Front Yard Part II - planning & plotting

Now that the tree is gone, I have to rethink what I want to do in our front yard garden. It's not a blank slate, but with the tree and thorny barberry hedge gone, there's a few big blank spots available to rework and rethink.

Below are images I'd saved, a while ago, of small-space gardens I liked. I'm looking for low-maintenance (always) with no (or little) pruning, deadheading, or watering. I do want color, different textures, and different shapes of plants. I like what I see in these photos -- conical, narrow and rounded conifers, textured shrubs, colorful Japanese maples, bursting grasses and few perennials. I also have the hellstrip (area between sidewalk and street) to think about. So that will have to go into whatever I do. New beginnings for a new year!

I went to Urban Roots Community Garden Center a few weeks ago, and bought a bunch of shrubs, a grass and a couple ground-hugging perennials to plant before winter hit. They were 50% off the price for members, so I figured it was better to buy them cheap, and now, even though they no longer looked "pristine" sitting on store shelves. I'm cheap that way.

I will probably have to move them all again once I have a better plan in place, but at least this spring they'll fill out the voids left by tree and hedge. When I was planting the catmint, the neighborhood cat showed up out of nowhere to acknowledge his approval.

Amethyst Coral Berry (Coral Berry) is an excellent choice for brightening up the autumn landscape! Vivid, deep purple-pink fall fruit makes this plant a must have in the landscape. The effect is stunning to say the least! Amethyst has good branching and a neat habit, unlike the rangy forms seen in many older types of Coral Berry. Amethyst is an easy growing plant that is well adapted to even the most difficult growing conditions. It works nicely in informal woodland type gardens, and has been reported to be somewhat deer resistant. Use in mass plantings or hedges for the best color effect. Beautiful when used as a cut flower, it will bring life to any bouquet or floral display. This is a great plant to include in the home garden landscape!

Snow Day Surprise Pearl-bush Exochorda
Snow Day Surprise's large white blooms cover this plant in a flood of spring flowers. This is a stronger grower than old fashioned Pearl-bush, with a neater, more compact habit. An excellent plant for the spring landscape!

Dwarf Fothergilla Fothergilla gardenii
Small shrub for part shade areas. Excellent red-orange fall color. White fragrant flowers in spring that resemble a bottle brush.

Dwarf Fountain Grass "Hameln"
Pennisetum alopecuroides
'Hameln' is the oldest cultivar of Pennisetum alopecuroides. Use it wherever the straight species would be too tall. Blooms earlier than the species, making it a better choice for gardens with a short growing season.
'Hameln' is a dwarf form of Fountain grass. We have strived to keep our strain pure as there are now varying heights sold under the name 'Hameln'.

Nepeta "Walker's Low"
The Catmint plant is undoubtedly best known for its effect on all members of the Cat family. All felines, from the wild mountain lion to the domestic tabby, are attracted to this species with results that are often strange and hilarious. The stems and leaves of Catnip are lemony-mint scented, and generally invoke little interest on the part of humans and most other animals. Bees seem to prefer its flowers over most others, but a common plant pest in gardens, the flea beetle, is deterred by it. Rats are known to be repelled by it. Cats, however, rub against Catnip as though trying to coat themselves, roll on it, toss it about, and rub their faces in it. If fresh, many cats will often consume the leaves. Catnip is commonly used as a stuffing for cat playthings, and is claimed by some to be a feline aphrodisiac. The universal appeal of this species to cats is underscored by the fact that the herb’s common name in every Western language contains some variation of the word “cat”.

Hypericum x "Red Lion" Low growing with a rounded, mounding habit, attractive small, dark green to olive-green leaves and lots of yellow flowers in early summer that are followed by the primary decorative feature in the form of abundant chocolate colored berries about twice the size of a garden pea. The berries persist through summer and fall and even into winter, and, when cut, bring an exciting new look to indoor arrangements. 12-14” high. Here in zone 5 plants behave as die-back shrubs, dying back in winter and reemerging from the crown once the temperature has warmed up in spring. Use in full sun, in average, well-drained soil. Zone 5.


  1. My suggestion for the perfect tree: malus 'Red Jade'

    I'm a little confused on your picture and talk of the mention of Ruby Spice clethra and referring to it as coral berry, genus symphoricarpos, a completely different genus. If your plant is of the symphoricarpos genus, here in zone 5 central WI, we rarely see them flower, the buds turn to mush at first hard frost which occurs before fruiting can develop. Clethra, on the other hand, have sweet smelling flowers in fall and the berries aren't really part of the snow being fairly inconsequential. (Same for the hypericum.) The clethra have a running shrubby growth, versus mounded in my experience. THey spread out and grow where they want like an old-fashioned hedge lilac. In your slightly warmer zone, I would take a look at duetzia (which I like here in carefully selected micro-climates), some of the long flowering geraniums, like Roxanne and Tiny Monster, some of the colorful and more circumspect spirea(Ogon, Magic Carpet, and the Double Play series), stephanandra, Boulevard cypress (which is slow growing and responds well to pruning), and the new smaller wegielias (My Monet). If you are seriously thinking of a hypericum consider Golden Rule.

    1. Ooops... I fixed that. It was a mistake. I'd had this post put together (partially) a long time ago and didn't re-read it thoroughly before posting. Thanks for pointing that out. All fixed now. It's definitely the Coral Berry - there were still some on it when I bought it.

      And thanks fro the other suggestions. I'll look the ones I don't know up and add 'em to my wish list. Especially the wegielia. I'll do some research on the spirea, I have one already but it's too bushy - if any of the ones you list are more compact - I'm sold!

  2. Good luck with the catmint if there are cats roaming in the neighborhood. My own indoor outdoor cat "loved" the three I planted to death. Totally ignored them in the pot but as soon as they were in the ground he was all over them. He eventually had them down to less than an inch tall and then proceeded to roll around in them! Poor things never had a chance.

    1. There's only one "neighborhood" cat, and he wears a bell, so we know when he's around. And he's cool. We know the owners. I figure where there's a cat there isn't a rat. Or mouse, squirrels or bunnies. It's all a trade-off!

  3. Hope you find the perfect plan.

    Happy New Year!

    1. Perfect? That'll never happen. Happy New Year to you too!

  4. I have Clethra alnifolia 'Ruby Spice', it has done moderately well for me. Flowering has not been as profuse as I had hoped, this may be because it wants a more acid soil. Nepeta has been great in my garden, very tough and the only maintenance is cutting back stems in spring or fall. You might look into some other dwarf shrubs, like Aronia melanocarpa 'Iroquois Beauty.' There's also a dwarf Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica), I think it's called 'Little Henry'. For shorter grasses, I love prairie dropseed (Sporobulus heterolepsis). My favorite tall grass is switchgrass, it's very upright and there are so many great cultivars.

    1. Thank you Jason, you've just expanded my spring shopping list. Though I will look each of your suggestions up on the Google-a-tron first.

  5. Sound like you found some good buys, Jim. However, be warned: in my garden 'Walker's Low' is nicknamed "catnest" -- it usually has one sitting right on the crown.

  6. You've a great list and a few more from commenters...What a fun late winter/early spring you'll be having.

  7. What fun plant choices. Lots of great colors, shapes, and textures.

    In my experience with catmints, felines seem mostly attracted to dried stems. Keep the brown stems pruned out. It's always a good idea to cut Nepeta hard after the danger of frost is gone. This will generate lots of new growth, prevent the plant from getting a doughnut shape, and possibly prevent any cat's from nesting.

    Happy gardening!

  8. Hi Jim,

    My name is Tina, the community manager for a new blogger community called Garden Gab ( This community will focus on tips, advice and personal stories on the subject. I want this Garden Gab community to be a place where expert advice and tips are consolidated in one place for beginner (like myself) and experienced gardeners.

    I’m currently looking for bloggers to contribute their relevant, existing content to the community, and your blog has caught my attention. I like the way you write about gardening, and how easy and approachable the experience is.

    If you’re interested in joining our community, please e-mail me back at tinajin [at] with “Gardening” in the subject line. If you have any questions, I would be more than happy to answer them.

    Community Manager

    P.S. I hope everything's better without the tree!

  9. Now that we've seen the Before and During photos, we eagerly await the After pictures.

  10. Nice plants. I've tried growing catmint before but the local cats always lay down on it and destroy it! I really look forward to seeing your new front yard, Jim. I'm sure it'll look great. Happy new year!

  11. The Walker's Low will attract cats, no matter what the plant tag tells you. They came from everywhere and slept in my garden, flattening all the plants. I love the plant, but it is better in places without roaming cats. The Hamlin is great, we use it in commercial jobs, the Hypericum is questionable. Not as tidy as they note.


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