Four short years ago, Wendy and Andrew Shoemaker’s yard was what Wendy calls a disaster. Overgrown tree seedlings, weeds and poorly placed landscape edging adorned a landscape with a few scraggly plants. Now, the garden invites visitors to the yard and encourages them to stay with welcoming colors and fragrant blossoms.
Not intimidated by the jungle of weeds, Wendy decided to start with her end goals in mind.
“I designed it first,” Shoemaker says. “I went down to the county and got a map of the property to start with. Then I bought some books on design and started reading.”
Shoemaker hired a landscaper to help her determine which way the water would drain in her nearly flat yard and kept that under consideration when making later plans. She later planted a river birch, a native tree that likes water, in the corner that was most likely to collect water.
The next step was to look at sight lines and sun exposure. “I spent a lot of time figuring out what I wanted to look at and what I wanted to hide. I also looked at the sun and where it was shining at different times of the day around the yard,” she says.
From there, Shoemaker built a plan complete with trees, shrubs and hardy perennial flowers.
“We built the footprint, got rid of the grass, rototilled and hauled in something like 7 tons of topsoil. We spent a lot of time amending the soil, then we put the big trees in.”
Besides the river birch, Shoemaker used arborvitae to provide an upward accent to the masses of rounded perennials in the front of landscape bed. Next, she added shrubs including Diablo ninebark and sub-shrubs like Russian sage. Ornamental grasses came next, with a combination of maiden grasses and Karl Foerster feather reed grass.
“2007 was the foundation year. I didn’t really have a lot of pretties,” Shoemaker says. “In 2008, I was finally able to start filling in.”
The garden is full now, with tall native Joe Pye weed and five different varieties of coneflowers.
“I really studied the plants to get the right thing in the right location,” she admits. “And I started off thinking I had a full sun garden, but now I have a part sun garden with a few shady spots.” As Shoemaker’s trees grow and fill in, she has had to move a few plants for the changing light.
A collection of hostas fill in the shadiest area but are surrounded by sun-loving daylilies and bee balm.
The front landscape came later: A simple bed with tall garden sedum, Hameln pennisetum, chrysanthemums, dwarf spirea and a chaste tree with brilliant purple spikes. Just like the back, Shoemaker looked for plants that were described as “drought resistant, hardy, native, or takes abuse.”
Looking at the array of colors and textures and breathing in the fragrance from the hosta blooms, it is hard to imagine the bare weedy areas with which the Shoemakers started.
Shoemaker shares best part about the lush landscape and hardy plant selections: “This house came with a sprinkler system, but I’ve never turned it on.”
I think she’s picked the right plants.
— Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. She or an Extension Master Gardener can be reached at 843-7058.