Basement wall and high steps present landscaping challenge

AudmelJanuary 26, 2013

I've got a challenge on my hands. This photo is of the front of my home after removing some very ugly railroad ties and adding the rock wall around the reshaped foundation bed. The tree on the left side is a dogwood, and the plant next to the wall behind the dogwood is a pyracantha that I plan to shape into an espalier on the wall. All but one of the three shrubs on the right are gone, as they were half dead. The hostas on the right have been transplanted as they get burned in the heat of summer. The tree in the pot was planted in another part of the yard.

I plan to paint the brick a shade of taupe darker than the siding for some contrast, and to hopefully understate the immenseness of that wall and line of steps.

I also have built a structure consisting of two 4x4s with cable strung between them against the center part of the brick wall where I intend to put an apple tree (the one I planted last spring didn't make it), which will eventually add some height and interest on that section of wall.

I would appreciate some input and advice as I feel my house lacks curb appeal and I have no idea what to do about it! I think the steps I plan to take will help, but I don't think they'll solve the problem, and some of them (like the apple espalier) are a long-term project that won't actually add visual appeal for a few years. I'd like to incorporate an herb garden somewhere. I've planted a few herbs and am going to be moving them when I reach a final plan.

As a final note, the house faces south (slightly southeast) and there are large trees on both sides which provide dappled shade in the mornings and late afternoons. The front of the house gets about 4 hours of direct sun a day.

Thanks for taking a look!


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I thought it might help to show a detail of the right side of the photo. We made a small flagstone walkway here because it gets very soggy due to drainage from the backyard and driveway. As you can see, there is no soil here, only a concrete driveway and walkway into the steps and the basement door. I made some terraced beds to the right of the house next to the fireplace (work in progress at the time this photo was taken).

I added this because part of the problem with the visual appeal of the house, is the lack of an "anchor" on the right front corner. But without soil, I'm very short on ideas.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2013 at 12:36PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Your house is very attractive. If it were mine, I would not paint the brick. I really like the way green leaves contrast with the red of the brick. The natural baked red clay brick color is an asset; painting it will make it monochromatic and give you a lifetime chore to maintain the paint. Once your tree and shrubs fill out, it's going to look great. All you need is spring and some growing time.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2013 at 4:48PM
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I agree with catkim. I wouldn't paint the brick. You have a good looking house as it is right now. A little landscaping will only enhance the curb appeal.

The biggest "blank" area that I see is under the window to the left of the stairs. I would plant something with height off of the corner of the house, and then fill in with bushes all the way to the staircase. I'm not sure what grows in your zone, but a Holly can get some good height on the corner and loropetalum would fill in the space between the holly and the staircase. Then come in with something shorter in front of the loropetalums and continue in front of the staircase.

I'm not a big fan of trees being planted close to the house. The roots can cause damage to sidewalks and foundations.

This post was edited by OnAHillside on Mon, Jan 28, 13 at 15:07

    Bookmark   January 28, 2013 at 1:10PM
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It's definitely an unusual structure and concealing some of the foundation will help. I see a tree in the ground and a tree in a pot. I think I'd have trees positioned somewhat to either side of the house ... to the left, out of this view, or to the right, in the approximate location of the #4 I've placed on the ground where there is possibly only room for a flowering tree. (There might be room for a larger tree at the left.) But a tree in the ground where you have it ... I just can't see how its ultimate conclusion is a good outcome. It would completely block the windows and diminish the view to a major architectural feature. If the one in the pot is being considered in that location, I'd nix it, too. It's not going to enhance the view to the entrance.

1. At the left side, shrubbery that conceals the bulk of this wall would help the house look nestled in. I'd want something loose and shaggy as opposed to tight and sheared. The green line I drew under the windows represents the tallest I'd want. The drawn shrubs would be the shortest. If it was my house I might even consider something like a grove of sumac. You'd need a plant that topped out at a specific height as you wouldn't want to get involved in regularly trimming the height to keep it in bounds. Also, I think the stone border you have is too tight in that area. You need a plant with height and with that comes width which the border must accommodate.

2. The big brick monolith would look good coming out of a big soft nest so it's screaming Miscanthus to me. Pick the height and style that suits.

3. The shrub you already have in that area looks pretty good to me. Fill in the holes with more of it to create a hedge. It looks like it might be Nandina. That's perfect. Or something like that.

4. Seasonal color--either perennial or annual or a combination--and lots of it.

You might want or need more, but this is what I'd consider the basics.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2013 at 8:20PM
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Thank you to all who took the time to respond. I really appreciate your time. My wife and I looked through all of your suggestions and came up with a tentative plan.

We're planning to plant a Sweetbay Magnolia on the left corner of the house, allowing room for future growth. We'll relocate the dogwood planted in the left front to another location on our property. We'll plant a couple of Heavenly Bamboo Nandina under the window (we have this at another location and love the airy beauty of the plant), and are planning to plant some flowering evergreen shrubs in front of that (we're leaning towards gardenia at this time). We've decided that sky pencil holly shrubs will help with the "monolith" in the center, and in front of those we'll plant purple fountain grass. On the right of the monolith, we'll plant another heavenly bamboo nandina, and fill in the blank spaces to the right with more compact nandina (the shrub already there). A small japanese maple will complete the foundation plantings at the bottom of the staircase.

These plantings will be accented by perennials and colorful annuals.

If you have any comments or critiques of our plans, please share. My wife and I are beginning gardeners and can use all the help we can get.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   January 29, 2013 at 8:51PM
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