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Sarah’s Backyard Makeover

We are starting basically from scratch here in my backyard except for the old Water Oak standing solid in the middle. Everything else could go and it has for the most part.

sarah yard no fence

I have a decent plan that I’ve been adding to here and there…pretty much since I moved in. Progress seems to crawl at a snail’s pace around here and we’ve mostly just started the process of removing the overgrowth. When you buy an older home in Southern Pines that requires renovation, you typically get a random pile of bricks somewhere on the property and vines–wisteria mostly, choking the life out of the nearest long leaf pine.

So we’ve been clearing and we put up the fence we discussed here not long ago. From here I’m proposing that we take some smaller steps in manageable phases to eventually end up with a landscaped backyard that is irrigated, has an established lawn, a kitchen garden, maybe a bluestone patio with a firepit and a small perennial section alongside the patio. I mean, that isn’t really a lot to ask! Let’s just chip away at it and here’s how,

Sarah's yard phase 1-3 planI thought I’d just mock up a little something for everyone to see, maybe just to get a glimpse of what these portions of the yard might look like once we get through these phases.

yard right side

well that definitely looks real!

yard right side plan

And then the shed side,

yard shed cleared


yard shed cleared plan




9 Perennials to Plant Now

9 perennials

Hey it’s May, and now is the time to get yourself outside and get some plants in the ground to acclimate to moderate temperatures and take advantage of more abundant spring rains.

Although moderate is quickly giving way to hot, hot heat in NC, we have already seen (and felt) 90–ugh.

Whether you are adding to a bed or garden you already have or are starting from scratch, I’ve assembled a little collection of must-plant perennials that thrive in a range of zones around the country. These 9 have worked well for me time and again and I’m pretty sure they’ll do the same for you all. Plant them in raised beds, layered in with the shrubs, add to your flower garden or your edible garden. Figure out your zone and let’s dig.
baptisia set


With beautiful, graceful foliage, plentiful blooms and a beautiful purple hue, it’s hard not to love Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis, zones 3 to 9). Try it in yellow or “Dutch chocolate”




The ever hardy Lantana with orange-red and yellow flowers steadily blooms the whole season. You’ll have a huge mound of it before you know it, plus it’s deer resistant. Pictured is a cultivar called ‘Star Landing’ (Lantana camara L.) Make sure you buy the perennial and not the annual…unless you really just want the annual.


purple coneflower

Purple Coneflower or Echinacea

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, zones 3 to 8) is an absolute must. There are so many cool varieties to choose from, and they are all easy to grow.


japanese forest grass

Japanese Forest Grass 

I really cannot get over Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, zones 5 to 9). My favorite is the variegated variety. I planted mine under a Japanese maple, and the contrast was genius and it has so much movement. I love it layered with the hydrangeas and just about anything.


globe thistle

Globe Thistle

Globe thistle (Echinops ritro, zones 3 to 9) is one of my favorite perennials. It’s sculptural and its a beautiful shade of purple. I made sure to have it included in my wedding bouquet, as it adds interest to any flower arrangement.


geranium rozanne

Geranium Rozanne

I saw this hardy geranium (geranium ‘Rozanne’) in my mother’s perennial garden a few years ago and have marveled at the way it just keeps blooming and spreading. She finally gave me some cuttings that promptly took off and are thriving. It’s low growing and great for borders in the front of the planting bed.


mexican sage

Mexican Sage

I’m not going to stop talking about this plant until you all assure me that you’ve tried it. When everything is fizzled out in late summer, this salvia (Salvia leucantha, zones 7 to 10) is working it. It soaks up the sun and has delicate light green foliage.



Alstromeria or Peruvian Lily

A lot of you are looking for an easy cut flower that might save you some bucks on fresh flowers. Although we all love the tall guys like Delphinium, Holly Hocks and Iris, you won’t have to stake Alstromeria like you do the tall bloomers. Alstromeria is a common cut flower that comes in a variety of different colors, lasts well in a vase and it’s a perennial–the gift that keeps on giving.


little bunny grass

“Little Bunny” Fountain Grass or Pennisetum alopecuroides

There are so many amazing grasses and next to Mexican Feather Grass this is my favorite. Fantastic for borders or wherever. I love the dwarf growing habit, the change in texture, the petite white plumes and the movement that this Pennisetum adds to the garden and landscape AND I’m a sucker for all things bunny.





















Before & After: A Split-level Remodel

Some neighborhood friends recently put their sweet split-level home on the market. It’s not everyday that people put “sweet” and “split-level” together in a sentence but that’s just one of the words you could use to describe Sean and Claire’s renovation of their house in downtown Southern Pines.

Built in 1962, the house was dated and unkept with zero curb appeal. Sean and Claire painted the exterior, added outdoor living spaces, upgraded the landscape and gave the house a fresh, modern look.

Splitlevel Remodel Before & After

Sean has a little bit of a leg up on the yard improvements because he runs his own landscaping company Butler Constructs.
splitlevel path


Although Sean is the landscaper by profession, the planting beds were a labor of love for his wife Claire. Claire also put the planters together combining ferns, caladium and white impatiens to maximize curb appeal and make the entries more inviting.


splitlevel front door

Sean added some smaller architectural features that collectively make a big impact like the trellis over the lower level entry, new doors, added windows. The couple also made a lot of improvement to  the deck and screened porch area on the right side of the house including adding horizontal boards and wire railing to keep consistent with a modern, updated look.


splitlevel basement door2


A simple arrangement of Oleander and moss is planted in a terra cotta bowl outside the downstairs entry.

splitlevel basement door


Love the look of Sean and Claire’s updated split-level, here’s how to get it,

Get the Look Updated splitlevel


Industrial outdoor wall light / Green glazed planters / Wood Craftsman Exterior Door / Emtek Baden Handleset/ Avalon House Numbers




Spring Garden Prep

Do we have any serious gardening readers? I hope so, let’s talk plants. It’s about time for some Spring Garden Prep.

My Mom and I both enjoy gardening. We have a history with plants and flowers–my whole family does.

My parents owned and operated a greenhouse business themselves for 20+ years. I grew up in a greenhouse and that’s a great story… for another day. Suffice to say, I am a fan of this particular season, when we get to geek out over what’s in store for our Spring Garden.

So let’s get down to the bidness of talking about spring and plant shopping.

We recently paid a visit to one of our favorite garden center spots to stock up for planting window boxes and spring containers at The Garden Supply Company. GSCO always has a great selection and some helpful people working there that can answer all sorts of questions about their inventory. Good trees, good perennials, good annuals, good shrubs, good everything.

I snapped some cell phone shots of some of our favorite stuff at GSCO now. In Southern Pines, we are in a hardiness zone 7. You can look up your hardiness zone here. All of the plants below will work in our zone.


gsco mex sage

This bushy plant will absolutely take off. One of my neighbors has a big clump of Mexican Sage planted around their mail box. It usually puts on a big late summer show after everything else is burned out. I don’t think you’ll go wrong with this one.


gsco succulents

The big indoor garden decor area has a ton of great gifts like this hanging succulent arrangement.


cedar garden trough

Excellent for a small herb garden on the patio or porch if you’re not ready for raised beds yet.


gsco figs

Because it’s likely that you’ve already killed your first Fiddle Leaf, they had several to get you on the path to redemption.


gsco daphne

I know these small Daphne shrubs don’t look incredibly exciting but they have a great variegated leaf and they smell divine, I used to have one planted right next to the stairs leading up to our back door. Great shrub to add a little variety.


GSCO foxtail fern

The foxtail fern is a fantastic house plant that looks cool, has a beautiful spring green color and isn’t that hard to sustain.


gsco evergreens

Dwarf evergreens are not new to us but I still love them every time I see them. They are mini versions of common shrubs and evergreens and they are fantastic for window boxes. Add some of these in a window box as foundational plants that will still be kicking at Christmas and add annuals around them for color and seasonal change. You won’t have to replant the entire planter every year, just change up your accents– kind of like throw pillows.


GSCO snowball

Starts out lime green and then comes on strong as big, white floral balls.


gsco feather grass

Lots of grasses, always. This is one of my favorites. Plant them in mass or in a container for texture. Love layered grasses in any garden but especially in a modern landscape.


gsco jacobs ladder

This is a really an oldie but goodie perennial. The foliage looked great and the bloom was beautiful


gsco mock orange

I’ve been told that the the fruit that these ornamental trees produce is not edible but I’ve also been told that their little oranges can be sliced up and put in cocktails like a gin & tonic. They have all kinds of interest, twisted branches, thorns and tiny little orange-like fruit.


gsco flax lily

Flax is hardy and there are many varieties, this one is desired for it’s variegated foliage. This one would be great for a border, adding a different texture to a perennial garden or combining with a purple or dark leaf plant or shrub.



gsco spirea

I planted some of this spirea in a perennial border garden. It performed really well even in drought and 95+ degree temps.
It has soft, blue-green foliage and grows in a fairly compact clumping form that would work well in front of boxwoods or other larger shrubs as a lavender alternative.

gsco euphorbia


gsco ?evergreen

I missed the name of this evergreen, but we love his sculptural silhouette.
Could it be Hollywood Juniper?


gsco olive tree

Despite a lot of apprehension, I talked my Mom in to buying one of these. The olives that it produces are typically used for olive oil but I love the graceful blue-green foliage.


gsco viburnum

I love to try anything that the JC Raulston Arboretum has already properly vetted as hardy in our area.
Viburnum is another small shrub that’s easy to overlook but can mix things up in foundation planting beds when everyone else around here keeps planting hollies, camellias, azaleas etc.

Are you planting anything?


Outdoor Rugs

By Posted on 0

I know you’re starting to get all antsy about your outdoor situation. You’re thinking you’d be better be draping those market lights in that perfect but effortless way and getting fresh outdoor pillows and such. Don’t forget about an outdoor rug to pull it all together.

Manufacturers and makers have made some strides in the outdoor rug arena, we’ve got some solid choices now. Here are a few of my favorites,

Outdoor rugs


1 Ballard Designs Wainscott rug/ 2 Capel Afghan rug/3 Barcelona Estrellas rug /4 Surya Alfresco Seraphine rug/5 Dash & Albert Mosi Indigo rug/ 6 One Kings Lane Dolores rug/ 7 Pottery Barn Chevron recycled yarn rug / 8 Capel Finesse Moor rug


Out Riding Fences

privacy fence on concrete

On a beautiful 60 degree day not that long ago when winter decided to take a break, I was sitting in my neighbor’s back yard and she asked “so what have y’all got going on over there at the house“.

What she means is–have we got any improvement projects or renovations planned?

I wish my answer was yes. I wish my answer was, “actually yeah, we’re gonna rip the second story off next week and go to town on a master suite, kitchen addition and we won’t stop until we’ve dormered the entire second story. It will be absolutely dreamy.”

My real answer was “Nah, not really, I think we’re going to put up a fence.

Dan and I have been round tabling some fence plans. One reason being, we fancy another dog. And then when we acquire the new dog we need to wrangle the dogs and the kids and privatize our backyard situation.

A small, raised bed kitchen garden would also be me in my future, after all what kind of thirty something would I be if I didn’t want raised garden beds. So that means I need to keep the deer out because I have regular deer visitors.

A fence can be pretty expensive, especially when you have a half acre or an acre of property to fence. Most of the time the cost will be in the thousands for basic wooden fencing so we want to make wise choices to protect our budget and ensure our fence will last.


Create Privacy

Contain pets & kids

Keep deer and bunnies out to make way for garden



The pre-existing 2 foot tall brick wall to the right
Should we build on top of it or to the side of it?

Existing privacy fence to the left?
Should we rebuild or repair it?

How wide should we make the gate?

Dan wants to mix three styles of fencing together.

Dan’s fence proposal:

Run a traditional and very standard privacy fence down the left and right side, like the fence below. Dan’s thought here is that we will ultimately plant evergreen trees and shrubs that will eventually almost mask the entire fence. But for a while-likely this entire season and for the next five years after that, we will see a lot of fence.


Then he suggests that we fancy it up on the front portion with something like this,

cedar fence gate

And then along the back in the woods he proposes we cut costs and put some wire fencing there. It will disappear into the woods and you won’t notice it.

wire fence

I on the other hand only want to mix two styles of fencing. Dan and I agree on the fancy front and we agree on using a wire fence on the back because it virtually disappears in the woods. Where we disagree- using a simple and boring privacy fence down the left and right sides.

I’d rather have something like this installed,

privacy fence

The sides in my plan match the front sections. Here’s another simple fence design with the top board and simple columns and it’s sitting on a short concrete wall kind of like the situation we have with the low brick wall.

privacy fence on concrete

We are meeting with the fence contractor this week to get a quote. I’m hoping there isn’t that much of a difference in cost between that boring version that Dan wants to put down the side and the more finished look with the top rail that I want to install.