Dismal Gardens Makeover

Photos taken for this post.

The front beds were getting out of hand. The beloved former owner of Dismal Manor worked for Naval Facilities Command. Every construction project ended with surplus landscaping material, some of which found its way into the Dismal Manor beds without regard to what it would be when fully grown. The result was a row of Leland Cypress that would eventually close the side street, a row of ligustrums behind them, and acuba planted under the carport canopy. Over the years we have been removing this wrong plant wrong place material. It was now time to do some right plant, right place planting.

Project Objectives

This project had the following objectives

  • Make the front approach attractive
  • Give the front garden a coherent look
  • Use plant materials appropriate to shade
  • Use plant materials that would grow to the proper scale
  • Give a sense of depth and interest
  • Look good winter and summer
  • Not require intensive maintenance (pruning off unwanted growth)

I’m a rubbish garden designer

Several years ago, I took the Norfolk Botanical Garden’s introductory garden design course. This course looked at conceptual design and garden architecture but not at plant material selection. Both are important. So, I engaged a local garden center’s landscape division to design and install new bedding.

Our landscape company

McDonald Garden Center landscape division provided the design and installation services described here. This project is approximately $7000 in total cost including initial consult and proposal, installation drawing preparation, installation labor, and plant materials. McDonald did the following.

  • Remove the old plant materials not being reused
  • Roto-till peat moss and compost in to amend the soil
  • Install new granite paver edging
  • Install new plant materials
  • Remove the mess in the willow oak root flare
  • Install pine straw mulch

The stone edging is about a $1500 upgrade to the original $5500 base proposal. The services performed represent about 5 work days of trades labor.

MacDonald is a reputable and well regarded local firm with a stable work force. The crew worked the project in a disciplined and professional manner, completing the planting in one day. They brought along the essential tool for planting here at Dismal Manor, a Saws-All reciprocating saw to cut roots. On the second day, they cut the corner stones, applied pine straw, and pruned up where needed.

Designer Mary Ellen was on site to kick off, assist with plant placement, and to assess the finished project.

This project cleaned out the old plant material, made the front beds deeper to match the scale of the building, cleaned up the side bed, and created a new bed inside the circular sidewalk. The project also constructed mulched areas around the crepe myrtle and the willow oak.

Key design elements

The design retained the two camellia plants flanking the driveway. New beds were constructed under these. One was in the quarter-pie bed framed by the walk. A new granite cobblestone paved bed was established under the right hand one. Granite cobblestones also defined the bed inside the front walk arc. The existing beds were deepened to nine feet, appropriate to the wall height behind them and allowing planting in depth of andromeda, small holly, hostas, and ferns.

Renovated Front Bed

This is the new front bed. The acuba is the only plant retained from the original plantings. The granite edging is new. The original stone was wet laid and labor to salvage it would exceed replacement cost so it went off to the stone yard to be recycled.

The renovated front bed

The New Bed

The new bed continues the theme of the front bed using similar materials but more to fill the larger area.

New front bed plantings before pine straw installation