Getting A Consultation From A Certified Landscape Designer

Who watches Jersey Shore? Remember when they went camping and Deena stood on that picnic bench and said “the wilderness!”? For some reason it made me laugh. I’m from Jersey though, so it might be a you-had-to-be-there you-have-to-be-from-there thing. Anyway, we mentioned that we had lots of outdoor upgrades on the agenda this spring, so let’s get into it, shall we? Remember how our yard looked like this when we bought the house?


And then we limbed up the magnolia and transplanted/removed a lot of the bushes and painted the front door, to get it looking more like this?


Well, it has definitely come a long way, but it’s still a far (far!) cry from where we’d like it to be (to the point that we apologize to our neighbors way too often for weedy patches of dirt in the middle of the yard and dead flowers by the mailbox, etc). So when a deal came up on Living Social for a one hour consultation with a certified landscape designer named Katherine Brooks for $60 (instead of $125) we went for it.

It might sound weird for two people who are crazy about doing things themselves to pay sixty beans to a landscape expert, but we’re black thumbs. So someone who knows all about what to plant (or transplant) where, and can plant ideas (see what I did there? it’s a landscaping pun) that we’d never come to on our own accord definitely has value to us. For example, about five minutes into our consultation with Katherine (who was very nice by the way), she mentioned that we’ll never get any grass to grow under the giant circle beneath our limbed up magnolia because the roots are so shallow they crowd out grass. We had actually planned to seed that area in the spring and the fall and hope for the best, so she easily saved us sixty bucks worth of grass seed and water and a whole lot of time and frustration while offering up a nice alternative solution (more on that in a sec).

She also tossed out a list of plants that she thought would do best in certain areas of our yard, and a bunch of suggestions about what we could transplant (you know we love working with what we have), general sustainable landscaping tips for our area, how we could reconfigure our garden beds (she even brought one of those sprayer things to mark off the grass), and identified lots of existing greenery for us (knowing what something’s called means we could google how to care for it or transplant it). So we’d say it was money well spent – and you know we’re cheap, haha. When she backed out of the driveway we already had a four page plan scribbled down in a notebook. Here are just some of her suggestions:

  • seed the yard asap in many of the bare spots that remain from digging up bushes last fall
  • plant a few american holly trees and sweet bay magnolia tress in the back to add privacy
  • hosta, coleus, kimberly fern, or small boxwoods would do well in the empty planters on our porch
  • get the ivy off all of the large oak trees in the back yard (slowly over time it can hurt them and we don’t want that)
  • transplant the periwinkle (a lush green groundcover that we have growing everywhere)…

…. around the base of the magnolia since it’s one of the only things that can grow there and hide that circle of dirt…

  • transplant/remove the ailing boxwoods and azaleas crowding the path to the front door and replace them with more appropriately sized perennials that won’t encroach as much

  • plant a bunch of things around the house’s foundation (there’s waaaay too much bare dirt and brick on either side of the porch) – she gave us a list of specific plants that would do well in those lighting conditions and that amount of space
  • dig up the odd rectangle of brick that was laid right next to the driveway in the planting bed under the window, so the landscaping can look more balanced
  • plant ground cover around the mailbox (we did our best with flowers there and it always eventually grew to look unkempt, so groundcover is a more realistic option for not-always-on-it-landscapers like us)
  • plant trees on the side of our lot so it looks less like a weird gully full of nothing (she gave us a list of trees that would love that area, like dogwoods, redbuds, river birches, and even a few weeping willows)

  • transplant a few bushes on one side of the patio to the other side of the patio so they no longer crowd the path
  • plant more hydrangeas in our patio garden (we have three very happy ones there, so adding more to the completely bare side of the garden will bring balance and color)
  • cut down two diseased trees and one completely dead rhododendron bush next to the patio
  • remove the giant euonymus vines on the oak tree next to our patio (we originally heard from an arborist who said it was ok, but they have gotten even bigger and heavier and after hurricane Irene we realized it could have been trouble, so when she said they should be removed we took note)

  • sell all the cobblestones we already removed (and plan to remove around the plantings in the back) – apparently you can get a few bucks a pop and they make it so hard to mow around plant beds
  • cut back the ornamental grasses on the side yard and the butterfly bushes in the back yard (March is apparently the time to do that every year)
  • plant aucuba on the left side of our house (there are no plants next to the house on that entire side – just a dirt planting bed with nothing but weeds)
  • and at least ten other things that are too complicated to mention until we tackle them

So yeah… it’s quite a list. But we knew from our first house‘s slooooow curb appeal makeover (we worked on that baby for 4.5 years) that these things take time. And to keep them from feeling too overwhelmed, it’s best to take it one day (and one project) at a time. So one of the first things on our list was to get some plants for around the house’s foundation. Because garden beds full of nothing but dirt (and the occasional weed) isn’t a good look. We actually purchased a Living Social deal for a local nursery last fall, so we had $80 to spend before it expired in three days (we spent $40 for the deal). So we ran over with a list of plants-that-will-hopefully-live from Katherine, and picked our favorites.

We had a hilarious conversation in the car. Well, it wasn’t funny until the drive home. But on the way there we were saying “I hope we have room for all the plants we’ll get with our $80! We had taken the stroller out of the trunk and everything, just to make room. Then we got there and realized that nearly all the bushes were $25-50 a pop. So yeah… we left with two bushes. And they easily fit in the car. And we snickered because we envisioned the car full of lush plants as far as the eye could see… but plants are expensive. Haha. Here’s what we came home with. It’s hard to tell the scale from this picture, but they’re each around two feet wide, which is nice. They’ll still grow a few feet larger over time, but sometimes when you buy the cheap tiny things it takes years for them to even get two feet wide.

They’re otto luyken laurels, which came highly recommended by Katherine as a few of the bigger foundation shrubs we could add (she gave us info about how to space them and how far away from each other to plant them, etc). Thankfully these guys are guaranteed for a year, so if they give up the ghost we can get a credit towards something else. But we have no intention of letting them die (its been raining like crazy lately, which is hopefully helping them to settle in nicely).

As for where we planted them, we’re just starting on the garden beds to the left and the right of the porch (which clearly have a long way to go). So one got a nice roomy spot on the left…

… and the other scored some prime real estate on the right.

So when those garden beds come along a bit more (they each need at least five more plants) we’ll share all the before and after pics. We have a lot to clear out, including a big rectangle of bricks laid to create some sort of hose platform to the right of the bush above. Sounds like a sledgehammer job for Super $herdog. What are you guys doing outside these days? Any new plants or flowers going on?


  1. says

    Oh, Jersey Shore. Joe hates when I watch it so I have to be real sneaky and watch it online!

    This seems like money well spent! We don’t have to worry about any landscaping yet (perks of renting I suppose) but we do need to figure out the garden in the back-backyard. The soil needs to be replaced and I feel like we should till. I’ve called in my aunt (she loves gardening) so I’m hoping to get things started in the near future!

  2. Shaye says

    We’ve been going crazy in our yard. We lost a 70+ year old oak a few years ago, and a lot of the fire wood has been sitting on either side of our shed. We decided (ok, Pinterest decided) that our shed wanted to become a garden cottage, so we’re moving all the wood and putting in cottage gardens on either side. Hard work, but looks so much prettier already!

  3. Kate says

    My middle name is black thumb. Every year I say the garden is going to look great, and then I just “never get around to it.” Now, I am feeling awfully lazy based on that list of yours!!

  4. says

    Mulch, mulch, mulch! I am going crazy with the mulch. And the lilacs are just popping out – so I’m thrilled! Just got rain for the first time today in a month so things should green up fast.

  5. says

    What a great idea, getting some landscaping advice from a pro. I bet that will save you guys a ton of time and money in the future!

    As for gardening, unfortunately none of that is happening here just yet (Alberta, Canada). Snow is still melting and everything is brown. Although, I did see a couple green blades of grass poking out of my otherwise sad, brown lawn ;) Fingers crossed that spring is actually here! Happy landscaping!

  6. Kim says

    Our house is very similar in age and landscaping as yours, including a PLETHORA of bricks and a big magnolia with dirt under it. So this was very helpful. What to do with all the bricks? We would like to use them, because they are old (i.e. character), and well, free. But we are afraid of it looking too run down later on.
    BTW, my husband gets up on our roof and blows off the leaves and pollen tassels with our blower. The kids think it’s hilarious because it comes down like snow!

    • says

      You could make pretty brick paths by laying a sand bed under them (I think you can google around for a how-to) or even a small patio! Or sell them on craigslist! People love weathered bricks!


  7. says

    HA I watch Jersey Shore and Dina and “the wilderness” comment made me laugh too. Maybe it’s because I’m also from Jersey and the you-have-to-be-from-there thing holds true. Who knows!

    Anyway I’m happy it’s Spring and I love that you guys take us outside as well a inside. Love the progress.

  8. Emma says

    Fun! I’ve been attending to my neglected yard as well. I live in Maryland and my biggest nemisis is the deer. They eat almost everything that flowers – including my hostas every year. I will try deer spray this year. Good luck with your yard makeover! Are you going to mulch those front beds?

    • says

      we live in northeast tennessee and we’ve had a lot of problems with deer too. we’ve tried everything to deter them… sprays, home made repellants, ammonia, bars of soap and human hair in the flower beds, etc. none of it worked… including the expensive deer sprays. you have to completely cover the plants you don’t want them to eat with the spray. if we missed even the corner of a leaf when we sprayed, they would find it and still eat it. plus, you have to reapply the sprays each time it rains, which we had a hard time keeping up with.

      so, after many years of failed attempts we decided to embrace nature instead of fighting it. we’ve started planting shrubs and flowers that are known to be deer resistant (there are so many beautiful varieties of resistant plants out there). and i even plant a few extra vegetable plants each year so that if the deer do decide to nibble them i still have plenty of veggies for myself.

      you can find all kinds of lists for deer resistant plants online. here’s a list specific to your state ( you might want to give it a try… sometimes it’s easier just to go with it than to fight it!

    • Kristi says

      I know this sounds reeeealy gross, but my friend had a similar problem with deer and the thing that worked best for her was human urine. They lived in a very rural area, so it was as simple as her husband ‘going’ outside a few times. I know – gross – but whatever works, right?

    • Emma says

      My boss says buying mulch is one of the true signs of adulthood. Good luck with the garden!

    • Emma says

      @Alanna – thanks for the tip! @ Kristi – I don’t think that’s gross. With the deer, all is fair in love & war. Too bad our area is too suburban for that trick :)

  9. says

    That is such a nice start. Can’t wait to see the finished garden. We are also clueless on landscaping so we are planning to go for the hrly consultation, found a great deal $50 for 2 hrs at our local nursery (for anyone in No Va, it is at the Meadowfarms Garden Center). By the way, want to let all the YHL fans know about the Home Goods gift card giveaway at my blog today.

  10. says

    Sounds like an awesome investment. Something that my best friend (works as in a tree and shrub department at a local nursery up in Northern VA) told me is if you have something that’s not deer resistant, plant it near boxwoods or something stronger in smell if possible. The deer will stay away. Because their sense of smell is so much stronger than ours, they can’t smell predators near stronger smelling plants!

    We are planning on a larger landscaping remodel this spring and summer too! Can’t wait to see what you guys do!

  11. says

    Why are plants so expensive?! One of the best plant purchases we’ve ever made were a couple of $15 bushes from Ikea of all places – they’ve been alive for 2+ years looking great and we almost never water them. We always say, that had we known they were going to be this great, we would have bought a ton of them instead of just two! Sadly they don’t seem to sell them anymore.

  12. says

    I know what you mean about small plants taking forever to get bigger. I planted a rose bush 4 years ago (it was literally just 3 sticks when I got it) and this year is the first year it gotten big and I have tons of roses blooming.

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