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Easy 'welcome home' garden

Ground cover and ferns create a simple, soothing entryway. 

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    Underside of fronds from a hay-scented fern. (Dennstaedtia Punctilobula).
    Lee Reich/AP
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Looking for something different from the typical foundation plantings, but not interested in becoming an expert gardener? Got a brown thumb? Want something low or almost no maintenance?

First, the bad news: There’s no such thing as a no-maintenance garden. And no matter how low maintenance the garden ultimately becomes, it will still need some help (watering, weeding, fertilizing, perhaps some light pruning) during its first few years.

Now the good news. Anyone can create an attractive, soothing front dooryard garden that says, “welcome home,” without draining his or her wallet or energy. 

Rule No. 1: Think big. Some of the most frequent mistakes novice gardeners make are choosing plants that are too small, planting them too far apart, and using too much mulch.

Yes, when you’re down at a chipmunk’s eye level, the plants look bigger; yes, the plants will grow; and yes, the mulch makes the beds (temporarily) look tidy. But for the front entryway, you want something that looks full and finished, and you want it fast.

Rule No. 2: Nothing will kick-start that process quicker than installing large masses of a single plant. Ferns are one deer-
resistant choice that can grow in sun or shade (depending on which ones you choose), and offer a wide variety of heights, textures, and shades of green – from the black-green of the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichium acrostichoides) to the bright chartreuse of the deciduous hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula).

Combine the ferns with an evergreen ground cover such as periwinkle (Vinca minor), pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), or bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) to serve double duty by covering up the ankles of the ferns in summer and hiding their tatty foliage in winter. (Ask your local nursery for other suggestions for appropriate ferns or ground covers.)

Ground covers are, by nature, aggressive spreaders, so do keep an eye out and trim off the runners before they become invasive. This doesn’t take much time, if it’s done consistently. A word of caution: Dump, don’t home-compost, the trimmings, or you’ll find your ground cover sprouting up everywhere.

Folks in warmer climates can achieve the same effect by substituting low-growing succulents such as sedum or hardy ice plant (Delosperma) for the ground cover and upright or spiky plants, such as agave, nolina, or yucca, for the ferns. The principle is the same: a low carpet interspersed with a medium-size plant that is visually striking.

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