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Simple Design Steps Can Take Your Garden To The Next Level
A bench around a tree and raised flower and vegetable beds, all built by landscape designer Katharine Pinney from discarded scaffolding, are shown in a kitchen garden at a home in La Canada, Calif.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The flower beds are finished, the vegetables are growing, and yet something could be missing from the backyard landscape: That “wow” factor.

Adding a personal touch to the lawn and garden doesn’t have to be complicated or break the family budget. Homeowners can transform an ordinary looking landscape with some imagination, design, and perhaps the help of a local agriculture extension service, landscape professional or private nursery.

“A garden is really never finished,” said Jonathan M. Lehrer, chairman of the Department of Urban Horticulture and Design at Farmingdale State College on Long Island, New York. “Sometimes the most difficult thing is kind of taking that plunge and deciding you’re going to develop an area or start a project.”


Some ideas that gardeners can use to start taking their yards to another level:



An arbor, pergola, lattice — even posts with netting wrapped around them — will grab attention, especially at a yard’s entrance. It also adds height where homeowners normally think only about length and width, Lehrer said.

Adding clematis, climbing roses or honeysuckle along them will provide long periods of blooms.

Arbors decorated with lights can also define garden rooms and set up views to the space beyond, inviting exploration, said Katharine Pinney, a landscape contractor and designer in Los Angeles.

“Use them to lead your visitor through the garden,” Pinney said.



A path with mulch, gravel, brick, pavers or flagstone with edging will encourage a stroll.

Pinney said the simpler the path’s route, the better. But Lehrer suggests avoiding a straight, linear pathway.

“Trying to use more curves, twists and turns, that kind of adds the illusion of a longer length than it might be, that mystery of what might be around the next corner,” he said.

Pinney said the choice of pavers should reflect the architectural style of the house. But mixing materials, such as brick and flagstones, adds visual interest.

“In short, use your imagination!” Pinney said.

Placing decorative pots loaded with flowers along the way will create a focal point and add color.



Benches and tables are a must for homeowners wanting to make their yards a hangout. Having limited room shouldn’t be a deterrent.

Pinney said she designs numerous small gardens because the old bungalow neighborhoods in her area have narrow but deep lots.

“Dividing that narrow space into rooms makes the garden seem larger,” she said.

Pinney and Lehrer suggest building a fire pit, a cooking area, or a place for dining or simply to enjoy morning coffee.



Pinney suggests incorporating items that reflect the homeowner’s personality. One of her clients loved wine and held tastings with friends. Pinney said she planted wine grapes for the customer and used old wine bottles from restaurants to border a path.

Old brick from another customer’s 1920s bungalow was incorporated into the border of an outdoor groundcover “rug.”

“A homeowner should think about what would make the garden a reflection of their personality and interests,” Pinney said.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Lehrer added, “I’ve seen people that are not going to be going to the beach. So they’re creating pool areas, adding inexpensive holiday lights and lanterns and bringing music outside.”



Landscaping timbers can create tiered walls and stairs to bridge elevation levels in the backyard while creating more planting beds in between. They’re also great for creating individual planters. Timbers are available in both natural and synthetic types.

Pinney said treated lumber secured with timber screws is best for terraces, but not for vegetable gardens.



Depending on the climate and sun requirements, consider planting small trees along the edges.

Japanese tree lilacs and crape myrtles provide vibrant summer color. Trees with spring blooms include redbuds, white and pink dogwoods, flowering crabapples, ornamental pears and star magnolias. To get the earliest spring blooms, consider planting forsythias.

For northern climates, Lehrer strongly suggests the cornelian cherry dogwood. It has yellow flowers in the spring and red cherry-like fruit in late summer and early fall. The leaves turn red and orange in the fall, and as the tree ages, the outer bark peels, revealing an orange-brown color.

“It’s a four-season plant that is extremely tough,” he said.



A big garden bonus is a visit from a butterfly or hummingbird. Plants that produce nectar and pollen can lure them in.

The 4-H Children’s Garden at Michigan State University includes a butterfly house that is open in the spring. Education coordinator Jessica Wright said attracting butterflies means having compatible plants for the caterpillars they begin as. These can include fennel, dill and milkweed. Other flowering plants can act as butterfly magnets.

Among the plants that attract hummingbirds are bleeding hearts, cardinal flower, impatiens and petunias. Both butterflies and hummingbirds are drawn to bee balm, butterfly bushes and zinnia. Birds and butterflies do require water, so consider adding feeders or a bird bath.

“The interaction with nature is the next level,” Wright said. “It’s great to see them enjoying your garden as well.”