Me and My Landscape Architect

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Planweb_3You wouldn’t believe how crappy my little 900 square foot front yard looked through my first 9 years here and at least that many utterly forgettable design attempts.  Small spaces are hard!  Then I hired landscape architect Holt Jordan and for only $250 (in 1994) I got this lovely plan, which I dutifully implemented.  What you see is the view from the street, with the sidewalk along the bottom.  Highlights:

  • Removing the hideous cement walkway up to and along the front of the house and replacing it with red brick pavers to match the front porch, and a new planting area.
  • What had been a busy, distracting lawn shape is now this simple oval that regularly gets compliments.  That’s right; a geometric form is the highlight of the garden.
  • Replacing the black-and-white metal awning over the porch (what I call the house’s ’50s-style  tackification) with a wooden one that complements the Sears bungalow (1925, the Conway.)
  • A custom-built teak arch over the entrance to this now-enchanting space.
  • The plants?  The reason this very talented guy charged so little for the plan is that the plants you see here are mere filler, colorful blobs, and all plant choices were left to me.  I did follow his suggestion to plant the large purple tree on the right – a flowering plum – and the three cherry trees along the street.  The big stuff.

GET SOME HELP
That’s my mantra.  Because so many properties have some really awful hardscape elements like concrete, metal awnings and chain-link fencing that need to be dealt with, dammit, or the garden is NEVER going to look good, no matter what we do with the plants.  And we don’t admit it because fixing these problems costs more than buying plants, and we don’t know what we’re doing.  AND because sometimes it takes a professional to give the lawn and borders the simple but perfect shape that allows the plants to look their best.  And lots more reasons where they came from. Ovalgarden

So sure, this make-over made a dent in my checking account – about $4,000 in labor and materials* – but it doesn’t take a realtor to know it enhanced the property value by more than that.  And more importantly, it gave me the beautiful front garden that I’d failed miserably to create on my own.  Then there was an unexpected result – it was this very make-over that transformed me from a maintenance gardener to a passionate gardener.  You know what I’m talking about here – the conversion event after which there’s no turning back.

Below, a “before” and two “afters”.

House1988_1Oh, and to catch you up on Holt and me, the next year I hired him for a one-hour consultation for the whole property.  And then 3 years ago my new next-door neighbors hired him and he created this.

*Information gleaned from my good-enough gardening records.  $4000 covered plan, construction and plants, but not the new porch roof.  Since then, the dirty-white asbestos siding has been replaced with no-care vinyl siding in Colonial blue.

Frontwalk1
Front8

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Susan Harris

Susan’s a garden writer, teacher and activist in the Washington, D.C. area. Co-founder of GardenRant, she also wrote for national gardening magazines and independent garden centers before retiring in 2014. Now she has time for these projects:

  • Founding and now managing the pro-science educational nonprofit GOOD GARDENING VIDEOS that finds and promotes the best videos on YouTube for teaching people to garden.
  • Creating and managing DC GARDENS, the nonprofit campaign to promote the public gardens of the Washington, D.C. area, and gardening by locals.
  • Creating and editing the community website GREENBELT ONLINE to serve her adopted hometown of Greenbelt, Maryland (a “New Deal Utopia” founded in 1937).
  • Also in Greenbelt, MD, writing the e-newsletter and serving on the Board of Directors for the cooperatively-owned music and arts venue and restaurant called the NEW DEAL CAFE.

Contact Susan via email or by leaving a comment here.

Photo by Stephen Brown.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Spectacular. Maybe the $4000 is a big number and maybe it isn’t. Have you ever added up a season of gardening non-purchases (like… uh… just stuff you need but not really stiff to do anything readical? Gardening is not free. Nothing is. But gardening is high value.

    The heated design poost a few days back was the opposite of this post. Yopu got help, you got a plan. Yet you still did it your way.

    Simply beautiful.

    I hired a disgner for the last house I had (before this one). He submitted a design. It was OK. So I then spent hours and hours guessing why he did what he did (light, space, color) and made my own suggestions. he was stunned when I sent it back to him with “my thoughts.” Stunned because, as he said, “you took the essense of my idea and made it something I never would have thought about.”

    In the end we worked together. My property and my money with his experise. We built a beautiful place (and then i moved).

    What garden you’ve made!

  2. Thanks for the big picture. Your garden is lovely, and I love the lawnette. The County Clerk is right: you did it your way, but within an overall plan. Smart thinking.

  3. That’s so awesome. You sent me into random daydreams about owning my own house and transforming it… I checked the before picture and was like “oh that’s not that bad.” but the after pictures were just so gorgeous. I wish even one house on my block was that much fun to look at.

  4. This is a perfect example of the the idea that plants are the last item considered in a coherent Landscape Design. You were given a framework of shapes,forms and objects that defined how the space worked as a whole. Then you were free to choose the plant species that suited your needs and taste.

    That very same framework could be transformed into a completely different feel by choosing something other than brick for the walk, Teak for the arbor, Ivy for the fence and a completely different plant palette to create a more formal look for example.

    The design and space would still work as a nice entry garden because the underlying structure is there.

  5. That seems to be the best way to use a landscaper. Get the plant and clever ideas and then implement yourself. Obviously it leaves the hard work to you, but you get their specialist knowledge.

  6. That is a nice design. I too live the oval lawn. Personally, i like a lawn area for two reasons. 1/ i just like to lie out on it on a warm summer day, and 2/ you just cant beat the smell of freshly cut grass!

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