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Gardens in Bloom

For subdivisions full of similar houses with neat front yards, a garden can be the perfect way to individualize a home.

Driving down a row of townhomes in South Riding proves it: many of the homes on Mink Meadows have distinct little gardens rising from the sidewalk.

Sandra Herrmann is one of those townhome gardeners on Mink Meadows. She's a novice gardener, but she's already got a theme built around an ornamental tree: a Japanese garden.

Now she's got a fountain, colorful annuals and hopes for next year: maybe some outdoor bonsai trees?

For Herrmann, her gardening approach is trial by error. For years, she'd attempt to grow indoor plants, only to kill them sooner rather than later. Then she moved to South Riding five years ago, and something about the light Ñ well, everything changed.

"I've never been a green thumb, and now I can't stop it," Herrmann said. "Now I know things will grow in my presence."

Having a garden is a wonderful asset to her home, she said.

"It's lovely. It just gives it so much life," Herrmann said. "As an engineer, I love symmetry. There are no straight lines in nature."

Well Ñ almost. Right now Herrmann's young garden is a series of bright individual flowers set in diagonal lines leading the eye to the Japanese cherry tree and the fountain Ñ the garden's two centerpieces. She's the kind of person who has her spices alphabetized Ñ really, she does.

But for a new gardener, Herrmann is optimistic and eager to cultivate her garden.

"The garden will eventually evolve," she said, based on which plants prosper and which die away. "It's a learning process."

OVER IN Broadlands, Susan Kuklick has watched her garden evolve over nine years in a serious way. When she moved in, the backyard was generously dubbed "wetlands" by the developer Ñ meaning it was a muddy, rocky hole where nothing grew.

Now the backyard is a veritable Eden Ñ green and lush, filled with a variety of native Virginia plants as well as colorful mums, hibiscus and black-eyed Susans.

"We took what could have been a negative experience and made it a positive, as corny as that sounds," Susan Kuklick said.

One 30-foot tree has special meaning. When the Kuklicks moved in, the developer gave them and Broadlands' other very first residents a 5-foot seedling.

Now it's the dominant tree in the yard.

The Kuklicks have dedicated themselves to the garden, often spending full days on weekend working on it here and there. That has made their yard a constantly evolving place.

"On any given day, the two of us could spend ... four hours easily," Eric Kuklick said. "We could do that every day, if we chose to. It's a labor of love."

The Kuklicks' backyard was one of Broadlands' first certified habitats for wildlife.

But not everyone has to devote hundreds of hours every year to creating a veritable forest where a mud hole used to be.

Susan Kuklick has some advice for those looking to start a small garden.

"I would go with the basics," she said. "They always say you should put in things that are native, and that's because you'll have more success with them."

ONE OF Lansdowne's loveliest backyard gardens is in a place where everyone can see it: adjacent to the path leading to the playground off Red House Drive.

Jeanette Martini worked with a landscaper to transform her two-year-old garden into a sight for passers-by.

"Being a gardener in this area, especially a new community, is the biggest challenge I've ever had," Martini said.

Because developers strip the topsoil before construction begins, Martini was faced with nutrient-free gray clay as she began planting.

"It was a frustration to begin with," she said.

But now Martini's garden, well-fed and well-nurtured, is a colorful place filled with roses, impatiens, hydrangeas, azaleas and more.

Martini's advice for a new gardener is to begin with a color scheme. Her front yard features oranges and corals with purple and touches of yellow. The backyard varies with shades of pink and purple highlighted by splashes of pale yellow.

The garden has also brought back a welcome native: birds. Construction tears down much of a bird's habitat, but Martini has watched bluebirds, yellow finches, robins and more stop by her garden and pond.

But like most gardeners, Martini sees her yard as a constantly changing, improving place.

"It's still a work in progress," she said.