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S19 E28: Rethinking a Garden

Not all landscape projects require starting from scratch. In this special episode, Jenn helps a few homeowners decide which plants can stay, which should go, and which ones just need a little TLC.

Previous episode: S19 E27 | Next episode: S19 E29

In this episode:

In this episode of Ask This Old House, Jenn Nawada shows that not all landscape projects need to start from scratch. She starts with a visit to an 1860 Greek Revival, where the overgrown landscape doesn’t quite match the renovated home. Jenn is called in to take the landscape back in time by recreating a design made in 1914.

The homeowner kept an over 100-year-old landscape design of the home and is hoping to use it for inspiration to clean up the current landscape and even mimic part of the design. The architect who came up with the plan was a pupil of Frederick Law Olmsted, an architect famous for many of the landscapes around the US, including New York’s Central Park, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, and the National Zoo in Washington D.C. One of Olmsted’s main goals in work and life was to help people escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. He wanted to create sanctuaries and naturalized landscapes in urban settings. The influence of Olmsted can be seen in the design that the homeowner currently has. With lots of work, Jenn and the homeowner turn part of the overgrown yard into a landscape that Olmsted would be proud of.

Next, Jenn helps out a homeowner who did some major landscaping six years prior, when he bought the house; but as the environment changed, so did the needs of his landscaping.

Designing a landscape means finding the right place for the right plant, but as the environment changes, the “right place” for a plant can change too. The homeowner has neighbors very close to one side of his house, so a dogwood tree was planted to act as a privacy screening. Unfortunately, the tree died over time, leaving a large gap to see the neighbor’s home. The homeowner loved the original landscape layout, so Jenn decides they can keep the old plan and plants with just a few adjustments, and still manage to screen out the neighbors. They manage to give the landscape a whole new look without even visiting a nursery. Jenn demonstrates how you can sometimes use your own garden to go plant shopping. In this case, Jenn takes some of the overgrown perennials and separates them along the property line to give the yard more color and fill in space. To create a privacy screening, Jenn suggests playing “landscape checkers” by digging up plants and reorganizing them to fit the homeowner’s current needs.

Then, Jenn visits a home with a spacious, beautiful backyard. The homeowner admits that maintenance of such a large garden can be difficult. The last owner of the house set up separate gardens all over the backyard to break it up, but one section is causing issues.

Large weeds have taken over and the project has turned overwhelming. After examining the space, Jenn explains that the garden just needs to be organized and sectioned to become a lot more manageable. She points out that the yard already has a lot of pieces to become key features of a secret garden. Once they clean out the garden they’ll be able to uncover other elements and plants that can be incorporated into the new garden design. The key to a secret garden is to have areas of “discovery” — meaning different elements of design will reveal themselves depending on where you stand in the garden. Plants can be chosen and placed to lead you to each discovery so that you can really experience the garden. Jenn turns an overgrown landscape into a charming secret garden path featuring a variety of plants, stepping stones, a sitting rock, and a fish pond.

How to Reimagine a Historic Landscape Design

Ask This Old House landscape designer Jenn Nawada uses a historic landscape design from a protégé of Frederick Law Olmsted as inspiration to transform an overgrown backyard.

How to Revitalize a Landscape for Free

Ask This Old House landscape designer Jenn Nawada updates a landscape by moving around, dividing, and pruning the current plants in the yard.

Where to find it?

Jenn used only plants that already existed in this homeowner’s yard, but they can also be found at nurseries. The tools Jenn used, including the tarp and shovels, can be found at home centers.

Expert assistance for this project was provided by Kelstrom Landscape, Inc. of West Roxbury, MA and Nawada Landscape Design.

How to Create a Secret Garden

Ask This Old House landscape designer Jenn Nawada cleans up an overgrown garden and redesigns it as a secret garden

Where to find it?

In Jenn’s opinion, a “secret garden” landscape design requires elements that allow a person to experience and participate in the garden. Elements like walkways, entrance/exit points, and destinations within the garden are all key elements to a good secret garden design.

Like with many of Jenn’s landscape designs, she relied heavily on elements of the garden that were already in place, though most of the things she reused can also be found at garden centers and nurseries.

Throughout the garden, Jenn used a variety of plants, including sedum, Cherokee brave dogwood, sempervivum, stonecrop, hen & chicks, lavender, Provence, Hakone grass, blue jean baby Russian sage, and witch hazel. In Destination 2, Jenn planted some thornless dwarf blackberry bushes and some Indian summer raspberry bushes. In Destination 3 by the pond, Jenn planted a Tamukeyama Threadleaf Japanese Maple. All of these plants can be found at nurseries.

Expert assistance with this segment was provided by Yard Works, Inc. and Nawada Landscape Design.

Original Air Date: Sep 5 2021 Season 19; Ep.28 23:42

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