Harmony in the Garden Blog

Transforming awkward spaces in the garden

I’ve spent the past two years working in my new garden.  And by working, I mean killing myself trying to fix one awkward space after another.

I’ve finally got the upper hand on things (sort of) and just as soon as I can, I’ll share some pics with you.

Above is a teaser of the first bed in my garden that I transformed.  I barely had my things out of the moving truck before I jumped in and tackled this bed.

In the meantime, I thought I’d show a few before-and-after transformations in my clients’ gardens that I’ve recently revisited.

Adios Agapanthus Island

awkward space transformations-northern california-garden design

Surrounding this beautiful historic home in Palo Alto was a serene garden consisting of perimeter garden beds that surrounded the lawn and pool.

In the center of the lawn, however, was a giant island of common Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus africanus).  I mean GIANT.

Oh, how I wish I could find the before pic, showing the overcrowded agapanthus, but alas it’s completely vanished.  All I have to show is the day after we ripped them all out (above).

For those of you living on the east coast, I apologize.

I know removing huge clumps of treasured agapanthus seems like a travesty.  But here on the west coast, they’re pretty darn common, they multiply like crazy, and before you know it, they’ve outgrown their space – as was the case here.

Not only did they take up a considerable part of the garden, but you should see how unattractive agapanthus are in the winter when their foliage dies down to slimy clumps.  Ick.

Definitely not something you want as the main focal point of the garden!  So out they went!  Now what?

Seeing as there already existed plenty of lawn, there was no need to add more.  The homeowners both have full-time careers, and currently, have plenty in the garden to maintain, so they wanted something low to no-maintenance (emphasis on the ‘no’).

The solution was to extend the existing entertainment area by replacing the agapanthus island with pea gravel, a gas firepit, and plenty of casual seating.

We needed to delineate the new firepit area from the lawn, so in keeping with the semi-formal style of the existing garden, we separated the two spaces with Westringea ‘Gray Box’.

Westringea ‘Gray Box’ is one of my favorite boxwood substitutions as it’s also evergreen and maintains a tidy and compact shape.

However, it has the bonus of also being low-water with teeny little flowers in the spring and summer and, it won’t be killed by boxwood blight.

In the surrounding beds, we added white ‘Iceberg’ roses, ‘Meerlo’ lavender, and ‘Golf Ball’ pittosporum.  This variety of pittosporum is another boxwood substitute, naturally growing somewhat rounded in shape with a lovely olive-green color.

Skinny Lawn = Dry River Bed

With a garden on top of a knoll, a view to die for, and all the privacy one could want, it was a shame to have a ho-hum lawn as the centerpiece of the space.

But with grandchildren on the way, we needed to keep a certain amount of lawn in the garden.

Take a look at the before pic (above), and you’ll notice a broken-down, old boardwalk as the main transportation from one end of the lawn to the other.  And should you step off the edge of the boardwalk, you’d twist an ankle for sure due to the 8” drop-off and steep slope.

This wouldn’t do at all!

So, keeping the main lawn intact, we decided to remove old wooden boardwalk and the useless skinny strip of lawn that ran along its far side.

In its place, we created a dry creek bed which was functional in the winter, helping to divert the rain’s copious runoff.

We used natural flagstones as stepping stones to get from the lawn to the hot tub and garden area.

While I normally love burgundy-colored plants, I felt like the ones surrounding the hot tub were too severe in this setting.

I didn’t think they blended with the surrounding hillside in terms of colors and mounding shapes.

We replaced the dark Hopseed shrubs (Dodonea purpurea) that surrounded the hot tub with shrubs that were mounded in shape, in shades of green and chartreuse.

Included in the garden are lots of yellow-flowered Bulbine frutescens, Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’, Euphorbia, Grevillea, various grasses, and the upright punctuation of Flax (Phormium).

And best of all, kitty has lots of new places to hide and hunt lizards.

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