Capitol Hill Garden Club In Washington, D.C., Since 1952

Taking An Unremarkable Row House Garden To An Urban Oasis

January 09, 2017 7:15 PM | Joseph Purdy (Administrator)

Taking An Unremarkable Row House Garden


To An Urban Oasis



In the fall of 2015, I moved to Washington DC to embrace a recently renovated 1908 Rowhouse that was originally a 4 unit brick apartment building with what was left of a grass backyard, bricked front yard and a fenced alley.  After a gutted renovation, the Builder left us with a tall order of reworking 18 boxwoods, 2 hydrangeas, 10 laurels and only one water spigot.  I did benefit from an open palette to transform an unremarkable space into an urban oasis with a focus on: color, native plants & pollinators, movement, interest in all seasons & low water requirements.


Planning began with the rigor of any new landscape to start with a soil test (from Virginia Extension-Virginia Tech), installation of additional water spigot and a diagram of the space—know what you have and design what you want before you buy what you need.  Tapping into local resources from the Capital Hill Garden Club (Pat Hanrehan & Carol Edwards) as well as co-opting local nurseries & the Arboretum, I began to pull together a diagram that relied heavily on unique plants, pollinators, flowing grasses and anchored specimens, with a color scheme of yellows and blues, white and bright green.


Timing was everything due to a late Spring and after several months of research, consultation and plant/design negotiation, thankfully I was ready with direction from a local landscaper to install the plants and irrigation (June 1, 2016), which included significant mending of the soil since clay is King in Capitol Hill and no friend of pollinators.  As you can see from the pictures, the anchor specimen plants range from a Pom-Pom Juniper Topiary to a Coral Bark Maple, Hollywood Juniper & Rising Sun Redbud, which anchors each corner of the house.   One surprise feature that has really towered & keeps performing is the yellow Golden Showers climbing rose next to the front door (thanks to idea from Garden Club member Carol E).  Recycling and reusing most of the pre-existing boxwoods & laurels, the landscape was warmed with azaleas, camellias, fothergilla gardenia, baptisia, thermopsis chinesis, caryopteris, sanvitalia, salvia, blue fescue & Mexican feather grasses and Bloomstruck Hydrangeas, including a Limelight tree (Paniculata) Hydrangea, while ringing the fence with abelias, euphorbia & coreopsis.  To create a bit of privacy, I rimmed the patio with Schip Laurels, which creates a screen but not a barrier for neighborly conversation.  And, to punctuate the sunset west corner, a Rising Sun Redbud surrounded by red-tipped Panicum Grasses and Dee Runk Boxwoods on the alley perimeter.


Throughout the floor of the garden are scattered partial shade plants, including hosta, coral bells, hellebores and a variety of ferns to name just a few.   Herbs are scattered near the patio, close to the kitchen.   Mazus reptans, (a steppable) creates a fun, walkable pathway to traverse the new environs.


Many thanks to Gardens for All Seasons, Ginko Gardens & Hampton Nursery, Behnke & Valley View Farms and (hole-digger/plant mover) husband Joe+




















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