Time to recap the Amazing Combined Border with my next-door neighbor. It started with the removal of a large Bradford pear on the property line and, in its place, the planting of 5 Arborvitaes 'Green Giant'. Then, in a nutshell, everything was removed and rearranged.
The top photo was taken after the 5 trees were planted but before I'd filled in my neighbor's side of the border. The next photo is how it looked in its first year from her deck and finally, a close-up of her border.
Here are some lessons learned.
1. The correct order of operation is to draw and create the border, THEN insert the plants, starting with the LARGEST and working down to the groundcover. I can tell you from my coaching gigs that nobody does it in this order, and it's no wonder they don't like the results. Typically gardens are half-filled with plants in the wrong places and the new design is far better when they're moved out of the way first. In this case almost all the plants were moved to the holding garden to await the preparation of their new sites.
2. The farther away plants are, the larger they need to be. Or if the plants aren't large, the larger mass they need to be planted in. Keep the small stuff closer to the house where you'll see it. And if there's only one of something it had better be a BIG something.
3. Before drawing any lines, decide on your traffic routes, where paths need to go. Functionality comes first.
4. Use large curves for the lines of the border, nothing busy. Stand back and view the lines as they'll typically be seen - especially if it's from above. Now's the time to make that all-important line one that you like.
5. Once the new bed has been created, smooth the grade before planting anything. Then after planting, correct the damage (extra dirt here, not enough dirt there) and step gently everywhere to settle the soil before mulching and watering.
6. When creating a border where weeds have flourished for decades, weed first, then cover with 3 inches or more of mulch. Keep on top of the weeding the first year and subsequent years will be considerably less work.
7. Use anything you can get your hands on to fill up the new border. Less desirable plants can be moved or given away later as plants fill out. Especially don't throw away perfectly good plants just because they're not your favorites - until you have replacements for them. (I've cringed many a time when shown empty or near-empty yards, whose owners proudly report having gotten rid of the few plants there were. Half the time it's the very plants I was about to recommend.)
8. In the case of my neighbor's backyard, I was frequently warned not to block her two sledding runs into the woods. Otherwise a few dozen kids would be really unhappy with me. There's also a good chance they'd just plow into whatever I planted in the way. So functionality asserts its dominance once again.