Family garden

How to design your landscaping for kids, a dog, and a very full life

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  • Plants separate patio from kids' play lawn. Concrete edging makes mowing easy.

    Family garden

    Jim McCausland

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Smart plant choices

"One of my goals," Stacie explains, "is to demonstrate that there are lots of drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plant choices for the Northwest, and I try them here before I recommend them for anybody else's garden." Many of these plantings are shrubs that she mixes freely in the border with low perennials and grasses.

Some of Stacie's favorite shrubs include viburnums for hedging, backgrounds, and fillers; small-leafed rhododendrons, which are more sun-tolerant than most; Tatarian dogwood (Cornus alba 'Elegantissima') for its red winter twigs and variegated summer leaves; and most of the less-than-3-foot Euonymus species.

Among ornamental grasses, Stacie likes 7-foot-tall maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus') for its coppery plumes that mature to cream, and a 20-inch variegated sedge, Carex morrowii, which is a good edging plant. Of the dozens of species of perennials she grows, she has particular favorites that add lovely splashes of color. They include Euphorbia x martinii, Salvia nemorosa 'Ostfriesland' (or East Friesland), asters, single-flowered Japanese anemones, Hosta 'Francee', Corsican hellebores, and a range of true geraniums ('Ann Folkard', 'Ballerina', and 'Gravetye' top the list).


"Low maintenance" is always a relative phrase. Most perennials, for example, demand more upkeep than shrubs. In all, Stacie Crooks's garden gets a weekend of serious attention in March, about three hours of attention per week from then through fall, then nearly a week of cleanup in November. During the growing season, she tries to do all of the maintenance at once ― on a Saturday morning, for example ― because it's easier and more practical than trying to work in piecemeal garden time while juggling her kids' schedules and her own business.

Shade out weeds by planting shrubs and perennials close together. Stacie also treats weed-prone areas with a preemergence herbicide to stop stray seeds from germinating.

Fertilize effectively. Stacie's plants get a dose of organic 5-5-5 fertilizer at planting time, then again every spring. Beyond that, she applies only composted horse manure every second autumn.

Group plants by water needs to make the watering easier. The lawn, which is watered only by rain, goes dormant in summer.

Use a mowing strip of paving material to keep grass out of the planting beds and make edging easier.


Divide the garden into separate areas, by function. Consider a patio for quiet dining, lawn for kids to romp on, a corner for the dog.

Separate each space with shrub borders, level changes, or low hedges. Dividing the garden makes the property look bigger and more functional.

Match plants to spaces. Put soft-textured but tough plants around places where kids play. Ornamental grasses, sword ferns, and heathers are good choices.

Use a tough lawn grass that is easy to care for and bounces back quickly from foot traffic. Less-thirsty dwarf tall fescues stay evergreen year-round in warm climates. Perennial rye is a good choice for the Pacific Northwest. Seeded lawns are generally more durable than sod for heavy traffic use because they establish deeper roots.


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