Making A Lot Of Little

landscape-design.jpgAn old client bought a new house.  The landscape out front was not so swell-I am sure you can see an overgrown and poorly tended collection of plants that have no relationship to each other.  A great landscape needs to respect, enhance, and challenge the space and the architecture.  Not to mention the need for an expression that is interesting, and polished.  This home was built in the 1920’s.  Who knows what landscape might have been planted after the house was finished.  I felt really certain that the current landscape was cursory, if not left over, and not so much oriented around the architecture.  This is not an unusual.  Not everyone is so interested in the landscape, much less good landscape design.


My client, however, was very interested in landscape design.  She wanted her new home to have a new landscape.  A fresh design.  A design that she would delightedly call her own.  Delight is a state most everyone can relate to.  Landscape delight revolves around a few issues.  A home is the largest feature on any plot of ground.  The shape, the size, the height, and the style of that architecture should inform the attending landscape.  A delightful landscape looks like it belongs to the house and property upon which it is planted.  A good landscape resonates with a house and property.   That house informing the design does not mean reproducing the landscape design of that period.  It only means that any large structure that sits on a property needs to be grounded in a thoughtful and beautiful landscape design, properly proportioned.  A good landscape has an idea about house and ground that is delightfully framed and executed.  On my first visit, I so loved the house, and all of its features.


My first installation visit to this property was about eliminating her feeble collection of plants in front, and creating some basic green structure.  The cost of implementing this part of the plan would depend in large part on the size of the plants.  Great design is not one bit related to the cost of an installation.  We can buy and install plants of many different sizes.  The design called for green structure that came away from the house, and enclosed the sidewalk to the driveway in a configuration that made visual sense.  In other words, a bed of some size.  She wanted to make the biggest impact she could within the confines of her budget.

landscape-project.jpgGreat landscape design may be about a moment imagined for the future.  Small plants cost less.  Big plants cost a lot.  Most of the boxwood on this project are 12″ to 15″ tall.  We paired lots of those little boxwood with four boxwood of considerable size.  Contrast is a very powerful design element.  In this case, the contrast in size made the entire installation look more important visually.


The 15″ Green Gem boxwood are really small.  Small enough that they are grown in pots.  Small works great, when they are contrasted with companion plants of greater size.  36 inch round Green Gem boxwood spheres are rare, indeed.  Splashy.  These four big bits would make lots of the smaller bits.

landscape-renovation.jpgThis is the first part of the plan to be installed. Designing with staging in mind involves 2 things.  The part has to look finished on its own-not piecemeal. The “part one” also has to be ready and friendly to the next phase, whenever that phase comes along.

making-a-change.jpgThe installation of this boxwood parterre would look fairly routine, but for the larger balls on the four corners.  The four boxwood of scale attract attention.  Behind the boxwood, several rows of Little Lime hydrangeas.

landscape-design.jpgWhat goes between the hydrangeas and the boxwood is under discussion. We probably will not do anything here until the spring, which means there is time to think it through.

landscape-renovation.jpgThis picture explains the visual logic of the location of the parterre.  That space could be handled in lots of interesting ways. It could be lawn, or ground cover, or more boxwood, or a combination of all the aforesaid,  or gravel, or?  For now, part I is holding its own.



  1. Looks great. What did you put in the planters?

  2. you’re the bomb.

  3. Julie Chamberlain says

    So. Much. Better!

  4. not only do i love your design, i appreciate that you wrote about the choices made!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lori, everyone’s process is different. The important thing to understand is that there is a process that can help you make good decisions. Thanks, Deborah

  5. This looks fantastic. That it is being done on a budget makes it extra intriguing.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Keri, good design is good design. I have seen very expensive landscapes that are not especially appealing or beautiful. Plants grow. It just takes a plan, and some committment to grow on a landscape to a mature size. Thanks, Deborah

  6. How did you decide to make the beds square? Was it a reflection of the angles of the house or was it to imply stateliness? Are you more fond of angular beds or an organic shape?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Abby, in the last picture you can see that the front walk, and the walk from the driveway are curvy. I squared off the beds in contrast to the walk-just for the sake of adding interest. You are right though, symmetrical designs tend to look more formal and low key than curving asymmetrical designs.

  7. WHAT AN AMAZING DIFFERENCE! Great curb appeal. What about a nice little patio with wrought iron bistro furniture between the boxwoods and hydrangeas….maybe with curved lines? You could also plant some perenials in the beds that would flower at different times spring, summer, fall. I would definitely have crysanthimums. I would also suggest some planters (3) for summer with trailing english ivy and bright red geraniums at different points on the curved patio. Have fun! I love the house from the outside! What potential!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Cheryl, it is a gem of a house! My client actually expressed an interest in a little terrace. She has the winter to think it through-we’ll see what direction she wants to take. Thanks, Deborah

  8. I love the simplicity, it really enhances the asymmetrical house. That tree on the left really came to life with a formal structure around it. I love the spacing of the large box in the background, really ads depth and includes the house. Such joy to continue planning of details with an excellent structure. I would love something light and airy with that house, maybe some molinia or perovskia. So many options!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Louise, thanks for your suggestions. I think light and airy is an interesting choice. The architecture is very solid and compact. Something airy would be a nice contrast. Deborah

  9. I love this! There needs to be more writing about, and good examples of, landscape design that takes into account smaller properties and budgets. Many times garden writers jeer at new homes with “builder landscapes,” but you’ve done a great job of showing and writing about plant selection, design principles, budget, and phasing in a way that could apply to homes like many people live in.

    Well done!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear John, very few people do a landscape from a clean slate, start to finish. For most people, a landscape develops over time, and changes with the taste of the head gardener. Phasing a landscape is easier to manage financially-and emotionally. It is good to have the time to reflect on where something is going, and make decisions for the future without pressure. Deborah

  10. A lovely transformation, and ditto Judi’s question about those perfect planters. Do you have any thoughts you can share about best complementary ways to add seasonal variation when boxwoods anchor a design? I am challenged by that at our home: not wanting to distract from the architecture and evergreen of the boxwoods, yet missing some of that seasonal “oomph”. Many thanks for the your blog, a gift of your reflections and advice.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Katherine, you can allow space in the ground in front of the boxwood-but I find that pots are the easiest way to express any given season. I like that they can be changed out with the seasons. I have a very small perennial garden that is perennially dissatisfying, as it is great for a month of the year, and so so all the rest of the year. If you only have a small space for seasonal oomph, a container is a great vehicle. Deborah

  11. Antoine Artois says

    Very nicely done, I love it! My suggestion would be to enhance the parterres with even more boxwood plantings – either a few more large ones inside the parterres or a collection of smaller ones planted in an arabesque pattern. That would make it whimsical and playful. In addition to that, I would fill up the parterres with one or maybe two types of perennials – depending on the orientation and the owner’s preference. Lavender perhaps? Reblooming knock-out roses that can easily be pruned? A collection of azaleas? Just some thoughts.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Antoine, I did talk to her about more boxwood. As for the parterre, whatever is planted in it asks for a focal point-as you see that bed straight on when you walk from the drive to the front porch. A sculpture? A fountain or sundial? Lots of possibilities here. Thanks for writing, Deborah

      • Antoine Artois says

        Dear Deborah, I hope your client listens to you and does indeed take your advice about more boxwood. It would just add to the overall very nicely done design. I definitely would love more boxwood in there! And a nice sculpture too!

        • Deborah Silver says

          Dear Antoine, I am 63 years old. Given my age, I am not so much interested in getting my way. That just doesn’t matter to me so much as it did when I was 30. At 30, I thought I had all the answers. Now, I am quite sure I have no answers. I believe that clients have their own road to travel and they will make good decisions-no matter how long that takes. They manage to live their lives without me. We will see what comes of this landscape. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  12. Diane Salim says

    I have a great suggestion – a knot garden! Maybe some green gem boxwood and burgandy barberry.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Diane, thanks for your suggestions. This is the whole point of having a landscape design with some structure. How each gardener interprets what it needs for the finish is what makes every garden different, and person to the gardener who makes it. Deborah

  13. I love your work, esp. your containers! Where do you get your centerpieces like the tall yellow twigs, and also the dyed eucalyptus branches?

  14. Hi Deborah, how about some plants which will add interest in fall? If the clients are going to live in the house year round, it might be nice to have interest in all seasons. The selection will depend on the amount of sun, ph of the soil and available moisture. Fall color ideas: dwarf oakleaf hydrangea, dwarf viburnum, cranesbill, sedum such as Autumn Fire or Lynda Windsor, little lemon solidago or bergenia. A fountain would also be nice in the space for feng shui. If it is kept from freezing, it would be nice all year. My final idea is for early spring interest. How about crocuses? These multiply, but maybe they could be planted in a cool pattern.

  15. Hmmm. For some reason, the front seems to want only a single planter on the right side. You don’t have to publish this, but it looks a little strange to me with 2. Possible because the front isn’t symmetrical.

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