If you think landscaping design requires heavy machinery and an even heftier checkbook, think again. Enlivening shade gardens, transforming boring lawn, and creating a sense of sanctuary mostly comes down to smart choices and creative ideas. So regardless of your yard's challenges, here are five ways to spruce it up without breaking your back-or the bank.
1. Create a Stone Path
Avoid the expense and work of a structured walkway by laying a more casual stone path that requires no thick base installation or laborious fitting. “Many different sizes of natural stone will work, but I like twenty-four by eighteen-inch pieces so that it feels more like a walkway than small stepping stones,” says landscape designer Susan Schlenger, author of Landscape Design Advice. “As long as the soil underneath is firm, you don't have to get too involved in how you install. Simply cut out the soil and set them in. If you think you need extra support, put a two-inch layer of crushed stone underneath.”
Determining a pattern depends on personal preference and space. You can place geometric stones one in front of the other, stagger them creatively, or add in curves. As for spacing, you can butt pieces, allow a few inches for grass or mulch between, or leave enough room to intersperse drought-tolerant plants like thyme that will create softness, interest, and charm.
For twelve easy-to-imitate stone garden paths, click here.
2. Add Strokes of Color
Few things can enliven a yard as quickly as well-planned color. Here's how to ensure the effect is harmonious, not chaotic:
Please Repeat That. A beautiful yard doesn't need lots of different plants, but it does require a sense of rhythm and continuity. Visually unify your outdoor space by using multiples of the same plant, color, shape, or texture as a recurring theme that takes your eye gently across the landscape.
Create Mass Appeal. Plant annuals and perennials in groupings of at least three of a kind. One lily is pretty, three make a statement, and an entire swath gives dramatic reason to pause.
Choose Looks that Last. That bloom that catches your eye in the garden center today might sadly be gone tomorrow. Overall, Susan suggests planting long bloomers like Sedum “Autumn Joy,” Fountain Grass, Yarrow, Catmint “Walker's Low,” Coneflower, and the repeat-blooming Knock Out™ rose series. And for shade? “Forever and Ever® Blue Heaven hydrangeas are amazing,” she says. “You will see masses of gorgeous blue flowers from early summer into the early fall.”
Pick a Pocket. Plant flowers in front of evergreen foundation plantings where their color will pop against the vibrant green backdrop.
Add sculpture, furniture, and art. Introduce year-round color with pieces that express your personality. Possibilities range from a painted yellow bench nestled in the shade to a mosaic birdbath to attract feathered friends.
3. Sprinkle in a Garden Fountain
An outdoor fountain presents a win-win feature for your yard. In addition to creating an attractive focal point on your patio or lawn, a fountain also adds a soothing dimension and the mesmerizing movement of water. Numerous styles are readily available, but you can also create a one-of-a-kind fountain by transforming found objects with a reservoir and a pump. Consider just about any weatherproof item a possibility, including a large urn, a birdbath, or a set of bowls. Choose a waterproof basin to hold the pump then select from scores of different fountain sprays and nozzles to get the water pattern you desire. (If you get an adjustable recirculating pump, you can alter the flow to drown out nearby traffic noise or to slow to a gentle trickle.) And if you don't want to go to the work of burying an electric line, consider a solar pump instead.
To see a slide show of 10 beautiful garden fountains, click here.
4. Use Drought-Tolerant Plantings
There's good reason gardeners love drought-tolerant plants. These low-maintenance picks can tame a tough slope, create water-wise containers, and bloom in the face of withering heat. That's terrific news for those gardening in areas with water restrictions, and equally attractive to anyone who doesn't want to spend hours holding a hose. Your best option is to buy native plants that thrived in your area long before gardeners arrived, then plant them in groupings so they can take hold and thrive. Favorites that suit most regions include Agave, Lavender, Yarrow, Agastache, Russian Sage, Salvia, Lamb's Ears, Blanket Flower, Amsonia, and Sedums.
5. Personalize with an Arbor
Few things can lend instant character quite as dramatically as the addition of an arbor. Vinyl, wood, and aluminum options abound, but the most striking arbors are altered to reflect the garden's personality. Wood structures can be painted or stained, and all arbors can be embellished with finials or the addition of a gate. You might choose an arbor as thin as a single metal pipe or deep enough to tuck a small bench between the two ends. Or, arrange a series of inexpensive arbors to create an inviting alle´e.
To see a selection of arbors available at retail now, click here.