Make a great first impression with your garden

As the saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That adage also applies to the entrances of your home and garden. Thresholds set up a feeling of anticipation and give hints of what guests can expect as they move into your private realm. Here’s how to make sure your entry extends a warm welcome:

Start at the property line. You may think of a garden gate or front door as your entrance, but guests get their first impression the minute they step onto your property. Place clear directional guides—such as a wide walkway, an arbor, a pair of containers, or large matching shrubs—at the perimeter of your property to direct visitors’ attention to the entrance.

If the door or gate is not in immediate view when visitors approach, help steer them in the right direction with additional points of punctuation along the way, such as rhythmically spaced shrubs lining the walk or a prominent focal point that draws them to the next turn in the path.

Create a smooth transition.


When guests reach your door, greet them with an area that mixes indoor and outdoor elements. By placing a chair, bench, or cushioned settee near the entry, you help soften the line between your home and garden. Weather-resistant fabrics and rugs, outdoor lamps, and decorative containers filled with colourful plants create a look that blends interior comfort with the beauty of nature. The mix offers a relaxed, “sit-a-while” feel that also draws your family outside to enjoy the scenery. These in-between spots enlarge the feeling of adjacent areas indoors and out, making both feel larger.

Build continuity. To strengthen the connection between your home and garden, repeat the same materials, colours, and architectural elements. For example, if your home’s porch has columns, duplicate that element in an arbor at the entrance to your garden. If your home is brick, incorporate the same material in steps, pillars, or planters in the entry. You’ll be amazed how this technique unifies the look of your property.

As you assemble plants, containers, furnishings, and objects to accent your home’s entryway, choose items that match the style of the house. Two wooden half-barrel containers would be as out of place in front of a Victorian home as a pair of highly ornate iron urns at the entrance to a rustic cabin. When the décor at the entrance complements the colours and style of the house, it makes the transition between indoors and outdoors smooth and cohesive.

Make it personal.


Surprise and delight guests by displaying your personality and sense of humour in your entryway. Since people often stop at a gate or door before they enter, they are more likely to notice things there. Add items that reveal something about you, such as a plaque with a favourite saying, a memento from a trip, a colourful hat, or a handmade object. One of my clients had a large ceramic goose that welcomed guests to her front door. All year long, she costumed the goose with seasonally appropriate outfits for the amusement of her visitors.

Keep it easy. For gardeners with limited time, there are many new products that take the work and worry out of dressing up your doorways. Beautiful outdoor furniture that can stand up to the elements is available in styles and materials that complement interior furnishings. And striped awning fabric is no longer the only choice for pillows, cushions, and tablecloths. Rugs, lighting, clocks, and art all come in weather-resistant materials. Self-watering containers, lightweight faux stoneware pots, and low-maintenance plants make amplifying your entryway even easier.

Layer Your Look

Here’s how to use containers as a quick and easy way to enhance your entry:

• Lead visitors up flower-strewn steps to your doorway by positioning colourful containers along the way. Make sure your stairway is wide enough to allow visitors to get past the containers as they enter your home.

• Welcome guests with an eye-level bouquet of fragrant and colourful flowers in a hanging basket near the door, or on a table just outside the threshold.

• Frame the entry with a pair of matching containers to give it more importance and architectural interest.

Best bits of Autumn In the Garden

Spark up your late-summer garden with plants that add colour and interest even as fall’s cooler temperatures arrive. By choosing plants that offer features such as colourful foliage, attractive seed pods, and interesting textures, you can create a “second spring” in your garden. Here’s how to choose plants that will keep your garden looking its best from now until frost:

Clean things up. 


By the time September rolls around, many plants have lost their luster. Annuals often look leggy and worn, many summer perennials are finished blooming, and foliage is tattered and torn. Take a close look at your flower borders and containers with an eye for what can stay and what must go. Clean up and pinch back plants that will revive during the cooler days of fall (such as petunias), and pull out annuals that are past their prime.

Take an inventory. 


Now you’re ready to see the “blank spots” that could use a splash of colour or some added texture. Make a list of the empty spots in your garden and how many plants you need to fill each gap. If you don’t have specific plants in mind, write down a general description of plants that would be ideal for each spot. Include colour, height, and growing conditions. For example, your shopping list may look like this: three 24- to 32-inch full-sun plants with lavender flowers and one gray-green 18-inch shade-loving plant. Your list of general characteristics makes shopping much easier, and will come in handy if the specific plants you have in mind are not in stock.

Heighten visual interest.


As you make your list, keep in mind that plants with contrasting shapes, textures, and colors make good partners. Pair foliage with flowers: A classic combination is a feathery ornamental grass with the bold blooms of ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum. This creates more visual interest than a group of flowering plants. Look for opportunities to use plants with interesting textures, such as lacy ferns and waxy-leafed European ginger. Choose plants with flowers or foliage in autumnal shades of orange, reddish brown, purple, maroon, and butterscotch. These plants create a colour bridge between your summer and fall garden. If you need to fill in a spot between two clashing colours, rely on harmonising shades of grey to soften the contrast.

Rely on containers.


In established flower beds, you may prefer not to disturb the ground with more plantings. An easy solution is to pot up containers and place them throughout the garden. You can choose plants and pots in bold colors to create dramatic focal points, or use more subtle shades that will quietly blend into your border. Revamp existing containers next to entrances, decks, and patios by slipping in some fresh plants, or add more pots and fill them with autumnal interest. Take advantage of seasonal accents such as gourds and pumpkins for an extra punch of color.

Early Autumn Tips


Since temperatures can remain high and rainfall low in early autumn, take special care to make sure your garden stays beautiful throughout the fall.

• Water new plants frequently to encourage the development of strong root systems. • Give established plants 1 inch of water per week.

• As you remove spent blooms from your plants, let some flowers develop seed pods for naturalising, such as larkspur, nicotiana, and cleome. Leave others for their interesting form, such as hydrangea, coneflower, and ornamental grasses.

• Continue weeding to keep flower beds tidy.

• Maintain 2 to 3 inches of mulch around plants.

Monarch and Milkweed Butterflies

With their bright orange and black wings, monarchs are one of the most easily recognisable butterflies. They are found coast to coast in the United Kingdom, and they’re one of the species most likely to show up in a butterfly garden. But there’s more to the story. The monarch in your garden is like a long-haul trucker stopping for a meal—this little creature travels hundreds or thousands of miles in its lifetime. And you can be part of this butterfly’s incredible journey by planting milkweed, the one plant absolutely essential to the monarch’s life cycle.

Be part of a massive migration. Monarchs are well known for their long-distance, multigenerational seasonal migration. Each fall, monarchs fly thousands of miles on their delicate wings to ancestral roosting sites, where they spend the winter months semi-dormant in large colonies. Western monarchs migrate to dozens of locations along the California coast, where they cluster in native trees and the ubiquitous and exotic eucalyptus.

East of the Rockies, monarchs make a more dramatic migration.


They fly from southern Canada and the northern United States all the way down to a handful of high-elevation sites in the mountains of Mexico, where they roost in the millions. It’s breathtaking to see so many monarchs hanging in the trees that their collective weight sometimes breaks branches, and to hear the sound of millions of butterfly wings flapping on warm days when the monarchs take flight to sip water from puddles.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this migration is that it takes place over several generations. The last generation of the summer hatches at the northern limit of monarch range. That generation delays sexual maturity and, triggered by the changing season, begins the 3,000-mile journey to Mexico, where they spend the winter. In early March they reach sexual maturity and head north, mating as they go. Some get as far as southern Texas, where the females lay eggs and die. The next generation hatches and, after completing metamorphosis, heads north and east and repeats the process.

Over three or four more generations, they repopulate the rest of the continent east of Rockies, until the last generation of the season begins the southern migration again. A similar, though shorter, migration happens west of the Rockies as monarchs overwintering in California head north.

Understand the milkweed connection.

Butterfly gardens must provide food for both adults and caterpillars. Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed, a double-duty plant that also serves as a nectar source for adult butterflies. Milkweed also has a sap that contains alkaloids, which make the insects taste bad to birds and other predators. The striking coloration of the monarch evolved as a warning that tells predators, “Don’t eat me; I taste bad.”

Make a monarch garden. Start your monarch garden by planting milkweed species such as swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), butterfly weed (A. tuberosa), antelope horns (A. asperula), and common milkweed (A. syriaca). If possible, choose a species that’s native to your region.

Plant native perennials to provide nectar from spring through fall.

Because monarchs migrate, late-season nectar is particularly important. Some good choices include coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), ironweed (Vernonia spp.), Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium spp.), sedum (Sedum spp.), verbena (Verbena spp.), asters (Aster spp .), and goldenrod (Solidago spp.).

Add some dense shrubs where the butterflies can hide from hard rains and strong winds. Don’t use insecticides, which can kill butterflies. Then sit back and wait for these orange and black beauties to arrive.

Avoid Butterfly Bush

Butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.) has long been a staple for gardeners trying to attract butterflies, and there’s no doubt that butterflies find the shrub irresistible. An import from Asia, butterfly bush comes in many colors and grows in a variety of conditions. However, butterfly bush has become invasive in some parts of the country, notably the Pacific Northwest and the Mid-Atlantic region. Choose native perennials and flowering shrubs instead.

Wildlife gardens

Wildlife gardens should include more than just the furred and the feathered. For your next garden project, consider the slithery and the slimy, too. Before you think “Ick!” and flip the page, consider this: Reptiles and amphibians—including salamanders, toads, snakes, turtles, frogs, and lizards—are some of the most important pest predators. Mosquito larvae, adult mosquitoes, flies, slugs, beetles, voles, mice, and moles are all on
the menu.

Amphibians and reptiles (collectively called herptiles) are also prey for other species of wildlife you might want to attract. Red-shouldered hawks, roadrunners, and herons are just a few of the birds that eagerly gobble frogs, lizards, and snakes. Herptiles are food for all sorts of mammals, too, including opossums, javelina, and foxes.

Herptiles can also tell you whether your environment is healthy. Amphibians absorb gases and liquids through their sensitive skin, making them very susceptible to toxins. They cannot survive in polluted environments, so if you find them in your garden, you know it’s healthy for your family and pets, too.

Here’s how to attract these beneficial creatures to your garden:

Provide cover.

To attract tree frogs and lizards, make sure you have plenty of dense vegetation—this provides hiding places and hunting grounds. Brush piles also offer hiding spaces for frogs, lizards, and turtles.

Provide warm rocks. To attract reptiles, build a rock wall or rock pile. In addition to providing hiding places for many types of beneficial wildlife, rocks serve another important purpose for reptiles. Reptiles need to bask in the sun to absorb heat and metabolise their food, so they love to “lie out” on sun-warmed rocks.

Don’t use pesticides. Pesticides rob herptiles of their prey and often kill them outright. Amphibians, in particular, are very susceptible to pesticide poisoning.

Give them a drink. A backyard pond planted with native species can offer everything many herptiles need to survive. Frogs find shelter, hunting grounds, and places to lay their eggs in ponds. Aquatic turtles and snakes also find shelter and food in ponds. Ponds provide hibernation places for many herptiles and a clean water source for drinking.

Build them a place to lay eggs. While you can’t build a house for herptiles to raise their young like you can for birds, you can create a pond where amphibians can lay eggs. Keep an area of sandy soil in a sunny spot for turtles, snakes, and lizards to build nests. Baby herptiles receive no parental care or protection, so dense vegetation and brush will give them places to hide from predators.

Reptile or Amphibian?

People often confuse reptiles and amphibians. Both groups are ectothermic, which means they depend on the outside environment for temperature regulation. In places with cold winters, they hibernate at the bottom of ponds or underground. They often share the same habitat. But that’s where the similarities end.

Reptiles (snakes, lizards, and turtles) are covered in dry, scaly skin. Most species lay eggs with leathery shells in nests excavated in the ground. Amphibians (frogs, toads, and salamanders) generally have moist, smooth skin. They lay their eggs underwater or in wet environments on land, such as under rotting logs.

Here are some tips to identify the critters that show up in your garden:

Snake or Lizard? Legless glass lizards are often confused for snakes. Here’s how to tell them apart: Lizards have eyelids and external ear openings, unlike snakes. All snakes are carnivores, while some lizards eat plants.

Frog or Toad? Toads are really just one type of frog. Toads tend to live in dryer environments than other frogs and have dryer, bumpier skin. They walk or hop on short legs, whereas frogs have long legs for swimming and leaping. Frogs have tiny teeth; toads don’t.

Lizard or Salamander? Lizards are reptiles with dry, scaly skin. They lay eggs with leathery shells. Salamanders are amphibians with moist skin, and they lay their eggs in wet environments. Many salamanders produce skin toxins as protection from predators.