A Garden Tranformation Gets Finished-How to Make it Work!

March 21, 2024

How We Beat The Rabbits

This article is the culmination of a lengthy project to create a garden transformation. This piece discusses how to make it work! You can find the start of the project in the post “ How To Find A Low Maintenance Ground Cover That We Love And The Rabbits Do Not.” It’s us vs. the rabbits, that is the issue! Finally, the project to add needed ground cover material, long anticipated, took place as one of the many ‘Covid Projects’ created by people around the world during pandemic times.

The rest of this post was written during the lockdown period and the garden is in hardiness zone 10b in South Florida.

Stating The Problem-Needing a Garden Transition

It was not a terrible problem, but yet an annoyance in the garden. Normally, a family with varied interests; we can put up with a little garden problem. But this is a pandemic year; we are as isolated as we have ever been. (I come from a family with religious rituals, and as a kid, I attended prayer retreats with nuns, that offered a far better social life than we have now!)

I’m hoping we’re done with grocery delivery, hands fried from sanitizer and washing while humming “Happy Birthday”-and doing the whole song, including “speech, speech! But you never know. What I have learned is that in a time of self-imposed isolation, a normally minor annoyance in the backyard can become a burr under the saddle! We no longer wanted to but needed to dig up the turf and build a walkway and seating area for cool winter evenings. (Now this is May in South Florida!)

The Outcome We Wanted For The Garden?

ground cover walkway The core of the garden transition
Walkway With Groundcover And Seating Overlooking the Pond And Wading Birds

The Problems to Deal With

I don’t care where you live or what you do for a living, but a little improvement project of any kind makes you proud for a bit, however nearly always it eventually leads to that quicksand of more improvement projects as one little accomplishment makes you want to tackle ‘just one more.’

Making a Garden Transformation

The initial garden transition-a small butterfly garden

We moved to this “downsized” house and immediately “upsized” everything about it! Early in the project, we built the pool in the screened patio you can barely see in the photo. (This provides the “bug-free” indoor-outdoor lifestyle that Floridians love.) You can roll out of bed and into the pool!

Behind the new pool, the backyard abutted a pleasant pond that attracted wading birds and was altogether a benefit. However, our backyard was extraordinarily boring! It’s an environment commercially produced by homebuilders that local residents call “green, on green, on green.” These are community-provided landscapes, snooze-worthy and hot as the dickens with no shade beyond three palm trees.

The little planting bed above (designed to attract pollinators) was an early project. It followed the swimming pool. The intention of the swimming pool project was to create the feeling of a ‘garden pool’ the sense that you are floating in a garden. Here is how it worked out.

The Garden Pool from the project to add ground cover that rabbits do not love!

With the pool in place, we then wanted to improve the area directly behind it!

The Butterfly Garden-The Start of A Garden Transition

We built this little butterfly garden, initially, only 12′ x4′, with small flowering trees and a young palm. Then we added, large shrubs and some more trees, and finally tied together two planting beds into one long serpentine of flowering shrubs and trees. Four years later; and we had produced, maybe a little too much shade in some places for the turf. St Augustine is, by far, the most popular turfgrass used in Florida. It is a bouncy substance, nothing like the temperate climate lawns we northerners were accustomed to. St Augustine is a very successful turfgrass but it likes the sun, it’s not much for shade!

creating a view while adding ground cover the rabbits don't love

Then we planted the Littoral Shelf. This was my husband’s project and he added grasses and flowering plants to the edge of the pond. The view became more attractive, we saw more wading birds, and the little waterside bench we had in place was suddenly not enough seating in the garden!

ground cover project-views develop

Let’s tear out the turf between the pool and the serpentine beds and have another place to sit on cool evenings. That was the plan. Then you add in the pandemic feeling of, isolation and a fairly good idea becomes a necessity, do it yesterday!

The Specifics

  • Make a rustic walkway to enter the seating area
  • Build a seating area with pond views
  • Find a pleasant groundcover and some plants for scent and sight
  • This is a small backyard, we will plant vertically as well as horizontally
  • We are moving into the Marsh Rabbit’s territory (also deer and a pretty big paw print we found one morning!)
  • We need plants we will love and nobody else wants to eat
  • The back of the house is pretty much glass-we need everything we do to improve the view
  • Do the whole thing in a way acceptable to our HOA

From Concept to A Real Garden Transformation

The first post discusses the groundcover choices, we included plant material we have used before and loved. But do the rabbits love them? Rabbits and deer are pragmatic creatures. They don’t like strong scents. Under normal circumstances, they will avoid them. In times of true hunger, all bets are off.

We have decided on the ground-covering materials we love, and we are going to use other plant materials to discourage grazing animals.

Ground cover choices

The Result-The Garden Transformation With Ground Covers

So far so good. The plants are taking root, we put them in during our hot wet summer moisture and everything seems to grow with enthusiasm.

The Plants

Around the stepping stones, we planted shiny, dark green dwarf mondo grass. Our stones are closer together and our plant material is younger but this will give you a general idea.

The Rustic Idea

We wanted this area to have a rustic feel as if we were sitting out along a rural pond, so pavers were not the right idea. After a little research, we found this wonderful stone yard in our town.

How To Shop At A Stone Yard

This is how buying stepping stones works. You drive into the stone yard and get in line behind the huge trucks. Drive onto the scale, they weigh you and the car. Then, you go and pick out some stones.

The irregular paving stones are in huge wire bins, in long rows, sorted by colors. Red stones, green stones black stones, ours are silvery with shiny dots. You pick out the ones you want (foot size) and fill your car.

They weigh your car on the way out and you pay for the difference. In our experience, this produces beautiful material and it is not very expensive.

Along The Sides

asiatic jasmine

This stuff is Asiatic Jasmine. It is a low-growing, low-maintenance ground cover that creates a green bed over the ground. It doesn’t care if it’s sunny or shady, and you trim it a couple of times each year. It is hardy and evergreen in zones 7b-10.

We added a little dark green liriope around the edges.

Our summers are hot and sticky, and we did all the planting ourselves early in the morning. The plants did seem to thrive in the warm heat.

Every Garden Transformation Has A Few Surprises

After ignoring all of the ground cover materials for several months, in the winter the rabbits did eat the Asiatic Jasmine. Planting the Cuban Oregano near its edges did help, but is not a perfect solution when food is scarce.

Our primary ground cover materials are Liriope and Dwarf Mondo grass but some of the Jasmine is regrowing. There are links to information on the plant material at the end.

Discouraging The Rabbits

The Marsh Rabbits are cute, and mostly they are amusing neighbors, grazing in the grass as we take morning walks. They eat the new hibiscus blossoms that drop from the little trees every morning as we have coffee outdoors.

They can be problematic, one neighbor grows wonderful, huge petunias but only in tall pots. Too tall for the rabbits who stretch to get them every morning.

They will eat the ground covering materials if really hungry. Here is what we planted to discourage them. It seems to be working.

Herbs With Strong Scents

We like the scent of our aromatic garden herbs, and they are fun to cook with. The rabbits and deer are not so happy with them. This pretty one is Cuban Oregano and whenever I put out a pot of it the rabbits leave.

They live under the shrubs in the back yard but they graze in the turf. So our cordial relationship is able to continue after the garden transformation is finished!

Summary: Some Resources You Can Use

We were able to find good research into ground cover choices and their likely impact on the rabbits (and deer). Here are some sources we used and a few on our project. You can do the same in your climate. Start with your local agricultural university and other regional experts. Good luck with your project.

Ground Covers-University of Florida

‘How to Find a Low Maintenance Ground Cover The Rabbits Don’t Love’

‘Liriope vs. Mondo Grass’

‘Solve Ten Problems with Ground Cover’

‘A Beautiful Green Ground Cover-Asiatic Jasmine’