As you look at garden blogs, websites and magazines, you see lovely examples of front, side and backyards and you think - why can't my garden look like that?
Maybe your yard can't look like a magazine cover but you know your yard could look better. Much better. Where do you start?
Do the absolute, practical first step: Clean Up.
Is the backyard actually quite nice if it didn't have clutter and junk thrown all over? Get out there and sort it. Throw stuff out - take it to the dump or recycle if possible. Or if it's worth keeping, move it and store it in the garage or shed.
OK - now look again. Yes, it's cleaner but...
Are there areas that need repair? Is the fence sagging? Is the deck worn away in parts? Patio stones broken and out of place? Repair and replace hard structures because they are essential Bones of the Garden.
If you like the look of the garden and its layout, improve what you have.
Trim and prune bushes. If trees are awkward and overgrown, trimming is best left to tree specialists.
Check how different shrubs should be pruned. A basic rule of thumb is that if they bloom in the spring (say anytime up until early July) on old wood, DO NOT cut them back until after they have finished blooming or they will not flower this year. Some examples would be lilacs and forsythia.
Many shrubs benefit from having old dead branches cut out and cutting the other ones back by about one third. It's a rejuvenation process that really makes them healthier and they look better. Check on the web about how specific shrubs should be pruned. Each one is a bit different from the next.
Perennials may need dividing in the spring. Re-position them in other areas or donate them to the local horticultural society for its plant sale.
Plants in clay will love you (and show it!) if you add peat moss. Many plants benefit from a compost or manure dressing.
Many borders look so much better if edged. It gives them definition from the surrounding grass and the look neat, tidy and sharp. All it takes is a crescent-shaped edging shovel and bit of physical effort.
Mulch is one more quick way to make a bed looked groomed and neat. Choose from shredded cedar, pine or cypress. These mulches are durable, look good and smell great. I wouldn't advise using wood chips (they smother plants), cocoa bean hulls (they are toxic to pets) or straw (contains weed seeds.)
A common mistake I see in front yard do-it-yourself landscaping is making the beds around the house small and narrow. Remember this rule of thumb: if a bed is close to the house, the bed should be as wide as half the height of the house. Then things will look well-proportioned and balanced. They should echo bay windows, etc and be shaped in soft, gentle curves.
So you stand in the back and look out (or go up to the second floor and look over and out) -
The garden looks OK but something seems to be missing:
A Focal Point! Small gardens should have a good strong focal point whereas a large garden should have several. They can be a plant or a hard structure. But the eye wants to focus on a specific point and then gently move around the rest of the area.
Here are some examples of good focal points:
When planting, keep these hints in mind:
Try to stick to 3-4 basic colours throughout the garden - it gives a sense of unity. When planting, plant in groups of the same plant and (almost) always in odd numbers: 3,5, 7 or more of the SAME PLANT. This may sound boring but again it achieves a good sense of balance and unity.
Check the web and books for examples of three season colour in the garden. Certain plants are great for this: The Serviceberry has lovely white flowers in the spring, red berries in the summer and gorgeous orange/red foliage in the fall. Some plants have terrific peeling bark (River Birch) or colourful branches (Cornus alba 'Elegantissima').
If budget is a concern, planters and containers make excellent focal points - with or without plants in them!
Work with what you have, improve what you have, add a few new points of interest, keep the yard tidy and clean. You will find it's a pleasure to be out there on a warm day.
(If I'm not mistaken, there's only 42 days until......................SPRING!!!!!!!)