Magazine article Sunset

Garden Make Overs

Magazine article Sunset

Garden Make Overs

Article excerpt

Here's how to give the whole yard, or just parts of it, a new look. Plus tips and advice from other weekend warriors

You've bought a fixer-upper with a neglected yard, and you want to make it pretty. Or you've lived for years with the same garden--allowing plants to scramble helter-skelter and trees to grow unchecked--and now you're ready to freshen its look. Either way, a landscape makeover can seem like a daunting task. It's a long journey, after all, from a wish to a dream garden.

Or is it? Last year we asked readers to tell us about gardens they've renovated, mostly by themselves. Hundreds responded, sending snapshots, plans, tips, and advice. On the following pages we share some of their stories.

Fall is the perfect time to start a landscaping project, to plant trees, shrubs, vines, and many perennials. The best way to start? Take it one step at a time (the guidelines on page 122 can help). That's what the owners of the gardens on these pages did, and they succeeded--brilliantly.

Scruffy to sensational: A garden retreat

TIME: Less than two years

COST: About $5,000

You might call this small (35- by 19-foot) outdoor room the yard that gave birth to a gardener.

When Mix Olson bought the Encinitas, California, property in 1986, tending plants was not on her to-do list. "I had neither the money nor the inclination to landscape," she explains. "So I kept the weeds, mowed when it rained, and ignored the ugly green chain-link fence."

But Olson knew she wanted greenery around her. Memories of her two-year stay in barren Saudi Arabia were still too fresh, and the idea of lush trees, flowers, and grass too appealing. Little by little, she began improving her land.

"I built a patio off the kitchen with French doors leading to it. I started watering the grass. Then I planted bougainvillea to hide the chain-link fence."

After a few months, Olson decided that a garden along the fence would be nice. She visited nurseries with her friend Sara Lynch to learn about plants. "I began to enjoy digging in the dirt," she recalls. Flowers lived and died, trees were planted, transplanted, lived, and died.

"I finally decided the soil--rather hard, packed clay with no drainage--was a problem. So last fall, inspired by magazine articles on small gardens, I ripped up the whole thing except the bougainvillea and the only tree that was happy with my haphazard care--an Australian willow.

"I attacked the crabgrass, rototilled the soil, added every amendment the garden books recommended, put in a watering system, a pond with a solar-powered waterfall, and a flagstone path. I planted chamomile and thyme ground covers between the pavers, and waited for results while daily plucking tiny crabgrass sprouts with a paring knife."

Now, Olson says: "I have become a gardener. I can't stop. I go out in the morning and find myself still deadheading at noon. I have even started landscaping around the mailbox."

Fresh look for an overgrown slope

TIME: Two years

COST: About $6,000

"When we bought this house, the yard was overgrown with honeysuckle, ivy, and blackberries," writes Scott Terry of Oakland, California. "It had obviously been beautiful at one time but had been neglected for 10 years." Paths and retaining walls were crumbling; shrubs and trees were overgrown.

The biggest problem was an enormous lap pool at the bottom of the slope: Installed by the previous owner, the pool occupied the only spot on the property sunny enough for a vegetable garden. "We wanted it out," Terry says.

The first year, Terry and his partner, Todd Brower, hired an arborist to identify the trees on the property. Then they cleared out the ones that were ill or misplaced. They also repaired the retaining walls, paths, and sprinkler systems.

Since the budget to take out the pool and completely revamp the bottom terrace was a mere $5,000--not much considering the amount of work that needed to be done--Terry and Brower decided to do the work themselves, rather than hire landscapers to do it for them. …

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