A Garden for gNatalie

Natalie is my best friend. I used to say best friend from college, but now I just say best friend. I have a couple of other “besties,” but Natalie has known me the longest, and has put up with the most, and she can still stand to be around me. I got a chance to visit her in Cali last week, and we had a GRAND OL TIME. (See pictures from Sonoma County. Natalie’s the short one. I’m the tall one.) I always call her gNatalie, with an emphasis on the G. Even though gnat has a silent g.

The last day I was with her, we made over her backyard.  She had already done the heavy lifting of removing a crap ton of rocks and pavers and such. She had already purchased a camellia and a jasmine vine. Otherwise: blank slate on a zero lot line with tricky sunlight.

Natalie has been consulting her Sunset California Top Ten book of plants.  She has post-it marked all of the plants she likes.  There are a lot of post its in this book:

She relayed that, along with her husband Scott, she had been to her local branch of the Armstrong Garden Centers, where a nice and helpful staff member helped her understand which plants would do well in her backyard.  Natalie was dismayed to learn that, because her back is MOSTLY shade, her available plant palette was smaller than she might have liked.  Perhaps her most unfortunate problem, in her view, was that she’d have to have lots of leaf plants, instead of flower plants, and she thought her whole backyard was going to be nothing but green.

While some people might like that, I totally understand where Natalie is coming from: my entire garden is something of pink, purple and yellow.  I love colorful plants. I have a lot of shade, too.

After four days of running around, we were exhausted. On the last day, instead of running around more, we went to the garden center.

Foliage, meet Natalie.  Natalie, meet Foliage.

Normally, when someone describes a plant to me, I’m thinking “Ok, you just described 98.4% of all plants.”  But, when we were sitting in her house, watching Chelsea Lately, she described two plants that I think I identified:  “This black grassy thing. And a thing with leaves like this (and then she basically drew a heuchera leaf in the air).”  When we got to the garden center, she showed me these two plants. BINGO!

Natalie’s main interest in her backyard was COLOR.  Not different, subtle shades of green color, but BRIGHT color that she would NOTICE from her kitchen window.  This is where I send a big SHOUT OUT to the breeders of heuchera.  I LOVE YOU GUYS!  Because, in Natalie’s mostly shade, some morning sun backyard, heucheras were her ticket out of boring and into fabulous.

Working with Orderly People

Natalie’s husband, Scott, is possibly more OCD than me.  (I used to be unable to leave my dorm room unless everything was in its place and my light was left on for my plants.  I’ve had to get over that. There’s not enough time for neatness.)  We are talking about people who put the toaster AWAY after using it.  There is almost NOTHING on the kitchen counters.  What does that mean for their landscaping preferences?

They want some plants, they want some color, and they want order.

While I would be perfectly happy for my yard to look like this:

Scott would have a heart attack if I set them up with plants that would turn into that.  I said to him one morning “Well, you could just grab a pack of cosmos and seed them this year, for some color.”  He said “What are those?” I said “You know, the bright pink flowers on that corner lot I was photographing?”  Then, I think he threw up in his mouth a little.

When you’re helping regular folks pick out regular plants for their yard, because they want some color, without a bunch of hassle, you HAVE to keep their tastes and preferences in mind.  I was up to the challenge.  And, luckily, because there are so MANY neat foliage plants out there, that are colors other than green, you can make a colorful border without lots of flowers.  Here’s the end result:

Natalie likes Pieris. And, who am I to judge?  It would work with the area.  She gets a BIT of mid-day sun along the back wall, so we needed some plants that could take some sun and shade.  She calls me “KT” and my handle on many boards is “ktplant,” so I got her the Azalea for one REALLY shady corner, and it is henceforth to be known as the OFFICIAL KTplant. (Natalie, please don’t kill the plant.)

Designing in the Nursery

I’m in favor of making little plant combos for your yard while you’re at the nursery. They don’t care. If it will help you buy more plants, what the heck. So, we set the plants out and moved them around until we found the right match:

Then, we took them home and set them out in her yard:

Of course, all you Californians will think I’m nuts because there’s a bunch of sun in this picture, but I swear to GOODNESS that this is pretty much ONE of THREE sunny hours this area gets. Just enough, hopefully, to keep the big red things alive (?).

gNatalie reports that everything is growing like crazy, and they’ve already put down a bunch of mulch. I’ll post some follow-up pics in a few months. It was totally fun to help my friend go from “I can’t really grow much cool stuff” to “WOW, I LOVE my YARD!”

And this, folks, reaches the end of my design skills. Need more help? I know one or two fantastic designers I could recommend!  😉



Filed under Daily Photo, Garden

14 responses to “A Garden for gNatalie

  1. Good job, KT! The big red PHORMIUMS will probably do fine, and keep in mind that part-day sun in March means more-than-part-day sun as the sun gets higher in late spring and summer. Also shade near a house is brighter (reflected light) than shade under a heavy canopy. But speaking of canopies, do you know what kind of tree that is in the corner? It looks kind of like a Live Oak, but I can’t tell. Important to know that those trees don’t want any extra water in the summer AND if it survives in that spot near a lawn, will get HUGE! If it’s not an oak, never mind! Thanks for sharing, you done good. And yay, they mulched!

    • The corner tree is a fig tree. So, I’m not sure what THAT means? Natalie and Scott like to prune.

      I kinda figured that re: the shade. To me, it looked like their back area was more like PART shade, except for the corner with the camellia and azalea, which is full shade, albeit next to a wall.

      Yay! I’m glad I’ve set them up well. It should be pretty and orderly, and with a little extra room for some annual color if they want. Can’t wait to see it fill in!

  2. What are you trying to do here exactly? Snatch the very bread from the very mouths of local garden designers?

    Seriously, looks like you two did a fine job. I remember the first time I put peach colored heuchera and black mondo grass together – a match made in heaven for color junkies.

    If gNatalie ends up replacing any of her chartreuse plants, she may want to consider Carex ‘Evergold’ or Hakanachloa ‘aureola’.

  3. You are AWESOME Katie! When you came to my party, after your designing stint, did you notice that I have several of the very same plants? It seems great minds think alike!! The Big Red Plant (Phorium – looks like Miori Maiden, perhaps) actually doesn’t want full sun so you’re probably okay with the partial shade (but you knew that, didn’t you!)…

    Best of luck with the Pieris…I can never seen to get them to thrive here…maybe it’ll do better over along the coast. But the rest should be just fine (just warn them that the Heucheras tend to look pretty crummy in the Winter, but not to lose heart – give them a month or two and they’ll bounce right back)….

    Well done!

    • I was so stressed out and snockered by the time I walked around your yard, Rebecca, that I did not notice that we had lots of the same plants! But, the fact that you would even THINK that my design brain functions even SLIGHTLY like yours makes me feel good 🙂

      Daisy and I were too busy drinking wine to remember specifics, but I have a TON of great pictures of your garden that I apparently took, that will remind me of how pretty it was.

      After that day, I SO needed a stroll around somewhere tranquil. YOU are a most gracious hostess!

  4. Shelley

    Good job, Ladies!
    It helps so much when trying to put something into someone else’s yard to understand the person. I am sure gNat will think of you while she looks at it.

  5. Hey Natalie-Rebecca, Laura and Susan are all CALIFORNIA designers and horticulturists. And, they seem to think you can get away with some partial shade plants.

    GO CRAZY, girl!

  6. natalie

    Hey!!! This is all about MY backyard!!! I love my backyard! I think you captured my gardening experience well! I potted some herbs this past weekend as well. I am liking this whole playing in the dirt thing! Thanks Katie!! You are my “bestie” too!

  7. natalie

    Loving the striped grass too…(the evergold…)

  8. natalie

    And for the record…sprinkling cosmos sounds like a good idea to me, but my wonderful other half…not so much…And I have also pointed out gardens like the one about that was wild and messy looking, reminds me of a lovely field of wildflowers, but Scott was also having none of that. So compromise is what has occurred with great results. I will plant more though…once I make sure these all live well.

    • I hope Scott knows it is all in good fun! I get a kick out of him!

      Compromise is the spice of life. . . or something. . . Joe heard the dog throw up last night, but I didn’t, so he woke me up and I cleaned it up. That’s love. So is putting the toaster away 😉

  9. We’re happy to hear that our Associates at Armstrong Garden Centers were able to give your friend some plant suggestions. She is very lucky to have a good friend who is willing to help out.

    Your selections look great and I’m sure Natalie will find herself in the backyard more often now that it’s landscaped.

    Happy gardening!

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