Help bash my landscaping (new home w/ pics)

BBdudeJune 25, 2013

Hi all,

First post. Looking forward to getting some great advice. We just purchased this home (our first) and have no experience landscaping. As you can see the bushes/trees are overgrown, many plants are dead, and some are growing behind one another. Before ripping out everything and starting over, I figured I'd get some input from members/posters to see what I could salvage. I have no strong feelings towards any of the plants.

However, we're on a tight budget so most will need to be done by me. We have no tools aside from a lawn mower and weed whacker.

Within the next year or two we'll be taking down the large tree closest to the house, redoing the walkway with pavers, framing the flowers beds with natural stone, and leveling the yard (the roots from the trees are creating havoc for the grass and making rain puddle on the lawn). I figure this is at least a 5 figure job so we're going to have to wait on it.

Thanks in advance for any help!







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lindaw-cincy(6)

Congratulations on your new home. It looks like a wonderful house and you have a nice lot. The first thing I would do is get rid of the 2 tall evergreens by the front door. Show off that entry. The 2 huge bushes next to the evergreens look as though they could be trimmed back to half their size to even up things and balance it out. Trim the shrubs by the front walk, and plant red geraniums in between for color. That should give you good curb appeal.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2013 at 11:22AM
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duluthinbloomz4

You don't say where you're located or what your planting zone might be.

First, congratulations on your first home. Very nice.

Second, with the bulk of the summer yet to go, I'd go to Lowes, Home Depot, yard sales - wherever - and invest in a few tools and do a clean up/out before attempting anything else. Just cutting down the brown spent foliage on whatever the stuff is will make an immediate difference.

The terms shovels and spades tend to be used interchangeably, but a spade is for digging and a shovel for scooping. A good pruning saw and a good pair of by-pass pruners are really really handy. Other implements, and what they can do for you, will come to you as you get into the gardening/landscaping routine. You needn't go all out right away.

You've got a few things planted right up against the house foundation; those should go. The yews are pruned up a bit severely; might let those grow out a little more naturally. In the last picture, the shrub with rose flower heads looks to be an Anthony Waterer spirea. That's a nice shrub very worth having and responds well to a good pruning in the spring before any new growth starts.

Clean up then start working on a plan for the look you want.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2013 at 11:55AM
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BBdude

Thanks for the advice so far, very helpful.

I am in SE Pennsylvania just out side Philadelphia. Planting zones 6 and 7.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2013 at 12:07PM
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trovesoftrilliums(5)

I'd try to identify the existing plants. Some shrubs will respond well to drastic pruning, others less so. Looks like a clematis on the trellis in last pic.

Looks like a few shrubs are blocking windows. I'd want those cut back or removed.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2013 at 8:35PM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

Pretty house. Too bad the shrubs are hiding it. First thing I'd do is totally remove the 2 evergreen columnar shrubs at the front door. Then the 2 huge shrubs (example: pix #3) blocking your windows. Next to go- everything planted close enough to the house to touch it.

Then I'd see what it looks like and evaluate.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2013 at 12:14AM
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emmarene

Buy some garden shears and learn to use them. These plants are just over grown. Cut off anything covering a window.The columnar plants near the door need to be lowered. I actually like your garden as it is. It is nice to have mature plants. If you pull it all out you will have to wait years for the replacement plants to mature.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2013 at 6:20AM
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BBdude

Thanks all.

Does anyone know how I can identify my bushes/trees? I'm going to start some weeding/trimming this weekend and I want to make sure I'm shearing/pruning appropriately so as not to ruin the plants.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 10:18AM
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duluthinbloomz4

Go to the list of forums - there's one Name that Plant; also separate forums for trees and for shrubs. Good to know in advance what you've got because of correct pruning times, etc.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 11:43AM
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yardvaark

Based on the couple of pictures that are not close-ups, I'd say that the lower limbs/foliage of the front yard trees lean more toward obstructing the view of the house than enhancing it. The overall street view of the house would be much improved if you'd remove the lower tree limbs. I concur with others who said get rid of the columnar yews flanking the entrance. The space between them does not say "welcome." I cannot imagine liking to go between them if they were wet after a rain. It would be nice to widen the walk where it attaches to the stoop (if not the overall walk.) The overall effect of the foundation planting is jagged and choppy, kind of like halloween teeth. There doesn't seem to be any smooth flow to it so I'd vote for a redesign ... in spite of the fact that the plants themselves are all probably pretty good plants. It goes to show that a good landscape is more than just great plants. How they're arranged and blended is key. Maybe some of them can be relocated (though it will not be fun or easy!) While it's nice to know the nuances of pruning, I wouldn't be too concerned about details now. The main objective is to get things into some kind of reasonable shape (which they're a long way from) before the summer's gone so you can make some sense of the overall direction you need to take. If you cut off some of this year's flowers in the process, how big of a deal is it really, in light of the overall plate of work?

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 10:54PM
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Mike Larkin

Go to your local garden center and take a photo and a cutting of each plant.
Also remove the two soldiers guarding your front door, They are too big now and only get bigger. They look like yews, and will require pruning once maybe twice a year

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 10:56PM
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BBdude

Thanks for all the feedback. Going to do some work over the next week and post some more photos.

@Yardvaark - How much would a redesign cost? My DW and I figured about $15-$20k for a paver walkway, new plants, and natural stone framing of the flower beds.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 11:52AM
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trovesoftrilliums(5)

Some counties have master gardeners who will come out to properties and help ID plants. Some have walk in Hort offices where you can take cuttings and pictures and get free advice. You can contact your county extension office (run through your stat's land grant university) and see if such a service is offered.

We have recently gotten some estimates for interlocking paver patios and paths. The costs vary widely depending on the installer and the materials used. We were quoted anywhere between $12-$26 per sq foot.

For stone edging (limestone) we were quoted about $10 per linear foot, installed.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 12:45PM
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yardvaark

"@Yardvaark - How much would a redesign cost?" By that I think you're asking about the cost of a major (80%+) renovation ...? How much does a diamond ring cost? Between $250 and $250K, on average. I'm not familiar with your regional economy and that has great bearing on the cost of landscape work. I think you may be able to get a substantial renovation done for much less (half to two-thirds) of your estimate. That's not to say that one couldn't find easy ways to spend the whole estimate and more, though.

When the roots of trees begin to surface and grow large, disturbing the lawn, often the best solution is not changing the grade, but changing the plantings in the affected area. It's one of the reasons for having groundcover instead of turf.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2013 at 4:54PM
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marti8a

In your 4th photo, the big plant looks like butterfly bush and the small one to it's left looks like variegated euonymus. But I really can't tell by that photo. You'll know if it's a butterfly bush when the blooms pop open.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2013 at 7:44PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

It looks like the largest shrubs with the coarse foliage are Buddleia's, the yellowish variegated foliage shrub is an Euonymus, and the cubed shrubs are Buxus, with the dying flowers look like one of the Alliums. You might consider just doing a good prune initially, and live with it a year to see what you've got and what you like versus don't like.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 11:34AM
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forster

Yes, congratulations on your new home. It is lovely, I love all of the mature trees and shrubs and would not be in a hurry to tear anything out until I got some advice and knowledge as to what you have. Does your town have a local garden club you could join, that might be a start. Also, like others have stated your local garden centre, take pictures and some leaves with you. I have a slow growing yew that got much too big, over the height of roof of house, had inquired about tearing it out and a friend and I got looking at it and cut it down to half its size, I am so glad I did not tear it out as it is so established. Yes, yard sales are a good place to find garden tools, also check craigslist and local paper, lots of avenues. I just LOVE the look of your house, enjoy, and keep us posted.......

    Bookmark   July 3, 2013 at 11:47PM
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maryinthefalls

Why remove the tree? It's a valuable asset if it's in good shape. I agree with the above posters, make beds around the tree roots. Adding soil will just kill the trees. Also, learn how to do pavers yourself. It's very DIYable. We've done several.

Remove the columnar yews, greatly prune back the butterfly bush and the spirea, clean up the dead foliage and then post new pictures. If you can include some from farther back, you will get better advice.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2013 at 1:17PM
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BBdude

Thanks for all the wonderful responses! Unfortunately, we're quite strapped for cash right now and I'm doing the work solo as my wife is watching the little one.

Here's an updated photo from over the weekend. Still a lot of work to do on the flower bed, but really curious what people think about the trimming I did on the trees. Too much, not enough, perfect?

There's one branch that's pretty low on the tree closest to the house on the right. I left the branch there for now as their is a bird next with baby birds in it. Once they leave I'll trim it back.

I did all this work thus far with gardening gloves, a spade shovel, and a 10" pruning saw. Needless to say it was a lot of hard work.

A few comments based on the responses thus far:

We feel the tree closest to the house on the right will eventually need to be removed. It's disturbing the walk and would likely disrupt any pavers we put down.

I like the idea of ground cover to mask the roots, but am worried since the three trees across the front are so far apart ... we'd likely lose a lot of lawn due to ground cover.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 4:32PM
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duluthinbloomz4

I think you did fine on the large trees - any additional big limb cutting would be a job for the pros.

I'd still dig out (or hack down) that shrub against the house in front of the window immediately to the left.

My philosophy is; not every tree needs a ring around it. Tree roots are like the old VW Beetle, it is what it is. But tree ringing is something many people seem to like so I'll stand alone as a naysayer.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 5:46PM
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yardvaark

I'll agree with Dib that the shrub near the left corner needs to be removed or pruned way back. Given it's propensity to size, I'd remove it, if in my own yard.

The trees look better (wish we had this same view to compare with "before.) But I think there is still too much of the house face being obscured by foliage. When determining which limbs need to be removed, one must ask themselves, "Where will the limbs be in a few more months?" And the answer is that they'll be hanging lower than they are now. For my suggestions of what you should still remove, I've placed a red "X" on the branch. At the central tree where a yellow arrow is pointing to a limb, I'm not suggesting that you remove it now, but am commenting how unfortunate it is that this branch (and the one above it) was not removed when it was no greater than 1/2" thick. As it grew, it turned from a branch into a limb and is beginning to compete to be one of the major trunks. It's unfortunate because it, and the one above it, caused the rest of the tree to lean rightward. Removing it now would cause unbalance. But a single trunk tree--which would easily have been possible--in that position would have been a lot better than the spreading "Y" configuration.

Given the distance from tree to tree, I would not link them with groundcover. When I hear the term "tree ring" I am repulsed as it brings to mind visions of granny plantings around tree trunks in tightly pinched circular beds, ringed with thin dimension, cheap looking, big box edging that is hideously installed ... meaning that the pieces are not straight, matched, of a uniform radius, or level. The overall look is as if someone placed some garage sale junk in the front yard and forgot about it. A simple, perfect circular bed of a single groundcover (without any raised edging) is superior and perfectly acceptable. It should be of a dimension that corresponds proportionately with the tree it surrounds. It should be planted solid ... not like a ring of plants with several feet of empty space between them and the tree trunk. In the yard here, what's planted at the outer flanking trees should match and not be too tall (18" or maybe 24"). What's planted around the central tree should be low (12" or lower.) Or they all could be low. If a bed abuts or comes close to a walk, it could assume a "D" shape with the flat side being adjacent the walk.

I think you've made an adequate case for removing the tree you've mentioned.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 2:33AM
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BBdude

@duluthinbloomz4 - Thanks! The bush on the left of the house and near the bay window will be trimmed back/removed once I get rid of all the branches I cut.

@Yardvaark - Thank you. I plan to make many of the cuts you suggested. I think all but one can be made without a pole saw - the other will have to wait.

Do you have a photo of what you're thinking below the trees for ground cover?

Maybe something like this:

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 1:12PM
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duluthinbloomz4

I just noticed the columnar shrubs are gone. That's a major improvement and I doubt you'll miss them. The bush I was referring to originally was the relatively small one directly in front of the shutter on the left - I doubt that will ever become anything worth having as a foundation plant.

As for a tree ring, the one pictured is quite attractive with a mass of color. I say that primarily because I bought wax begonias this year instead of my usual impatiens. I'd forgotten that I liked the begonias and they do well in shady spots. They're annuals though and would have to be planted each year - they do take off once in the ground and are showy.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 3:46PM
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emmarene

Good job, I can see your front door.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 5:07PM
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yardvaark

The picture you show of the begonias, BBdude, is the general idea. Here are more examples ...

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 5:58PM
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carlnwo

First of all just want to say what a lovely home you have purchased!

In terms of the landscaping ideas,all I can add is that there are already some great suggestions provided however my advice would be to just focus on the back end as that looks the most work. In term sof the tree, this can wait a few more years as long as its managed properly as it looks quite nice.

I have done literally hundreads of new home purchase transformations in terms of landscaping, turfing, fencing etc - without sounding too self-promotional, I have attached a link to my site so you can see some of the different examples we have done.

Cheers

Carl

Here is a link that might be useful: Landscaping Ideas

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 5:10AM
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BBdude

Thanks for all the advice to date. Wanted to post an update - photos at the bottom.

We've completed the tree pruning and ripped out half of the flower beds. It was much more work than anticipated and we broke a spade shovel in the process when trying to remove stumps. We still have ~10 stumps to rip out! We're going to try to rip them out with a handle winch, but who knows if that will work.

Once everything is wripped out what needs to be put in the flower beds? I guess we'd need to rototill the flower beds and mix in some good soil? When should we aim to put in plants?

Any suggestions on plant selection and how it should look etc. would be helpful (we're in Southeast PA).

Since my wife and I don't have any gardening/planting experience, I'm considering hiring a professional. After all, the amount we'll save in money/aggravation/time will probably be a wash if we do it ourselves.

We'd also like to do a paver walkway, but given the anticipated cost it may have to wait 1 to 2 more years because getting laid.

Thanks for all the help so far!

After some significant pruning

After pruning is complete

After first half of flower bed is removed

    Bookmark   September 15, 2013 at 10:04AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Good-looking house you've got there!

Something to consider at this point is how deep the bed on the right is (the distance from the walkway to the front of the house).

What do you want to put there? Not what exact plants, but what sort of plantings do you want? For instance, do you want shrubs by the house and flowering annuals/perennials in front of them? Or do you want something else, and if so, what?

Then once you've decided that, how deep will the bed need to be to accomodate those plants? (Keep in mind that you want to keep the shrubs at least a foot from the wall of the house -- and by that I mean not where their trunks will be, but where their back edges will be -- and not when you plant them, but several years from now. That space allows for window-washing, house maintenance, and shrub pruning.)

Do you want to keep a straight walkway, or curve it a bit? (In either case, I recommend that the walkway abut the entire front edge of the porch.)

Anyway, my point is that the location of the walkway determines what you can do in that foundation bed ... and what you want to do in that foundation bed determines where you'll put the new walkway. You don't need to do everything at once -- but you do need to have a general plan.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2013 at 2:12PM
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yardvaark

At the beginning of the thread, I could envision the inside of the house with a counter lined with pill bottles, the smell of vitamin B and a jazzy motorized wheelchair parked in the livingroom. Now, it's all seeming a bit more youthful. Raising the tree canopy has made a big difference (though I would still finesse away the scruff that hangs below the 2nd floor eaves.) Oddly, removing the foundation plants does not yet look wonderfully better. They were wrong and needed to go away, but stark emptiness is not that great looking either. Since we know you're on a path to something positive, it SEEMS like a major improvement though it doesn't really look good yet. Redoing the walk could greatly elevate the overall status of the property, so it gets my vote. Curved or straight? ... either could look good. It's a matter of integrating the geometry with the overall artistic statement. If you're considering professional assistance, the person providing it should make those decisions. One "artist" must see that everything works together. Surely, they would take advantage of the opportunity to move the walk away from the building so that a decent-sized foundation planting area is available.

Before you rip out more stumps, you might want to get an idea of what will go in their place. If only small plants, you may not need to remove the stumps, but just cut and kill them. I've found that in many cases I can work around old shrub stumps much easier than removing them. Chances are, most are planted too close to the house now. New plants would likely be installed farther from the house wall, so sometimes, the old shrub stump and roots are not that much in the way ... especially when you consider the amount of time and labor it takes to remove some of them by hand.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2013 at 11:28PM
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yardvaark

Brainstorming ...

    Bookmark   September 17, 2013 at 11:15PM
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yardvaark

Brainstorming ...

    Bookmark   September 18, 2013 at 12:51AM
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BBdude

Yardvaark - you're quite the brainstormer! Our house looks a million times better in your photo - we love it.

Also like what you did with the walkway. After reading your post we're going to look into the walkway before doing anything else. Convincing myself to do the pavers myself is not an easy task, but it would save us a lot so we can spend the savings on plants, etc. Still not sure if we should redo the stoop with pavers as it's in great condition - our neighborhood has some stoops in pavers and some paver walkways left the old stoop.

Either way a paver walkway is in our future!

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 1:55PM
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yardvaark

It seems like you could improve the overall scene a great deal with a new walk, without having to re-do the stoop. I don't know your skill set so don't know whether to encourage or discourage doing your own pavers. It's not difficult, but it does take time and work ... and using some proper equipment. A brick saw would need to be rented for a day. And a tamper twice ... once for the base and later over the top of the installed pavers. (I've done pavers this size with a hand tamper and gotten good results, but it's definitely a job for a young, fit person!) While it's a relatively simple process, there are places an inexperienced person could screw up, so It helps a great deal if you can observe a paver job being installed or can tap the knowledge of someone who's done it before. Though I have not looked, there's probably a lot of info on the Web ... Youtube & such.

Hope you can glean the basic ideas I'm trying to show in the picture. But there's plenty of opportunities for modifying, tweaking and personalizing.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 11:01PM
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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)

Here's a question for you..how do guest reach your front entrance door? From the picture, I see a car in the driveway but don't see any path or walkway to the front door entrance. Am I missing something? It looks like a sidewalk on opposite side but can't see where it leads..I'm talking about the side where you have removed all the shrubbery. probably vinyl siding side, not brick facing.

I can picture hostas and other shade plants around the trees. Trees help cut down on your A/C cost and they are planted far enough from the house to look like they belong there.

Remember Rome wasn't built in a day and most new homebuyers have a limited budget when they first move in..Call in some professional landscape designers, the more designers you talk to, the more information you will gather. If you like one better than the other and feel comfortable with his or her knowledge and personality, get a price for doing it in stages and ask how much you can save by doing it yourself. You said you were outside of Philly..what borough/city? Beautiful home..Congrats! Is this your first home?

    Bookmark   October 9, 2013 at 8:49AM
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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)

Another suggestion is to take a walk or drive through your new neighborhood; if you see residents working outside on their landscape, walk up and introduce yourself and compliment them on their landscape if you like something they have done to theirs. When you get settled, have a small party, maybe start with inviting a few over for dessert or Open House affair. It could be something simple. Doesn't have to be anything fancy or expensive. Send or drop by invitations with RSVP included and your phone#.. It's a good way to meet some of your neighbors. Hopefully they will invite you and your wife/family over first. It probably is best to do it on weekends. The weather is now Fall in our area, great time to host a small gathering. Don't be offended if some people can't make it or decline because they are not socialable people. You will be able to feel out others which neighbors are sociable and nice or just shy. I hope most of your neighbors are in your age bracket but don't overlook those that are older because there is sometimes a lot of wisdom there.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2013 at 9:05AM
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BBdude

Back again .... March is coming and we've made some decisions, but first to answer some of the additional questions asked since my last post.

@pippi21 - The walkway connects to the driveway. This is our first home and we're in Bucks Co. Our neighbors mostly keep to themselves, but given all the snow we've made a lot of friends since we only have a snow shovel (and a 400sqft driveway).

A few questions / comments:

- We will not be doing a paver walkway this summer or anytime soon. The tree on the far right is close to the house and disrupting the current walkway, but will have to wait another year or two to be removed.

- We haven't had any quotes yet, but will get a few once the snow is gone. However, we suspect we will be doing this redo on our own. A few questions:

1) The beds are now empty, what's a good resource on understanding what we need to do? I haven't the slightest if we should rototil the bed, how to take care of the bulbs we missed, how to plant/when to plant, etc.

2) Similar to above, what's a good resource to understand clearing around the tree bases to prep them for plants to be added?

3) What's a good place to understand how to improve our lawn? Not a forum, but a resource/guide we can read/follow to strengthen our lawn. We have a lot of crab grass and the section between our older trees in the front is sunk so the water sits after it rains.

Thank you in advance!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 8:43PM
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yardvaark

As simple as some of the things you're asking about are, you cannot obtain all the information from one source. Obtain a few books on landscape gardening, from the library or Home Depot and just start exploring. The common concepts will be reinforced in several sources. I am frequently asked, "When is the best time to ...(fertilize, prune, plant, etc.)" I'm not sure why people obsess about the best times to do these things as usually it means they never do them. My answer has started becoming, "When you can." It's often better to do something at the worst time, than never do it at all. Landscape gardening is so forgiving, that one year's mistakes will be fixed or patched up in another year. The windows of opportunity are open for lengthy periods. With container material, for example, you can pretty much plant anytime the ground is not frozen. Prune at the wrong time and you might miss a season's flowers ... but your plant will be the size and shape you want it to be which, I think, is more important.

For most LANDSCAPE planting, there is no rototilling, except for special circumstances ... which you can probably never worry about.

Unless you have some nice BEDS of bulbs, I'd get rid of them and instead, plant some nice BEDS. A bulb of this and that, here and there, just looks like pretty weeds and is not worth the bother.

For planting around trees, try to disturb the tree roots as little as possible. Kill existing plants (light-smothering is a good way.) Use small containers of tough plants that tolerate the conditions (shade and dry) ... like Hosta.

There is no better way to get over fear of making mistakes in gardening than literally dig in and get going. Everything is fixable.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 9:18PM
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maryinthefalls

More on planting around trees. Besides not wanting to disturb the roots, you also don't want to raise the soil level much. The procedure I've used for years is as follows. Weedwack or mow low the area in question. Put down two layers of newspaper each offset to minimize gaps. Cover the paper with 2-3" of mulch. Wait a while for the grass to die and then plant away. The closer you want to dig near big trees, the smaller the plants need to be. As for how long to wait...don't rush it or the grass will come back. I normally make beds in the fall and plant in the spring. The paper degrades in a while and is easy to plant through.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 8:42PM
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