Patio Problems: Let’s Plant Something!

It looked sweet when we finished it last year, especially if you ignored the fact that we had lots of landscaping stuff to attend to behind it. But these days it’s looking more like this:

That’s a whole lotta ugly going on.

The patio itself still looks great (and is weed free thanks to this step, while our un-polymeric-sanded cobblestone driveway is covered with them), but the “garden” area behind the patio has never looked worse.

We even learned from the Katherine (the certified landscape designer who recently came over) that some of the trees were diseased and dying (which we actually heard from the previous owners as well but didn’t want to believe) along with a big rhododendron bush that was completely dead. Bummers.

So she told us what to prune back, what to keep, and what dead or diseased things we should remove to give the living things a better shot at survival – and make the whole area look a lot less… well, ugly.

So first we removed the two diseased trees that were on their last leg (sniffle) and the completely dead rhododendron. Then we raked up all the leaves so we could actually see the ground again.

It was definitely a huge immediate upgrade. In person the open-ness is really nice. Things were sort of encroaching on the patio a lot when it was all overgrown back there, so now when you walk onto the patio you feel less crowded and worried you’ll get a stick in the eye.

But we still had some liriope to remove and a whole lot of bare spots that needed some planting (I’ve been meaning to paint our rain barrel to blend him in a bit more, but who knows how long it’ll take me to get on that…).

The next step was digging out all the random clumps of liriope to make way for some more intentional looking plantings.

So here’s the area behind the tree that we cleared to make way for some free bushes.

How does one get free bushes?  Well, by transplanting them of course. Yup, it was another suggestion from Katherine The Landscape Gal. She pointed out these were much too big and on top of each other over here…

… so we dug them up…

… and planted the three nandina bushes in a group with the one that was already there next to our giant hydrangeas in the corner. Since one happy little nandina bush was already on this side of the garden, we knew they’d do well over here. And a clump of the same type of plant always looks nicer than just one of ten different things hanging out all willy nilly together. Ideally we would have transplanted four of them to end up with a grouping of five since odd numbers seem to work well in gardening, but we were working with what we have. Thankfully they look nice in their little pack and will continue to fill in a bit more.

Then we grabbed three new hydrangea bushes from a local nursery (after some price checking, a place called Great Big Greenhouse had the best deal and also offered a year warranty on them). They’re the exact same variety as the ones we already have in the corner – which are doing gangbusters, so we hope these guys will grow nice and big and bloom just as well.

Of course only time will tell, but we’ll keep you posted. Here’s everything all dug in before we mulched the whole bed (which looks awesome by the way- just forgot to snap photos so we’ll have to share those in our next landscaping update).

Between all the rain we’re getting (and the rain barrel that’s nice and full from previous storms which comes in handy for stretches of dryness), we’re making sure these guys don’t give up on us. Oh and in Clara news, she especially loves talking about worms since digging our new plants in prompted us to discover a few (she even said she had a dream about worms the next night).

Sure we still have the corner by the rain barrel to attend to, but we have plans for that. So we’ll get there, someday! It’s definitely a nice discernible difference from the mess we were working with a week ago. There’s something really rewarding about landscaping work, although it’s bound to get you dirty and sweaty, just due to the fact that it’s such an obvious before and after. Something pretty and green can be found where there were only leaves and weeds the day before.

And the whole area is looking especially cheerful with the trees in bloom too.

Here are things from the other side (yup, Clara really did make it her job to be in every pic). This shows a few places we still have to work on (the bed near the house could use some smaller-scale greenery and of course we have the whole corner with the rain barrel to tackle)…

… but it’s definitely a lot easier on the eyes than this debacle.

It’s so crazy to me that the shot above was only taken about a week before the after pic on top of it (see all the buds on the trees that were about to bloom?).

Now they’re doing their thing. So pretty.

Here’s another before…

… and after.

And another. I can’t help it.

Ahh, much better.

I really wish I had snapped mulch pictures because it’s even better looking. Oh well, at least the mulch is holding it down and keeping weeds out and moisture in. Yay mulch. Update: Couldn’t resist sharing a Mulched & Fabulous pic, so I ran out and got this for ya:

It’s definitely a far cry from the view before:

This next picture is my favorite of the entire lot because I said “Clara, you’re in mommy’s picture!” and she squatted and closed her eyes and said “Where’s Clara” as if she were invisible.

Which must run in the family, because it’s exactly what her daddy did here.

What can I say? The girl has good hiding genes.

What are you guys planting? Do you have any favorites? I never thought I’d be buying hydrangeas since they always seemed to be out of my skill level (how can something that pretty not be super high maintenance?) but after 15 months of not killing the existing hydrangeas (which get bigger and more gorgeous each spring) we decided to go for it. And nandina is always a really easy one for us (we had that at our last house and it always did well), so here’s hoping I didn’t just jinx myself. Anyway, I’d love to hear what action is going on outside in the garden or on the porch or wherever else you get your plant on.


  1. says

    Does liriope multiply? I wonder if the previous owners just got an entire truck load delivered.. because you have the stuff everywhere!

    Our hydrangeas have gotten huuuuuuge in the 6 years we’ve been in the house. I have to aggressively cut them back every year and they keep coming back for more.

    • says

      Yes, it spreads by thickness every year! We have approximately five million tons of the stuff. Haha. And so happy to hear your hydrangeas are such strong bloomers. That’s awesome!


    • says

      Stef – I have to do the same thing with my hydrangea! Everyone I told I was cutting it back gasped so big, I thought I was going to be sucked in. I’m so glad to hear that someone else *has* to cut theirs back. We just about lost half of our front porch the first summer we were in our house. Have you tried starting any of your cuttings for other places? I tried but it didn’t work, so I’m looking for a regular person who has had luck with it :)

    • says

      Amy – I didn’t even know you can root off the cuttings! I may try it out now. I’m veggie gardening pro but pretty lousy with flowers/landscaping. I just hack the hydrangea back every year for fear of it eating our deck. I’ll try a cutting and report back on your blog if it goes well!

  2. says

    It is nice to see your garden taking shape! I am a big fan of Nandina (very nice winter interest with the berries and reddish leaves). I also like hydrangeas. It looks like you got the endless summer variety. I have a couple of those and quite like them, since it lengths the bloom cycle. Don’t be afraid to trim the hydrangeas back either, since they can get overly large if left untamed. I recommend trimming them in the fall. Trim back the branches that had flowers on them, since they won’t flower again on that branch (the newer branches without flowers will typically bloom the following year). They also work so well in vases that I take advantage of that and do my a fair amount of my “trimming” while they are in bloom. Here is what is blooming up here in my garden in PA:

  3. says

    It looks fantastic! It gives me hope for our nasty looking yard (that needs to be completely dug up due to dead/dying plants and a lot of unwanted ivy).

  4. says

    Hahaha. I love the “I can’t see you so you obviously can’t see me” thought process. It’s like the kid who always hides facing the corner. Um… hey buddy.
    We have a hydrangea at our house that I can’t wait to see bloom. We moved in last June, so I never got to see what color the flowers are. So oddly excited!

  5. says

    HAHAHAHAH! So cute! I love the Ninja skills. I love your back yard! Mine is huge dog poop filled grassland. Someday! I am also so jelly of your dogwood! Mine just died, and yes, I cried a little.

  6. Emily says

    When we bought our house, we swear (and so do the neighbors) that the previous homeowner did NOTHING on the yard for years! So we’re still taking back the yard from the wisteria, vines, and other overgrowth. Wisteria is lovely, don’t get me wrong, but it chokes trees to death and spreads like the plague.

    My husband and I are pretty good at ripping the ugly out…but we stall on putting new stuff in. Oops! Looks like I need to start stalking Groupon and Living Social for a landscape designer :)

  7. says

    It looks so tidy now! All of your before pictures look similar to our yard but our’s is 10x worse. It’s overwhelming! We are having a company come out next week to give us a quote to remove some large, dead trees and I’m scared to find out how much it’s going to cost us! (But I suppose not as scared as I’d be to pay for the repairs if one should fall on our house!)

    We finally finished our kitchen ( and now moving onto the next project – the yard. If only it were as simple as planting a money tree to pay for all the un-DIY-able jobs!

  8. Jeanne says

    You guys are the masters of making small tweaks and having that make a huge difference! Wow, what a change!

  9. says

    I was so worried when I read the title – I was all like, “Oh no! Not the pretty patio!”

    Those garden beds look great in the after shots, and the mulch makes it even better.

    It’s autumn over here now and the rain’s finally started (more than a month in), so I’m looking forward to having green lawn again. I’m thinking I should put something down on it like water saving crystals for when summer hits again though, to try and help reduce water usage next summer. Must look into that!

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