Landscape Makeovers


Your home is probably your biggest single investment. Its care and upkeep – which can be costly – is necessary to maintain its value. Some say that landscaping doesn’t add value to a home, but I firmly believe you only have one chance to make a positive first impression. The plantings that surround your home contribute to the overall impact of your property.

If you have an older home with an older landscape, chances are that things are overgrown, or even out of control. Many times plants and trees are planted too close to the house or too close together because the owners either didn’t know any better, or they wanted a quick fix. Either way, in 10 or 20 years, it will need a serious ‘facelift’.

Occasionally you may have to start over, and have the plants and trees removed and repurposed as compost, or chipped to use in pathways. But there are ways to renew shrubs and trees with proper pruning and shaping, and if you have ever shopped in a nursery or garden center, you know how much new plants cost. Imagine what a 20-year-old shrub might be worth if it can be saved.

Refer to the architecture of your home
It is important to know the ultimate size and growth habit of plants and trees. For instance, yews are commonly used in residential landscapes as hedges, but yews grow bigger and bigger in girth and root as they are constantly trimmed and shaped into a 3- or 4-foot hedge. We trim them like hedges for 20 years and expect them to still look good, when in reality they want to be trees. It becomes a perpetual battle.

To restore or rejuvenate, the first step is to note the architectural features of your home and determine which ones should be accentuated. Always make the entry the clear focus; it should be inviting and easily accessed. There have been times that I’ve pulled up to a house, gotten out of my car, and not known where the front door was. This is very bad, even if you don’t use the door yourself.

The entry should be a focal point. This can be done with walkways, but also the landscape should provide a visual flow to the door. If you think you need privacy for windows and doors, consider that a tree can be planted further out from your house as a barrier, but not block your view from the window.

The next step is to identify all of the plants and trees in the landscape, decide which ones you really love, and then see if they can be restored to health and shaped to work with the house.   Mature trees and shrubs are not easily moved, so if they are overgrown and too close to the house, they may need to be removed. Don’t feel bad. These plants have done their job for many years, and there is a cycle of life for plants.

A landscape rehab – before
The unique home pictured on page 26 (“before”) and above (“after”), built in 1929, featured landscaping that had grown out of control. Trees were planted too close to the house, and shrubs were overplanted and overgrown. Some of the key pieces here include the Dogwood tree on the right, which was planted way too close to the house. However, the new homeowners love it, so we are going to trim it and keep it.

On the left side of the large fireplace chimney is an evergreen tree that should have been planted about 10 feet from the house, instead of 3 feet from the house. The windows were completely covered, and plants were overgrown. The design features of the house, like the artistically unique copper roof over the door, the balcony windows and the slate roof, were lost in the jumble. I prefer to use evergreens near the front door so that it looks alive and inviting during the winter months.

The landscape did not draw attention to the beautiful Juliet balcony in the center of the brick wall. In fact, it drew it away. A tree to the right was only 12 inches from the wall, the five chamaecyparis pisifera shrubs under the balcony were planted too close together, and two would have been enough. Directly under the balcony are three weeping hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis “Pendula”) that are buried behind the other shrubs. Plus, they were not centered under the balcony.

Restoration involved removing the tree on the right, and removing the chamaecyparis pisifera shrubs under the balcony and the extra hemlock to the left of the balcony. I then trimmed and shaped the remaining hemlocks to make them appear to be centered under the balcony.  Replacing the overgrown shrubs with dwarf Rhododendrons called “Ken Janek,” gives a clear view of the renewed hemlocks. It also adds spring flower color and evergreen interest for the winter.

Where there were four Hydrangea bushes, I kept two, and moved remaining shrubs back off the walkway a bit. Unlike Arborvitae, the four column-shaped Junipers (Juniperus scopulorum “Blue Arrow”) stay narrow, and accent that beautiful balcony.

Removing the overgrown and unhealthy plants near the door made room for new evergreens, like the unique blue tree Cedrus atlantica “Horstmann” to the left of the door, and the blue spruce “Montgomery” (Picea pungens) to the right, both accenting the color and shape of the copper roof. New perennials emphasize the colors in the brick and the front door.

I also renewed the hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis “Pendula”) on the left side of the door by pruning and shaping them, and limbed-up the large cedar to allow light into the far left window. The witch hazel shrubs (Hamamelis) have been thinned and shaped to expose the big beautiful chimney and the window. The foundation plants ground the house and accent the architecture, while the perennials give the landscape seasonal color and textural interest.

When you have completed your home’s rejuvenation project, you will know you got it right when the traffic slows down to enjoy the new look!

story and photos by K.C. Fahy-Harvick
K.C. Fahy-Harvick is a perennial and aquatics expert. She works with garden designs, installations and maintenance. Visit for more information.

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