Bringing the ‘burbs to life

When we started, there were plants, a bird bath and bird feeders. The plants for the most part did nothing to feed the birds. Native insects likewise did not come here for fine dining.

With this makeover, that’s all changed. The bird bath is now a recirculating fountain. The bird feeders remain, but now there’s a veritable smorgasbord for visiting birds, with insects buzzing around a host of new native flowers.

We didn’t touch the concrete paths, other than to add a looping access path of flagstones set in sand and gravel to service the fountain and resupply the bird feeders. To make the design look as though it were done at once, gravel mulch strips align to the existing steps, flowing back into the plantings.

Perimeter plants were left in place for screening, the white birches remained for shade and habitat, but most of the other plants were ripped out. If a plant didn’t feed pollinators, help restore butterfly populations or provide nectar it got chopped. The result is a seasonal display of successive blooms that support local bee populations and feed migrating hummingbirds. As plants go to seed, they’ll support seed-eating birds. Some plants, like the milkweed, may even supply downy nesting materials.

We did not choose a purely native plant list, since some of the best plants for honeybees are not native (neither are these bees, for that matter). As long as all the plants in each group used the same amount of water and sunlight, the design would work.

Indian paintbrush, unlike most plants, does not get everything it needs from sunlight, soil and water. It needs a host plant: bush monkeyflower. Growing paintbrush alone is unlikely to be successful, but once paired with monkeyflowers there’s a good chance you can grow this native wildflower in your garden.

Partial plant list

Although the plants had to provide some function, that didn’t mean that they were thrown together haphazardly. They’re massed to form swaths of color, partially screen one area of the garden from another, and make the garden seem more private near the house.

  • Milkweed: restore monarch butterfly populations
  • Indian paintbrush: hummingbird food
  • Bush monkeyflower: host plant for paintbrush, hummingbird food
  • Annual wildflowers: food for native solitary bees
  • Mexican lobelia: hummingbird food
  • California fuchsia: hummingbird food
  • Lavender: honeybee food
  • Red yucca (Hesperaloe): hummingbird food
  • Penstemon: hummingbird food
  • Russian sage: honeybee food
  • Woolly sunflower: bee food
  • Coyote mint: butterfly food
  • Mugwort: background plant, interesting fragrance (leaves)
  • Grasses: keep some green while natives are dormant, add texture.
  • Sundrops: great color, and feeds bees, too.

It was also accepted by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Garden for Wildlife, meeting the criteria for food (pollen, nectar, seeds), water (fountain), cover (perimeter shrubs), places to raise young (perimeter shrubs and birch tree) and sustainable practices (no pesticides or nasty chemicals).

Although the style of this garden differs a bit from the surrounding homes, it seems to be accepted by the neighbors. It was certainly accepted by the birds and insects! It will probably need to grow in a few more years before the milkweeds get large enough to attract monarch butterflies, but other benefits were immediate. Ground-nesting bees moved in, probably taking advantage of nearby abundant food. Hummingbirds zip through the flowers, searching for nutritious nectar and probably insects to eat. Then there’s the impressive palette of color to delight passing people.




Extra curb appeal, please!

Making the journey to the front door more than a quick hike up a path adds interest, but also helps nestle the house into the landscaping.

The main path passes through low privacy screens, leading to an entry courtyard with a metal trellis accent and the front door. There’s a gravel driveway next to the concrete driveway for guest parking, hidden by a row of heavenly bamboo (nandina).

The design needed to work with a large tree. Although most think of shade, the other concern is giving the tree a healthy root zone and minimizing root damage during construction. Done right, the tree will thrive as will the new plants underneath. Another benefit: removing lawn reduces competition with the tree’s roots, giving it more nutrients.

Path lights flank the path, giving way to step lights mounted on the privacy screens. This creates a path of light leading to the front door.


Front yard living

There wasn’t much space for a patio in the back, the neighbors are friendly, so why not create a living space in the front yard? Hello, everyone!

While adults dine on the deck, they can watch the kids play on swings under the tree.

The wood is unstained sustainable Fijian mahogany, left to go gray where it’s in the sun. Using the same wood in different widths for the screen wall, decking and planters creates a unified yet dynamic look.


Multiple shades of privacy for a front yard remodel

Low screen fences create a gradient of privacy as people arrive toward the front door. A new path draws people to the front door to pass through a threshold created by the screen fences, with side paths linking a new driveway, the side yard and a crushed rock additional parking space.

integrated lighting
integrated LED lighting on the screen fence
screen fencing
the fence appears continuous from some angles
stepping pads
stepping pads, awaiting planting

The project’s goals were to reinvigorate the front yard, increase curb appeal and increase the sense of privacy by making the screen fence seem continuous from the street.

Planting will come soon, and will unify the design from floating elements to an overall, comprehensive design.