Landscaping: Choosing a Plant Palette

Your front yard is your house's first impression. It's the first thing you see when you come home every day or when guests come to visit, and like any greeting it can really set the tone. A garden full of flowers is a sweet hello. A well-marked pathway says, "Welcome home!" I really believe that, which is why I hate to confess, our yard looks pretty terrible right now.

With the drought last summer, we turned off all the sprinklers, and let the lawn go with grand plans to create a more waterwise garden. Then before we knew it, the seasons changed and we thought we would wait until spring to move forward. So here we are, with a dead lawn, or a clean slate, depending on how you look at it. And we're excited to do some design work and landscaping to give our house a fresh look!

Typically with a full landscaping project, you'll want to start with hardscapes, like pathways and fencing, and any grading changes that need to be made. Then, take a look at where you have more permanent structures — like trees, privacy screens, and boulders — or consider if those are things you want to add. (Check out our post on replacing your lawn for a full overview of the design process.)

Since we moved in, we have removed several shrubs and even a large tree that was close to the house. At some point we'll probably want to replace the entire lawn with waterwise plants and replace the hardscapes and the driveway, but for now we're going to start small with creating some waterwise planting areas and reseeding the lawn with a native grass. 

So this week, we're working on my favorite part of any design project: gathering inspiration and choosing a palette.

I've been collecting inspiration on Pinterest for awhile now. I'm inspired by landscapes that feel cohesive with a style of architecture and that create strong visual interest from a carefully curated plant selection. For our house, that means working with Mediterranean plants that complement the Spanish architecture (bonus: these are also waterwise!) Curating a limited palette is really about putting constraints on what you'll consider. For us, those constraints are: low-allergen plants, year-round interest, and a color palette in shades of green, purple, and white.

Here are a few images of gardens that I love and could translate well for our house. (Click photos for sources.) 

From here, I created a plant palette by identifying plants used here or looking for plants with similar characteristics in terms of color and texture. I see a lot of herbs, ornamental grasses, and soft textures with plenty of movement. 

The top row has plants that can serve as the backdrop for the garden. We have some areas where I'd like to use something taller like the bougainvillea. We also have a few maple trees in the yard, so I want to pull that dark red/purple color through. And the rosemary has a taller upright look, without being a grass (which I'm allergic to.) From left to right: Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) // New Zealand Black Flax (Phormium 'Platt's Black') // Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea 'Mary Palmer's Enchantment'

The middle row is all of my purple accent flowers. Left to right: Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) // Tall Verbena (Verbena bonasieris) // French Lavender (Lavandula stoechas)

The bottom row brings in the silvery green colors and will make up the smaller shrubs/groundcover. From left to right: Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue') // Pine Muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia) // Wormwood (Artemisia 'Powell's Castle')

I'm still on the hunt for some showy white flowers that are also waterwise. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them! And over the next couple of weeks, follow along with us and this project from design and planning through execution.