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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 46 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!

    2. I wish I had the energy to do tnis.,Im a senior. I just recently hired someone to do mine whenever all this rain stops. Yours is beautiful.,

      1. Thanks! I did it for a special person. It has won garden awards each year. It has grown so much it needed a good trimming! Hope you love your’s!

        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. I have very large front and back yard. I have planted some rose bushes, but that is all. Would love to give form to my backyard garden. You say you did no digging. How did you get the edging to lay on top of grass? Can I just put newspapers down on top of grass to kill it? Is this what you did? Thanks for answering my questions.

          1. There are quite a lot of detailed images. The edges are dug ito the ground and the bricks are sunken in. The new areas where garden became did get smothered by the newspaper layers. Good luck!

  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.

  9. What a beautiful, amazing transformation! Do you have a list of plants that you used that you could share? Thank you!

    1. My faves; Hostas, perwinkle ground cover, English Ivy, Spirea, Japanese Maple, Hydrangea. If enough sun, creeping phlox adds some annual colour! Have fun!

  10. Love your landscaping ideas. l have also been doing a lot of flower beds etc everywhere we have lived. l am facing my biggest challenge this year as this house has a large green utility box to the left of the front lawn and a cable/telephone box to the right of the front lawn. The property is approx. 600 sq ft. being deeper verses wider so not sure about joining as there is a small tree close to the curb as well. l would end up with a large triangle and too much upkeep. lt has been suggested that l do 3 ovals or join the utility boxes and an oval around the tree. lm doing the tall wheat grass around 3 sides of the large utility box but that’s as far as lve got so far. any ideas would be most welcome. Thank you. Donna

    1. I can’t picture this. Maybe lay a garden hose on the ground until you like the shape. Think of plants as shapes, keep simple and defined, rather than many small plants have larger groupings. Lower in front and higher behind. I like to draw out a plan…

  11. Aquele jardim capa de revista, sempre nos dá a impressão de uma casa perfeita com uma família perfeita né.

    Sempre quando olhamos em filmes e propagandas, aquela imagem do pai cortando a grama, ou a mãe molhando as flores nos lembra felicidade. Hoje em dia a arte da jardinagem tem se tornado terapia para muitos e fontes de renda para outros.

    Um dos principais atributos a beleza de um jardim sem dúvidas é um belo gramado. Um jardim com um gramado bonito e bem cuidado está ao alcance de qualquer pessoa que disponha de espaço e possa dedicar alguns cuidados a ele. Os tipos de grama são bem variados e cada um tem um lugar próprio para seu plantio. Um gramado saudável é um poderoso elemento decorativo no jardim. A massa verde e plana proporciona contraste e dá realce para árvores, cercas vivas, canteiros ou espécies isoladas. Além desta função estética, o gramado oferece também uma área de recreação e repouso para adultos e crianças. Assim sendo, os gramados constituem elementos de grande valor ornamental, paisagístico e de proteção de áreas inclinadas. Resumindo, as suas principais funções são: ocupação de grandes espaços livres, propiciar a prática de esportes e amenização climática. Na hora de fazer sua escolha por um tipo de grama para jardim tem quê levar em conta o tipo de terreno, clima e finalidade do seu uso para não ter surpresas indesejáveis após o plantio. Há algumas opções de grama para jardim: Grama Esmeralda:Seu jardim está exposto ao sol o dia todo? Quer uma grama de boa aparência e bom preço? Se a resposta for sim, a grama esmeralda é sem dúvidas a melhor opção de grama para jardim. Grama São Carlos: Seu jardim possui áreas com pouca luz solar. A grama são carlos seria uma boa opção para estas condições. Grama Santo Agostinho: Você mora no litoral? Regiões Úmidas? com estas condições, a grama santo Agostinho irá desempenhar um bom papel. Grama Coreana: Se este jardim for compor um projeto paisagístico e não houver trafego constante, ou seja, pisoteio de pessoas, animais, veículos, etc… A grama japonesa também pode ser uma das opções de tipos de grama para jardim, tendo em vista seu alto valor estético para o paisagismo. Outras variedades também podem ser utilizadas, ou seja varia de como é a área a ser plantada e é claro o gosto de cada um.

    1. That magazine cover garden always gives us the impression of a perfect home with a perfect family, you know.

      Whenever we look in films and advertisements, that image of the father cutting the grass, or the mother watering the flowers reminds us of happiness. Nowadays the art of gardening has become therapy for many and sources of income for others.

      One of the main attributes of the beauty of a garden is undoubtedly a beautiful lawn. A garden with a beautiful and well-kept lawn is within reach of anyone who has space and can dedicate some care to it. The types of grass are quite varied and each has its own place for planting. A healthy lawn is a powerful decorative element in the garden. The flat green mass provides contrast and enhances trees, hedges, flower beds or isolated species. In addition to this aesthetic function, the lawn also offers a recreation and rest area for adults and children. Therefore, the lawns are elements of great ornamental value, landscape and protection of inclined areas. In summary, its main functions are: occupation of large open spaces, providing sports and climate mitigation. When making your choice for a type of grass for the garden, you have to take into account the type of terrain, climate and purpose of its use to avoid undesirable surprises after planting. There are a few options for lawn grass: Emerald Grass: Is your garden exposed to the sun all day? Want a good-looking, good-priced grass? If the answer is yes, emerald grass is undoubtedly the best option for garden grass. Grama São Carlos: Your garden has areas with little sunlight. The são carlos grass would be a good option for these conditions. Grama Santo Agostinho: Do ​​you live on the coast? Humid Regions? With these conditions, the Saint Augustine grass will play a good role. Korean Grass: If this garden is to be part of a landscape project and there is no constant traffic, that is, trampling people, animals, vehicles, etc … Japanese grass can also be one of the options of types of grass for garden, considering its high aesthetic value for landscaping. Other varieties can also be used, that is, it varies according to the area to be planted and it is clear the taste of each one.


  12. Just to confirm, no digging where you laid the edging ❓ you just filled in with mulch and dirt? Thanks 😊

    1. The edging bricks are dug into the ground, but the ground is not dug except for where plants were put in. The bricks are pretty flush with the ground. Happy gardening!

  13. Loved your article! I was wondering what zone and what type of sunlight for the plants you used! I live in zone 5 and want to plant a front yard garden that is in sun. Any plant suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks

    1. I am in zone 6 (B). There is some Creeping Phlox, english ivy (that needs a good control) and hostas, my favourite! The driveway was/is lined with hydrangeas as it gets sun pretty well all day. It’s not my place but has lasted quite well with some yearly control of the mischievous wandering plants. Neighbouring trees mean a fair bit of fall clean up so having plants that die back keep it easy to maintain. Best of luck!

  14. Hi Barb I really love the way you design your yard. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise. I live in Oklahoma zone 7. The kind of soil that we have is reddish and feels like clay. Would you advise to put top soil before planting? I really need your help. This is my first time designing and planting. Got this new house though. Thank you and God Bless!

    1. Yes, it is recommended to give the plants a good start. If it is clay, also be aware that sometimes just making a hole full of topsoil will create a wet part that may rot the roots. Add as much organic material as possible; it usually pays off later… Happy gardening! It’s a process.

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