First Rule of Design: Boring Now Equals Timeless Later

In June 2013 when I was working on my landscape transformation, I was at the Nursery and I called Mary Anne White (my Landscape Designer) because I was shopping for Hostas and this was how our conversation went:

What do Hostas and Subway Tile have in Common?

“Mary Anne, I’m here and there are so many beautiful Hostas, I can’t decide! There’s yellow ones, I love those, then there’s these green and white ones, green and creamy ones, should I get some of each?”


“Get 12 Yellow ones.”

“Oh, Okay” I said. “You’re right.”

I’ve probably told this story to most of my clients since then when we talk about finishes for the house.

Here’s a sample of an email I get almost every day in some shape or form:

Loved your backsplash article. I am at the point of our kitchen remodel where it is the moment to choose a backsplash to compliment Neptuno Bordeaux aka river Bordeaux granite counter tops.
One thing I have already realized is that I need to wait a day or two until the LED under counter lighting is installed.  I realized this when I used an LED flashlight to look at the granite and saw quite a bit of golden hues I never knew were there with regular or daytime lighting.
I love the movement in this granite, and know I want it to shine as the focal point.
My husband and I are going bonkers trying to decide…. He is wanting, I think the size is 1×3 split faced rough marble that has different thicknesses in a beige/ ivory. While I love it on the sheet 12×12, I fear it will be too much. Based on your article – you will probably agree.
I will be thrilled to send you photos of my granite and cabinetry if you like. I would appreciate your thoughts and/ or suggestions.”

Here was my response:

“Yes absolutely the choices you are considering are WAAAAY too busy. Cream subway tile is the most timeless choice and will allow your granite to be the most important element in your kitchen as it should be.

The end.
Stop Looking.
I mean it.
Are you still reading this?
You will hate everything else very soon.
Okay that’s it, haha.” Maria

My reader was a great sport and replied:

“Haha!!!! We loved your response email…  Tell us how you REALLY feel!! Ha!

Bottom line – after reading your email, my husband said, “I think she might be right.”

I can’t wait to get some samples now instead of my previous floundering.”

I have written so many posts on keeping your finishes simple I’m always kind of amazed when I get yet another email like this, Secretly I’m thinking “Do you really think I’ll say something different from subway tile?”

However, since landscape design is not my area of expertise I notice that I’m behaving in the same way my clients do!

I love everything, I’m so happy to have the luxury and privilege of designing my yard so it looks exactly the way I want, I think it should all be there (within reason, you know what I mean).

And over to you my lovelies. How many kitchens in our lifetime do we get to renovate and then choose exactly what we want? For some of us one, if we’re lucky.

So then we think EVERYTHING THAT WE LOVE has to go into it.

That’s when it gets crazy and we end up with a look that we don’t love because we did not follow the simple and boring rule.

Read on and you’ll see where my Hostas were planted.

What do Hostas and Subway Tile have in Common

Remember this (above)? This was what we inherited beside the house towards my design studio, I can’t wait to show you what it looks like now, it’s so incredible, every day I can hardly believe this is our house! I’m waiting until some more flowers bloom before I show you the after picture.

I owe it all to Mary Anne’s vision of course, she’s spectacular. If you can even do a consultation with a drawing and a plant list with her you will be sooooo happy like me.

What do Hostas and Subway Tile have in Common?

Here’s the after I posted last year after I cleaned it up, but I had to look at this for a whole year.

Funny story, after the demolition of our yard, we were having a chat with our neighbour who said:

“If you’re not going to maintain it, you should hire someone!!!!”

Later I said to Terreeia “Do we look like people who would not maintain our yard? They have seen the inside of our house right???”

Then of course I realized it’s because we did not even pull weeds at all last summer. The only thing we did to maintain our yard was cut the grass. The dandelions would grow along the side of the driveway beside the bed that sat there and only if there was a really large one in front of me when I stepped onto the walk did I stop to pull it out.

First Rule of Design: Boring Now Equals Timeless Later

I mean truly, was it going to look any better pulling the weeds out considering it was soooo ugly? No.

So we left it as is. Understandable that our neighbour would be worried. No one needs more dandelion seeds blowing on their grass. I get it now, haha.

Boring Now Equals Classic Later

So here are my 12 beautiful yellow hostas along with white Astible and bleeding hearts. Oh and white hydrangeas towards the front of the house on the left.

My entire garden is white flowers with the exception of the yellow knock-out roses that will grow long my white decorative fence in front of the vegetable garden in the backyard.

It’s so exciting to watch it come together!

Related posts:

Danger: Free Advice will Sabotage your Expensive Renovation

Sneak Peek of my Boxwood: Before & After

Professionals Know When to Avoid the Obvious

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Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours – It’s All in the Undertones to get my complete step-by-step system on how to get colour to do what you want.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

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  1. It looks so beautiful, Maria! You’re fortunate to have such a great LA. We have a lot of standard green hostas that came with our house. Occasionally I’ve tried to get rid of the ones in the front border, but when I throw them on our yard waste heap in the back, they take root! Very hardy and tough plants, but unfortunately the deer simply love them. If I don’t spray Deer Out assiduously, they look chomped on–not very attractive.

    I second the advice regarding your stone walkway. It looks gorgeous but in time will become a trip hazard–but maybe where you live there is no frost heaving? That’s what makes unset stone so difficult in the northeast. It will, however, require regular attention to the inevitable weeds. How to combine beauty and practicality is a constant challenge.

    BTW, my new kitchen is almost done–will send pics after the hood is installed. The hard surfaces are not busy–just beautiful Carrara marble counter tops and everything else white. Cabs are chantilly lace, subway tile is a gloss white and shelves and trim match the tile. Floor is wood. You’ll probably think there is too much stuff out, but I’m a cook and need things to be handy. But the backdrop to all my stuff is very serene! Doing this kitchen would have been much more difficult without your advice, and I very likely would have gone wrong with the paint color. The room is flooded with light (I think about what you say regarding white in dark spaces, advice I frequently pass on to other people, attributing it to you, of course), and all the white makes it so bright and cheerful and welcoming. I love it!

  2. Great advice as always, Maria! Briefly, twenty years ago when I bought my first house, I was one of those people who loved EVERY plant at the nursery and wanted three of each! (Designers say to group in threes, right?) I re-designed and re-planted all the existing beds in my new yard all by myself over a period of about five years. It was fun. But I spent the next ten years “correcting” all of my mistakes and maintaining my poorly planned gardens. Now, it’s such a mess, I try to ignore it, weeds and all. (My neighbors surely are not happy.) Your advice of “keeping it simple” is so helpful!!!! And of course, as you always say, hiring a professional will save us from costly mistakes! Thanks for a great post!

    Have a happy Canada Day!

  3. Lisa Sontag Kissee

    I would not have gone with the yellow hostas just because I don’t like yellow flowers but, I must say it looked awesome. Guess I better reconsider about yellow flowers. ugh

  4. Absolutely beautiful Maria!
    In the second before picture, I was wondering, how did you get your neighbour to trim their overhanging bush/tree? Did they voluntarily do this, or did you do it for them!

    I love the tree planted to obscure the streetlight, I bet it drove you crazy looking at it…

    My tip would be to plant Hyancinth bulbs around the hostas in the fall. I did this at my last home, at my front door. They come up very early before the hostas emerge from the ground and the frangrance is wonderful as you pass by. Then the hosta leaves emerge to hide the fading and dying foliage of the bulbs, which will come back for many years.

    Watch out for slugs, they love hostas. So if something starts eating them, that is probably what it is. Here in the dry Okanagan, we have had so much rain in May and June that I’ve seen slugs 6 inches long while walking in the wilds near the creek. (Normally never see any)

    I smiled about your neighbour’s comment about upkeep. Our neighbours thought the same about us, when we moved into our house. It was newly built on a lot carved out from the one next door, so was on an established street. The builder left the side yard which faces the street unfinished. This is our main yard, it was a jumble of weeds and wildflowers, so we left it the first year and it grew three feet high.

    Had to wait for enough money to finish it properly, with a rock wall, an expensive fence and five truckloads of soil to level it out, but it is safe to say that I have the nicest garden and yard in the neighbourhood, it is quite beautiful. My Bonica roses are an embarrassment of blooms right now. I do have before and after photos, fun to look back at all the hard work.

    PS I love Christina Lake! The last time we camped there it was so-o-o hot. Have fun.

  5. this post was hilarious…it is all about knowing your shortcomings and hiring experts….if we would only follow our own advice!! I love subway tile as well…and what is more economical?!!

  6. That path is truly a work of art. Beautiful plantings. Great space you’ve created out of something that almost cried for beauty. I bet your house gets a lot more folks walking by just to see how lovely it is…

  7. Fabulous look with the hostas, Maria!

    I agree so wholeheartedly about keeping things simple! I work in kitchen design and some of the combos people want to use…well, we gently try to redirect them to- as you say, “a timeless look”.

  8. LOVE IT!

    I made the same mistake with my wedding flowers– there were so many I liked, I couldn’t tell my florist my vision. My boquet was very pretty, but in hind sight — I wish I had kept it simple!

    Great article!! ox Tess leeds (AKA KAtherine Jenkins)

  9. Hi Maria, it’s been so long since I’ve left a comment, but I still read along 😉 The after on your walkway made me gasp!! I LOVE it and am inspired to do the same. I have a bunch of hasta varieties, but am going with a sea of yellow for a spot in the back yard. Can’t wait to do it.

  10. Love love love the pathway and plantings Maria. Your yard is looking so beautiful! I also loved your honesty about how the garden area is not your expertise & you are acting like your clients. I thought that really cute. You are so down to earth and I love that too. lol

  11. Looks fantastic, Maria! I’ve been working on our yard this summer too. It’s a lot of work, but very gratifying when it turns out the way you envision it.

  12. Maria you always astound me with that great eye of yours! The side yard now looks so very lush and restful! Enjoy the holiday!

    2013 Designer Series

  13. The plantings look great and will get even better as time passes. I think that now you need a better solution for the hose.

  14. Another wonderful transformation. So pretty. Love Hostas, but unfortunately I don’t have the climate for them. They make me miss the Easr Coast. So many varieties, how did you decide on the yellow ones?

  15. Maria, I love that you are frank with your clients and that you stand by your convictions about design and color time and time again. I was reading a local person’s blog and she posted a link to a friend’s recent reno that was for sale. The exterior was super-cute but the interior choices they made, especially in the bathrooms and kitchen with cabinets and tiles made me groan.

    Classic, people, classic!! Especially in a vintage-style house. It reminded me why we ended up building our own 1920s style Craftsman house. We couldn’t find a house in the area that we lived in that fit our tastes. Every house that had potential would cost too much to redo all the horror that other people installed.

  16. How can there be anything boring about chartreuse hostas? That’s the last word I would use to describe them. And I don’t think there’s anything boring about your side garden at all: what you have there is a very nice, cohesive design. Adding any more plant varieties in that small of a space would have created no look at all, just a mishmosh of plants. Here’s the beautiful of gardens over backsplashes though: It doesn’t need to be timeless. Gardens are ever changing. Your beautiful side garden will never look the way it looks in that photo again. I’m sure it will be beautiful, but it will be different. The plants will grow, the look will change. You will have to divide them and some may die. It’s not really like decorating a kitchen, which remains the same until you or someone else changes it. But maybe that’s why I’d rather plant a garden than design a kitchen.

  17. Thank you for sharing your hostas picture.
    Oh my, what a great difference. Love the look. Mary Anne ‘s design has just uplifted that space dramatically. You are so right, it’s loving your home, your surroundings and this brings you joy.

    • Staining a fence is extremely high maintenance and funny that you said that, I’m just writing a post about fence colours that will be on the blog soon! Maria

  18. I think your point is that we would never walk into Pottery Barn and buy 1 of each candle holder that they sell. Yet, when I went to the garden center, I did the same thing – I bought every hosta that I liked, never considering the impact, and yes, my backyard could use some editing.Of course you can add some blue ones in another part of your yard, because you know that they will RELATE to another blue part you already have.

  19. It looks marvelous! A narrow side yard is one of the hardest landscaping challenges but you were spot on with this arrangement. I love the yellow hostas combined with the other lovely green shades. Wow. I know hostas are sometimes mocked for their ubiquitousness – but I don’t care! Lovely. Just lovely.

  20. OMG! Could I love your blog any more than I do now??? I too love Hostas! And I want ALL the hostas! But I have held myself back and just went with different varieties of yellow. Are yours all the exact same variety of yellow? It looks amazing! PS… Something that has nothing to do with hostas. Is white beadboard timeless like white subway tile? Planning my bathroom reno…

      • What style of house is appropriate for beadboard? I believe you explained it in regard to shiplap. Does the same apply to beadboard? #futurepost 😉

  21. My husband insisted he design our planting beds. His reasoning was because I take control of the inside of the house. He went to the nursery & bought whatever he liked with no regard to how it would look or even if it would thrive in our conditions. He had no plan. It ended up looking like a hot mess.
    A landscape designer would have been a wise investment.

  22. When designing our kitchen, we got the best advice. He said to get the kitchen installed Except the back splash. What? We listened. So glad we did. We finally found the beautiful subdued glass backsplash (6 months latter ) the let the counter take centre stage. We still love it. If we had picked it before the installation, we would have chosen the wrong one. Love your site 🙂