible bird bath? Anything very tall will def. take the attention off the seating area. If you want the seating area more private that is a perfect plan. love boxwoods- esp. for the look you are going for! Boxwoods are slow growing but I agree that they will over take the hostas if planted in front of them. I can’t wait to see what you come up with- I love your eye for style.

  56. Good choice on Green Velvet boxwood–it does not smell, I have grown it in Z4 for years with lots of cold wind (NE) and I get very little windburn. It looks like it will be fairly protected there also. I think it’s a personal opinion if you want to clip it. I do some minor shaping, but I like the loose-growth look of mine. Lavender needs lots of sun and good drainage. I’m wondering if it would get enough sun to bloom nicely there. It’s also tough to find varieties that are truly Z4 hardy, although there are some new ones I haven’t tried. You can separate those hostas and get quite a few. I put them in a big plastic tub with water, wash all the soil off the roots, and gently pull them apart, then plant immediately. I like the idea of a birdbath and the Boho hydrangea. Another shrub that you might look into is the Blue Kazoo Spirea. It has a white bloom and bluish new leaves. I’ve only grown it for a year, but I really like it. Another shrub with white blooms is Clethra (Summersweet). It can take part-sun. If you can’t find what you want locally, Garden Crossings in Michigan will send plants until fall. Their shrubs are small, but very healthy. It is also a good place to look for ideas… Planting a garden is not something you do and you’re done…it’s a living entity with a mind of its own sometimes! And then there is Mother Nature that can always through you a curve ball. But bravo for you for jumping in and doing your research! Good luck.

    1. Can I just keep you in my pocket while I’m working on this? You have so much great information! I’ll take a look at those bush varieties.

  57. White roses – always, and would wisteria (rather than clematis) make it through your winters? I obviously want you to have an English garden…..

    1. I looked at wisteria, but I wanted white blooms (I think the purple would clash with the siding color on our house) and the flowers on the white variety would hang too low. The clematis was really the best choice for the look I wanted and my zone. I should consider roses, though! They could be really pretty in the center.

  58. Be careful with your hostas. I planted some one time and they multiplied like crazy!. I finally dug them all up. Less is more for me in landscaping. You just don’t realize how quick those plants are going to grow. You can always add to.
    Your garden will be beautiful like everything else you have a hand in,!

    1. Yep! I have one in the back of my house that is more like a bush! It really needs to be divided.

  59. A water fountain would be pretty in the space. The sound would be nice if you’re sitting on the porch and when you have the dining room windows open.

  60. I am a fan of tuteurs. They allow you to put a climbing plant wherever you like (there are online tutorials on how to build your own). Baptisia, a tall shrub-like perennial, would make a strong statement. It blooms in early spring, but the foliage is pretty all summer. Japanese red maple is pretty, but may not survive in Zone 4.

  61. I live in a Southeastern PA and have green velvet boxwoods in the front of my house. We have a field across from our house and get strong winds in the winter. I use an anti-dessicant spray late fall and I also go out and clear the heavy snow off of them during and after snow storms. I also apply Holly Tone in the Spring and Fall. It’s been five years and so far so good. They are a nice size and I keep them loosely ball shaped. Follow the instructions carefully for the anti-dessicant spray.

  62. I would love to see an old urn in this area-either concrete or cast iron. I often plant mine with a blushing bride hydrangea. Big white puffy flowers-think you would love them. In fall I remove the hydrangea and plant in the ground that way I can enjoy it again the next year either in the ground or I sometimes dig them up and put right back in the urn. Or one of your hostas would look wonderful in the urn. In the fall I stack pumpkins in the urn, winter it gets spruce tips and white lights and early spring white pansies. A lovely focal point year round. Bird baths are wonderful and we have many in our garden but they require daily cleanings and fresh water.

    1. Great idea. I actually have a large concrete urn (the twin broke), so that might be a good spot for it. Something to try, anyway, since I already have it!

  63. I think the boxwoods need to be behind the hosta. Even if they are small now, they will grow and expand. If you like hosta, there are many smaller varieties with really amazing leaves that are a total joy. Look up “Curly Fries”…the cutest hosta around. We have boxwood surrounding a fountain ringed with hosta….the hosta were so large they competed with the boxwood so we dug them all up and installed Curly Fries instead.
    Winter interest is vital in Minnesota. Look at a bird’s nest spruce for the middle, or miscanthus grass. The miscanthus gets beautiful tassel seed heads in the fall and looks wonderful all winter; then you cut it down in the spring. Birdbaths are difficult in the middle of a bed; you have to scrub them out frequently and stepping around the other plants to fill them gets old. I tossed mine and now have an old bicycle with flower baskets…much easier! I’ve been experimenting with lavender in Zone 4 for 30 years; it simply never lasts more than 2 years because our climate is too harsh. Best of luck! The hardest part (those mulch rocks) is done!

    1. Great information, thanks! And that’s a good point about the bird bath. I will have an access point from the driveway, so I could always add a stepping stone to get to the middle if it is something I want to change out (or need to clean.) Good thought about the hosta as well. I’m planning on keeping the boxwood trimmed to a small hedge, though, so I think it will work in front of the hosta.

  64. How about one of those large urn with some sort of water bubbler, pump inside, so that water bubbles up out of the opening and over the sides?

  65. It looks much better already, Marian! I’m afraid I don’t have any plant suggestions (I’m in England where we don’t have the zoning system), however I wanted to tell you about a plant food: liquid seaweed. It’s totally organic and I’ve used it on my boxwoods this year and they’ve never looked healthier and put on so much bright new growth. Something to consider when you’re all planted in, just spray it over everything and it’ll grow like mad. Happy gardening!

  66. Hi Marion. I think your plan for a white garden is lovely. I have two SA clematis out at the farm that flank my back door. As they matured, they grew to meet over the door. It was a happy accident and I love it! It is like walking thru a storybook setting. So fun. And the scent is heavenly. Wish I could attach a pic.

    I like the twinkle lights idea, but be advised that as this clematis matures, it does collect a lot of dead that you need to access to be able to cut, clean out… yearly. Although fast growers, in your zone I probably wouldn’t cut them back to the ground as some have suggested, even tho that would make cleanup a whole lot easier. I have a longer growing season here in KC and I trim mine to about 3-4 ft tall every year to ensure they meet over the door and look full and lush. You may want to trim yours even taller.

    Your space looks rather small and I think your plantings will fill it quickly (in 3 yrs) without adding more. If you find that as your garden grows that the hosta should become hidden behind the short hedge, there are taller varieties you can change to later. Use what you have for now. Or if you have the space, you could add in or replace the hosta with hydrangeas that bloom on new wood. If they look too scraggly after frost, just cut them off and then add decorations for winter interest if desired. Please keep your short hedge in front of hostas as planned. You won’t be sorry.

    1. Thank you! I love this comment and I’m so glad to hear about your clematis. That’s just what I’m hoping for this space. Glad to hear you love yours and thanks for the tip on how to cut them back. And yes, now that I’m getting plants in the ground, I think that I have plenty of plants to fill the space. I just need to let them all grow!

  67. What about (and I am sorry if someone mentioned it already) a huge stone or water fountain with lavender around it? Lots of great ideas here.

  68. I love the fountain idea, we have one, but I think you’d enjoy it more on a back deck where you sometimes sit to visit, relax, or eat. The sound is heavenly and would be wasted on the front porch. Hope you can use your goat cart, sounds ideal!

  69. Dear Marion, How wonderful that this has generated so much discussion.
    I too would like to add my suggestions. I do find that when someone suggests something I have an immediate reaction – positive or negative and that is so helpful to narrow down my options.

    I do not know just how much you will use the front porch nor what aspect that it has.
    My recommendation is that you put the boxwood in and keep it pruned to about one foot. Put the hosta’s behind them but at a distance so you will not have to prune the underleaves of the hostas too much to prevent them from draping on the boxwood. I have to do that on mine.

    Also check out boxwood blight so you will be aware to what to look for.

    I would then plant hydrangeas in white that are suitable for your area. BUT in the centre of the planting I would put a concrete paver of the size you could put a planter for the winter. In the summer it would be concealed by the drape of the hydrangeas.

    In winter: Your boxwood will delineate the bed, the hostas will die completely away and the hydrangea will keep their branch form. In winter you can easily place an ornamental planter of your choice on the paver. Buy plastic pots that you can drop into that large ornamental planter with seasonal planting or decoration that could include white lights.

    About the clematis – the autumn clematis is admittedly fast growing – but it is very messy! Also consider using deep colour there. It will lift the eye. E’toile Violette was a good suggestion. If it gets a lot of sun where you place it in the ground you may need more than a rock to protect the base from heat.

    Things will grow quickly especially if you give the soil a boost with good compost and well rotted manure. Put your money into the soil and the decorative planter and your smaller plants will thrive and look mature by next year.

    Have fun.
    Regards Janine in BC Canada

    I like the suggestion of a bird bath or fountain. Depending on the height it may block your outlook from the seating on the porch.

  70. There is a relatively “new” lavender called Phenomenal that doesn’t lose it’s leaves in the winter, and has a nice mounded shape. It likes full sun, and grows 24″ wide, and 24-30″ high. You can google it for more info.

  71. I like the idea of a birdbath or maybe a small shepherd’s hook with a hanging flower basket. Will break up the all plants/bushes look and even though you may think you need another plant in the middle, all those other plants are going to grow and fill in the space. Love your plan!!

    1. Yep, now that we’re getting things in the ground, I don’t think I need to add any more plants, but let the ones I have fill in.

  72. Don’t be disappointed if your garden doesn’t grow as quickly as you hope. Where you are located your growing season is considerably shorter then at your last house. The weeds grow quickly, but the plants, not so much. That being said, don’t forget to water! If this area has direct sunlight it will dry out quickly. Many times landscapers chose plantings so that you always have something in bloom during your growing season. You don’t want everything in bloom at once!

    1. Thank you for the encouragement and tips! I know it’s going to take a while to get everything looking the way I envision, so I’ll have to practice more patience. It’s one reason why I’m planting this summer, so I can see it maturing over the years. I waited until the year before I moved from the last house before I really started working on the yard and I regretted that.

  73. hi, I loved reading about your garden design ideas. This is an unrelated question but here goes: what paint color did you use on your front door? It looks so fresh. I love it!

  74. just saw your story and the hostas will get really big i have 3 that each one are the size of all your hostas so if you do not want them to get any bigger you will have to dig them up each year and cut them in half. i have more room where i have mine and i can go 2 to 3 year before i have to dig mine up and i give them to a friend.

    1. Yeah, we have one in the back that is like a bush!! I am sure I’ll have to switch these around, but they’ll fill things in for right now.

  75. You might want to consider a groundcover. There are some beautiful ones that bloom, and most are really low maintenance and work quite well in your Zone.

  76. Here in the south, we cloud our boxwoods. You can google that and find tutorials on Youtube. I think that method would be great for your boxwoods once they get established.

  77. Lavender is hidden in small batches by the herbs!

    I grew a HUGE lavender bush from just one of those little pots!

    I harvested a TON of lavender from it – just took lots and lots of sunny days.

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