Transform Your Yard Into a Garden

“We Bring Paradise to Life”

I know there is a lot in motion and a lot of uncertainty. The current strand of coronavirus, civil unrest, and a polarized election cycle have gotten 2020 off to a rough start. To bring relief to the heaviness, I propose you get outside and garden. Get outdoors, spend time in the yard, and create something beautiful!

I challenge you to transform your yard into a garden.

There’s difference between a yard and a garden. A yard is an outdoor space, the plot of land that comes with your house. It can be respectable, it can be basic, or it can be horrible (and I sure see a lot of the latter out there!). But your outdoor space ought to be, as our nursery’s slogan states, a “paradise.” Creating a garden out of your yard will make it just that. In a sense, a garden is on a higher plane, utilizing the space a yard has to its maximum potential for bringing beauty, tranquility, and joy.

Conifer grower Iseli Nursery hosts a marvelous display garden with a mix of conifers, Japanese maples, perennials, and boulders.

In the parking lot, our nursery sign says: “Welcome to paradise. Everyone should have a sanctuary in their own backyard. A paradise where everyday worries are forgotten and life becomes simple and refreshing.” Sounds pretty solid, right?

“Welcome to Paradise” sign at Plumline Nursery.

I might add this should apply to your front yard too!

Let’s talk about transforming your yard into a garden – a place for the cultivation of beautiful plants and for becoming a sanctuary for the soul.

Before I lose you, I am going to talk about “low maintenance” gardens. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to deadhead and nuke old hybrid-tea roses with chemicals every week – nor ask you to constantly stake up Victorian heirloom Rudbeckias every summer. There are lots of plants that are easy going and care-free that will create a garden – a paradise – for you!

A Garden is Superior to a Yard

A garden almost always conjures positive feelings. What do you specifically envision a garden to be like? Do you imagine a lot of flowers? A Japanese-inspired “zen garden?” Billowing grasses and weeping trees? A lot of butterflies? Some nice outdoor furniture? Maybe a water feature?

I imagine you’re thinking of some wonderful things. I imagine these are things you would like to have for yourself.

Scarlett O’Hara Morning Glory adorns a rusty chain link fence in my old flower garden, bringing life to a postage stamp plot of land. As low maintenance as it gets!

The question now arises…why do you not have a garden like the one that you’re imagining, or the ones you might envy on various editions of Fine Gardening magazine?

Is it because you are too busy? Are you on a tight budget? Are you not su

A weeping Norway spruce, Baptisia, Heuchera, Astilbe, and Columbine come together around a bird bath in employee Aaron Grabiak’s back garden.

re where to start? Are you skeptical of your soil or haunted by the presence of deer? Are you afraid the result will require a lot of maintenance?

Don’t let these deter you! I think if most people realized that a garden was easier to take care of and maintain, and that it could be done on a budget in small increments, and that there are plants that will tolerate most soils and critters, a lot more people would go beyond a few shrubs besieged with rock, and do it!

If you’re overwhelmed, don’t worry. Relax. We will help you! As you select plants at the nursery, we will help you with ideas and tips for FREE! Experience matters, and we have a lot of people who’ve been gardening for years here at the garden center. In order for us to be most helpful to you, please bring in some photos, a sketch of your yard, and some notes.

Make Your Garden A Destination

For a garden to live up to its full potential, you want to make your garden a place you yearn to be in. Imagine it as becoming an extension of your house, becoming another a room – or several – where you can be comfortable. Like your living room, you want the garden to be a place you naturally go to. Everyone decorates their home to be comfortable – so why are you skimping on the yard? If your outdoor space is a bother and a place you spend little time in, I’d say it’s time for you to reevaluate that! After all, your mortgage payments *include* your outdoor space so you’re paying for it. Make your yard worth your while!

A winding path in employee Jerry Stanczak’s garden is adorned with unique shade perennials and Japanese maples, drawing the wanderer further inward.

This applies to both the front and back areas of your landscape! Make the front an invitation to start conversations with the neighbors, while making the back a private oasis for you and your family.

Plant What You Like

What do you really like? What excites you? For me, I’m a sucker for flowers. My favorite gardens mimic prairies, meadows, and cottage gardens. Perennials, annuals and ornamental grasses are the workhorses in these gardens. Many others, such as fellow employee Frank Gribbin, are big into conifers, and as such, enjoy unique and varying evergreens as the bread and butter of the garden.

This patio, decorated with annual planters, becomes a destination with the presence of outdoor furniture.

Others may like a Zen themed garden, rich in Japanese maples, ferns, and other Japanese plants (minus the knotweed, right?). Others may choose to make strictly native plants the theme of their space, in effort to help our struggling, local biomes. (And if you know me, you’ll know I’m a big proponent of native plants – they should have a place in every garden). And with the right plants and design, you could even create a southwestern themed garden here in rainy, western Pennsylvania!

The possibilities are endless! But, I implore you, go beyond the common debauched meatball shrubs and the scalped lawns. We can help you rise above grocery store parking lot designs! Dream big and let’s see what we can do. Utilize our Plant Finder on our website for ideas on plants and come on in to see what we have in stock!

Where to Begin

To begin, I recommend reading the prior Plumline blog entries on landscaping and trees. These will help get you started.

My old flower garden in Greenfield, with morning glory, Zinnias, and annual sunflowers in peak season.

I will mention the contents briefly to you here.

First step: know your yard’s condition. If it’s a swamp, don’t plant cacti and succulents. If it’s dry as a bone under your oak tree or 8 inches to the house that is under the eaves, don’t try and nurse cattails. Planting to a location’s cultural conditions is the first step for low maintenance gardening.

Some of the shrub conifers we carry at the nursery.

Use variety. Don’t throw in 5 frumpy green and yellow shrubs, pile rock around them, and think that’s the end of yard work for time immemorial. Use variety! Plant a weeping tree. Plant some flowering perennials. Utilize some ornamental grasses. Site a vine somewhere.

But at the same time, don’t be hodgepodgy – instill some rhyme and reason to the landscape. Stand back and look at the big picture often. Too often people see their landscape in 4’x4’ increments; be sure to view your landscape as a whole. Layer your beds by planting larger/taller plants in back and smaller ones in front.

Start big. Plan your trees, shrubs, and larger grasses first. Give them the room they will need at mature size. Ideally, you should not need to regularly prune plants to keep them in check– that’s more maintenance anyway. Then fill in with your smaller plants.

Employee Jerry Stanczak’s garden is full of shade perennials and shrubs which thrive. A plant who’s cultural conditions are met is a happy and low maintenance plant.

Small Things Can Be Big Things

Sometimes it’s the small things that really make the icing on the cake. Lots of people have a red or silver maple in their yard. But adding a swing or hammock, a small picnic bench, or a simple annual bed of Coleus and Torrenia around it, will instantaneously make that tree a destination rather than a background.

Utilize Water Features

This front border at employee Aaron Grabiak’s home utilizes repetition with irises, which is easy on the eye.

One thing that really sets our display garden apart from many other outdoor spaces is the presence of a pond and stream. There is something that is simply alluring, refreshing, and meditative about being near a water source. Do you think you have room for a pond? If you aren’t keen on the idea of a pond, how about a water fountain? An ornate birdbath? Maybe a large undrained pot with dwarf, hardy water lilies? If you have a large outdoor space that drains poorly, perhaps you can try a rain garden. As Paula Dean’s secret ingredient for desserts is butter, a secret ingredient to a memorable landscape is a simple water source at the heart of it.\

A Step by Step Guide in Bringing Paradise to Life

I don’t know about you but I love lists. They make remembering things and executing them so much easier. Here is my list on transforming your yard into a garden.

1. Identify certain types of plants you like, as well as textures and colors. Some people find boxwood to be as classy as it gets. Others think its bland and basic. Everyone has their preferences. What kinds of things do you like? I encourage you to check the plants we usually carry on our website’s “Plant Finder.”

This section of Iseli Nursery’s display garden hosts a picnic table and a water feature.

2. Identify the cultural conditions in your yard. Are there wet areas? Is one side of the house brutally windy? Where is the soil compacted and crummy? Are there parts that are half shade and others where there is total shade? Do you use salt on your driveway that could affect nearby plants during the winter and early spring?

3. Divide your yard up into several areas and plan to work on completing one area at a time before moving onto the next ones. Or, another strategy: if you’re planting trees and large shrubs throughout the landscape, plant them first, and to fill in with smaller shrubs and perennials later on. Make a game plan so you are not overwhelmed all at once. It becomes easier to lose zeal when you’re overwhelmed!

A large koi and water lily pond, built in memory of Plumline founder Bill Tribou, is the centerpiece of Plumline Nursery’s display garden. Patio furniture to the right makes this spot a destination for visitors.

4. Take photos of your yard and make a sketch. Do this for yourself but also bring them in so we can help you. Take a look at my former Plumline blog post on “6 Useful Tips for Landscaping Your Yard This Year.”

5. Make your garden a destination. Plant wonderful plants but also utilize things that bring people together – benches or tables, maybe a firepit or a pergola, and

We specialize in bringing in a large variety of flowering perennials. You can learn about them on our websites Plant Finder.

definitely bring in some sort of water feature.

Most people spend good money on decorating and taking care of their homes. I’m inviting you to do the same with your outdoor space. This year, I challenge you to begin transforming your yard into a garden. Show us some before and after photos. We would love to see them!

A weeping Purple Fountain beech adorns owner Karen Tribou’s home. A pathway underneath invites the visitor into the garden.

Photos by Aaron Grabiak with Aaron Grabiak Garden Photography & Landscape Design, Plumline employee Jerry Stanczak, Proven Winners, and the author.