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The One Woman Garden Makeover

It’s that time of year for us here in Canada. The ‘May 24’ is our mark to get planting! Last year at this time I took on a complete overhaul of a front property for someone special. However, I am not ‘wonder-woman’, nor do I have any labourers so it needed to be manageable without compromising style. We all want BIG effect for LITTLE work, don’t we?! Well… check out how ‘I’ managed it all by myself without even having to dig!

This is the way the property came; basically the way most people design. Small straight borders, dull design and monster tree. It did have some really ‘showy’ hydrangeas though so there are some elements to keep which helps the budget.

The Plan:

I always tell my students; have a plan. The artist in me likes to be able to visualize things first. Draw out a plan, use graph paper and you can draw one to scale. (make each square represent a measurement and you can easily map it out)

Big lawns are overrated in my opinion; as they require so much watering, weeding, grub control etc. Less lawn = less fretting.

Design has a few elements that you should think about; line, shape, space, colour, texture and pattern. I remember those from my days at art college! It really does apply to any type of design whether the front yard or a an oil painting.

Line: I wanted a nice flow and curve to connect the garden beds into one and carry the ‘eye’ along. Think bigger rather than smaller! Plants grow and you’d rather be enjoying it than mowing the lawn so give it space. To give you a good way to see it lay the hose out to the shape. Keep kicking/nudging it till it is a nice smooth shape and check it out from all angles. Don’t worry, there won’t be any big digging… I promise.

It always looks worse before it looks better! The blue spruce is nice if it would stay small, but it won’t! It will eventually get so wide at the bottom and then the bill to chop will be huge. Soooo, for now it will get a nice trimming and open up the space but it’s days are numbered. The grass is a bit stressed but that can change with a bit of TLC as well.


Once you are happy with your overall shape it’s time to give it some edging. I like a good crisp line to the garden edges! Get the knee pads on and start to set in your material for edges. I HATE the black plastic stuff, and prefer the individual stones. They are forgiving of you ever need to ‘fix’ one and they stay put quite well. Set them in to about the level of the grass soil. I have not seen any difference whether set with screenings or just well cut into the soil. Now’s your chance to sit on the lawn and take it the garden smell… Follow your hose-line and curve gradually even with straight stones. They make a nice pattern as well.


Keeping things on a manageable small scale has me buying-by-the-bag and using only a car. I will enhance the soil somewhat with top soil and add a ground cover of cedar mulch. Mulch is a saving grace as it keeps weeds down, requires less watering and provides a great backdrop. Well, no need to go to the gym this week!

Since there may be some perennials coming up and the hydrangeas along the side I did not need too many new plants. Let me say; I LOVE my hostas! They give great colour and texture with the many varieties available! Every year I have some at home that need dividing so I chop off a piece when I see the tiny points coming up. Cheap and cheerful.

Such a nice curving line! Luckily there were way too many pavers to use as edging. Don’t worry about the grass sections in the gardens, I have a solution that does not need digging.

The Cover:

I dug in the new plant additions like the hostas and some other sniped perennials from home. To finish the garden and kill the grass within it I cover it well with layers of newspaper. Yes, really!!! It does work quite well. It was windy so I needed to wet it down to make a good contact to the ground. I’d say approximately about 6 sheets thick. Don’t leave any gaps.

Cover well with mulch to weight it down before it dries and flies away.

Sounds ridiculous I know, but it works so well. I am sure the neighbours were wondering what heck the crazy lady was doing!?

Quite a transformation already! Keep the paper weighted down with the mulch and by stomping on it and watering. Grass is sometimes a bit stubborn.

Some fertilizing/feeding the grass to make it happy really makes a big difference. May brings the vivid green colours and everything comes alive!

Pink creeping phlox and euonymus will bring colour each year.

Other elements:

I’m not a ‘pink flamingo’ type of gal, but I do like some additional elements in a garden. (obviously since I LOVE concrete)

To add some stepping stones, you guessed it; make some! They blend so well with the natural element and also provide some texture.

This easy method of making an address stone has fooled so many people! ‘How did you carve that stone?!’ Haha, I didn’t…

Ok, yes there was a bit of grumbling when hauling the bags of soil and mulch, but it was quite doable in a week. And yes, those muscles will be happy again…

A couple months later and it was thriving quite well. It required minimal stooping to pick out the odd weed or determined grass but on a whole (yippee) it worked so well! When adding some annuals for colour plant in multiples for a pattern, 3 is a great number!

It was such a transformation that it won a Trillium award for landscaping that we have in our city. Notice the texture as well as colour that each plant brings.

Enjoy your spring/summer! Take time to smell the ‘whatever’ is growing in your space, large or small.


I'm an artist & I make things... all kinds of things.

This Post Has 28 Comments
  1. Woweeee – good going! and Congrats on winning the Trilium Award for this garden layout. I laughed when I saw the newspaper all over the lawn (kind of like when I put figure drawings in the allotment) haha

    And YES to eliminating lawn … love your cement leaves too!

    1. Oh yes! maybe a way to recycle even more! The tree will be going as soon as the birds are done with the nest building in it! It’s been the year of birds nests and eggs everywhere!

      Stay tuned for the sculpture, concrete of course that will be taking it’s place! Happy gardening!

        1. Yes, possibly. It does need to be wetted/weighed down to make sure of not blowing away. Also do try to not have any spaces where the weeds/grass can sneak through.

  2. Barb, you are very talented and artistic! Love your projects and the garden looks lovely. I work as a gardener. I agree that using 3 or 5 plants if one type is really effective. Unfortunately, I have not had good luck with using bricks or even 8″x16″ pavers as edging. Grass spreads. In a couple years it will both grow right under the bricks and push between them and into your beds. I have never found a perfect solution. My preference is to sharply cut the edge at least once a year using a long handled edger you can step on. Cut back into the lawn about two inches each year since grass grows about two inches in a year. You can do this on the outside of your bricks, but they just kinda get in the way of weeding and edging. Best of luck and keep on gardening!

    1. We are alike as I like a good edge! It’s all about definition. The property came with WAY TOO MANY bricks so that was one of the reasons I decided to use them as edging = free. The black plastic stuff was the bane of my existence before! Bricks aren’t perfect but can work well with a gas powered trimmer. And if one gets out of line it’s a quick fix!

  3. When laying the paver edging, did you have help while digging? And did you lay gravel on the bottom before laying the paver?
    I have a similar project envisioned for my home and you have given me hope

  4. This is really lovely, I am planning a garden for my front yard and will certainly follow your tips. I’m assuming the newspaper eventually dissolves under the mulch, it’s a great way to manage the grass in the new flower bed without digging.

    1. Yes, it’s a few years old now and has been thriving well! I needed to cut back as everything grew so much! It has won a city garden award each year… Key; don’t wait until it’s too hot!

  5. It is absolutely stunning! Would you be willing to share the plan of what plants you planted in the beds? I’m in Michigan and am looking to put in something similar but at a loss what plants to use.

    1. When I did this garden I actually did it for a loved one, not my own. I have a lot of Hostas; and love them!!! I also love ground cover like Periwinkle, and the usual English Ivy. Creeping Jenny also gives good ground cover but watch that it doesn’t take over! It will come like a perrenial. The house came with Hydrangeas and seem to love it there so I left them. The Japanese Maple was a end of season purchase at a deep discount and I love that they grow very slowly. A few annuals get added each year but less as it fills out. Keep them to their own areas to keep a look of design. Good luck!

  6. Thank you so much! I’m trying to do the same to reduce the amount of grass here in Dublin and I have despaired that I won’t manage it on my own on little to no budget but I’m feeling suitably inspired thank you Barb!

  7. Great job! I have been documenting the changes we’ve made to this house and property, and might consider doing something like this that is publicly available.

    1. Oh, you make me laugh! Sometimes I feel like I will fall over in exhaustion! But I still think that is better than dying of boredom! Then comes the satisfaction of doing it; this won the neighbourhood garden award each year! Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Fantastic. I’ve been wanting to get rid of some lawn & add color to my yard. This is great!
    You can come over anytime and help me do my landscape. Can’t thank you enough for the info. God Bless.

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