The Renovation Of A Small Landscape

landscape renovation (5)Last September I consulted with a client who had just purchased a jewel of an old home on a small property.  Extensive renovations to the interior were just about done.  The existing garage had been enlarged, and a living space above it has been added.  The neighborhood is lovely.  All of the homes are in close proximity.  They had gone so far as to install a new blue stone walk to the front door. A new landscape plan had been proposed, but she was hesitant about it.  My advice to anyone seeking the services of a designer is as follows.  If you have any reservations, sort them out before there is any arrangement to start the work.  Right off the bat, I loved the lollipop crab apples in front, but I disliked how they covered the beautiful bow windows, and the view to the outside. Plants do grow.  A good designer will site plants such that they do not grow into the elephants in the front yard.

landscape renovation (9)A beautiful sun room was faced down by yews and boxwood that were not doing well, a kousa dogwood which was obviously unhappy, and a random collection of knockout roses. The bed line seemed out of touch with the arrangement of plants. Idea 2: if you have bed lines in mind, cut them before you plant, and arrange the plants to repeat that line.  If you plant before you have a bed scheme in mind, your job is tougher.  You may need to plant a series of plants that reinforce the shape you have established.  Bed lines are a very powerful visual force in a landscape. I always set them first, before I go on to a planting scheme.

DSC_3107The back yard had a privacy fence, and a row of bradford pears. The trees had not been tended to much in recent years, and were in poor condition.  A new blue stone terrace had been set at the correct height out the rear doors.  The ground dropped dramatically to the fence line. I spent a lot of time looking over those trees. Could they stay? My clients previous landscape proposal called for keeping these trees.   My clients were happy with the neighborhood, but wanted some privacy in the rear yard. But these trees?

DSC_3116Landscapes can get away from a property owner so fast.  Plants die from this or that. Trees deteriorate. Other trees grow out with abandon-the result not so desirable. There are gaps, and spaces that contribute to a weary and untended look. My client brought lots of treasured garden ornament with her to this new home.  They needed a home.

DSC_3130A new lawn went a long way to banish the blues.  But the space was asking for a landscape that was beautiful, and functional.  Small properties are great for lots of reasons.  I love that my city lot and a half is manageable.  But a small space means there is no room to fudge.  Every square foot needs to be part of a plan that works.  A good designer listens to a client-first and foremost.  They need to design to the client they represent. Occasionally they need to step out, and suggest a different approach. Next a designer, or a gardener designing for themselves, needs to draw the landscape from edge to edge. That drawing is a benchmark.  The reality is where the spade meets the dirt. What works out on paper needs a sure hand to interpret the intent of the benchmark, once the landscape is being laid out, or underway.

DSC_4772The  over anxious landscape company before me sheared the backs off of these trees, with the idea that arborvitae would be planted under the power lines. I will say I have never seen this done before. I believe this is why my client contacted me. I could not imagine how trees in poor health to begin with would take to this kind of pruning. Nor did I believe arborvitae would prosper in the one wedge of sun they would get at noon every day.landscape renovation (6)Once the Bradfords were gone, it became obvious that the wood fence needed repair.  We shored up the leaning panels, and covered the deteriorated pickets at the bottom with a new cedar reinforcing board.

landscape renovations (4)Of course we painted the fence. That was easy and fast, given we had no obstructions to work around.

landscape renovation (4)The garage wall was big, and bare.  A trellis panel from the previous owner was set in the corner, to hide the electric service. My client placed her charming lead fountain in front of the wall.  Charming as it is, the wall overwhelmed it.  This wall needed a new idea. And the fountain needed a smaller more intimate location.

DSC_3109A generator is a big appliance which is not so great looking. In a small yard, they seem gigantic. The idea to celebrate it with a giant graveled area edged in granite block did not seem like such a great idea. Both the wall and the generator area needed some green relief.

DSC_5256Once my client approved the new plan, we set the bones of the front yard. We added a small gravel path from the walk to the drive.  And we designed a large steel pergola some 20 feet long which would be a better scale for the house. The new pergola would balance the sun room on the opposite side. The older wood arbor would be completely refurbished, and relocated to the entrance of the smaller and more intimate rear yard.  That structure will be beautiful in a space where it can be better appreciated.

landscape renovation OctoberWe did replace winter damaged yews, and boxwood.  We added more boxwood, in a formal square.  Between the boxwood and the yews at the sidewalk-a row of Little Lime hydrangeas. The new front landscape is respectful of the beautiful concolor firs, arborvitae, and the low wall at the walk.  We were underway with the renovation.



  1. Deborah Crabtree says

    Please post more pictures and the finished landscape? Thank you!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Deborah, I will post pictures of the interim-and the finished pictures that I took the day of our garden tour. best, Deborah

  2. What a beautiful house with such great new landscaping. I enjoyed reading every sentence and looking at every photo multiple times. Takes many readings to absorb all the details. Bet the owners are thrilled. I am thrilled just reading about the new landscaping.

  3. debra phillips says

    fascinating perspective. anxious to see what you do deborah

  4. can’t wait to see what you do with the space, I especially love how you can visualize the whole space starting at the edge of the property. we have a traditional colonial and I’m really struggling with what to do with such a open canvas. we love french garden design, but I don’t know how to even begin.

  5. Jeannine Eitel says

    Beautiful house! Cannot wait to see your magic done !

  6. Wow. Those poor trees. There are definitely instances where non-traditional pruning needs to be done, but it seems like there was no final plan in place to even start this.

    Thanks for posting. Looking forward to see the totally finished product!

  7. Beautiful, Deborah!
    I can’t wait to see more!



  8. Michaele Anderson says

    So interesting and informative…not only do I admire your talent but also your discipline in how you described the cringeworthy work of the previous landscaper :).

  9. TRUDI ROWE says

    Dear Deborah,

    Thank you so much for your blog. I enjoy each post because I learn so much from you. You analyze the problem and then interpret such an elegant result. I look forward to seeing the design solution to the above landscape.

  10. I’m fairly new here and am thoroughly enjoying your blog. I appreciate the time and effort you put into each and every word and image. Often it is hard to put the concept of garden design into meaningful and succinct sentences. You do it, brilliantly!

  11. Very interesting to see a project developing so nicely. I notice you use boxwoods extensively in this design. (I love boxwoods myself) Are you at all concerned about the boxwood blight that has destroyed so many gardens in Europe and in the US? My understanding is that boxwood blight is now found in Ohio. Is the treat of this disease exaggerated? What can gardeners do? Thank you.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Antione, we do not have boxwood blight here, so I am not a good person to ask or a reliable source on the subject. Best, Deborah

  12. Gorgeous house with a wonderful start to their landscape! We planted 40 baby boxwood and will be paitient for them to form a hedge in the front beds. Little lime hydrangeas are planted behind along the foundation. Phase one complete, I’ll pass along some pics soon. One of your projects was my inspiration. Thanks Deborah!

    • Ashley in VA says

      We must have been inspired by the same project. I planted boxwood with Little Limes behind them. My Little Limes, planted last fall, look absolutely stunning. They are super low maintenance and don’t droop in the afternoon like my other hydrangeas. Best plant recommendation ever. It would be fun to get a peak at all the box/limelight/little lime gardens inspired by Deborah. I bet there’s many out there.

  13. Marguerite says

    Your step by step landscape “biography” , is better than any serial. I so appreciate your patiently and carefully explaining to us your thought process at each juncture and how you identified the best options for the homeowner to consider. I am sitting on “shpilkes”, waiting to see/hear how the back of the property was addressed and the haven that emerges from this carefully considered process. Thank you so much for taking the time to write your blog and especially for writing and illustrating your points in such a helpful way.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Margarite, love you letter! I will post the process pictures tomorrow-and the finish on Saturday. thanks, Deborah

  14. Mark Becker says

    Where did that “sweet” fountain end up? There’s a beauty.

  15. Love reading your blog, Deborah. You have already made the house and yard look much better. Looking forward to seeing the next results.

  16. In our area (DE) power companies trim trees like this all the time. Home owners who are clueless to pruning leave their trees looking like this. It does pain me to see something beautiful look so ugly. Deborah, how did you hide the generator?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Trish, I expect that kin of pruning from the electric Co-but not from a landscape professional. The generator is screening from the terrace by yews. Behind the yews, one large hydrangea. It is screened from the driveway by a cornus kousa that was in the front yard. It is nmot screened when you are walking by it…yet!

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