A flat lawn a few ferns and a lone palm made for a dull yard.
Can a novice gardener successfully revamp a landscape? Absolutely.
Just take a look at Claudia Armann's old front yard in Ventura, California. When she and her husband, Kurt, moved in, the first-time homeowners faced a boring patch of lawn and little else. Two years later, they enjoy a vibrant landscape composed of succulents and drought-tolerant perennials that win admiring looks from passersby.
Armann accomplished this transformation without professional help.
Plants with strong forms predominate, notably agaves and cycads, which complement the existing bird of paradise and queen palm. Mediterranean plants like rosemary add softer texture.
Running through is a bold stripe of color provided by rosy pink lantana and Jupiter's beard, plus purple Mexican bush sage and orange California poppies, as shown on the next page. Sedum and other small succulents trim the edges.
The new landscape uses much less water than the old lawn; most plants need irrigation only once a month. And it's a lot more fun to be in the garden. "There are always bees, butterflies, and birds," Armann says.
Next: Get Armann's makeover basics
In remodeling her garden, Claudia Armann followed five basic steps.
• Find your style. Walk or drive past neighbors' yards to see what kinds of gardens and plants appeal to you most. That's how Armann discovered she liked strong shapes and lots of color.
• Check out traffic patterns. Before you do any planting, observe foot-traffic patterns to determine if you need more paths. Armann added one leading from the driveway to the front door (it's hidden behind late-season plant growth here). That simple step changed her rectangular yard into an irregularly shaped―and interesting―island bed.
• Plant the foundation first. Anchor the landscape with permanent plants that look good year-round; Armann planted agave, lantana, rosemary, and yucca. Then she added seasonal frills like California poppies.
• Be selective and generous. Armann concentrated on succulents in ample numbers for a coherent and dramatic look.
• Ask a friend. Talking to a more experienced gardener can be invaluable.