Transform Your Yard Into a Garden

Transform Your Yard into a Garden


Iseli Nursery hosts a display garden, not a display yard.

Before you begin your yardwork endeavors this year, might I suggest something? Instead of viewing your landscape as a “yard” and requiring “yardwork”, view your landscape as a garden. If you don’t think your landscape resembles a garden, I challenge you to transform it into one. I’ll help you.

There’s difference between a yard and a garden. A yard is the plot of land that comes with your house, often hosting little more than a few trees, some foundational shrubs, and an expanse of lawn. “Yard is term that is often synonymous with unpleasant work, and I don’t care to use it. My job is to help you go above and beyond as I believe our outdoor spaces should be better than that. In a sense, a garden is on a higher plane, utilizing the space a yard has to its maximum potential for bringing beauty, tranquility, and joy.

“Welcome to Paradise” sign.

Seen from the parking lot, our nursery sign says: “Welcome to paradise. Everyone should have a sanctuary in their own backyard. A paradise where everyday worries are forgotten, and life becomes simple and refreshing.” I imagine it’s difficult to argue with this viewpoint.

Let’s talk about transforming your backyard (and front yard!) into a garden – a place for the cultivation of beautiful plants and for becoming a sanctuary for the soul.

Before I lose you, I am going to talk gardens for the average homeowner and landscaper. There are plenty of horticultural hobbies that can take up lots of time but I’m here to help you get acquainted with plants that are easy to maintain and can be instrumental in a true paradise garden.

A Garden is Better than a Yard

A weeping Norway spruce, Baptisia, Heuchera, Astilbe, and Columbine come together around a bird bath in employee Aaron Grabiak’s garden.

A garden almost always conjures positive feelings. What do you specifically envision a garden to be like? Do you imagine a lot of flowers? A Japanese-inspired garden? Billowing grasses and weeping trees swaying in the wind? Outdoor furniture and a water feature?

I imagine you’re thinking of some wonderful things. I imagine these are things you would like to have for yourself. So, the next question is, why don’t you have what you’d like to have?

Is it because you are too busy? Are you on a tight budget? Is it because you’re not sure where to start? Maybe you dislike your clay soil or are haunted by the presence of deer? Are you afraid the result will require a lot of maintenance?

If you have the desire and willpower, don’t let these deter you. I think if most people realized that a garden can be easy to maintain, could be done on a budget, and realize there are plants that will tolerate most soils, a lot more people would do more than they do.

Scarlett O’Hara Morning Glory adorns a chain link fence in my old flower garden, bringing life to a postage stamp plot of land.

If you want to transform your yard into a garden but are unsure how to start, we can help you. We’re always willing to suggest ideas and provide tips. Experience matters, and we have a lot of people who’ve been gardening for years. For us to be most helpful to you, please bring in some photos and if possible, a sketch of your yard.

Make Your Garden A Destination

A garden destination.

For a garden to live up to its full potential, you want to make your garden a place you yearn to be in. Imagine it as an extension of your house, becoming another a room – or several – where you go to be comfortable. Like your living room, you want the garden to be a place where you are naturally drawn. Everyone arranges and decorates their home to be comfortable – so why do so many skimp on the yard? If your outdoor space is a bother, I’d say it’s time for you to reevaluate that! After all, your mortgage payments include your outdoor space so you’re paying for it. Make your yard worth your while!

This applies to both the front and back areas of your landscape! Consider making the front a visual invitation of neighborly love and the back a private, paradisiacal oasis for your friends and family.

Incorporate What You Like

A path in employee Jerry Stanczak’s garden is adorned with shade perennials and draws the wanderer in.

What element of the garden excites you the most? For me, it’s flowers. My favorite gardens mimic Eastern prairies and meadows. Perennials and ornamental grasses are the workhorses in these gardens. Others favor conifers, such as fellow employee Frank Gribbin, and prefer unique evergreens as the bread-and-butter of the garden. Many are drawn to water, so a landscape that liberally uses water features would be a highlight to them.

We carry a large variety of plants, so you have a lot of possibilities.

Think of what appeals to you and relate it to a theme. I recommend you have your garden draw inspiration from the natural world rather than be just a collection of plants. Perhaps a Japanese tea garden (called roji), rich in Japanese maples, ferns, and other Asiatic plants sounds appealing. Maybe a native woodland garden that replicates Pennsylvania’s natural woodlands does too. You might also like to do a rock garden to give off an alpine or desert vibe. You might like blending elements or even creating different gardens with different themes in the landscape, tied together with a few repetitive plants that weave them all together.

The possibilities are numerous, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Looking at Pinterest is a great way to find some inspiration. Write some ideas down and think about them for a while. Utilize our Plant Finder for ideas on specific plants.   Plumline Nursery Plant Finder – Pittsburgh Murrysville Plum Monroeville Trafford Pennsylvania PA

Think big and we’ll help you put your thoughts into action in a practical way so it’s straightforward to install and maintain.

Where to Begin

This front border in employee Aaron Grabiak’s front garden utilizes repetition with irises, which is easy on the eye.

To begin, I recommend reading the prior blog entry on landscaping. This will help get you started. 6 Tips for Landscaping Your Yard This Year – Plumline Nursery/

I will mention the contents briefly here.

Understand the cultural conditions in your landscape and plan accordingly. Matching the right plants to the right conditions is foundational.

Use variety. For example, don’t rely on shrubs alone and neglect perennials. At the same time, avoid a hodgepodge – instill some rhyme and reason to the landscape. Stand back and look at the big picture often. Too often people see their landscape as a collection of small plots; be sure to view your landscape as a whole. Layer your beds by planting larger/taller plants in back and smaller ones in front.

Start planning the big plants first, starting with trees. Give them the room they will need at mature size. Ideally, you should not need to regularly prune plants for size control. Then fill in with your smaller plants.

Small Things Can Be Big Things

Sometimes it’s the small things that make the most impact. If you have a large maple or oak on your property, think about how you can utilize the space around it to be inviting. You could consider adding a swing, hammock, or a small picnic bench under it, with seasonal bed of Coleus and Torrenia around the base. Doing so would instantaneously make the tree a destination rather than a background.

Transforming your yard into a garden doesn’t have to be backbreaking every step of the way. Little steps can be just as impactful as the big steps.

This section of Iseli Nursery’s display garden hosts a picnic table and a water feature.

Utilize Water Features

One thing that sets our display garden apart from many outdoor spaces is the presence of a pond, installed in memory of Bill Tribou. This pond also features a “bubbling brook” that flows into it which greatly enhances the appeal. There is something simply alluring, refreshing, and meditative about being near a water source. I know I always find home landscapes with water features uniquely memorable and appealing. If you stop and think about it, you might too.

Would you consider adding a pond to your paradise garden? Maybe a water fountain? Perhaps a birdbath or large, undrained pot for a few aquatic plants? If you have a large outdoor space that drains poorly, have you considered creating a rain garden? If you’re answer is no, I invite you to rethink it.

Five Steps to Bring Paradise to Life

This pond, built in memory of Plumline founder Bill Tribou, is the centerpiece of Plumline Nursery’s display garden.

I love lists. They make remembering things and executing them so much easier. Here is my list on transforming your yard into a garden.

1. Identify types of plants you like. Write down plant names, colors, textures, and anything related. Avoid repeating what your neighbors have because chances are, they’re only planting what they’ve seen others plant, and so on. We don’t want you to “keep up with the Jones”, we want you make your landscape a paradise.

Employee Jerry Stanczak’s garden is layered with a variety of shade perennials and shrubs.

2. Identify the cultural conditions in your landscape.  Learn to know your landscape as if you were a land manager.

3. Take photos of your yard and make a sketch. Do this for yourself but also bring it in so we can help you. Look at some of my other posts for information. Develop a theme for your garden so it’s cohesive.

4. Before you begin installing plants, divide your yard into several areas and work on one at a time before moving onto the next. Start with larger plants, trees first and shrubs second. Make a strategy so you are not overwhelmed. Avoid redoing huge sections at once so weeds don’t get the best of you – they like to pop up in areas that have been disturbed.

My 2018 flower garden in Pittsburgh, with morning glory, Zinnias, and annual sunflowers was a bare yard just 4 months earlier.

5. Make your garden a destination. Focus on plants but also utilize things that bring people together. Examples include benches, tables, a firepit, a pergola, and water features.

Most people spend good money on decorating and making their homes comfortable. I invite you to do the same with your outdoor space. You can do this with a small yard just as you can with a big yard. I hope I’ve helped inspire you. Make your yard a garden and let it become a paradise.




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