Across the Fence

with Ann Brooke

Category Archives: City Gardens

Steal this stuff (or, what the neighbors know)

Well, maybe just steal the ideas. One of the best ways to think about how to design your outdoor space is to walk the neighborhood and see what other people have done that works. There are two aspects to this.

1. Layout and materials: How do you fit a lot into a small space without it feeling cramped? What sort of furniture works best in a small space? What kinds of materials look best (stone or pavers? solid wood fences or lattice?)

2. Plants: If you aren’t a  gardener, choosing plants can be pretty daunting. Something that looks good in the Garden Center may be very unhappy when it gets to your house and doesn’t have enough sun. This is where your neighbors can really help. Look around and see what looks healthy and is growing strongly – and what looks sad, yellowish, weedy and miserable.

It’s easy to see front yards, but backyards are a bit trickier. Use any opportunity to get a look behind houses that look as though they have been landscaped. Friends are an obvious start. Real estate open houses are another. Compliments are a possibility (“I love your front garden – any ideas about how I might think about my backyard?”).

And, of course, there’s always Houzz and Pinterest.

The three best things you can do in the garden with $500

blank slateNeed to do something about your outdoor space but can’t really afford it just yet? Choose one of these projects that are small and easy but have a great impact.

1. Clean up. Like closets, outdoor spaces accumulate clutter like a magnet. Throw away anything broken or seldom used. Have someone haul the uncomfortable furniture you inherited with the house to the dump. Sweep up dirt and fallen leaves. Then buy an outdoor storage unit and stash the stuff you want to keep. Here’s an example » 

2. Plant a tree. Trees are terrific value for money. For less than $500 you can buy a tree that is already as much as 8’ high, and that will provide a focal point for the garden. I favor flowering trees, like crabapples. There’s a suitable kind for any space, and they are spectacularly beautiful when they flower in Spring. Here’s one of many possibilities » 

3. Splurge on one or two really gorgeous planters and fill them with color. Planters are a great way to get instant gratification without wasting money on something you’ll never use again. The choice is endless, so don’t settle for the standard clay or plastic pots available everywhere. Go online to see your options. Choose large planters. The smaller the space, the more you need to make a bold statement. Fill them with whatever plants you find in the garden shop that take your fancy. Be daring – and cram them in to give a spectacular display. Here’s a good place to start »