Norm Plate
Irish moss adds texture to a path flanked by river birches.

Classic formality and whimsical flair


When Jeff Lightbody was designing a new landscape around his century-old home in Boise, he didn’t set out to create a pair of gardens with two personalities. But that’s what happened: The front yard wears the demure façade of classic formality, while the backyard evokes a whimsical flair. Yet both gardens combine cold-hardy plants to form a seamless brocade around the house.

Lightbody, a former landscape designer, chose foliage to provide the main visual interest, with flowers as a seasonal bonus. In the front yard, an entry path is flanked by sweeps of groundcovers, ferns, ornamental grasses, and shrubs nestled around basalt boulders, with a few perennial flowers used as accents. River birches ― with their flaking, cinnamon-colored bark ― stand as sentinels on either side of the front steps. Lightbody likes to prune the low branches of the tall, deciduous trees to “show off their naked legs,” he jokes.

In the 1,250-square-foot backyard are three sitting areas ― spaces that are defined by fences, walls, and “floors” made of wood decking and pea gravel. Lightbody uses the vertical surfaces for displaying collectibles.

To get a sense of Lightbody’s whimsical taste in garden decor, drop by his shop, Epitome Home and Garden (closed Sun; 121 N. Fifth St., Boise; 208/333-0123). 

Landscape lessons

Create a garden gallery. Turn conventional objects into objets d’art. Group pieces on the ground or on walls as you would hang pictures. Jeff Lightbody strives for a look he calls “contained clutter.” A cluster of pots in varying shapes and sizes dresses a corner of the deck, while a collection of manhole covers paves a seating area, and faucet handles embellish a wall.

Loosen up. Avoid straight lines by curving or zigzagging the edges of paths, patios, lawns, and garden beds. Arrange grasses, perennials, and groundcovers in informal drifts that appear to spill from one to the next in planting beds. Add accents here and there, such as a square trough filled with sedums and succulents.

Harmonize colors. Choose plants and paving materials with an eye toward the exterior house color. In Lightbody’s front yard, the buff sandstone path picks up the terra-cotta color of the front steps. The tan trunks of river birches echo the color of the house walls, while the white birch trunks repeat the window trim. In the back garden, too, colors harmonize, like the blue and red clematis that twine around garden art. A richly rusted livestock trough and vintage washbasins overflowing with flowers and foliage (far right) blend the garden’s earth tones with splashes of color.

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