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

    We LOVE hydrangeas – easy to care for, beautiful, and work so awesome for cutting to bring inside. A great filler for those glass vases you’ve got in your bathroom :)

  2. says

    We just dug up a bunch of daylillies that were here when we moved in and planted sunflower seeds. We passed the daylillies (which we have tons of!) to firends and family. We have hydrangeas also – they bloom in a beautiful shade of blue.

    We are tackiling out front garden this year as well. Keeping some stuff and pulling some out completely. I was never a gardening person but I really love it.

    Have you considered some type of veggies for over by the raib barrel? We did tomato last year and they were delish. Nothing better than eating your own grown food!

    • says

      We would love to do a veggie garden- although it feels like time is against us since things should already be in the ground. We do have some herb seedlings planted since we know Clara will love to see them sprout up, and maybe next year we can add some raised beds in a sunnier spot (it’s pretty shady over next to the rain barrel).


  3. says

    When we finally buy our own house I plan on planting some Hydrangea and Pieris japonica ‘Scarlett O’Hara’. We used white and green hydrangea as one of our wedding flowers and I just love the big flower balls on each plant. I think I may try to do white and blue. I also love ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ plants they have these little branches of tiny bell flowers that are so pretty. Lastly, I want to have a vegetable garden. We had one at my parent’s house when I was little and I loved it. We grew green beans, tomatoes, yellow squash, and we even tried broccoli and corn one year.

  4. Natasha says

    Looks great! Now I can’t wait to get outside and start sprucing up the yard. Unfortunately I’ll have to wait another month or two since there is still snow here. (Newfoundland, Canada)

  5. says

    I’m getting such a kick out of Clara! I wish there were blogs when my kids were little so I could remember all the cute stuff they did. Love hydrangeas, but I doubt if they grow here in Montana, so I bought a potted one at the grocery store to keep inside. Hope I don’t kill it! The yard looks great!

  6. says

    It’s difficult for me to find plants that do well in our Texas heat/drought. Like ferns..I’d love more ferns, but can’t do them outside. Or dogwoods. I’ve had luck with iris and canna lilies..I don’t feed or water them, and they grow like crazy. So I just leave them be.

    I have two rain barrels. One I spray painted a color similar to my brick (sort of taupe-ish) so it would blend a little better. Then I wrapped the barrel in weather-resistant lattice that the previous owners left in the garage. I planted four honeysuckles around it (two of which survived) and then as it grew, wove the vines through the lattice. You can’t even tell there’s a barrel there now. :)

  7. says

    Looks really lovely. I’m big on hydrangeas too. What are your thoughts on adding a rug to the patio/deck? I’m kinda debating about it on our deck. It sure looks good in all those magazines but I am worried how hard it would be to maintain. Don’t want to spend money on something that would end up being a hassle to maintain.

    • says

      We thought about adding one to our patio but didn’t want to cover those pretty cobblestones we lovingly laid! Haha. But if you have a patio or porch that you think could use some warming up, it’s definitely a nice way to create an outdoor zone. I think they’re meant to be outside so hopefully it’ll hold up! Anyone have any experience with them?


    • Cheryl says

      We have an outdoor rug on our deck that we got at Costco. We’ve had it 2 or 3 years and it still looks great. It probably helps that it is on a deck and there for rain/moisture can drain and it dries faster. Not sure how it would do on a more solid surface, but it is great to step out on bare feet and not worry about pesky splinters. Hope this helps.

  8. says

    I love hydrangeas! They are so pretty! Our yard is definitely in bloom! And we have some beautiful hot pink, white and purple azaleas blooming, but they are hidden in the back yard! We want to either transplant them, or get a few matching ones for the front.

  9. says

    I so need to get some kind of rain barrel this year!

    We had to pay heaps of extra money for water as the last summer was very dry for a very long time (and then very wet, but also for weeks) and I had to water all the very thirsty plants out on my balcony. I just don’t know where to put it and how to fill it – there’s no rain spout on our balcony. Need to do some research.

  10. Kristen says

    MUCH better! What a huge improvement against the pre-patio days (fence, patio, plants – wahoo!).

    I hope you will reconsider using nandina, though. They are beautiful and have great four season interest, but they are incredibly invasive and crowd out natural plants. Even though you may keep them under control in your yard, you have no control over where the seeds end up!

    • says

      Thanks for the tip Kristen! We did learn from Katherine that we should just pluck up any small offshoots or sprouts before they get too big. And keeping the area mulched should help contain them. Here’s hoping. Of course we’ll transplant them again if they give us trouble!


    • VickiP says

      The patio does look wonderful! I would like to second the tip about Nandina, though. Although it may behave in your landscape, it can be a nasty invasive exotic plant to surrounding forests, especially in the South. You guys are so cutting edge on being Eco-Friendly in your home – you may want to contact your local extension agent and check out the plants that are a threat in your area to continue your practices outside, too!

    • says

      Thanks VickiP! We have heard the tip about contacting our extension office and definitely plan to work some native plants in but had never thought about learning which plants are a threat in our area. Good to know!


    • Elayne says

      Yes — this really looks lovely!

      We too have a southern ranch home and are slowly renovating the 1950s landscaping. Our extension office said that the biggest environmental threat from nandina comes from the dispersal of seeds across a wide range by birds and other wildlife. So, the problem is not so much the potential for the plants to spread within our yard, but rather the potential for our plants to provide seeds that then are carried into other people’s yards and into natural areas. If you visit our state parks you can see these plants crowding out the native vegetation. Nandina is beautiful, though, so if you like the look but they are invasive in your area please consider removing the berries or planting one of the sterile varieties sold at nurseries and garden centers. We are further south than you (zone 8), but wanted to pass this information along in case someone might find it helpful!

  11. says

    Looks SO nice. What type of tree is that flowering one you have? It’s very pretty!

    I planted 2 blueberry bushes last night, and last fall I planted about 150 bulbs of many different types of flowers, and it’s been SO fun this spring watching them all come up!

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