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! 😉