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Do You Need Professional Help?

I’m super excited to have my first Q & A blog format. This week’s letter comes from my friend and new home-owner in Texas:

Do you have a website or maybe even software you might suggest to help plan and implement a landscape design? We have a medium sized suburban backyard here in Texas. There are quite a few native trees that grew tall and narrow when this area was forested. Since it was mostly clear-cut to suburbanize, I am super excited to have so many trees left. The yard is shallow but wide w/ nothing at all along the perimeter fence. As is typical in suburbia, we have houses all around my back fence. I'm glad that none are 2-story, but our direct back neighbors do have super high ceilings w/ high windows that give the illusion of a second floor view of my back yard!

My hope is to block our view of all the houses by eventually building out perimeter gardens. I think trying to build them all at once is so overwhelming - especially since I really don't have much gardening experience! Part of me would love to just hire someone to "get 'er done!" and then just work on maintaining. But we hired someone months ago to redo our front beds (which I think were original to the house which was built about 10 years ago and were basically all overgrown shrubs!). He also built a walkway from the driveway to the front porch and put in a French drain. In the end we are less than satisfied w/ the garden we ended up w/ ... The construction stuff was OK... especially since Pat and I really didn't know where to start, but we've had plants die... and while he said he would guarantee everything for a year, we still cannot get him back out to change them out! Needing Privacy near Houston

So glad you asked, Kay. Let me first say that the enemy of good, is too good. Set realistic goals. It takes a lot of time and money to achieve a well landscaped yard, but don’t let that stop you from making a comprehensive list and then dividing it into smaller projects that can be accomplished in a growing season. I like to pick one project for Spring, Summer and Fall. Winter is a good time to look through books, magazines and Pinterest to build a portfolio of what you like. A great site to find ideas is (Garden and Plant) GAP Gardens,

Also, keep in mind how much time you want to put into maintenance. Invariably I think I can get so much more done than I actually can. Any area that you replace grass with garden beds will need upkeep. (I currently have about 10 different areas in my yard that I have to weed, and it can be quite overwhelming. Without my husband, it would be impossible!)

As you think about how you want your yard to look, it’s also good to decide if you want a natural look, sometimes called Cottage gardening, or if you want a more formal appearance. Here are two beds of evergreens that illustrate the difference – on the left the plants are staggered in a natural look; on the right they are planted in a line, giving a formal hedge appearance ( which will offer more privacy.)

Of course, you must always consider your growing zone – which I talked about last week. Find what thrives in your area. (You can google your area for “master gardeners” who may be willing to give you advice over the phone or come out and look at your property. In order to keep the “master gardener” certification, these individuals give 20 volunteer work-hours a year.) Plants that don’t belong in your zone won’t be worth your investment. I never turn down a free plant, but when budgeting you want to get the most for your money.

I agree that you don’t want to build your planters all at once. With the survival ratio of 50 percent being average, you would stand to lose a lot of your work if you did it all at once. For those plants that your landscaper has not replaced, he may be waiting until to Spring to see if they are really dead or if they may have just suffered the transplant and will come back.

My last piece of advice for designing your perimeter gardens is to add height variety. In all design, a space really comes alive when there is mid, high and low interest. Make sure you place your plants and space them out for their ultimate size. Many builders and one-time landscape projects will plant trees, shrubs and bushes appropriate to their current height and not their mature size. Below left shows a line of plants that have a lot of variety, but all appear to be the same height; looks unnatural. At right there is better symmetry.

Here are some websites I hope you find useful:

This site has lots of video tutorials, before and after photos & tips on measuring and planning.


If you’ve ever googled home or garden projects, I’m sure you’ve come across the “houzz” website. Here is a very useful article on how to get started on transforming your lawn.

I especially like what this homeowner said was her sixth tip:

6. Prioritize. When I reconsider my first house, I know that to start, I should have ignored the south and west yards, where the grass went straight to the brick foundation. There are worse things than boring, and well kept goes a long way. The east yard, which was the natural play yard, wasn't a priority, either since our baby wasn't even ambulatory. If I could do it all over again, I would have focused my first efforts on the front yard, the one I actually saw every day.

Decide where you want to start. Your front yard is the obvious choice, and the task might be as simple as tidying everything up and flanking the front door with a couple pots of annuals.

It's really OK to start slowly. Getting things cleaned up and establishing new yard maintenance routines might be all you want to tackle your first season.


Here's another useful article from “houzz” that may help you simplify your approach:

The last point is whether to hire a professional landscaper. As you found out, Kay, when projects are not within your ability, it makes sense to hire someone but it's not the cure-all. Even professionals can't make a plant grow. My neighbor hired a nursery to plant a hedge of autoluchens and they died. Twice. The best a nursery will guarantee is to replace your dead plants at half price if you buy the new ones from them.


And finanlly, here's my favorite piece of gardening advice: One of the hazards is the tendency to see only what's wrong and to miss the beauty of now. Don't let that happen with you. Enjoy your garden and every accomplishment!


How about you readers…do you have advice on how to get started on landscape design? Good or bad? Email me your projects or questions.

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