Low-water front-yard makeover

How to add curb appeal without raising your water bill

Front-yard makeover
Photo: Norm Plate

Rocks covered the front yard when Ken and Beverly Behymer bought this house in Grants Pass, Oregon. But summers here are hot, and the couple yearned for a more inviting garden, one that wouldn't bake in the sun or raise their water bill by much.

Landscape architect Jim Love's solution: Add mostly low-water plants that give the yard all-season appeal. Now drifts of unthirsty black-eyed Susans, fountain grass, gaura, and Genista lydia provide color; blue star creeper and Sedum spurium 'Red Carpet' fill the spaces between pavers.

Before

Because of the rock landscaping, the soil directly beneath was nearly unplantable. The few existing trees ― a windmill palm to the right of the front entry, and a purple beech and Himalayan birches ( Betula jacquemontii) on opposite ends of the property ― did little to cool the space.

Grasses 

Oriental fountain grass ( Pennisetum orientale) puts out white plumes that mature to khaki. Flame grass ( Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurascens') has green foliage that turns flaming orange just before frost; it lines the inside of the low wall Both take the place of lawn in the Behymers' garden.

Perennials

In summer, black-eyed Susan ( Rudbeckia hirta) infuses the garden with brilliant yellow daisylike blooms. Gaura lindheimeri 'Siskiyou Pink' sends up willowy stems flecked with maroon buds that open to pink flowers resembling butterflies. 'Autumn Joy' sedum takes over in fall, when its pinkish flowers turn rusty brown. 

Trees, Shrubs and Groundcovers

The Japanese maple at the far end of a privacy wall is surprisingly drought-tolerant. During winter and spring, a Viburnum tinus to the left of the entry puts out tight clusters of pink buds that open to fragrant white blooms. Drifts of Genista lydia bear yellow flowers in late spring. Sedum spurium 'Red Carpet' surrounds the flame grass. 

QUICK TIP: RX FOR SOIL To get the plants off to a good start in sun-baked, sterile ground, Jim Love inoculated the soil with mycorrhizal fungus, which helps roots take up nutrients and water. Just before planting, dig this product into the soil (it's available at nurseries).

Design: Jim Love, Galbraith and Associates, Medford, OR (541/770-7964)


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