Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens

Home Garden Makeover

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Usually I don’t share personal stories on the Arboretum blog, but thought you might be inspired by this small garden makeover.  Do you remember when I shared with you our Shade Garden makeover in September?  To read more about that fun project, click here: https://cedarvalleyarboretum.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/shade-garden-remodel-%E2%80%93-come-and-see-all-the-improvements/.  After that post, I had many folks want to know how they could create the same inviting space at their own homes – two of them being my mom and dad!

(Arboretum Shade Garden late this summer.)

Shade gardens are one of my favorite spaces to work on.  The trees overhead bring such a nice sense of scale to the garden – kind of like a blanket wrapping around you as you walk through the garden.  I am also a very big fan of hosta, with their wide variety of color, size and form.

My parent’s front yard was in desperate need of a makeover, so it didn’t take much arm twisting on my end to jump in and help.


(Front yard before the makeover.  A row of yews are planted along the foundation with hostas in front.  The area is so shady that little to no grass will grow under the river birch tree.)

The photo on the right shows how bad the lawn really is up close – the space is so shaded that they just can’t get any grass to grow (and they have tried many times)!  In addition to a lackluster lawn, the space needed some curb appeal – needed some color and texture to create a more inviting entry.


Once we were all on board with creating a front yard shade garden, I went about amending the soil.  Since there was practically no grass growing in the desired space, I first went in and turned over the soil with a small tiller.  The soil in this space was VERY bad (a dense, sandy soil with no organic material), so we hauled in three truckloads of compost to spread over the space at about 2 inches thick.

Originally, we were going to order topsoil from a local company but they were unable to deliver due to rain earlier in the week.  Because we were already committed to the project (and just plain stubborn), we forged ahead and went to the local landfill to pick up three truckloads of compost.  (Compost like this can be risky to use because you don’t know if it carries diseases, etc.   I knew it was good compost because I have used it before at the Arboretum on a project.)  Compost was $5.00 a truckload.

Note:  If you wanted to create a new garden at your home where there is currently lawn, you could spray the space with a grass killer (can be found at any garden center).   You could also cut the grass out with a sod cutter or by hand with a spade (by hand is not as fun, but certainly a good workout!).   A third option is to prep the flowerbeds during the fall and wait to plant until spring – perfect option for right now!  Simply cover the space with a thick layer of newspaper and water down.  On top of the newspaper, add a thick layer of mulched leaves and soak again.  By next spring, the grass will have died and the material on top will have started to decompose.  Simply till your new flowerbed to incorporate all that wonderful organic material.

Starting a new garden with organic-rich soil is the most important step of garden makeover.  If you aren’t going to provide the nutrients needed to encourage lush, healthy plant material, why even spend all that money on the plants?

Did you notice the defined edge of the flowerbed shown on the photo on the right?  I try to never use fabricated edging in my gardens and instead just cut a line in with a flat spade.


Once the flowerbed was amended, we divided and replanted the hostas my parents already had along the foundation.  I should mention that in general, October is a little late for dividing hostas – August or September would have been better.  But since this is the time we had available and my parents weren’t emotionally attached to the hostas (they aren’t going to cry if some die next spring!) so we decided to go for it.  Hostas, especially the hardy varieties we were working with, are very forgiving and I rarely have troubles with dividing this late in the season.

After dividing, we had probably 30 hostas – half of the basic green and half of the basic white variegated.  We then planted the hostas  together in several large sections to provide a consistency throughout the space  — these basic hosta will act as our filler to tie all aspects of the garden together.   You can see in the photo on the left that the three sections of hostas are spread out in the shape of a triangle.

I always love starting new garden in the fall because plant material is SO CHEAP in the garden centers.  I ran out to the big box stores before we started and found beautiful, well-established dark red coral bell for 83 CENTS EACH – at that price I felt like I was stealing them!  I also grabbed some $1.00 fens and 6-packs of pachysandra groundcover.  We planted the coral bells and ferns in large sections and the pachysandra around the tree base where the large roots wouldn’t allow large planting holes for hostas, etc.

The photo on the right shows the full garden with plant material circling out around the river birch.  There is still a lot of area that needs plant material that we covered with mulched leaves for now to stop washout.  Next spring, we will plant some more interesting varieties of hosta as well as pockets of annuals like coleus and impatiens to add a pop of color.

I hope this little garden makeover inspired you!  Have a garden question you’d like to see answered?  Just send me an email at director@cedarvalleyarboretum.org.


See you in the gardens.





Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

October 21, 2011 at 6:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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