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Originally published May 17, 2013 at 11:00 AM | Page modified May 21, 2013 at 5:02 PM

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Scaling down brings garden's beauty, and joy, into focus

Garden designer Lucy Hardiman has helped shape and reshape her good friend's Portland property over the years. "It's definitely less busy now, and there's more definition to the spaces," says Hardiman after the latest round of renovation.

Special to The Seattle Times

Local news partner - Plant Talk

Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them.

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Great article, as a former landscaper, and still a Painter of flowers, I used to try to... MORE

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IS YOUR GARDEN overcrowded? Too much work? Wearing you out? Probably all three, considering it's late spring and everything is growing apace.

Here's a strategy: Simplifying your garden not only cuts down on work, but makes the place more beautiful. Honest. Fewer plants and stronger design give a place to rest your eyes, as well as a chance to rest your back. You might even get to sit down in a lawn chair and enjoy your own garden this summer. What a thought.

We can learn from the tale of two Portland gardeners, Lucy and Nancy, who have been working over the same third-of-an-acre city garden for a quarter century. Nancy Goldman is the garden owner, an avid celebrant of the "more is more" philosophy when it comes to plants. She never met a showy annual she didn't love. But even such devotion meets up with the realities of an overplanted garden, and more so every year as plants get bigger and we grow older.

Luckily for Goldman, her close friend and "spiritual garden guide," Lucy Hardiman, has an eye for design and a practical bent when it comes to maintenance. Over the years, garden designer Hardiman has helped Goldman shape and reshape her property. "It's definitely less busy now, and there's more definition to the spaces," says Hardiman after the latest round of renovation.

But let's back up. Goldman's Midcentury home in Portland's Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood started out with a conventional lawn and foundation plantings. The pair started by moving shrubbery away from the house, and removing lawn to create more generously scaled planting beds. Which Goldman promptly filled up with perennials.

Two years ago, Goldman admitted the front garden was out of control. "The eupatorium was 10 feet tall, and it grew so rampant it smothered out a witch hazel," Goldman says. "It was all so thick you couldn't even get a shovel in the ground."

Here's how Hardiman puts it. "Nancy has a very high-maintenance style, absolutely, very plant-centric. My job was to focus her."

Hardiman designed a 12-foot circular gravel terrace to offset Goldman's rectangular front yard. She floored it in dark gray gravel, and outlined both terrace and wide new pathways in flat-bar steel to keep the gravel where it belongs. "The gravel is 5 to 6 inches thick, and we ran a compactor over it twice," explains Hardiman of her anti-weed strategy. The terrace is backed by a handsome curve of open metal screen, and in front a hedge of 'Green Tower' boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens 'Monrue') provides screening from the street.

It was a fairly inexpensive project that cuts down dramatically on maintenance. Why? The terrace is large and the walkways wide so there's less space to plant. Hardiman added evergreens to Goldman's more flowery palette, repeating the boxwoods in the landscape for vertical focal points.

"It was Lucy's vision to plant 18 Lonicera nitida 'Twiggy' as ground cover," says Goldman, who has herself added evergreen carex and 'Sunshine' privet. She sounds surprised at how much she likes the more permanent, year-round elements. "I love lots of plants, but I like the structure of the boxwoods," says Goldman, who then adds, "But now I have 64 lilies to plant ... don't know how that happened!"

And how do the two friends reconcile Hardiman's design aesthetic with Goldman's desire for plants and more plants? "She listens to me, and I listen to her," says Hardiman

Not a bad mantra for any successful project.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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