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

    Building 3 more raised beds– making 7 in total. Building a fence around the vegetable garden, planted 3 blueberry bushes last night, added a rock filled trench around my outdoor (yet attached to house) shed to improve drainage in that area.. Several rose bushes to go in, a few butterfly bushes, gardenias, 24 tomato plants, 20 strawberry plants.. and eventually laying down some sod and walkways.. Busy outside days ahead for me!

  2. Matt says

    Next time you’re shopping for plants, check to see when the big plant auction in your area is. They’re dominated by bigger landscape companies who buy large lots of plants – but you can get some really incredible deals by making friends.

    • StoneMaven says

      You might hit Craigslist and Freecycle for folks dividing cannas, bearded iris, day lilies, nandina shrubs, holly, etc. I’ve gotten some really nice plants from simply watching the ads and posting wanted posts. Also watch for houses being demolished. We rescued a beautiful old pink rosebush (with permission) from a lot that was having the old house demolished to make way for a new construction. They were just gonna bulldoze everything flat. I wish we had had time to take up all the lilies and bulbs that house had in its gardens.

  3. Kim K says

    I would think that tackling the yard work would be a little easier for you to find time for. Clara can play outside while you work on the less labor intensive projects.

  4. says

    Seems like the money for the consult was well spent for all of those ideas! We had our dead bush removed last year and put in a small japanese maple in the Fall. Thankfully our finger crossing paid off because it’s budding now! YAY!! I know you guys will feel the same way with all of your landscaping work coming up!

  5. says

    Oh, I so need to do something like this! I like in a small house in the woods and have a ton of ground cover and ivy and hostas, but would love some color and an actual plan to the madness :) Great that you guys did that and you’ll have the place transformed in no time, just like the last one!!!

    OH and dont forget to check out our GIVEAWAY today!!


  6. says

    I love the periwinkle idea! I have a giant tree in my front yard with a HUGE mulch circle around it because of the roots near the surface. I am going to look into putting periwinkle there instead to make it pretty. It can’t hurt to try!

  7. DDay says

    Did she give you any advice about the ailing boxwoods? One of the things I loved about my house when I bought it was the boxwoods out front. I’ve got a duplex in the city and love the privacy/barrier that they provide yet they seem more inviting than a fence. But I’ve noticed a few dead spots that I’ve tried to get rid of, but want to see if there is anyway to stave off needing to replace them.

    • says

      She said a lot of ours are too far gone (something about a bug or fungus that’s attacking the sides and tops of them to make them yellow or completely bare on one side) but she said there was something you could put on them if they were a more mild case of it (something you spray over them?) – maybe ask at a local nursery?


  8. Sarah R says

    Oh man! Plants are expensive! Thankfully I like to refer to my mother in law as my personal gardener, she is always bringing over trunk loads of some new plant that she dug up from her garden to bring over and transplant in mine and on some days she even comes over to water everything! So I have spent a total of $1.49 for one pack of pansies :) yay for transplanting plants!

  9. says

    This has nothing to do with your post today – but I had to share! I dreamed last night that I had come over to your house to buy some bedroom furniture from you. John was selling it so he was walking me through the house showing it. Then, Sherry, you came in the room, and I freaked out about meeting you – a famous person! :) I started rambling and then was like, oh god, you’re probably thinking who is this crazy woman who won’t get out of my house! Either way, I bought the furniture off you along with a life size mannequin (?!). Funny dream :)

  10. Sarah says

    Well you guys have already made a lot of progress on the exterior. It’s hard work and in the North East you only have so many months to get out there. Can’t wait to see what else you do, I need ideas!!

  11. says

    I don’t have any pictures to share but my lanscaping consist of flower beds filled with mulch and weeds. I actually think a couple of the “weeds” are plants but they’re really ugly so they have to go. I got an estimate for a mulch job to the tune of almost $400 and that doesn’t include any plants or planting… therefore I’m going to have to learn this summer (and pray the dogs don’t destroy my hard work)!

  12. Darcy says

    UGH, is all that I have to say about landscaping and working outside!!! Here in CO, it is IMPOSSIBLE to even keep grass alive (because we rarely get rain)!!! And I’ve always had a Black Thumb, and now its even worse! Plants actually wilt when I get within 5 feet of them!! LOL!

    Finding a great deal like that for a consultation is a really great idea — I’ll have to keep an eye out for something like that — cause we just have no idea what we can plant that will survive here!!

  13. Cheapie says

    Hi –
    Thanks for all your posts –
    In MN, two good inexpensive sources for plants are local farmers markets – shrubs and perennials, especially in spring; and yard sales later in the summer (hostas and other divideable perennials). And anywhere, if your friends have more established growth and are dividing, they’re usually glad to pass on the extras.
    Just a thought. Happy gardening!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *