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Jeanette’s “Jewel Box Garden”

“Jewel Box Garden” is the name Jeanette’s landscaper gave to her small but beautiful garden filled with native plants in downtown Princeton. We had the opportunity to visit Jeanette’s home and interview her about the process of converting her yard from lawn to native plants.

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What inspired you to redesign your yard/landscaping? Why was this important to you?
We downsized our house in 2017, moving from the Littlebrook area to half of a duplex downtown. Part of the allure was not having a big yard or lawn. We were fortunate to
be the first owners of the duplex, so we were starting with a blank slate really. The
property was all lawn, and we slowly got rid of the lawn and put in more environmentally friendly options. My primary concern was to conserve water or to use it more intentionally. My husband wanted an area in the back that had native plants to attract butterflies and bees.

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How do you choose what to plant? What is your favorite plant in your yard?
I originally landscaped the yard with the plants that I liked, without much thought to what was native vs. invasive. From the first landscaping phase, my favorite plants are the forsythia and crape myrtles. As we revisited our landscaping plans, I decided I wanted even less grass and to move forward using only native plants. I wanted to have a grassy meadow in the front yard, and asked my landscaper, Dan Burke, from Rock Paper Garden to suggest a plan. My favorite plants are the Muhlenbergia capillaris and the Schizachyrium standing ovation grasses.

You mentioned there is an underground drip system. Can you talk a little more about that?
The water drips directly to the roots of the plants, making it more efficient. Water is not
wasted at the top layer of soil where it can erode the soil or have runoff.

How much time do you spend on garden maintenance?
My husband enjoys gardening, and he has 2 raised bed gardens in the back for growing vegetables and herbs. He also weeds the jewel box gardens and pea gravel walkways about once a month. We have our landscapers do a fall and spring clean-up of the yard. Because we have native plants and the underground drip system, there’s not much else to do.

What challenges have you experienced during your landscaping journey, and what advice do you have for others?
Communication is key when using a landscaper. I am not a “natural” gardener and
actually do not find it therapeutic like many people do! That is why I’ve always used a landscaper to help me. I had ideas in my head of what I wanted the gardens to look
like but was also open to suggestions. Communicating to Dan what I wanted and then reviewing his plans was a back-and-forth process. It took a little longer than I expected, but it was worth it. Even after the garden was done, we still made little adjustments to get the look I was after. Some plants we swapped out for others, even after they were in the ground. Dan was most accommodating. My advice to others would be to take your time in the planning stage, don’t be afraid to change your mind if you don’t like how something looks on paper.

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What advice do you have for homeowners who hire landscapers?
Look at other people’s gardens and ask for landscaper recommendations. Be
comfortable working with whoever you hire. Discuss a budget before you start a
project, and get landscaping plans before you start work. It’s ok to break a big plan into smaller projects and go slowly, especially if you have budget concerns. Once I had my landscaping plans, I looked up every plant included to make sure I liked it. If I didn’t, I asked Dan to swap it for something else. We did our yard in several stages to get the look and feel we like. I also meet with Dan about twice a year to walk through our yard and patio to discuss any maintenance that needs to be done, any changes I might like to make, etc. We’ve been working together for seven years, it’s an ongoing relationship. I think gardens are always a work in progress.

What, if any, additional resources would you recommend to others?
Dan took me to the nurseries/suppliers he uses so I could see a variety of options/ideas for my yard. When he built my patio for me, he sent me to his supplier so I could choose all the materials. It was very helpful to spend the time looking at plants, etc., in person.

Here is a list of resources that Jeanette recommends:
Rutgers Fact Sheet FS1353: Invasive Plants and Native Alternatives for Landscapes
The Native Plant Society of New Jersey’s Native Plants List
Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States
Jersey Native Plants – Jersey-Friendly Yards 
Going Native: A Guide to Landscaping with Native Plants (
Jersey-Friendly Yards searchable plant database: You can search for natives only and filter for light conditions, soil type, soil pH, and lots
Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team
National Invasive Species Information Center (NISIC)
National Wildlife Federation: Native Plant Finder 
Flora of New Jersey Project 
Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve
NJ Legislature Pending Bill on Invasive Plants (S2186/A3677)
NJ Legislature Pending Bill on Native Plants (S1525/A3014)
USDA NRCS Plants Database 

Do you have a native garden? Large or small we’d love to feature you! Reach out to us at