A Plan for Garden Greatness

With proper care the front garden of a Hill condo can become a lush welcome mat.

The holidays are quickly becoming a memory. The uninvited north wind seems to be making itself quite at home, and our gardens are, with few exceptions, very dormant. This is the perfect time of year to plan for what your garden will need this spring. Ask frank questions of yourself and your relationship to your garden. What would you like to have your garden become? What needs to be changed, added, or deleted? What worked, or did not, and why?

Many of the reasons that our city gardens thrive, or fail, come down to simple yet real facts that every gardener must consider. Three of these are environment, space, and time. We city gardeners have to accept our limitations. We need to consider the issues that confront us when planning for garden greatness.


City gardens may need to withstand the feet of many passersby. Planting delicate flowers in the tree box in front of your home is beautiful, yet everyone will not be as caring of your handiwork as you. Planting a border of Liriope can be just as beautiful and can withstand the foot traffic that our two- and four-legged neighbors can inflict. Many gardeners have installed fencing to help protect tree-box plantings. However, you should be mindful that your fencing does not create a hazard to pedestrians. Many DC gardeners install fencing for their front yards. This is a good idea and will go a long way to protect your plants. Another consideration is the postal worker. If your mail carrier has been using a shortcut to navigate your garden, consider that when planning a redesign. Perhaps you can lay a walkway in flagstone or place a design element with steps to the garden and give a proper place for your mail carrier to pass.


Find out which direction your house faces. If you are doing a front-yard garden and you have a southern exposure with no trees to add shade, do not plant hosta and expect picturebook results. Plants need the proper environment. If your favorite plant is not performing in your front yard, and you have the soil properly prepared, perhaps the exposure is wrong. Consult with your landscaper or garden center pro before installing the plants. The most important thing is to learn from past mistakes. If a certain plant has not done well and was purchased from a reputable source, improper exposure may have contributed to your failure.

Lush landscapes like this need lots of personal attention.  


The most important thing to consider is the space you are working with. If your front garden is 8 by 10 feet, using an arbor, statue, or fountain designed for a country estate will not work. If you have trouble with the design phase, be realistic. One of the reasons small gardens fail is that the designer (homeowner) tries to fit one of everything into the space. Repetition is a basic law in landscape design. Perhaps the second most common failing is in not considering the plants that are installed and their mature size. A good design should look good when installed, yet should also take in consideration that the landscape will truly be mature in about ten years. Find out what size that “cute” tree matures at, and reconsider if the tree or shrubs you want to install will some day be 60 feet tall.


The gardens that look well maintained look that way because they are. Be realistic about how much time you have to devote to the project. Many homeowners turn the actual maintenance over to a professional. There are many firms that can design and maintain a garden for you. That by no means indicates that the garden is no longer yours. You are the one who decides how much involvement your schedule allows. For an 8 by 10 foot garden you should be able to dedicate at least two hours per week for necessary maintenance. If using a professional company, budget for two visits per month. The costs can vary, but this is an investment and you usually will get what you pay for. Do a little interviewing of the potential gardener or landscaper. They should be able to answer your questions and devise a plan for your needs.


Put together a checklist of what is important to you. Prioritize the list and then move it into action. This can be the most important phase of achieving garden greatness. Many resources are available to you during this phase. Perhaps most important, be willing to make, and learn from, mistakes. The quest for garden greatness is ongoing, and the best gardens this summer will begin with planning right now.

Derek Thomas is principal of Thomas Landscapes. His garden designs have been featured on HGTV’s Curb Appeal and Get It Sold. His weekly garden segment can be seen on WTTG/Fox 5 in Washington. You can reach him at www.thomaslandscapes.com or 301-642-5182. You can find and friend us on Facebook at Facebook/Thomas Landscapes. Follow us on Twitter @ThomasGardenGuy For Great Garden Tips.

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