Category Archives: planting

FIELD NOTES – Living Fences Speak Volumes


What’s that old saying in the Robert Frost poem? “Good Fences make good neighbors”. Well, I don’t believe it. Quite often, putting up an instant barrier with a structural fence sends a different message to your neighbors or passers by. “Going Green” for privacy is the alternative to soften the message.

Fence “structures” do have their place. You know – picket, lattice, board, stacked,  post & rail, stockade and (God forbid) chain link. Having installed many of these for my clients, I’m not saying they aren’t useful. They certainly do the job to contain running kids, keep the dog in the yard and  unwanted critters out, add a safety barrier around a pool, and (best of all) create an instant screen to block a bad view. In other words, often necessary in the neighborhood landscape.

But, before the first post hole goes in the ground, consider this… a Living Fence. If you want to create an pleasurable outdoor living space, a garden room for tranquility or a transition space that you’ll  enjoy passing through each day, the Living Fence should be your choice over a structural fence.  An impressive article by Cynthia Kling,  “LIVING FENCES – Pushing the boundaries of the hedge and its role in the modern-day garden”  (Garden Design, March 2013), really got me excited about the many alternatives and reminded me of the many I’ve introduced into my client’s landscapes.

These property line screens are used, instead of fences, to create “Green Walls” between neighboring yards in residential neighborhoods.




KING - Pond Screen, Green Giant Arbovitae








Below – An effective privacy planting used to screen the required pool fencing in a residential neighborhood.

SPERO-HALL - Pool Screen from neighbor yard

SPERO-HALL - Pool Screen from drive-street

This weekend, my friend and I visited the Lincoln, Franconia, Sugar Hill areas of New Hampshire and were lucky enough to stumble upon the Annual Lupine Festival. What a treat to catch the last 2 days of this 20 year event.  Knowing we were welcome to wander and explore the many fields of wild Lupines along the roadways and farmlands (private property, I’m sure) brought me full circle in thinking about fences. DON’T FENCE ME IN is my new mantra. Take a look…

Lupine Festival, Sugar Hill, NH 1 2013

The Frost Place, Sugar Hill, NH View 1 2013

Lupine Festival, Sugar Hill, NH 2 2013

Lupine Festival, Sugar Hill, NH 3 2013

Lupine Festival, Sugar Hill, NH 4 2013

Getting back to Robert Frost. On the back roads of Sugar Hill, NH,  we also  visited The Frost Place, one of Frost’s homes. For a short period of time, he lived with his family and wrote here. The house was nestled in a serene setting of trees overlooking the White Mountains. 

The Frost Place, Sugar Hill, NH Sign 2013

The Frost Place, Sugar Hill, NH House 1 2013

The Frost Place, Sugar Hill, NH House 2 2013

The Frost Place, Sugar Hill, NH View 2 2013

Seeing the view and wandering the paths through fields behind the house (without a fence in sight), it’s hard to believe he said such a thing, “Good fences make good neighbor’s”. I think not!

Explore the possibilities-

Increase Your Homes Privacy with plants

Hedge Shrubs

Hedge Plants





FIELD NOTES: Focus Your Landscape View

This gallery contains 32 photos.

When designing a landscape, be it large or small, it’s critical to step back, see the whole picture and relate your space to the surroundings. Like a photographer – take the long shot view, then, zoom in on the details. … Continue reading


The first warm days of spring always generate Real Estate listings, bring homeowners outdoors to chat with neighbors and prompt a walk-around-the-yard inspection. Inevitably, my phone rings a lot on Monday mornings in March and April…

“The front of my house looks awful”

 “There’s nothing special about my entry – how can I make it a focal point”

 “No one knows which door to use when they come over”

 “Getting ready to sell our home and need the WOW factor to attract buyers”

If these comments sound familiar, could be your home is in need of a facade face lift. This is often the solution for a client lamenting their lack of “curb appeal” or the mediocre “first impression” of their home. A major structural change or a new paint job isn’t your only recourse for a significant facade improvement. Oh yah, I’ll evaluate your plantings too, after all, that’s how I make my living. But simple structural add-ons, some windowboxes, trellises, a new landing or walkway can make a big impact at a reasonable cost.

 Some before and after examples to get you thinking…

BEFORE - a lost path & blank wall

Adding a new arbor directs visitors from the front driveway/parking area to the entry door the homeowner wants them to use. It not only frames the view, but gives an Asian touch and preview to the interior decor. The homeowner made the custom trellis from my design – its pattern repeats the shape of the upper windows, adds interest at the entry to fill the blank wall and balances with the door and window shapes on the facade. The perennial vine used in the cedar planter keeps from year to year, but the varieties and colors of the annuals can change each year to give a whole new planting look.

The new Bluestone walk includes the square shape repeated in the trellis and upper windows - a unifying feature at the ground level

A secondary Bluestone walk with gravel was added for circulation between the greenhouse, front entry and the right side steps that lead to a screen porch.

BEFORE - 2 story home with massive scale

AFTER - Awning Trellises added to the lower windows align with the roofline of the covered porch


 The awning trellis around the 3 lower windows is just enough to add character and draw the eye down from the massive Dutch Colonial facade…now even the plants are more noticable.

BEFORE – House “disapears” with larger homes beside it

 This homeowner said, “My house disappears with the larger houses next door on both sides. I need something to draw attention to my house”.

The plantings were completely redone and a large tree was transplanted from the backyard to fill and cover the left side of the house where there are no windows. The front entry needed scale added  to draw attention away from the neighbors homes, so a new Granite Porch, steps and wood Pergola with railings were added to give it a new focal point, not to mention “curb appeal”.

AFTER - Granite Porch, Steps, and Wood Pergola add scale to this entry


Here an Arbor and Trellis Fence are used to connect the narrow garden space between the house and a property line hedge, while framing the “Garden Room” for privacy from the street view.

These planters, selected for clean lines, blend well with the architecture around them and plants hide an electric meter on the front facade

 After a new car port was added next to this mid-century style house, the owner wanted to unify the space between the entrance at the side, the car port wall and the driveway.  We used left over concrete pavers (purchased from a neighbor) set in gravel for the stepper path from the driveway to the side entry deck. Again, the square pattern of the windows is replicated in the path material to create unity and interest.

The concrete stepper path blends well with the house style and a wide, gravel dripline seperates the lawn from the foundation to make mowing easier.

Plantings are used to soften the hard surfaces and Car Port wall

If your house sits close to the street or sidewalk, think about eliminating any narrow strip of grass and just go with plantings in scale with the bed depth and front windows of your house.

BEFORE - Sunken brick landing is a tripping hazard and salt spray killed all the plantings (except 1 shrub)

AFTER - The brick landing is re-laid with a cobble accent strip and new plant selections are tough enough to survive road salt and winter plowing. Annuals are added to beds each year for summer color.

 You can always use matching planters to frame a doorway, clamp-on planters spilling over with plants on a railing, or add widowboxes bursting with annuals for an inexpensive, quick fix to add color, scent and eye candy to any entry or facade.


Try putting your houseplants outdoors in unique wall planters this summer. It gives them a growth spurt while they perk up a shady area or covered porch.

Don’t forget the finishing touches:

Happy Spring! It’s just around the corner.

REVOLT – Alternative to a Lawn, Step 3 – All grown up!


Remember what the new Ivy groundcover looked like just after planting last May?


 The groundcover, Hedera helix ‘Baltica’ (English Ivy) showing results in late August.


Although 1/3 of the starter plants died, plenty of Ivy sprigs have thickened into lush plants, setting roots as they spread.

Areas with more shade grew much faster.                 

We added more Flatstones to connect the front & side paths and seperate the ivy from the shrubs and perennials at the house foundation.

The Ivy contrasts nicely with surrounding perennials and shrubs.

It’s amazing how quickly the Ivy has grown from those small sprigs in flats into a lush carpet of evergreen groundcover in our front yard. By next spring it will look like it’s always been there. With as little as 10 minutes of weekly weeding and supplemental watering only twice this season, it is decidedly the way to go for low maintenance and water conservation.

Now we just sit back, relax and wear ear plugs while the neighbors continue to mow their lawns – that weekly ritual they all secretly dread.

More lawn alternative ideas – 

Drought tolerant Thyme, perennials and shrubs work well in this sunny, narrow entry garden.

Thyme and Vinca are very effective in this narrow border to a driveway I saw on Martha's Vineyard this summer.

An herb garden on a slope was a creative solution seen on a local garden tour.

A field of Lupine adds color and a natural look to this property line planting.

Mixing trees, shrubs, perennials and gravel to create an alternative backyard look.

Ornamental grasses are used in this public space, creating a focal point in a large lawn area.

Groundcovers, perennials and flowering shrubs are combined for texture, color variation and year-round interest in my backyard shade garden.

Ferns at Garden In The Woods, Framingham, MA

 It’s not too early to plan for the next growing season and challenge yourself to create your own lawn alternative, even if you start with just a small area at a time. Learn more…

 Reinventing The Lawn

 Reducing the Lawn – Meadows…and other Lawn Alternatives

Suggested reading:

The Wild Lawn Handbook: Alternatives to the Traditional Front Lawn, by Stevie Daniels

The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn, by John Greenlee

Covering Ground, by Barbara W. Ellis



REVOLT – Alternative to a Lawn, Step 2: Prep and Planting Groundcover

The lawn replacement continues…

By mid June we had our ducks in a row. Dan and I had already agreed that our groundcover selection to replace the lawn had to be evergreen to provide year-round interest. Going with 28 flats of Hedera helix ‘Baltica’ (English Ivy), the groundcover was ordered. We already had proof of how tough it is and how little water it needs once established because it’s thriving on a slope in sun/part shade in our own backyard already and at a client’s house. It only took one growing season to fill in there and it’s the same conditions in the front yard.

 My theory is if a planting area or bed is prepared well, that’s half the challenge for the reward of a successful planting. So we called in Jeffreys Creek, one of my landscape crews, to get us off to a good start and do the heavy, up front work for us.

DAY 1 – Prep the planting area:

8 am   Landscape crew arrives with a sod cutter to remove the lawn, install metal edging (to contain the Ivy groundcover from the existing perennial and shrub beds) and spread and till in organic compost.












We thought this was the perfect opportunity to extend the Flatstone Walkway from the front entrance to the left side path, to be able to walk completely around the house on hardscape material – the above right photo shows the 4 foot wide space allowed for the path to be added later.

1 pm   Planting area is finished being prepared and is ready for planting.

 DAY 2 – Plant delivery:

Plant flats are delivered from the nursery, but ground conditions are too wet for planting following 2 days of rain. In the gravel driveway “holding area“, I kept the flats watered daily until the next weekend.

 DAY 3 – Planting the groundcover begins:      

Dan and I planted 18 of 28 flats the first day. As we planted, I watered in small sections at a time. Aside from watching our own progress, the best part was talking with curious neighbors that passed by (in cars and on foot) and explaining our vision for the yard. Our neighbor across the street is still scratching his head (he loves mowing his lawn). I think he fears he’ll never get to see Dan again if he doesn’t have the lawn to mow once a week.







Day 4 – Planting Completed:

We really had a system going by now. He would dig and I would plant, then we would switch so our backs would hold up longer. We planted the last 10 flats in record time as we chanted, “No more mowing”.

 Day 5 – Irrigation:

Our lawn already has an irrigation system, so it only needed to be modified by adding drip hoses in rows every 2 feet between the new groundcover plants. This was added as a new zone to be controlled separately from the other plant beds of shrubs & perennials. To establish the new plants, we set the timer for 1 hour in the early morning, 3 days per week – hoping that Mother Nature would help us out on the watering and not have to actually use the irrigation so much. We lucked out – what followed was several more weeks with consist rainfall that really helped the plants take hold.

 Day 6 – Mulching:

Without a workable weekend in site, I had to go it alone for 4 hours on a weekday to spread the bagged Coco Mulch. Now this was back breaking work, getting in between each Ivy strand, keeping a consistent depth and spreading it evenly. I used a small hand rake to spread it and keep from pulling out the delicate plants. Although Coco Mulch is organic, gardeners should use caution using it around dogs and cats – see


 Well, it was a labor of love, now the hard part is done. With a weekly liquid fertilizing through July and 15 minutes of weeding per week, the ivy groundcover should be well established by fall and filled in completely by next summer.

 Our weekends are now filled with other events (and projects), but outside our own yard the “mow & blow” landscape crews and neighbors continue cutting, edging and blowing 7 day a week starting at 7 a.m.  Will it ever end? It has for us.

 Stay tuned for Alternative to a Lawn, Step 3 – All grown up!


FIELD NOTES: Starting With A Landscape Plan

BEFORE - Entry Drive at a newly constructed home

Do you ever hear a friend or neighbor — a would-be gardener — express frustration? “I tried to do it myself. But I don’t like the results. I’m wasting my time. And my money. It’s just not working.”

 Usually these are enthusiasts — and it could be you or me — who have jumped right into a project. They have lots of energy. Plenty of ideas. And now they’re lost or frustrated.

Why? They’re working without an important landscaping tool. (And I don’t mean a wheelbarrow or a gardening trowel/shovel.)

What’s missing? They started without a landscape plan. Really…it’s one of the most basic tools for reaching a successful conclusion to an outdoor project, no matter how big or small.

 Think of working on your yard as similar to taking a journey. Would you head out on a trip without a map or driving directions from Google? Or you’d use your GPS system (mine has a fabulous British accent) programmed with the address of your destination.

My point is that you’d use step-by-step guidance on how to travel safely and arrive successfully. You’d use a map to get you there: start to finish.

Landscape Master Plan

 A landscape plan works the same way. It’s a “big picture” of how an outdoor space will function and look when it’s been fully planted, landscaped and built out. It provides a map of where important elements of the landscape will go. It’s a flexible timetable of what steps to take first, and how to fill in the details later. It’s the basis for a realistic budget that allows for big purchases as cash flow permits.

During construction of the walk and entry drive

 Landscape plans help you identify and determine locations for major elements such as:

  • Structures (ex: decks, gazebos, trellises, arbors, sheds, fences or walls)
  • Major plantings (ex: trees, hedges, locations for shrub and flower beds or vegetable gardens, areas of open lawn, etc.)
  • Hardscape materials (ex: driveways, walls, walkways, paths, pool decks or patios)
  • Garden features (ex: rock garden, cutting garden, herb garden, water feature, pond, etc.)
  • Focal points (ex: vertical or cone shaped plants, large boulder(s), statue, sculpture, birdbath, bench, etc.)

 Remember that old anecdote about filling a jar with rocks? It works best when you put in the biggest stuff first, and then the medium-sized stones, and then the smallest pebbles.

 Think about the major features of a yard in the same way. If you know where the main elements will fit into your yard (like a swimming pool or a garage or a vegetable garden), then you’ll make space for them. And you’ll fill in the details around them.

 You can safely invest in each phase of work, when you know that everything has a place. A landscape plan assures that all the parts work together. For example, you’ll know that the fence you add this year, and the shade tree you plant next year, will all contribute to a safe and fun outdoor play area for kids and dogs. And you’ll be sure that your garden is planted where the children and pet are less likely to dig for buried treasure, and pull up expensive bulbs and tubers instead!

 With a step-by-step guide in hand, you can do the work at your own pace. You can do it all at once or over several seasons or years. Maybe you put in the front walkway one year and the shed another. Maybe you plant one large shade tree, and then add a pond the next season.

Completed entry drive with plantings (1st year)

 Sometimes, when you identify a few major projects, the landscape plan helps you save money by taking advantage of having big equipment on site and addressing different projects all at once. Who wants to have a backhoe in their yard any more than necessary? (And I’m not talking to 3-year-old boys or heavy-equipment operator wannabes!)

 Here are a few insights I can offer for anyone who is considering work in their yard:

  • If it’s a renovation and you’re adding landscape elements to an existing site, you may want to keep some of the plantings or other structural elements. Identify what you like and what works, and save it. 
  •  If you’re starting work at a new location, take your time. Live there a while, and learn how you use the outdoor spaces. It’s okay to wait a year before you make big decisions about your lawn and your yard. You make more mistakes when you rush.
  •  While you’re living there, ask yourself big questions. Do you have children or a pet now or in your future? Do you want major elements like a swimming pool or a shed or a patio? Do you need a fence or shrub screen to create safety and privacy?
  •  Pay attention throughout the seasons. Look through the windows year-round, and see what the view is like. (Did you know that in the French and English tradition of gardens, landscaping decisions are designed to capture views — from indoors — of attractive outdoor spaces?) After all, in New England our seasons are extreme, so the views will change, and there will be times we’re grateful to look out the window from the safety of a warm indoor space.
  •  Know the site conditions before you start any work. Examples include: type of soil, problem drainage areas, the style of home and plantings that are in keeping with its setting, property lines and neighbors’ boundaries, views from inside and outside the house, and convenience considerations such as accessible storage and safe and easy access to and from a vehicle.

Entry Drive planting – 3rd year

 Did you know the cost of a landscape plan might be the equivalent of one large planting?  If the landscape plan saves you the cost of making one impulsive — and expensive — purchase that won’t take root, then it’s already paid for itself!

 If you want to arrive at your destination with the least number of detours and wrong turns, use a guide…invest in a landscape plan. (But you’ll have to use your imagination for the posh British accent!)