Younger homeowners, especially, often ask how they can create a small, colorful garden of low-maintenance shrubs, flowering trees, and healthy shade grass without a lot of knowledge—or money. And the answer is, it’s pretty easy and doesn’t cost that much.
Among some of the hardiest flowering trees are weeping cherries, which create a great focal point in a small garden in either the back or front yard. The cascading branches of these ornamental trees, growing up to 25 feet, boast dainty, pale-pink blossoms in spring. Another good choice is the eastern redbud (they need partial sun), which grow long, up to 30 feet, with irregular branches, dotted with large, almost heart-shaped leaves.
A particularly popular flowering species is the Bradford pear, but before you buy this non-fruit-bearing variety, be aware it may grow to 50 feet. Bradfords achieve near-perfect symmetry, with thousands of snowy-white blossoms in late spring, offering either great curb appeal or a stunning centerpiece to a private garden, where its leaf coverage can also double as a privacy screen for a neighbor’s windows.
Another good choice is a crabapple, though they need full sun and often a companion for cross-pollination. Look for thousands of fragrant pinkish-white blossoms, creating a dense canopy up to 25 feet tall that attracts a wide variety of birds, bees, bumblebees, and butterflies.
As far as shrubs, the list is long, but among the most popular that do well in the Mid-Atlantic and also provide great cut flowers is the butterfly bush, which comes in white, pink, and purple. It needs lots of sun and blooms from late spring until frost. Taller varieties (up to 10 feet) are best, produce robust growth throughout the year, grow back nicely after heavy pruning, and have blossoms that attract butterflies. Hardy hydrangea “Limelight” shrubs are another good choice, producing large, cream-colored flower ovals and retaining their blooms in dried form until early winter. They need partial sun, and room to grow up and out—they grow to eight feet tall and eight feet wide.
Despite all you’ve heard over the neighbor’s fence, hardy roses are an easy addition, too, if you go with the right ones and have a sunny spot. Jackson & Perkins brand roses are among the best as they offer cottage climbers (Don Juan, up to 12 feet), shrubs (Goldbusch, up to five feet), minis (such as the Cupcake at 14 inches), and tea roses (such as the American Heritage, which grows to six feet).
And, finally, you need some grass for that shady (read “muddy”) spot—but do this before the heat waves hit. Measure the area to be covered with grass seeds before buying premium garden soil and high-quality compost to create a blend. Instead of buying an off-brand, try one of the sun-shade blends created by those clever scientists at Scott’s or another recognizable brand.
Break up the red clay, and mix it with top soil for a 2-to 3-inch base. Mist it with water, then thickly but evenly, spread grass seeds onto the mix. Gently water the total area and cover everything with straw. Keep area misted daily. Within 10-14 days, new blades of grass should appear.
Now it’s time for that garden party!