July 24, 2007


Blank Slate : Before

A small rectangular city lot presents a lot of design challenges. The young couple who own this contemporary house had been searching for solutions for 2 years but didn't like any of the plans designers came up with. I could see why. Next door was a design by a landscaper known to me and one who has a very lucrative business. For a few thousand bucks she planted a few boxwood and some pachysandra and must have finished in an hour. There wasn't a single lovely flower in the whole design !

Then we met and this very nice couple liked the ideas I came up with. Normally, it takes 2-3 weeks minimum to do a complete landscape because a lot is involved in the process. It's not just about pleasing yourself - you have to meet your client's expectations, budget, and taste as well. Then you have to go out and gather up all the materials, soil amendments and arrange for delivery.

Like I said, they were in a hurry and I was trying to accomodate their request to do it within a week. Am I CRAZY to take on such a challenge? Yep. But I did it anyway. Guess I'm getting bold in my old age.

Here's what I did. :

Step 1. : How's the soil ? In this case, UHG! Heavy clay. I loathe it. No wonder nothing would survive there. Poor drainage. I'm not one to just plant something " hoping the check will clear before it dies " as a fellow landscaper used to say to me. I take my time and do it right so I ordered a ton of soil amendments to improve drainage and added compost as well. Dug it in really well and created a great soil for planting.

Step 2. Flat, rectangular shape : Very dull. I'm from the hills , honey, I gotta have some curves or slopes. So, I created a raised bed , which plants love, and is a smart idea over clay soil. Plus, a level change creates immediate interest. Cut a curved path from the side entrance to the front. Wow, that sure made a difference.

Step. 3. Semi-shady site. With imput from clients, selected lovely Evergreen and Deciduous shrubs for the background of the bed : A wonderful 'Yaku Princess ' Rhododendron hardy to Zone 4 ( provides Spring blooms and is a broadleaf evergreen ) , Lady in Red Hydrangea ( they loved it , but I expressed my doubts on its hardiness in zone 5 ), Dwarf Pieris Japonica and Emerald Green Spreading Yews. Perennials selected for front of the border : Purple and Chartruese Coral Bells, Hakone Grass, Bergenia, Daylily, Astilibe and Iris.

Step 4. Annuals added for Color : Impatients for shade , I picked red, ( hubby liked them ) then later changed them to pink ( wife liked them better ) . Designing for the sexes !

This is what the final installation looked like :

All in a long day's work. Sometimes I surprise myself . Not only did I finish the above, but the parkway as well. The photo doesn't capture the real beauty of the garden. Suffice to say, the client was pleased. That's all I need to hear.


  1. I think that the photo shows a wonderful job done! I'm glad to hear that you "do it right" Carolyn gail--although I wouldn't have expected otherwise. :) That's quite the interesting assortment of plants, too. I'm sure that they will enjoy this for years to come.

  2. Hey Kim,

    Thanks so much. Glad you like my assortment of plants. I try to go with plants that look good even when not in bloom, as I mentioned to you before.

  3. Hey Carolyn - thanks for sharing your step-by-step landscaping plan. It was very informative and the garden is really pretty.

  4. Hey Gina,

    I'm glad you found it informative and pretty. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I am in awe of your landscaping design talent, Carolyn. I'm sure your clients were very pleased indeed!

    I'm asked quite often to help someone with landscaping design and I have to say I'm sorry to them. I have not one ounce of creativity and organizational ability when it comes to this.

    Kudos for a job very well done!

  6. Hi kylee,

    Thanks for visiting and leaving your compliments. Seeing a garden installed to the client's satisfaction is a great pleasure for me as well.

  7. Very nice. Doing a job like this is one of my favorite things, especially if it can be done in one day. Sometimes we show up to a job after the homeowner has gone to work, so when they come home, there home has been transformed. I love to see the look on their face when they drive up. Also glad to see you "do it right", not many landscapers doing that anymore, it seems to be all about the money. :(

  8. Thanks, Vonlafin, for your compliments. I've just got back from visiting your blog and see that you're a landscaper as well, so your compliments means even more to me.

    Unfortunately for many, money is a big first, creativity, second or none.

  9. It's interesting to see that the small size of the space didn't cramp your creativity!
    You put in lots of foliage color and texture, Carolyn - love the chartreuse and purple Heuchera with the grass.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  10. Thanks, Annie. I thinks that the foliage color and texture are the secrets to a good design because it looks good even if not in bloom.

  11. Hi Carolyn,
    I love what you did and just your thoughtfulness about landscaping for clients. It totally shows.

  12. Hi Rosemarie,
    I'm glad you liked my design. Thanks for the compliments.

  13. Love your blog and you have my dream job. I am in the process of drawing up a design for someone and I know it is not easy and scary to boot (or least it is for me). If I could turn back the clock, I would chose this career path, but wasn't even interesting in gardening at the time. How did you get started?

  14. Thanks, Phillip, and welcome. It's not too late to pursue your dream, especially since you appear much younger than I. After working 30 years at a day job I started my own little garden design business when I was in my mid-50's. The trick is to start small, one client at a time, and don't get overwhelmed.

    You've obviously got a passion and talent for garden design and that and determination is all it takes. If you are new to drawing up a landscape design then I would suggest you visit websites such as about.com and landscaping@suite 101:Residential garden design. The book Landscaping for Dummies really simplies a lot of the steps as well. It's probably difficult if not impossible to find design classes in your small town .

    If you have a full-time day job I would suggest that you start taking a client at a time and do the work in your spare time . Don't rush and try to relax and enjoy the process because after all you are creating a work of art. I don't ever advertise -it's always word of mouth and referrals from satisfied customers !

    Feel free to ask me for any advice you may need and check out my other designs under my Garden Design category.


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