plan for the front garden

Marian ParsonsAll Things Home, Gardening65 Comments

If you missed my garden post last week, you might want to take a minute to check it out.  The comment section is full of great advice, tips, and suggestions that are especially applicable and helpful if you live in zone 4.  Also, this post is a continuation of that one, so it might be helpful for context.

To get this post started, I thought I would share the gardens that inspired me.  I love the look of the gardens designed and shared by Loi Thai of Tone on Tone.    His gardens are simple and beautiful, structured, traditional, and approached almost as interior rooms with focal points, layers, textures, and a clearly established color palette.

Here are a couple examples…

Now, I do realize my limitations.  I’m in a suburban home and some of these looks just might not work or make sense, but the overall approach can certainly apply.  If this is the look I love, why not pursue it as best I can?

I really did find a lot of freedom when consulting with my friend, who has a knack for gardening.  She encouraged me and assured me I can move things or change them around if something isn’t working.  Isn’t that liberating?

So, I’m going to pursue the look I want and just go with any challenges or hiccups that may arise.  As I was arranging the potted plants in my bare garden, I thought about my journey with painting and drawing and how similar this is.  I read a lot of books to get started in art and I’ve read a lot of books since.  They’ve all taught me a lot, but in the end, my best lessons have come when pencil touched paper and my brush met the canvas.  I can read books on gardening and watch tutorials and research the plants and ask for advice and I’ve done all of that and it’s very valuable.  The real lessons, though, will happen once I start digging and getting my hands dirty.  Experience is, indeed, the best teacher.

Anyway, here’s a look at the layout and main plants I purchased to start off our “front garden”…

It was important to me to add an evergreen component to the garden.  Yes, our ground is covered in snow all winter, but it’s still nice to have a little green peeking under.  Last winter, my garden was just sticks poking up from the snow and I was wishing for bushes to decorate with Christmas lights and to add some color in the spring when the snow was melting, but nothing was yet budding or blooming.

The boxwoods will add that green color and also some structure and shape to the garden in all seasons.  I did a lot of research on the different varieties that will do well in zone 4 and the Green Velvet Boxwood kept coming up again and again.  I love the bright green color and the feathery texture of the branches as opposed to the more rigid branches you see on some varieties.  These were also not stinky (in my opinion, anyway.)  I haven’t noticed any “cat pee” smell or anything other than an earthy, organic smell.  I’ll let you know how they do, but my local friend has a beautiful hedge of them, so I’m hopeful!

For the border along the sidewalk, I bought two white-blooming annuals.  One is Wave Petunias (not shown in the picture above) and the other is Diamond Frost (shown below)…

I was attracted to this plant in the nursery, because of the lacy texture.  Plus, they are annuals, so I can just try them out for a year and if they don’t work or if I goof something up (like maybe I plant too many too close together), then I can take those lessons into next year.

I think they will make a lovely frame for the sidewalk, though.

I added the petunias at the last minute, because I know they will spread quickly and bring lots of white blooms to the garden.  My mom said rabbits have been eating her petunias and I know some hang around in my yard, so I’ll have to keep an eye on that one!

The other plants I purchased for the front are two Sweet Autumn Clematis.  They are climbing vines that I bought from our local nursery.

I had done a lot of research on climbing vines with white blooms that will survive in zone four and, I will admit, it was tough to decide.  One of the vines I looked into was nicknamed “mile-a-minute vine”, because it grows so fast, but it’s also invasive and can get out of control quickly.  Sweet Autumn Clematis is considered somewhat invasive, but seems to not be an issue as long as you prune it each year.

HERE is a great post on about Sweet Autumn Clematis.  I found this article particularly helpful, because it gives both the upsides and the things to be aware of.

Here is a picture I found of this variety of clematis…

Stunning, right?

Originally, when I went to the nursery, I put a couple of climbing hydrangea plants in our cart.  As I was checking out, I decided to ask if they would be a good choice for my idea (of growing the vine on a trellis and around my porch).  There happened to be a landscape designer within earshot who jumped into the conversation and informed me that those would be painfully slow-growing and suggested I consider something else.  I mentioned my interest in Sweet Autumn Clematis, but I didn’t see them at their store.  He disappeared to the back and pulled three out that had just arrived that day and told me I could have my pick.

Well, there we go…  Sweet Autumn Clematis it is.  A purple clematis was already in my garden, so I think they should do well here, but we’ll see. I’ll definitely keep you posted on those.

I mixed in the garden soil, hummus, and manure this weekend and finished up the planting on Saturday, so I’ll be able to show you the finished garden as soon as I get some good pictures of it!


plan for the front garden

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65 Comments on “plan for the front garden”

  1. Thank goodness you didn’t get the Russian vine AKA mile a minute. I spend far too
    Much time cutting down the neighbors which invades my garden all
    The time. I have heard can grow 12 inches a day in the height of the season!

  2. I’m going to have to look for the Diamond Frost, it looks like it would be a great filler in between perennials. I have an entire front and back yard that were a clean slate when we bought the house, and I’ve been having a great time turning it into a garden.

    1. When you look for it is called Diamond Frost Euphorbia, just for clarification and be aware that the sap can be a skin irritant to some and definitely make sure you don’t get any in your eyes. This is one tough plant and I love it, it performs all summer long.

  3. I think your garden plan is beautiful. White in a garden is lovely to look at in the nighttime as it seems to glow. The sweet autumn clematis is a very aggressive grower, but it can be pruned to the ground, with love will grow back the next year. I have had mine grow over 100 feet in one year, and the smell is wonderful. I hope you enjoy your gardening.

  4. At the risk of sounding like an idiot……I did not know that you need to trim back a clematis. I guess I need to do a little more research on taking care of them!

    1. It depends on the variety, as I understand. I did find a great article on pruning clematis and which ones should be cut almost to the ground each year.

  5. I love your words, “experience is, indeed, the best teacher”. Thank you for sharing so much of your self. You have taught me lots.

  6. Your color scheme is a very restful one and also classically elegant, which is what Loi Thai excels at as well. I just spent the past 11 years with a 50-foot Annabelle hydrangea hedge fronted with boxwood balls, and a Dutch white clover-laden lawn, and it was pure heaven. No matter what, I have always used white liberally in my garden schemes, as it is both fresh and relaxing all at once. Another fantastic white annual is white calibrachoa, like a “mini petunia,” it is totally unfazed by weather and blooms nonstop all season long. A great choice for planters or directly in the ground, it will never disappoint.

  7. I too love the gardens featured on his blog. I have a yard full of green velvet boxwoods. You won’t be disappointed. I love what you have selected. Can’t wait to see it planted.

  8. After living in the same home for exactly 25 years today, I feel I know the greatest problem with Sweet Autumn Clematis. Every single one of those lovely flowers will produce seeds and the results will be popping up for years in your lawn. Those new babies can be either mowed with the grass or be dug up to share with others or planted along a backyard fence. Although lovely, they are invasive. As the saying goes… choose your battles.

    1. Bebe, I have the same problem with Sweet Autumn Clematis here in Georgia. I planted one years ago and they sprout up everywhere in my two acre yard. I am constantly pulling them up. I did leave one climbing up a bell and I just keep pulling the vines off as it gets unruly. They do smell good in the fall.

    2. Ah, good to know. Will Preen stop them from seeding in the garden beds? Yeah, I’ll have to keep an eye on it. Thanks!

    3. I just read an article that said this Clematis doesn’t seed as much in colder climates (zones 4-5) and the seeding can be greatly reduced by cutting back the vine to 3 feet or so once the flowers fade.

  9. I have the Green Velvet boxwoods in front of my home in St. Louis and they are, indeed, amazing. No troubles; not a single one has died in 10 years (and I can kill anything). ‘
    For instance, all of my petunias have died this year. I thought it was the above 90 heat, but your mom may be right. Maybe it’s rabbits.
    I love green and white.
    Good luck!

  10. White and green landscaping is my favorite also. It’s just so peaceful. I do have a little deep purple/red leafed perennials mixed in here. I loved the inspiration pictures and love the vision for your gardens! I am now going to check out the designer you shared.

    1. I really love purple and blue flowers, too, but I don’t think they will look good with my siding color, so I’m just sticking with green and white.

  11. Just a “heads up”. The diamond frost has a very pungent odor. Also, you might consider something “up” like a birdbath in the center o the bed. You could do a winter display in it, too.


  12. I love your posts! I have been a gardener my whole life so I am happy to see you enjoying it. You have made nice selections. Please be conscious of the environmental practices of the garden centers that you shop from. There are many plants that are causing problems with our bee and insect colonies that consumers are unknowingly purchasing. Neonicotinoid Pesticides have been shown to be causing bee colony collapse so the elimination of this and many other chemicals from the growing process is important as we try to beautify our yards. Finding environmentally friendly and organic growing practices at a farm are a good step towards helping the problem. The Neonics have been proven to actually transmit to the seeds so it perpetuates into the next generation of plants. There is increasingly more information online about this topic to learn more. Helping our environment, helps our food supply, and all living things. Keep up the beautiful and inspiring work!

    1. Oh, I didn’t even know about that. I did buy these plants from a nice local nursery, so hopefully they are concerned with that sort of thing.

  13. I was told that English box woods have the familiar box wood smell, but American varieties do not smell. I have English boxwoods and like the smell. It reminds me of the beautiful gardens in Williamsburg and the old plantation houses in Louisiana.

  14. I may not be very good at painting but gardening I have got. If you like the green and white why don’t you put a Annabelle Hydrangea where the hosta are in the picture and move the hosta out a bit. I think Annabelle Hydrangea are rated 4-9.

    1. I am planning to put hydrangea bushes in some other places. I think they would be too large for this area.

  15. The examples you shared are gorgeous! I fell in love with boxwood when we were stationed in Virginia, and the smell brings back great memories. We have the same same type of clematis, but didn’t know that name for it.

    I’m excited to see the evolution of your garden!

    1. I like the hydrangea” Incrediball “even more than Annabelle. It can take full sun or part shade. Stems seem to be sturdier and the flowers are huge . I love your choice of white and green. My fave!

    1. Ha! That would be fun, but we’re just within the “city limits”, so we can’t have farm animals.

  16. Oh my yes! There is nothing like experience to teach us, is there? That is one of my favorite things about gardening…I am constantly learning. I live in Oklahoma, an the weather here is always a challenge, so I am constantly adjusting, replanting, etc. My goal is the Master Gardener program within the next couple of years, so we will see. I love your ideas, and I think they will be beautiful in that space. I have a front round flowerbed identical to yours, so I am paying attention to what you do and how it responds. Mine is on the south side with full sun exposure, so the planting will be different, but I am mainly looking at the design and how it translates into the space because I also lean traditional with a cottage garden bend if that makes sense.

  17. Can’t wait to see the results! We have a couple of arches in our yard~~one has grapes growing on it; one has jasmine and the other has Queens claw. I love the look of a verdant arch entry plus they are so good for attracting the good insects.

    Great inspiration photos too.

  18. You’ll love the clematis fragrance! I love ours but constantly fight the wind and bird driven volunteers. As someone said, pick your battles. I dig so I can enjoy the vine in the fall. Your little white annual will perfectly compliment the clematis. THe rabbit problem — I’ve had great success discouraging them with garlic pepper spray. What a pretty entrance you’ll have!

    1. Great tip about the rabbits! I’ll give that a try. When you say you’re fighting the “wind and bird driven volunteers”, do you mean seeds that are spreading?

  19. I had the fall clematis in my last home and I loved it! It definitely needs a trellis or something to climb on. Also have the little white flowers in a potted planting and it has a flowing whimsical appearance complementing the rest of the plantings. Just as in painting I have learned by experimenting what works and is pleasing to the to the eye when creating a flower garden. You will do well with your sense of style! Louise from Ohio.

  20. If you pot up Diamond Frost, cut it back and put it in the basement at the end of the season it will winter over. Water it about once a month and pull it out in spring on warm days. If it drops down at night I bring it in . Continue to bring it out, feed it and water it and surprise new growth and then a much bigger plant for your garden. Many tender perennial plants can be saved from year to year. My lantana is 8 years old and going strong.

  21. Fabulous. A smart gardener I know talked me into getting an extra plant or two for the hedge but plant in another location. This way, if one doesn’t make it after a season, you have another of like size to put in its place, 😉

    1. Oh, wow! What a brilliant idea! I bought out all of the boxwoods of that size, but I’ll have to go back to get another.

  22. HAHAHA….Addie, I agree!! lol
    They would fit perfectly in a “Miss Mustard Seed” garden.
    Still thinking of ideas for the center of your garden… You had mentioned that you wanted some green for Winter and for Christmas. What about an upright Holly-tree? They are slow growers, you could decorate it for Christmas AND the birdies would come to visit for the berries! Hugs

  23. I really like Diamond Frost. I’ve planted it the last two years in a large pot on my front porch. It’s so pretty!

  24. Boxwoods are my fave, and like Pam mentioned bring back many many pleasant memories of Williamsburg Va. I’d love to have some ball shaped ones that would stay very small and not form a hedge. Wondering if that’s possible ….your entrance is inspiring ! Hoping it’s not too late to find some plants at my garden center

  25. I grew sweet autumn clematis in Thunder Bay -zone 3 .It grew very well and was health but it only flowered for a few weeks in September. The flowers are very small. I hope it goes well for you. Please can we have a picture this fall.

  26. Ditto on the recommendation for a Annabelle Hydrangea. I live quite a bit North of you in Bemidji, MN and can grow them in protected areas. They are SO beautiful.

  27. I would be very wary of the climbing hydrangea – whatever you do if you decide to get one don’t plant it next to the house. It will grip like ivy does and leave a reminder trail of where it was if it gets pulled down.

    1. I didn’t end up getting them, based on the advice on the landscape designer. He also suggested that they grow better on brick and stone walls, not a trellis.

  28. You will love the results and I agree that the clematis was a better choice. I had one growing up an arbor for about 10 years. I am in PA but at the very top, next to NY and I consider my zone a 4. It grew well for many years then one year frost killed it. It was a sad thing, the trunk was as thick as my arm!
    I’m also a big boxwood border person. I planted 60 of them in an English garden and tried many things inside the middle space. This year is a light green low growing sedum.
    If you’re unsure of how things will look when full grown, place tracing paper over a photo of the area and draw in the shapes full size.

  29. Sweet autumn clematis is extremely invasive. Pruning would make no difference unless you plan to cutoff all the flowers – remember it’s seeds that spread, not stems, and this plant makes millions. You’ll be dealing with this in your garden beds, shrubs, and even lawn forever. Weeding doesn’t kill it because the roots of each seedling are so extensive – only chemicals. I would urge you to get this out of your garden fast!

    1. Thanks for the advice. I did a lot of additional research and I am a bit nervous about it now! There seem to be some mixed reviews, though. It seems to spread a lot more in warmer climates, but it doesn’t spread as much in zones 4-5. I also read that you can minimize the seeding by pruning once the flowers start fading. Well, now I’m teetering between just giving it a try and ripping it out to try something else. All vines I look into seem to have one issue or another. Hmmmm….

  30. Garden Answer is a garden youtube channel I think you would enjoy. Laura has a style that you would like, she’s very knowledgeable and very inspiring. The plants you picked out should look stunning.

    1. Someone else suggested following her and I just started to on instagram. I’ll check her out on You Tube as well!

  31. I am in zone4/5 in the upper peninsula of Michigan. My clematis has been growing for ten or more years and does not drop seed everywhere at all. It is over an arbor, but not at all rampant. Old growth dies each year and new growth is on new wood. I think you will be fine in a cold climate.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. That is what I was reading, but it’s nice to hear it first hand.

  32. No limelight hydrangea smack dab in the middle?

    It’d look mighty fine there. Just sayin.

    Looking good, Marian. Keep up the good work – it only gets prettier as time goes by and it fills in nicely.

    We just redid our front gardens and it’s really taking off. Except for what the deer munch on. Ugh.

    Here is my recent post on the before/after – and it’s already gotten so much fuller in just a month!

    Happy digging!!!! : – )

  33. Clemantis are one of the easiest plants I have dealt with. I have had 2 for about 5 years that started as from nursery pots of around 2 feet tall. They now grow up my deck trellis’s and onto my pergola with a little training during the spring. Each fall I cut them to the ground and clear away all the dead wood. You will enjoy these so much!!!!

  34. Another annual you might love is “Dusty Miller”. It is technically a foliage plant but it has white/silvery almost fur like covering the bluish-green leaves. The Lacey cut leaves are beautiful. I live in central Minnesota and as the nights get cooler in the late summer the plants seem to get stronger and more vibrant. They make great cut foliage for indoor vases. They can take a light frost and often in the early winter they stick out of the snow, defiantly showy. As a former Floral designer they are prized texture and softness in a bridal bouquets.

  35. This post is very helpful, as I’ve never known where to start or how. So the fist thing is to learn what works in your zone. Thanks, Marion.

  36. Excellent choice on the sweet autumn clematis. I had one at our last house and really enjoyed it.
    We purchased a a climbing hydrangea about 8 years ago. This was the first year that it bloomed! It’s planted on a trellis on the porch on the sheltered west side of our house in Southeast Wisconsin. I love it, but I don’t I don’t think that I would plant one again.

  37. Stunning is right! I have always moved plants around to better spots especially if they weren’t thriving or did not look right. My favorite addition in the last year to my garden is the rubby slippers oakleaf hydrangea. The flowers start white and fade to a pink.

  38. Good call on the clematis! We have this variety and it is so pretty and grows quickly. New shoots are easy to recognize and pull if you don’t want them popping up in other places. They also send off plenty of babies you can transplant or give to friends. Ours are all babies from my mom’s plant. My mom also has a climbing hydrangea and they take around 10 years to mature and get blooms!!! Crazy. Her’s bloomed for the first time last year (4 flowers on the whole plant) and then there were no blooms again this year.

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