Transforming Our Outdoor Space: A Beginner’s Journey With Gardening And Landscaping | wit and pleasure

Lush green front lawn of a house

I’m so excited to share our front yard reveal, including before and after photos! One of the things I have always loved about our house is all the mature trees and shrubs in our yard. It felt like hitting the jackpot by moving. While I love the calming sound of the trees, the shade, and the visual variety of the foliage, it is a commitment of time and cost to keep the yard looking good and healthy.

A dying front yard with trees full of bare branches and dying grass

You may remember the saga that occurred earlier this spring when we learned that twenty mature shrubs, trees, and shrubs on our front lawn died over the winter. More continued to fail in health as the spring grew warmer. We were incredibly disappointed that SavATree would sell us treatments so late in the year (a morally dubious move on their part). Even more disappointing, they did nothing to help us deal with the massive cost we incurred for their advice and services.

Patchy grass and bare branches in a front yard

This loss was an opportunity to clear space (literally) and transform the front yard into something we could handle with our beginner gardening skills. Fortunately, we had good people with a lot of experience and knowledge to help us select the right plants, remove what needed to be done carefully, and ultimately install something that will become a beautiful garden very soon.

Once we decided to remove the dead plants, I used the plans we received last year from Landscape Love as a template. We had worked with them to design plans for a patio that felt like it belonged in the English countryside, with a coastal twist. I wanted to mix bold colors like deep indigo, tomato red, creamy yellow, and white. I was also very drawn to the hydrangeas and boxwoods, that American style you see on Martha’s Vineyard. These plans were vast, extensive, and something we couldn’t afford to implement for a couple of years. It was decided to use a portion of this design to address just the garden beds this year.

The project was still huge and needed help. I contacted Jessie Jacobson at the Tonkadale Greenhouse to see if she would be interested in collaborating on this project. She was so excited when she not only offered to help me provide the plants, but she also edited my wish list to something more manageable.

Jessie perfected the palette in a classic look of ivory and blue with hints of tomato red. I am so excited to see our peonies, oriental poppies, blue sage, and loads of hydrangeas bloom! We also planted lilies (one of my new favorites), a boxwood hedge along the front, and a modern Korean feather rush. Haaga rhododendrons, Russian sage and astilbe were also planted.

The Tonkadale experts in action!

Once Jessie was on board, we got to work. This is what we did:

  1. Landscapers removed all dead trees and shrubs. Any compromised items that had been neglected or nearing the end of their useful life were gone.
  2. We hired our lawn maintenance crew to help establish a new lawn and reduce the number of garden beds. This helped with the large amount of maintenance that this large space requires.
  3. Tonkadale Greenhouse provided plants, compost and detailed instructions on how to plant and water everything.
  4. Tonkadale Greenhouse helped us with the layout and design of the garden beds. Our landscaping crew installed a limestone edging, added mulch, and then installed sod to establish the lawn.
  5. All the rocks and hardscape were cleaned and polished which really made the space sing.

I learned a LOT through this process, especially working with Tonkadale Greenhouse. They brought clarity and experience and turned our best plans into reality. I wanted to share these learnings with you because the whole process was overwhelming for a novice gardener.

Some conclusions when tackling a landscaping project

1. Consult with a gardening/landscape expert.

I put a lot of time and effort into our patio before this big project. Plants would die, weeds would grow back, and I would be further overwhelmed with our overflowing garden beds the following year. The lack of progress I made was not for lack of work put into the space. I needed to understand how to work with outdoor spaces, how to plan for the ways they grow and change over time.

Knowing when to do what, in what season, and how the way you do it affects the growth of what you’re working on got me spinning. I had previously met Jessie when I visited Tonkadale Greenhouse for indoor plantings and Christmas decorating projects. I knew they provided a lot of education and knowledge on not only WHAT to buy but also HOW to plant it and care for it over time. That care and knowledge was beyond anything I had experienced on other occasions. My goal is to work with good people and ask a LOT of questions.

Tonkadale Greenhouse also has many resources available on their blog! This article includes expert tips for planting healthy trees and shrubs.

2. Choose low-maintenance plants and flowers.

Many of the inspiring images I saved required someone (me) to take care of and maintain them on a daily basis. I’ve learned that even the most “messy” looking gardens need knowledge and work to make them look amazing. That’s why it was so important to know what low-maintenance plants and flowers to use in my front yard. This included drought-tolerant succulents, ornamental grasses, and perennials. By choosing plants that require minimal maintenance, I plan to spend more time enjoying my outdoor space than caring for it. I will write about preparing this space for the winter season in the fall, and I look forward to learning all about it!

A gravel and rock garden surrounded by lush willow trees and grass

3. Trust the vision and be patient.

I am enjoying how fresh and clean our new space looks. But I can’t wait to see the plants grow and the flowers bloom. The space between the plants feels awkward now, but next year it will look like a completely different area.

When I spoke to Jessie about the front yard vision, she mentioned the joys of an ever-changing landscape. It’s a way to stay in touch with the seasons, create something the community can enjoy, and get in touch with the rhythm of nature. I see why people become avid gardeners with the time, experience, and pride that comes with taking care of something you have to wait to enjoy. And that’s something we don’t have the privilege to do often these days.

I hope this post is helpful to anyone who may be as overwhelmed as I am regarding their landscaping projects. Remember, knowledge is power. When you don’t have it, find people who can help you (and your plants!) grow along the way.

A shadow is seen on vibrant green grass in a front yard.  The sun sets behind the figure.

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