Cottage Style Garden in Cleveland

Have you ever seen a beautiful home with an unfortunate front yard? The layout of the house, the steps, the driveway, the front porch – it may all be pretty and well-constructed, but without green grass and pops of floral color to frame and punctuate its beauty, the building may look like just that: a building. Front gardens create that oh-so-sought-after curb appeal. Here is how we transformed a client’s beautiful building into a lovely, welcoming home.

When this client bought her house in Cleveland, GA, she knew the yard needed some work. It had been neglected to say the least. There were overgrown shrubs, weeds were running rampant, and the soil desperately needed help if it was going to grow anything.

Notice the large square shrub near the kitchen window? This is a poorly pruned Loropetalum, an evergreen shrub with year-round purple foliage. A perfectly fine shrub for any southern garden – just don’t cut it into a sad cube. It usually needs very little pruning.
The garden was overrun with a chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata), something we like to call “stinky weed.”
Chameleon plants are aggressive, invasive groundcovers that don’t know when to quit. They are so hard to get rid of because they grow in almost any type of soil and sun, and they spread through rhizomes, which are continuously growing horizontal underground stems. According to, “any small part of the rhizome or stem left behind in the soil will resprout.” The rhizomes also spread deep and wide, making it hard to find and dig up every stem. Most gardeners advise to avoid this plant because of how hard it is to control or eradicate if you change your mind.
For this project, it took us a full year to exterminate the tenacious stinky weed and it’s still a work in progress. To kill it, we used a sponge on a stick soaked in glyphosate, but had to be careful. Though it is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the US, the client was hesitant to allow it in her yard. We had to be very selective in our application.
After we took out all the “good” perennials and weeded until our hands hurt, we tilled the ground and added soil to help with drainage. We saved the client’s sedum, iris, and astilbe in pots at our shop for a year until the dirt was ready for fresh planting.

The client wanted what is known as a “cottage style” garden. This usually means fun elements, curving paths, a few shrubs, and lots of colorful perennials. After clearing everything, we started planting by adding a dwarf camellia (Camellia sasanqua or ‘Shishi Gashira’), some kaleidoscope abelias (Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’) for color, and 1 distylium (Distylium ‘Vintage Jade’), a low growing evergreen shrub.

Here is an example of a dwarf camellia, a small shrub with beautiful blooms.

Then, we replanted her sedum, iris, and astilbe and added lots of daffodils and allium.

Variegated iris (Iris pallida) is a great addition to any garden. Its purple flowers and variegated leaves add color year round.
Here is one of the allium bulbs we planted.
The weeping Japanese maple (Acer japonicum dissectum) was the anchor plant to this garden. We added stepping stones around it and included one of my favorite grasses, Acorus gramineus. It makes huge clumps that are easy to divide and has beautiful chartreuse foliage.

One of the “fun elements” we added to the garden was a few vibrant planters full of flowers and leafy greens. Apart from specifically being great for small spaces, containers add height and color to any existing garden, no matter the size. Too many and they can make your garden look like it’s discombobulated and full of junk. There needs to be a balance and a variety of in-ground plants and plants in containers. This client started off with just a few planters but now has over 20 spread out around the home! I guess she likes my work.

Here are some of the containers I made for this client’s garden. Some are summer annuals and some are winter annuals.

Speaking of containers, I would like to take this chance to debunk a common myth. Have you always been told to put a layer of gravel in the bottom of a pot before planting? Some people believe doing this will improve drainage and keep the soil from spilling out. I’ve even had a client who filled their pot with wine bottles. The truth is, when you put water in your soil, it drains to the bottom of the soil just like how water will move to the bottom of a sponge. When there is gravel in your pot, the roots are now closer to the bottom of the soggy soil which is no good to the plant. Your potted plants will be happier if you just invest in high quality, well-draining soil. Learn more on this site or see the image below.

Here is the client’s home in Cleveland now.

Even though it looks great in its current state, this garden is high maintenance and needs a lot of attention. During the growing season, we spend a whole day every other week weeding, spreading mulch, pruning, fertilizing, and killing that chameleon plant over and over again like it’s a zombie in a horror film! Gardens are living works of art that you’re never quite finished with. Many plants misbehave and grow where you don’t want them to, some perish and have to be replaced, some get too large and have to be thinned, but it’s all a part of the process in keeping your garden (and by extension, your home) looking beautiful. Even though tasks like weeding are objectively cumbersome, it’s always satisfying when your hard work renders amazing results like these.

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