Cheap & cheerful garden makeovers: Front yard

by Yvonne on February 28, 2013 · 4 comments

in Landscaping

If you have followed this blog over the years, you know that our previous garden was a special and extravagant “show garden”. It was a labor of love that we created and maintained for almost 15 years.

Neighbor garden

Our neighbor’s front garden with a hosta collections and sunshine impatiens

After selling our country property, we were reluctant to commit to buying, so we moved into a rental house (shown in the pictures below) where we plan to live for several years. We love the neighborhood and because we still enjoy gardening, we have embarked on a front and back yard makeover, albeit a frugal makeover.

You may wonder why we would put any money or effort into a property that we don’t own. But if you think of your own hobbies and interests, you know that you don’t mind spending time and money on what you enjoy doing because of the rewards it brings. I happen to love doing landscape makeovers, and I would be pleased if our front garden looked a little more like the well-tended garden at my next-door neighbors’ house.

In this post and a subsequent post about the backyard I will share my thought processes and plans for revitalizing the landscaping.

Front garden before

The front landscaping as it existed

The elderly couple (their son now owns the house), who lived here all their lives, enjoyed gardening and even won municipal Trillium Awards for the front garden. But as the years passed and the principal gardener became ill, the front yard became overgrown and planting beds were grassed over because it was no longer practical to plant and care for annuals. Hired help was enlisted to cut the grass.

Of course, this solution eventually created a maintenance nightmare as the grass in the bed started to grow out of bounds. Mowing was quite a struggle too because one had to lift the lawn mower up on to the raised bed and maneuver it in very tight quarters.

front garden before

Our first task – removing the grass at the top, cutting back the ivy and pulling out the dianthus, the browned plants at the front

The raised bed has a stone retaining wall which cannot be seen under the ivy. I’m not a fan of ivy, but when I mentioned that I planned to remove it, the landlord (who happens to be a landscape architect) told me that the retaining wall was not stable and was actually being held in place by the ivy. So glad I asked: ripping out the ivy would have been a huge job. Instead, it will have to be maintained by pruning back regularly.

The foundation plantings are also a problem. There are a lot of declining Euonymus shrubs infested with scale and galls, but we may leave them in place while they still look okay. The overgrown boxwood shrub between the front windows is also in bad shape, but I plan to cut it to the ground and see if it will grow back from the roots. If it doesn’t respond to this hard pruning, it’s no big loss.

front yard progress

Fall: after removing grass and some plants below the retaining wall and ivy

The front yard gets morning sun and is shaded by a large Norway maple in the middle of the front lawn. Originally I thought that I might simply move Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ in front of the retaining wall to the upper garden area, but I have decided to divide those plants and use them in the backyard where they would get more sun. In any case, I’m going to minimize the front planting area and just put in grass up to the ivy.

I like my neighbors’ plantings of hosta and sunshine impatiens, and would like to do something similar in my front garden. The new owners of our country property of kindly offered to let me have some plant divisions in the spring, and using those would be the most cost-effective way to replant the front bed.

Shrub in wrong place

A shrub in the wrong place – Hydrangea ‘Pinky Winky’

The Pinky Winky hydrangea (a sweet plant with an unfortunate name) was sited in a bad spot by the previous owner. Avoiding it while mowing is the obvious problem. My solution is to move it into the backyard in the spring. Alternatively, it could be used in the front planting bed, but I think it would be better in the back where it would get more sunshine.

Front yard problem

The other grass problem to be solved

At the side yard near the front door we had a similar issue with grass in a bad spot. Obviously, if we owned the property we would update all the hardscaping and make the walkway wider, and get rid of the overgrown and diseased Euonymous shrubs.

The cheap and cheerful solution: used paving slabs

The cheap and cheerful solution: used paving slabs

But because we’re renting and as that area might one day be renovated, we simply removed the grass and laid down used paving slabs, which we obtained quite cheaply. It will all look better in the spring when dressed up with container plantings. At least we fixed the issue of impossible-to-maintain lawn grass in the wrong place.

I’m really looking forward to spring when I can put the rest of my garden plans into action. It’s actually fun to take on the challenge of doing it frugally. Here’s what we found in the backyard, and the makeover results after one season.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve March 2, 2013 at 7:02 am

Talk like this gets me so excited for spring, I’ve started to review pictures and make (little?) changes in my head.
We still have ALOT of snow, but once it starts to melt- it goes quickly.
Can’t wait!


Salix March 6, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Oh, Yvonne, it is so good to hear you talk like that. I am looking forward to seeing what you will do.


Yvonne March 6, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Lene: Don’t worry, there will be more. Looking forward to spring, and totally sick of winter!


Salix March 6, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Hear, hear!


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