Given our urban location, and that our home sits right on the front sidewalk without a yard of any sort, our opportunity to soften the front of our home with trees, flowers or other natural elements is quite limited. What we have to work with are two cast iron urns and a small area surrounding our newly planted city tree.

Though our plans for the tree box are currently up in the air, we can still get moving on urn beautification since the winter left our urns in a cold weather funk. They were brown, dry, and a little sad. In recent weeks I swear, as I would lay in bed falling asleep at night, I could hear them calling out, "help us, we're pathetic."

After recently seeing a 50% discount for local nursery Merrifield Garden Center come up on Groupon, Alex and I purchased two and mentally earmarked this coupon to purchase the flowers for our urns, vegetables for our garden, and ground cover for the area surrounding our tree. 

At Merrifield, we were rather overwhelmed as we walked around the nursery. Annuals, perennials, and vegetables, oh my. This place is absolutely HUGE and has an enormous selection. As gardening novices, I think we both started to feel a little dizzy.

I like to plant something a little different each year, but each year I'm usually confused about what I should do. This year, given the massive selection and very courteous staff, we asked someone for a little assistance. The staffer was incredibly friendly and helped us with the selection of flower and plant type, color, and quantity. We probably spent a good 20 minutes with her. In the end we decided upon sweet potato vines, blackberry punch superbells, white bacopa, and jumbo yellow strawflowers to add to the area surrounding our sky pencils in our urns. (I may sound knowledgeable, but I'm merely retyping the names off the plastic stakes that came with the flowers.) We decided that two of each plant would go in each urn to give it a good sense of balance.

When we arrived home from the store Alex headed out to a Nationals game he couldn't miss (it was bobblehead day) and I immediately got to work planting. My first step was to remove the dead and dying flowers from last year, along with their old knotted roots. Using a small hand trowel, I cleared out the area surrounding the sky pencils until I was left with a clear area around the perimeter.

Next up, I determined the placement of my flowers. I positioned them, still in their plastic containers, around the sky pencils so I could step back to get a good idea how they would look. This way I was confident I would be happy with the final arrangement. I opted to go with a mirror image arrangement between the two urns for visual interest.

Once I was satisfied with the look, I took the plants out and added fertilizer along with a nice base of moisture control soil. Next up, I removed each of the plants from their containers, loosened the roots, and placed them in their new home. Once all of the plants were placed in the dirt, I filled in a bit more of the moisture control soil and watered each urn with two liters of water. And, voila. With about 30 minutes of time and roughly $40 (a 50% savings thanks to my Groupon), the front of our house is already giving off a much more inviting feel.

Now that these urns are happy and colorful, I feel so glad we spent the time last weekend repainting our cast iron stairs and urns. The good coat of fresh black paint makes a huge difference and adds a nice clean backdrop for the new flowers. 

Speaking of nice clean backdrops, the new paint seemed to highlight how dirty our french doors had gotten. They were green with pollen and had lovely drool streaks down the lower panes courtesy of Lulu. Nothing kills curb appeal quite like dirt and drool, so I gave them a quick wipe down on the inside and out. Lulu supervised my activity. 

I'm looking forward to watching the plants fill in over the coming weeks, and to seeing the sweet potato vines grow in to provide a nice trailing effect on either side of the urns. 

Next up? The gross, sad area around the tree, and I'm happy to say we may be making some planning progress on that. 

What do you think of our end result? Did I do a good job with the color choices, plant selections, and contrast with the house? Are you doing any planting in your yard (or on your sidewalk)? 

Comments 13


4/18/2012 at 11:06 AM
I have never heard of any of those plants that you mentioned! I can pick out what I think it the sweet potato vine, at least.

Also, "...Alex headed out to a Nationals game he couldn't miss (it was bobblehead day)..."

This is my life in the spring/summer. Except sub Blue Jays in for Nationals.
Me neither, until now. The sweet potato vines are the really bright green plants that will grown in a "trailing" fashion down the sides of either urn.

You're a baseball widow too, eh? Too bad he's not allowed to decorate our home with bobble heads, or the entire house would be covered with them! ;-)
4/18/2012 at 2:30 PM
Looking good! We got those Groupons too and they also offered them last fall, which we snagged and spent on hydrangeas for the front of our house. Now, we need to go back because we have more stuff on our list ... but we need to build a fence and plant our natives that arrive this Friday before we spend the new ones!


PS - Did you know the Nats have a Pups in the Park night?
Thanks Thad. I couldn't believe the selection they have out there. Impressive and intimidating all in one. And to think Alex wasn't sure we could spend the value of the two Groupons there. Famous last words...

I have a friend who attended Pups in the Park night last year. It sounds like a blast! Have you taken Phoenix?
4/18/2012 at 9:57 PM
Did you go to the closest Merrifield at Lee Hwy & Gallows Rd? And, we had the same idea about the Groupon ... thought that we would get 4 hydrangeas plus other flowers for two of them and, well, that didn't work!

Nope, we haven't taken Phoenix to a game but we talked about it today. Only twist is that we adopted a new pup about three weeks ago and don't know how she would do. Her name is Isis and she is a Great Dane & Mastiff mix (or at least, that is what the adoption place was told). She is currently 14 weeks old and weighs a little under 28 lbs!
Yep, that's the one.

A new puppy???? That's so exciting! She's already Lulu's size. :-) Given that Lulu was best friends with a Great Dane in her last home, I think they might get a long well. Where did you rescue her from?
4/19/2012 at 10:29 AM
We got her from Operation Paws for Homes, based here in Alexandria. They were pretty easy to work with and they even have a volunteer dog trainer that came to check out her and Phoenix's interactions.
Jill PP
4/20/2012 at 10:44 AM
haha - we should totally have a puppy playdate sometime!

Oh, and you guys are probably set for plants, but Lowes is having a pretty good sale right now. Last night we picked up some herb, strawberry, and tomato plants for $1.50 each (they were normally $3.48)!
A puppy playdate sounds great. We're always looking for big, friendly dogs that will tolerate Lulu's obnoxious desire to wrestle.

Thanks for the tip about the Lowes's sale. We'll have to check it out!
4/19/2012 at 9:11 PM
I like your plant selections and it looks like these planters will be very attractive! They already look good with just baby plants; there is plenty of growing to do (the sweet potato vines go crazy and can end up at least 4-5' long with many branchs). I guess the superbells are an improved version of petunias -- keep those deadheaded for continuous blooms.

This is reminding me that it's time to start buying annuals for pots, hanging planters, window boxes, etc.!
Thanks so much! I can't wait until they fill in and look lush. I plan on keeping the sweet potato vines trimmed so they don't get too long and out of control. Thanks for the tip on deadheading. The plastic stake said that no deadheading was required, but I might do it just to play it safe. (Plus it looks nicer without the dead blooms.)
Bill O
4/30/2012 at 8:30 AM
After hearing about Merrifield Garden Center megaplex on my friendly neighborhood blog, I convinced my wife to redo our front area which meant ripping out a tree (which had only been planted last year by the realtor), digging up the old top soil, planting the new tree (an Eternal Dogwood), putting in new top soil, and of course planting flowers. Made for a very long Sunday! BTW, we are 5 blocks due North in a red/white/clue detached house.

A couple of notes:

(1) The Garden Center is truly epic. (2) Dirt is very, very, heavy, especially if it rained the night before. (3) Eternal Dogwoods are amazing.
You are 100% right on all of your points :-)

It sounds like you got a fair amount accomplished. We'll have to wander up your way and check it out.
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