Turning Attention to the Outside

Marian ParsonsBefore and Afters, Furniture Makeovers, My House39 Comments

I spent most of my childhood in military housing, usually an apartment, so I didn’t have to help with gardening or raking leaves or pulling weeds on a regular basis.  Most of my married life has been spent in apartments and then a condo-style townhouse where all of the mowing and yard care was handled by the neighborhood.  So, when we moved into our current single-family home a few years ago, my inexperience with lawn care, gardening and exterior-decorating showed.  My husband mows our lawn…and I use that term very generously, because it’s mostly weeds and clover…and every spring, I get a little inspired to get something done to make the yard look nicer.  We’ve pulled out some overgrown bushes, cut down a few trees, planted a few holly bushes in the front garden beds, but it was all half-heartedly done and anything planted was forgotten about once the heat of summer kicked in.

There was one main eye-sore that discouraged me from putting too much time into adding curb appeal to our home…

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The driveway.  It was a mess.  Part asphalt, part gravel, part weeds, part dirt, part sand and a poorly laid sidewalk to the side door that had sunk about a foot to add insult to injury.  We added some trash, boxes, a trailer and things like that just to keep the neighbors happy.  Really…I was always apologizing to our neighbors, who share a driveway with us, for how terrible it looked.  Finally, this summer, we were able to rip out everything and have it repaved.  It was a glorious day.

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It was so anticipated that we all watched it happen.

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So, now that we have a beautiful new blacktop driveway, it is time to start sprucing up the rest of the exterior.  Flowers and bushes and things that add charm seem to be worthwhile now that they won’t be overshadowed by the ugly mess of a driveway.

The front garden seemed like the best place to start and here’s how it looked…

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Our window boxes have been empty for two years…

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…the front beds hadn’t been mulched for over a year…

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…the border I made from rocks collected around our yard was overgrown…

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…and the front beds were in desperate need of some weeding.

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I have shared before that I am not a gardener.  I try.  I do.  I’m not good at caring for plants, though, and I forget to water and prune and fertilize and I don’t know which plants go well with which and I’m impatient waiting for things to grow.

So, I went to Cashman’s True Value Hardware in East Berlin for some help.  There was a very lovely lady watering some plants outside and I let her know she had her work cut out for her with me.  I needed plants that could live in full sun, ones that weren’t fussy and high maintenance and I needed to know everything I needed to buy to make a pretty front garden.  She got me a cart and loaded me up with a variety of plants for my window boxes, some bushes to flank the house and some lavender to frame out the stairs.  She also picked out some mulch for me…

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…and shared her favorite potting soil for the window boxes…

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I also picked up a garden cart to help me with moving stones, mulch, weeds, etc.

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I love how all of the colors and textures of the lavender, Swiss chard and kale went together.  I forget what those bright green plants are called.

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She talked me through planting and arranging them and made sure I was all set and confident to tackle my project before I checked out.  I left actually excited to get to work on adding some curb appeal.

The first task was to weed and clean the garden beds.  I then hauled all of the stones from the border to the backyard to use for another project.  I was so glad I had the garden cart for that!

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I dug out a more defined border with a shovel and built a new “wall” with landscaping stones.  The boys were really into the planting and helped me with digging holes, putting in the potting soil and planting the plants in their new home.  We then spread the mulch around to help prevent weeds and frame out the plants in a rich brown.

It looks sooooo much better and I can’t wait for the lavender to grow and bloom.

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The bushes flanking the house look pretty scrawny at the moment, but I’m sure they’ll fill out in years to come.  They produce pale pink flowers, which will look pretty against the dark green holly bushes.

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The kale, Swiss chard and bright green plants went in the window box and I am looking forward to them growing up a bit more.  I have been keeping things watered like a good girl and everything is still alive.  (Yeah, I know there’s a funny gap in the holly bushes.  I planted those a few years ago and that’s how they’ve grown.  I’m hoping they’ll grow and fill that gap one of these years.)

Anyway, I’m already looking forward to going back to True Value in the spring to get some pretty flowers for the window boxes and urns and am making plans for a row of hydrangeas and azaleas along the shady side of the house.

I don’t think gardening is ever going to be my favorite aspect of DIY, but it is certainly rewarding and was made a little bit easier with the help of the knowledgeable folks at True Value.


I was one of the bloggers selected by True Value to work on the DIY Squad. I have been compensated for my time commitment to the program as well as my writing about my experience. I have also been compensated for the materials needed for my DIY project. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.


Turning Attention to the Outside

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39 Comments on “Turning Attention to the Outside”

  1. Now don’t be surprised if you fall in love with gardening! I absolutely love it – rather do that than just about anything. You did a great job!! The green plant is Creeping Jenny. It will spread like crazy but you can just pull it out and share with your friends. 🙂

    1. You will need to totally keep on top of that Creeping Jenny. It’s so invasive. Pretty purple flowers, though 🙂

  2. Too bad we don’t live closer, I love to garden and would trade you gardening jobs for some of your really cute burlap jute and twine garlands! I don’t have any talent at all when it comes to crafts and sewing!

  3. WOW! I grew up on the East Berlin Road. My parents have gone to Cashman’s often, and they always get lovely things at great prices. You’ll do great with your gardening. Just think of it as an outdoor room.

  4. One of my favorite plants to consider and so easy to take care of is hydrangea. They love partial shade.

    1. Me too, and I have propagated tons of them! I pull a sucker of five or eight off my mophead variety, each spring, put them all in another spot (NO PREP other than taking a stick and making a hole) and I get an entire plant in two seasons!! If the leaves lasted all winter, I always thought they’d make a nice hedge, but they don’t.

  5. sweetie, trim the tops off of those holly bushes right at the point where your brick meets your foundation. KEEP them trimmed off till they fill in like you want..

  6. When I first began gardening I learned this about plants: the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap! It helped me learn to be patient with the scrawny first years 🙂 I agree with the commenter who said her favorite is hydrangea. Try “Little Lime”, a dwarf that puts out the most amazing limish-whitish blooms.

  7. I agree with Lorie – think of your garden as an outdoor room and you’ll poor your creativity into it. I like many DIY projects, but gardening is one of my favorites. There’s also a rhythm to it so it doesn’t demand all of your energy all the time: spring is planting and prettying up time, summer is watering and basic maintenance (like deadheading) and fall is clean up time (or you can be a little lazy and wait until early spring). Winter you and the garden rest! I find a good Saturday outside you can get a lot done and it’s refreshing to the body and spirit as well as good quality family time since it’s something you and kids can do together (unlike painting furniture or shopping for ironstone). I think it will grow on you!

  8. Marian,

    I have no doubt your outdoor space will look as great as your indoor – I was thinking you would get all boxwoods 😀

    I have all kinds of weird spaces in my landscaping – that’s where my birdbaths and statuary and other little things go 🙂


  9. Some people are just not into gardening, and that’s okay, just find a reliable place to purchase things that won’t require much care, and you keep up the mulch and watering. Your Hollies May benefit from a dose of Miracle a few times a season. That will help them fill in and grow. And prune them, that gives them more “arms” for branching. The purple bushes you got are quick growers, and pruning them a bit in spring will help them fatten up. Here in Mo., we get Japanese Beetles (June bugs) that eat the leaves of the purple bush (sandcherry) so we have to spray or they look like lace in a week! Good luck with learning , it’s a never-ending thing! Just ask lots of questions!

  10. We have so much in common! I am a military brat, who lived in Germany for 3 years. Your mother’s fine china is the same as my mom’s fine china. And, I noticed you have the same little blue “toilet” (in German) sign that my mom and dad brought back with us from Germany!

  11. I would consider myself a black-thumb as well, but I love what you’ve done with the front! Thanks for the post and keep up the great work : ) ps…The photo of your family watching concrete being poured made me smile–my kids have done the same thing!

  12. Ms. MMS, If you want a fast grower and something simple to handle and very fragrant, try planting some ROSEMARY! I have Lavender and Rosemary in my front yard and during the windy days my house is so pungent in the fragrances which comes through the front windows. I too have a suggestion to add: buy a birdhouse and put it on a fat post(like a cedar beam post) to place in the middle of your front yard on one side and put some rocks in a circle with the birdhouse in the middle and the rosemary planted at the bottom of the post. The rosemary would fill that circle within the first year. I also have an old mailbox on a post for a birdhouse and a feeder at a lower level. On the other side in the middle of the yard put a bench with an old iron table, like a coffee table. I made one out of an old grill from our BBQ pit and painted it an ORB color. I love to decorate my yard as much as my home. I find that when your yard is pretty your house is pretty and all are happy. My Lavender is 3′ tall and rosemary is 4 1/2 ft.tall. I use both for projects and cooking so I plant what I can use, if possible. I would LOVE to decorate that yard, so many cheap ways to do it!! Keep it up and you will be a master soon:)

  13. Hi Marian

    The bright green plant is Helichrysum “Limelight” from what I can see in your picture. It can spread really quickly (well it does here in NZ!) so don’t be frightened to give it a good trim if it starts to get out of hand. Don’t forget to feed your window boxes and water them as well, if they don’t catch much rain.

    I also agree with Linda and would trim those holly bushes back so they start filling out and next season trim the lavender (just before spring). You’ll be surprised at how much better they’ll grow, just don’t ever trim as far as the bare wood.

    Don’t ever be frighted to prune anything, mostly it will grow back even better than before. A hour or so every few weeks will keep your driveway and curb looking great.

  14. When I started gardening I didn’t know anything about plants either. Now I love it. Bad day — I go dig in the dirt. Gets rid of my frustration. Do listen to the ladies about pruning.

  15. Great start.! Be sure to water your window boxes every day or every other day. Fill them super full-no gaps between the plants. Ivy in the front is great because it spills over the front of the box. You may have just found a new passion~

  16. It’s looking good, Marian! One of the things you might want to do to help your yard is invest in Scott’s Weed and Feed. It’s expensive ($50/bag) but it’s worth it to kill the weeds and feed the lawn. My husband swears by it. That, and letting the grass grow a little bit longer than most people do (setting the mower on the tallest setting). The more the grass grows, the more it chokes out the weeds. At least, that’s his theory and we usually have a pretty nice lawn.

    Can’t wait to see what you do in the spring. I’m sure it will be as lovely as everything else you do.

  17. What simple but effective makeover. I am also working on the front of my home which is a rather boring box but its coming along wonderfully and I cannot wait to share it next month with my readers. I don’t think we have to spend lots of money to create curb appeal, just a little planning and an idea of what we want to achieve. You clearly had a plan and a vision and you achieved it 🙂

    Lee 🙂

  18. Boy, Marian; There is some great comments here! I wasn’t a gardener when I started, either. And with moving to different planting zones, it was always an education. I do a lot of research on the internet and always talk to my County Extension Office to learn what will grow where I live. They are a great source of local information. I also have spent time at the Farmer’s Markets in the areas where I have lived. There is no better person to tell you about plants than the ones who plant them. They are your neighbors.
    Look forward to seeing those little babies grow!

    Take care.

  19. What a sweet little house! I, too, think once you start gardening, you’ll be hooked. Your home is a simple style that would be great if you replace the wrought iron trim with wood columns and railings. Light fixtures, mail box style and house numbers all add interest to the façade. Curb appeal adds warmth and value to your home. I look forward to seeing how you progress.


  20. It has taken me a few years to get into my yard, also. I am definitely a “house” person. This year I planted a ton of climbing roses as I realized the couple that I had seem to grow all by themselves and don’t mind the straight sun my yard has.

  21. The creeping jenny is very easy to care for. I live in Central Illinois and have it in window boxes and in large pots on my deck that have arborvitae in them and in my pond. It comes back in the pots every year even after snow and freezing temperatures. A nice mix of perennials and good weed block can make a house look wonderful with very very little effort. If it were not for that I would never be able to have all the beds we do at our house. Good luck and you have a great start there.

  22. Lots of great tips for your garden! Only one I can give you that helps me is to feed with Osmocote a 3 month fertilizer for plants, I always forget to feed mine but don’t have to worry about it if I plant with this.
    I’m sure your yard will look as lovely as your home does!

  23. I agree with the reader or two before me. Replace the wrought iron and cozy up the outside like your inside. If your favorite color is blue inside then paint your shutters and window boxes blue and your front door another color. If it’s metal, it Can be painted! I love decorating as much as I do gardening. I learned gardening by trial and error along with good garden books. I now have 7 gardens on a double lot and since our house is a 100 year old English cottage, I decorate the outside that way. The trick is to use maybe 5 or 6 varieties of flowers in big clumps for the WOW factor and you need to load your window boxes with ivy and 2 varieties of flowers. Another tid bit, I’m not nuts about geraniums but they can take a lot of abuse from weather and don’t need much care while putting on a good show which is good for a newbie. Stay Way from the Creeping Jenny and try Myrtle..From not knowing “squat” I have received 2 garden awards and have been on a Garden Tour. If you can do wonders with your inside, then you can do wonders with your outside and you too will be receiving accolades and giving gardening advice. Have fun as it’s a great diversion; you will be lovin’ it!

  24. P. S. from Nancy
    In all fairness, I hired a landscape designer to draw up plans for my yard. I asked for English gardens in the front where we were told to dig out most of our lawn which was scary. Anyway, after the front was done we went to the side near the sun porch, then the back and the other side. Rome wasn’t built in a day nor was our yard but the front was done that summer with advice on plants from a horticulturist. Just wait until you’re out looking for treasures again; you will now be drawn to old garden stuff like chairs, gliders, arbors, swings, bird houses and statues which will probably become another aspect of your business. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see you creating and then marketing something outdoorsy out of vines or twigs. Just let me know when your book comes out on Gardening 🙂

  25. Love the comment about adding trash cans, a trailer, etc. just to keep the neighbors happy – LOL! Seriously, though, your yard looks so much better, and speaking from experience, there’s no doubt that you’ve made your neighbors deliriously happy!
    Have you thought about adding two small trees such as dogwoods on either side of your front walkway? In other words, in the middle of the grassy areas in front of each windowbox? I think trees really make a house look so much more beautiful, not to mention that they cut down on AC costs!

  26. I really enjoyed this blog! It was very inspiring to me! I am clearing out part of my schedule to clean up my patio today! So much weather, so little time and so may leaves! 🙂 Happy Tuesday!

  27. Although I can never remember the names of flowers, I truly love the beauty of them in my gardens. We have old property, and I mean really old trees (that we constantly have to cut down from the new house construction killing the roots 🙁 – and we are constantly moving rocks for borders and redoing our gardens. Lots of work, but I do enjoy getting out in the nice weather and beautifying my grounds. A little bit here and there makes a huge difference. It becomes a habit. Good luck with the new Spring ahead! You’ve done well so far 🙂

  28. The gap between the holly is just the place for a tall annual flower or an appealing garden statue of some kind!;-) Enjoy!

  29. You are off to a great start! It is soooo funny that we find inspiration in the strangest places…in your case the blacktop got it rolling??!!! I am finally starting on the inside of my home after a few years of neglect. Hoping to install hardwoods 1st Quarter of next year. Slow and steady wins the race!

    Here in Alabama it’s hard in late summer because of the intense heat…everything gets fried!
    But the good thing is that alot of annuals come back the next season because of the mild winters.

  30. So glad that I’m not the only one who has a brown thumb. In fact I usually tell people that my plant just commit suicide when they see me coming. Poor plants but I do manage to grow rosemary and lavender without too much trouble. Glad you are finally getting something done to the outside, really helps to perk up the spirit. Your inside looks so wonderful so sprucing up the outside will make the two match and you will feel so much better about things.

  31. I love gardening. Its so relaxing. Well, to me it is anyways. Speaking of hydrangea’s I planted about 30 of them 2 years ago. They have grown so much you would think they were there forever. Keep gardening is as addictive as painting furniture and decorating. When your flowers start growing you will find yourself just staring at them as you would a piece of good looking furniture with sexy legs on it. lol

    Great job

  32. It was so fun seeing the outside of your home!!! It’s really very cute! And the driveway turned out wonderful. Just a thought……… have you ever considered painting the exterior brick white (or cream)? The red is very nice…. I guess in my mind I always pictured your home as a French cottage with white exterior. 🙂 Thank you for sharing Marion.

  33. Of course I have!! I would totally paint that brick in a heartbeat, but it just hasn’t been a priority. We may do it down the road. Yes, I’ve always wanted a white house. You’ve got me pegged.

  34. The lime green plant is called, “Creeping Jenny.” It is an excellent trailer and groundcover, but you have to keep it pinched back, or it will take over and become invasive. I had to completely pull mine out because it was competing with the hostas and a japanesae maple I have planted in the same bed. You can pinch it back, and it will fill in nicely. Hostas are another idea for the shade areas of your house as are impatiens to fill in for some color as sometimes shady areas get a bit dark looking. Shasta daisies. lilies, and roses for the sunny parts. If you are intimidated by roses, try a miniature called, “The Fairy,” and stick to the old hyrids: “Chrysler Imperial,” “Peace,” and “Mr. Lincoln” are all good hybrids to have, and they are easier than most roses. If you have questions, please email. I will be happy to share what I know.

  35. Pick up a quart of a springy, pastel aqua blue and paint the underside of your porch roof blue! It’s a homey gorgeous touch from the south that you won’t regret. Or, go with Eulalie’s Sky! Even more appropos.

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