Blank Slate Yard – Part 1: the Front Yard

Front Yard Cropped - shrubs named

The photo above is of our yard before we did anything to it. A couple of months ago, I received an e-mail from a local realtor telling me how beautiful our front yard is. Of course, I was appreciative, but I was also surprised because I still see it as not so nice. The pine straw mulch has faded to a dull gray/brown, and needs to be fluffed or replinished. The day lilies bloomed very little this year. The marigolds went to seed and died when I fell behind on deadheading them. The tulip ginger is blooming, but the leaves are covered with brown spots. The bougainvillea by our front door was beautiful all spring, then was attacked by caterpillars – again. Only one of my SunPatiens survived the heat last summer AND the freeze last February. Need I go on?

The One Lonely Impatien


This is that one huge, beautiful, but very lonely impatien in our front flower bed.

When we moved into this new home, it had the typical high-maintenance builder’s landscape “package” in the front yard, as shown above, and absolutely nothing but grass in the back and side yards. My job was to take the front from builder’s landscape to a more interesting, yet low-maintenance front yard; and to take the back yard from a blank slate to a lush garden, and fast. The photo above shows most of our front yard.

The only option we had regarding landscaping when we bought this house was to say we did not want a particular type of tree out front. We said no magnolia and no Bradford Pear. Although magnolia trees are beautiful, and smell heavenly, they are extremely messy, dropping their large leathery leaves year-round. They also grow quite large, creating a dense shade which prohibits grass and many other things from growing underneath. One mature magnolia would fill our entire front yard. Here’s a photo of a sweet magnolia blossom from our former neighborhood.

Magnolia Blossom - mlm c@

Here’s a painting I did of a magnolia with more open blossoms. In this photo, it’s still on the easel, awaiting the finishing touches. It’s now framed and hanging in our home.

Magnolia Painting unsigned - mlm c@

Back to Those Trees We Didn’t Want

The Bradford Pears I mentioned — the ornamental, non-fruit-producing pear trees — are beautiful when they bloom, but they stink terribly while blooming. The larger they are, the stronger the scent, and the farther it carries. Because of their limb structure (very acute angles) they are prone to losing limbs in high winds, which we have quite often here.

So, what we got was a baby live oak that had been pruned to the shape of a Christmas tree, and a crepe myrtle that had been pruned down to the size of a shrub. Because the live oak’s branches began about 4-5 feet above the ground, it looked like a Christmas tree on a stick. We began calling it our Christmas Tree Popsicle.

Mature Live Oak

Live Oak - mlm c @

Live oak trees also drop their leaves year-round, and grow far, larger than any magnolia ever thought about growing. Granted, they grow slowly, but the lots in this retirement community are quite small. A mature live oak would someday fill our entire lot, and hang out over the roof of our home plus that of our neighbors. It would eventually need to be removed, so we gave it away while it was still small enough to be dug up and transplanted easily. It was replaced with a Sylvester Palm that my husband chose. It was a good choice, as its size is much more appropriate to the size of the yard. It already provides some shade from the afternoon sun to part of our front yard.

Crepe Myrtle in Full Bloom

My Pink Myrtles - mlm c @

Knowing the crepe myrtle would grow quite large, and would someday partly block the garage entrance, and scrape the car going in and out of the garage, I had it moved out near the street. In its new location, we can see and enjoy its flowers from our front windows. As you can see in this photo, it is in full bloom now. When this bloom cycle has finished, I will cut off the spent blooms in order to get a 2nd bloom cycle  on it.

Our Front Entrance

Front Entrance - mlm c@

This is the front walk that was lined with holly bushes. After moving the hollies, I added more interesting and colorful foliage for a more welcoming front entrance to our home. In the left foreground, just out of the picture are some calla lilies, one of my favorite flowers. The asparagus fern laying on the walk has been removed because it is so very invasive. As soon as it is cool enough to work in the yard again, I will replace it with a variegated ginger that I have in a pot. That should be some time in the next 4 – 6 weeks.  The next task is having more pine straw mulch delivered.

For a Small Yard, the Shrubs installed by the builder Weren’t Much Better than the trees


Loropetalum - mlm c

The shrubs were a mix of loropetalum, holly, virbinum, and junipers. All but the hollies would require constant pruning, and eventually they would, too.

I do love the loropetalum for its unique year-round color:  Dark green and purple leaves that turn a to autumn colors in the fall. In the spring, when viewed from a distance, a loropetalum in full bloom can easily be mistaken for an azalea. Unfortunately, it will grow to be about 12 x 12, far too large for this yard.

I moved some of the loropetalum and hollies to the side of the house and backyard, and gave away all the others. Unfortunately, the loropetalum outgrew the area on the side, too, and need to be removed. I had junipers in North Carolina and Colorado, so I did not want them in Florida among my tropical plants, so I gave away all the junipers. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted the virbinum, because they grow so very large.

I staked one of the two loropetalum left in the front yard, and braided the slender main branches in an attempt to train it to become a small ornamental tree. For a while, it looked really nice. Then came strong winds. Those winds whipped that tree/shrub in all directions so badly that the vinyl-coated metal support rod snapped, and my little tree fell. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, after all.


Flower Buds on Vibirnum - mlm c

These are the tiny spring flower buds of virbinum. This is one of only two I kept. It is on the rear property line, and is now about 15 feet tall. The problem is not the height so much as it is the width. Virbinum grows to be almost as wide as it is tall. In these very small yards, that doesn’t work very well. I already need to trim the side that hangs over the property line into my good friends’ back yard.

We want to play golf, swim, develop new recipes, and enjoy new friendships, not manage high-maintenance landscapes. Some of our neighbors kept all the high-maintenance shrubs installed by the builders. They simply have the shrubs sheared off into unnatural shapes:  flat on top, little boxes, or little balls. That’s just not for me.

I have replaced all the shrubs that, eventually, would have completely hidden our home from view with Encore azaleas, caladiums, daylilies, coleus, waxed begonias, elephant ears, bougainvillea, tulip ginger, variegated agave, and lantana. Among them we installed three Queen Palms. The Sylvester mentioned above, and the Queens were our anniversary presents to each other in 2013.

Just writing this post shows me how very much work I still have to do. You think I can convince my hubby to help? Nah, probably not. He hates yard work. Says I must be sick because I love it so much. Stay tuned for more of Part I as I continue this work in progress and, have more photos of the yard itself. Part II will be the back yard, and Part III both side yards.

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