What would you keep?

pbl_ge(5/6)January 29, 2012

We moved into this house in August, and we're spending our first Buffalo winter dreaming of landscaping projects to come. This house was previously owned by a landscape designer, we'll call him "Bob," who made some choices that I consider to be ... odd (I'm trying to be polite--the current design will illustrate what I'm trying to say). There was an interim owner for about two years who knew nothing about landscaping, and weeds ended up overtaking everything.

A lot of what "Bob" planted is semi-invasive. Lots of English and Boston ivy, rose of sharon, oenethera, pachysandra, etc. Bob also spaced plants very strangely, and had a tendency to put sun-lovers in shade and vice versa (there's a lovely ninebark in the backyard planted 4' from the base of a 100' silver maple, for example, but that's another story). We've made a few changes in small areas, but we're now starting to consider the front yard. One of the first decisions to be made is how much to keep and what to dig up.

Here's what it looked like in summer, BUT we had to cut down the crabapple on the right because it was sickly and old:

Here it is today, without the tree, and with a tiny amount of snow:

Here's the layout:

A few notes on the layout.

1. The gap in the front center of the yews may have something to do with an old concrete walkway they didn't bother to remove when they built the porch. We're not sure, and it's too cold to go digging. Nothing is visible, but my hubby said that's what Bob (we're in touch) told him.

2. Here's what the sad hemlocks on the northwest look like:

Pretty pathetic, right? I should also mention that the neighbors on the other side of those (the north) are college kids. We would really like to build more of a screen there. Actually, we'd like them to move out and for the AWOL landlord to sell to a family like what's in the rest of our neighborhood, but that's beyond our control.

3. When the house is repainted, ~5 years from now, we'll do a different color. Probably something like this:

4. Here's a close-up of the northwest corner, including the mystery grass:

5. I'm not sure we can put a tree in the same place the crabapple was for a few years, but we like the idea of an ornamental tree. I've been thinking of a redbud in approximately the place where the ivy was mowed as a test/walkway for the mailperson.

As you'll see, the spacing of the woody conifers is STRANGE. I like most of them, but they're in spots that make it difficult to build upon. I also don't like yews, although they're doing a nice job of blocking the unsightly underbelly of the porch. (As you can see, we haven't been pruning them.) Both hubby and I prefer gardens that look more natural than pruned and controlled. The basic structure of this layout is fine, although the substance isn't.

So, what would you keep? Any other thoughts?

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Argh. Sorry about the flipped pic. It didn't look like that when I previewed it. If GW would let us EDIT OUR POSTS, I could fix it!!!

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 1:49PM
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I live in Buffalo now.I offer other some suggests:

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 7:13PM
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The two things that work against this being a pretty picture are way too many individual plants not participating in team activity, and a geometry that doesn't pay attention to the bigger picture. The grass/ivy layout seems to be saying "come in" where it should be saying "stay out" and "stay out" where it should be saying "come in." I miss the tree that was removed. But not its lower branches that were screening the architecture. There's no reason to hide the face of the house. There is only reason to improve its appearance. Some shutters would help. Agree that the hemlocks are "sad" and now pointless. On the L. side, the neighbor's house is too much in the picture. There need to be plants that screen better. I like the yew for what it COULD BE, but it's "patchy". Would look better if continuous/contiguous around porch. I would think of the yew as nearly a pure extension of the architecture. It would be much easier to maintain as a trimmed hedge. Trying to keep it "natural looking" in such tight quarters would be tough. Shape it nicely and it will be quite handsome.

In my quick sketch, I'm not trying to show detail... just shapes and forms for an overall layout... and how simplification and organization would enhance the picture. (There's room for you to add "pretties" later.) I like the idea of putting a tree back where the other was, and adding a tree (or better, large tree form shrub...like a grove of lilacs, or similar) on the left side. Low shrubs or tall groundcover below would add interest. On the L. side of ivy area I'd add tree form shrubs--a double, staggered row--that filter the view and add interest with bloom. Here Beautybush jumps out as a possibility. This is a plant that, for some reason, is almost never allowed to develop it's best form. People try to keep it 3 or 4 feet tall by periodically chopping off its head. They try to "renew" it by removing canes. And then they grumble that it's a "one season" plant. Allowed to grow to it's full height... about 9', keeping as many canes as possible, and removing the few lower branches to maintain the tree form, allows the plant to have continual interest. And it's MUCH easier to maintain this way. It give some fall color, too. If you've never seen it blooming you're in for a treat. It's a heaping, smothering monster of pink love. The fast growing foliage tends to a weeping look.

Many of the years I lived in Atlanta (Decatur, actually) I had a double lot. The house was on half, and mature oaks were on the other half. Below the oaks, I maintained a quarter acre of English Ivy. I fell in love with it because I found it to be not only one of the most useful plants, but also one of the easiest to control. Once I initially rid it of weeds, it took only a couple of hours, two or three times in the summer, to keep it up. My tiny patch of grass demanded much more from me than that. When rid of weeds, it's beautiful, and the more there is, the prettier. At some of its edges I could allow it to grow about 18" and then, manually "edge" it with a sharpened spade, used like a knife or axe. I carefully sprayed weeds within it with Round-up mixed with weed-b-gone. Eventually, there were few and it hardly took any spray or any time. (If you are opposed to chemical control, then you would have to dig weeds out which would be vastlyt much harder and more time consuming. But it could be done.) In the fall, the ivy "ate" all the leaves offered by the oaks and never seemed satiated. I didn't have to do anything. No other plant can do the things English ivy can so, so well.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 9:46PM
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Whoa--are those FLOATING STONE LILYPADS IN OUR NEW FRONT YARD CREEK? AWESOME! Probably not going to do that, but that is some fantastic out-of-the-box thinking!

And, Yardvaark, I think this hits the nail on the head: way too many individual plants not participating in team activity, and a geometry that doesn't pay attention to the bigger picture. Your argument on behalf on ivy is also great--it does have strengths, which you articulate well. When I had it while living in Nashville, it was where the snakes lived. Just non-poisonous garters, but every time I look at it now I see it as a haven for vermin. A local landscaper actually looked at ours and pointed out some webs of mildly poisonous spiders. Add to that its propensity to move into places you didn't plan on it being, and it's not my favorite. I'm glad it still has defenders like you, though.

It's also funny you mention the shutters--we've been having a marital back and forth about them for months now. Hubby doesn't like purely decorative things that serve no function. I could probably convince him of a much more expensive awning more easily than shutters. I do think the house will look much better when repainted in less drab colors, with nicer contrasting trim. We might do that first and see if it still looks like a plain Jane. If anyone has other suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

A couple of questions:
1. How soon do you think we could plant another tree within 5' of the crabapple stump? Do we need to do anything to remove it first? If we don't remove it, are there any guidelines for how closely you could plant a new tree?

2. Instead of the Beautybush, is there something evergreen that you might recommend? The columnar shrubs (junipers? I don't know this group of plants as well) I see around the neighborhood look awful, so for whatever reason those aren't happy here. I should have mentioned our soil test results--we're at 6.9-7.1 throughout the yard, before any amendments.

Thanks for your response!!!

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 9:55AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I agree that some attention needs to be paid to the house, but shutters are (in my observation) what people do when they don't take the time to figure out what the actual design problem is and solve it. (window boxes, same thing).

I don't know this style of architecture at all but I would start by seconding your attention to trim. The top window with its contrasting wide trim looks way better than the lower windows and doors.

On the landscaping, I think Yardvaark has named the problem well. But on the ivy, I couldn't disagree more. Ivy in my area is an incredible pest and it should be a crime to plant or keep it - it is tearing down trees in local woods, gets there via birds. There is a patch growing a block away from me and I get seedlings of it in my yard. Vinca if you must, but honestly, I feel the same way about all that type of ground cover: what's under it? Plus, you yourself wouldn't wade through it, and I don't like areas of the yard I can't go to.

Other than that I would just encourage you not to feel compelled to keep anything you don't like. Plants are really quite cheap, eminently replaceable, and one that you don't like in the wrong place can be surprisingly inconvenient and constraining. Get out the saw!

Karin L

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 11:51AM
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it was where the snakes lived In my years of trekking through my ivy, I never saw a single snake. But I wouldn't have cared if I did. I like snakes. However, the "snake" argument against ivy I feel is wrong and unfair. Snakes like cover. Sometimes they like to bask in the sun. There is no place in any part of any yard that is immune to having a snake in it. The notion that snakes prefer ivy over other types of groundcover is unproven and unrealistic. It's myth. They just want to be hidden and don't care whether it's ivy or pachysandra or a pile of leaves. As far as ivy having a propensity to move into places you didn't plan on it being is totally, completely and wholly a condition under the owner's control. And it's EASY to control if one uses the right technique. Also, having lived immersed in English ivy for so long, I never found it popping up from seeds more than an easily controlled baby sprig or two in all those years. It was non-invasive. And to mildly poisonous spiders... the world is just a fearsome place! I think that all spiders are poisonous. That's how they eat. But the vast...way vast majority, are harmless, for one reason or another, to humans. But, like eating mushrooms, unless one knows what they're dealing with, it's best to avoid them. Keep in mind that people often have ulterior motives for making claims that instill fear. It's a common business tactic for one thing.

I think of shutters, essentially, as an extension of the window trim. Why I think they're needed here is because, adjacent to the windows is simply too much empty space left over. Shutters will strengthen the windows as an architectural statement, just like eye make-up makes eyes look bigger and more dramatic. In most cases where shutters and window boxes are used, as long as they are quality and appropriate style, they improve the look. I don't have any rules about avoiding them. Sometimes they ARE the solution.

While we're talking about the house appearance, let me comment on the paint, too. I don't have any problem with this color or the "family" of this color. But painting the trim the same color most definitely gives it the "barracks" look. Painting other features (windows and doors) dark, leads it in the direction of dreary. A light, or white, trim would bring "happy" to the look. Also, the trim itself is very narrow and this looks cheap. Take a look at the blue house you show a picture of and see how much beefier, and better, the trim looks. If you widened the appearance of your trim, it would do a great deal toward improving the overall appearance of the house.

Karin, I must vehemently disagree with you on this claim: it is tearing down trees in local woods..." How is this even possible? Ivy only grows on thick wood of trees, never on lighter weight branches. If a branch moves in the wind, English ivy will not grow on it. Unlike Kudzu, it never covers the foliage (the life-giving portion of a tree) and causes its demise. It does not pull trees down. This is mythology. If you have photos that show differently, I'd sure like to see them.

Plant a small tree anytime near the old crab stump.

Why is it you want evergreen for large shrubs at L. side lawn?

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 1:33PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Ivy is certainly something that evokes strong opinions :-) While you don't normally see it spreading by seeding here, it is still creates a too vigorous and woody tangle for my preference, so I don't like it. The elderly neighbours to the south have it along the boundary fence so I constantly battle it coming through and under the fence. It the past two years it has become mature enough to start to flower. DH cuts off and flowerbuds he sees/can reach from our side :-) I also don't like Vinca and Pachysandra for their woody vigor and extent of work require to remove them or control their spread. So that just about eliminates evergreen groundcovers for me! The groundcovers I do use (mostly Sweet Woodruff, wild ginger, lamium and white corydalis - not usually considered a groundcover but can ripidly become one!) are vigorous but relatively easy to remove and control - in my garden at least. The corydalis is virtually evergreen for me - it is still green out there now and will be green as soon as the snow melts at the end of the winter (not that we've had any snow to speak of this winter!) So, think about what you want the groundcover to do and the amount of work you want to do to maintain and control it.

Re the house - the thing that strikes me most is the absense of overhangs at the roof. I never understood the appeal of that style of house - it looks, to me, like a face without eyebrows! :-) If it were my house, I'd plan to add overhangs the next time the roof needs to be replaced. It would be relatively easy to do at that point. In the interim, wider trim and a brighter color would go a long way to improving the look

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 2:37PM
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For a few years I was involved in landscape management for a large University in Atlanta. We had bookoo acres of ivy to maintain. Then, there was constant weedeating and mowing going on. Where ivy met paving, the guys running weedeaters would trim the edge of it the same as they would edge grass with weedeaters. The new growth of ivy is soft and easily cut. It was quick and no problem. (Myself, I do not use or maintain anything with a weedeater--preferring quiet, non-power equipment--so did, in effect, the same thing--in very low gear--with a shovel.) Now, if one allows ivy to grow to the point of becoming woody before they deal with it, it's going to be a much more difficult problem to deal with. But the same could be said for all tree branches that are in the wrong place: let them grow for too long or get too big and they will be much more difficult to deal with. But it's not the fault of the plant. It's only the fault of choosing the more difficult way of maintaining it. I'm not saying that there aren't some difficult maintenance situations that can make one weary, but in all the English ivy maintaining I've done, I've haven't seen it yet. This makes me question HOW others are trying to achieve their goals in maintaining this plant. (I remember thinking when I lived with English Ivy that is was a fantastic plant with so many positive attributes. Of all the wonderful plants I had, It (and the oak trees) was the granddaddy workhorse of the lot. I believed that, if I had fantastic structures for it to climb on and cover, I could make a relatively low maintenance landscape with ONLY English ivy and NO other plants at all! Such was its capabilities.)

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 3:11PM
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Buffalo winters are long. Although this winter is very mild, it's my understanding that deciduous shrubs & trees spend about 5 months of the year naked. Most leafless deciduous shrubs virtually disappear during the winter. We'd like a more effective screen than that between us and the college kids (especially after the Saturday night kegger they had. Sigh). That said, we also considered a nice thorny hedge like blackberries or raspberries. Sun is at a premium in this yard, and this is one of the few parts that gets a solid dose.

Regarding the house, the paint job is in good condition for five years, the roof won't need any work for about 10. So, these major changes won't be happening any time soon. We might repaint the trim, though. You can see some places where there's a margin of trim that was painted the same color as the house. Very weird.

The Alberta spruces' days may be numbered. I feel terrible chopping down perfectly healthy plants like that, but they really are placed badly.

And y'all can debate the ivy as long as you'd like, but I don't like it, particularly in that quantity, and when I bought this house we spent two weeks pulling it out of the generator and other structures, off the shrubs (I didn't even know the peony bush prior to that)and trees, off the siding of the house, and out of the space between the siding and the wall of the house. That was all due to the two seasons it was neglected. And we haven't even touched it in 75% of the yard. The spiders (can't remember what they're called right now) can be a serious health threat to small children, which we expect to have in the next few years. And Yard's opinions notwithstanding, the vast majority of my snake sightings in Nashville were in that relatively small patch of ivy.

It's toast.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 5:57PM
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it's my understanding that deciduous shrubs & trees spend about 5 months of the year naked. Most leafless deciduous shrubs virtually disappear during the winter. A decidiuous plant's ability to screen and be interesting in the winter is a factor much under the control (within reason) of who's maintaining the plant. Because of their pretty colored bark, red twig dogwood is often grown so as to show it off. All shrubs have some bark color, but mostly it goes unnoticed because no one's cultivating it. You can pretty much increase or decrease any part of a plant you want and creating lots of twigs provides a cloud-like effect from twigs. If you want a green, solid wall in winter, look to the conifers tightly spaced. But don't get something that grows big or you'll regret it later. Nothing's coming to mind as what it should be.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 7:39PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

About the English ivy -- if you mean Hedera helix, my vote is to terminate with extreme prejudice. It's a very destructive plant when it attaches itself to any structure, and just not worth the trouble. It was growing on the other side of our fence, and while it was kept tidy by the renters for years, it still managed to destroy the fence. I have zero doubts that it can take down trees by virtue of its weight in a high wind. It also harbored rats and when in bloom attracted many bees. Okay, I like bees, but they are not considered kid-friendly, a concern for you. Also, in my region it is a snail-breeding bunker of doom. I'm in a completely different zone from Buffalo, but that's my real-life experience.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 8:10PM
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OK. English ivy is EVIL. Its being allowed to grow on structures has nothing to do with management. Atlanta has trees, more English ivy than England and sometimes lots and lots of wind. Soon, it will be a barren, treeless wasteland overrun with typhoid infested rats and slime-dripping snails...no exaggeration! Thanks for the heads up, San Diego.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 10:38PM
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Pblge, welcome to Buffalo! Even though we don't live there anymore, it wasn't that long ago. You certainly are having a vacation this year on all the snow that area gets!

I know much has been written here, but maybe you both need to check some great books out of the library and set down with each other to see what you both like, or at least make lists of what each likes so you have a basic view of what each of you likes, or doesn't like.

My husband informed me a few years into it, "I don't really like native plants, they are messy." When I questioned him further, I found out he likes a very traditional formal yard with the trees, flowers and green lawn just so. Well, knock my socks off! It's been a compromise since then.

Are new to the area, have you gardened much in the past? And what drew you to purchasing the house in the first place? It looks like "Bob" was doing the native woodland look with very simple plants. And yes, it's grown old, and needs a lot of cleanup to bring it back to it's former glory, but as you say it looks dated.

Do you like the modern look to the siding? Since it's wood or maybe wood composite it's probably been painted with a wood stain. I actually like the color it is, but on a drab NE day, it's not the most cheerful color. Take a look at the wood stains and hold the chips up to see what looks good to you both while it's still winter. In the spring take those colors and hold them up again when things are green, and then narrow your selection down.

You did show an idea for a navy blue, with white or cream trim, it's a nice combo, but it really depends on the choice of plant materials, dark colors with greens is very dark overall. You'd have to pick lots of lighter greens, and shiny leaved plants to offset that. Maybe between a new wood stain and a new color for the door you can give the house a much needed shot of color.

I like the house as it is without any shutters on the house, it looks like it was remodeled to keep it simple looking. I would think about arbors, or trellises in the yard for plants to climb, and act as focal points that bring attention to your windows-they wouldn't be on the house, but set well in front, but seen from the street they would frame the windows, and make the house seem more traditional than it is now.

I'd find a new railing leading up to the front door, if you are thining more traditional, just a plain wrought iron would be nice. You do need something to hold onto when it's icy.

As far as fences, get to know your codes, there are lots of them up there, as the saying goes, fences make good neighbors. I think the height is 6ft for the back and side yards, and 3ft in the front, but do check, they seem to be very strict up there in NY.

And when you do go with a fence, plant shrubs and shrub-trees away from it so you can get behind and maintain the fence, and to give the plants enough room to attain full size and not looked crammed up next to it. Take some drives through the older neighborhoods up there, there are some great gardens, and check out East Aurora, they have some beautiful ones-spring is almost here, and the classsic combo of spring trees, roses and peonies is hard to beat.

You are also close to Canada, there is the Royal Botanical Garden up there near Hamilton, Ontario, it's a day trip but you have to start early, and it's way too big for seeing in one day. You are fortunate being so close. You might need a passport now to get into Canada, or a birth certificate-but do get up there, and also to Niagara-on-the-lake, also in Ontario, Canada. You have to drive up and around to St. Catherines, to get there, it's a lovely old city, with much to see and do in good weather.

Just take the time to plan things out with each other, keep pulling out the ivy, and maybe grind down the stump low enough that it's not seen. When you figure out what style you both like, then go for it!

Here is a link that might be useful: Royal Botanical Gardens

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 3:31PM
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To go off on a tangent:

Phoebe just wrote: "My husband informed me a few years into it, "I don't really like native plants, they are messy." When I questioned him further, I found out he likes a very traditional formal yard with the trees, flowers and green lawn just so. Well, knock my socks off! It's been a compromise since then."

I've never really understood this statement. There are native trees and flowers and shrubs and there's no reason they can't be pruned and shaped just like non-native versions.

There are some houses near me who have done the native front yard and apparently think that if it's native, it doesn't need to be weeded or pruned. Yes, that gets messy but it's not the plants fault.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 4:41PM
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Tano, not really a tangent, I agree that there are messy gardeners, and there are some natives that look "nice", but for the part, my husband sees them as wildflowers, and not equal to more normally seen hybrids. He loves his hosta, roses, and clipped boxwood.

I'm more of the type to like the untamed wild garden, with a few more natives tucked into the landscape to dress it up a bit, if I were truely into natives, then letting them go is the ideal, no intervention with a hose, or to replace any plants lost by deer.

But I want our garden to be just as much for him as it is me, so that's why I brought it up...so you don't get a surprise later on, and basically have to go back to square one.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 6:54PM
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Thanks, Phoebe! I appreciate the local pointers.

I did a fair bit of gardening when I lived in Tennessee--very different climate and soil, obviously. I like trying to do my own designs, but I only know rudimentary principles, and I appreciate the input from others here. (I think I'm a bit sensitive about being seen as a "design my yard for free" poster, as per another thread.)

My husband and I have similar struggles with what we like in gardens, but from a reversed position. He wants the yard to essentially look like serendipitous randomness--as if you're walking through a forest and just stumble upon an especially nice looking cluster of wildflowers and trees. We've been going through books and pics online, and we'll definitely be able to come to a compromise, but it is tricky! For example, I would personally be starting with some trees on the left (facing the house), not unlike what yaardvark posted, although evergreen. My husband expressed extreme distaste for anything in any kind of a row. He's been suggesting either offsetting them or mixing a variety of plants--perhaps even conifers and deciduous trees interspersed.

It seems to me that that kind of design is MUCH trickier to pull off. I guess when there's a clear pattern or rhythm, it at least looks intentional, although of course there's always the risk of being boring. And, in case you're wondering, the garden is not the only aspect of life in which we have this debate. (He's a composer, I'm a social scientist. Left brain/right brain here!)

Anyway, just for fun, here's the collage I made of garden pics that strives for compromise. Aren't pretty pictures great!

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 9:19AM
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Not----FLOATING STONE LILYPADS IN OUR NEW FRONT YARD CREEK,it just are some art step stone.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 10:22AM
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Pblge, that is a nice collection of ideas. It looks like a lot of it will work in your location. When you explained your husband's views, I thought that maybe he doesn't like the open lawn space in the center. If he likes a 3-D forest experience then he'll probably like multiple pathways through the yard, and you probably like that very open space to set the house and plantings off.

This also reminded me of the meter readers who would trudge through the yard to read the gas/electricity, and how they wanted a clear path to the meters, preferably without fences/gates to latch, or large/prickly shrubs to weed through. (We had to keep a clear space of 3ft around our meters, and I don't know how any of this changed when they finally converted to radio readings from the street.)

I'd just try to make some drawings (or scribbles) of what each of you would like. My husband can't really take time off of what he does, but he relays what he likes or doesn't like and then I try to incorporate/change that. If we are at differences, we let it sit for a while, or a long while, and work on other areas of the yard.

I'd continue to look at area gardens, and not just in spring, and go on the house or garden tours they have in Buffalo, and Canada, and listen to each other as you take them in.

Buffalo seems to get more snow, and more rain than when we were there; every summer, the seven years we were there, was a drought, and the last summer was when we had the "100 years rains". It was also the of the deep snows, when we received 5ft of snow in one week, and the National Guard came with front-end loaders, and huge open topped semi-trucks to load the snow into. (Not to scare you or anyone else off of Buffalo, the spring are fall are lovely, and it's certainly not as hot for as long as in your old TN, or our Missouri.) The soil and the snow/cold make for wonderful perennial gardens, as close to the UK as any I've heard.

And looking back at your hemlocks, you might try to get the Extension Agent involved, I can't tell if they are "new" or if they are suffering from drought, or if they have a pest that's stunting them. I'm sure there are cutbacks, I wouldn't be surprised if you had to pay for a diagnosis, but the Extension Agencies are wonderful up there, especially the East Aurora one, they have an organic slant, and have a very good Master Gardener program. We lived in a newer subdivison, and had to learn to build our topsoil, and their agency is one of the older ones in the area, so I learned a lot with them.

Oh, and where is North/South/East/West? I'm full of questions, and you dn't have to answer them, just to start thinking about sunlight, views out of the yard, or into the yard. And maybe go look for some architectural salvage either for yard ornaments, or for railings/fence work for your railing up to the house...on an icy day it's nice to be able to grab onto something, there is a really big one up there-and I think there is a metal worker that helped one owner quite a bit. I'm thinking metal will hold up longer, wood needs so much maintenance up there, and a semi-custom or custom railing might be a good way to transiton between your two different viewpoints, and be a way to blend your modern/traditional takes on how your house should look.

I think it's GREAT that you want to do your own garden renovation and planning, it certainly is a very worthwhile project. Enjoy it all!!!

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 8:32PM
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Phoebe, thanks so much for your thoughtful answers. There's a lot I'm flummoxed about here, and I have to confess the collage was made mostly with the backyard in mind. However, that's a much larger and much more challenging project, so I'm trying to not even think about it yes. (It's massive, overrun with ivy and other pests, has a non-functioning pond in a stupid place, along with other disastrous hardscaping, and has a tendency to flood.)

So. Back to the front. I made another sketch that includes only the bare bones we intend to keep. Link is here, but I'll be adding to it. This gives north clearly, anyway.

I actually posted yesterday in the conifers forum about what kind of conifer we could use to make a screen (Conifer Q) but after listening to the drunken carousing again last night, I'm back to contemplating a nice wall of thorns--a blackberry or raspberry hedge. So here's a VERY rough mock-up of what that might look up (I tried to use pls8xx's advice and tools, but wasn't very successful).

As you'll see, there are some fundamental weirdnesses here:
1) The deck goes only to the driveway, and we're not likely to try to change that any time soon. I've put a bench in as a marker that we'd like to have some sort of invitation to explore and hang out in the front yard, although it's possible we'll spend far more time in the backyard.

2) Choosing plants for this area is somewhat tough, because it only gets sun from about noon to fourish, due to the placement of the house and the maple to the west. I'm not really sure that's enough sun for berries OR most conifers. The lack of sun may be what's torturing the hemlocks, although I think their placement is the biggest problem (no sign of pests, although if the adelgid isn't in this area yet, it's probably on its way). We've examined them all fairly closely, and none of them seem like they're worth salvaging individually.

Other thoughts:
We'd like this area to be fairly low maintenance, but to be more visually appealing than it is right now. Hubby actually likes grass more than I do, especially now that he has an electric mower, so we'd probably get rid of most of the ivy and just keep plain sod. Everything outside of the pitiful rock border in the above sketch is assumed to be grass.

I'm of course planning on adding lots of pretty perennials into this later on, but right now I'm just trying to nail down a basic structure for trees and larger shrubs.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 1:49PM
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PS. I had been thinking something along these lines with the conifer idea, and eventually removing perhaps the second and fourth trees as they filled in. This may not be at all realistic or sane.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 2:12PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Put the maple on the plan. If the trunk is off to the side of what you are planning, it doesn't have to be added, but the canopy does. Also, are there any fairly large trees to the south? If there are, add those too.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 2:29PM
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Here are some more views of the situation, including views of the trees:

As you'll see, the maple's canopy only extends a little ways over the yard, although it's quite tall so it starts blocking sunlight fairly early. There are fruit trees on the other side of the driveway, but they're small, so they'll only block sunlight from the southern bit of the yard (depending on season, of course), which is much easier for me to deal with.

pls8xx also suggested I post the original survey of the house. I'm not sure how useful it is, but here's the relevant section:

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 2:56PM
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pbl, I'm wondering, on that evergreen screen you're thinking about for the North side of front yard, what is the height that, when achieved, you'd think that the goal had been accomplished? The reason I'm asking is because I think the spruce hedge you are considering may be like pulling out an elephant gun to kill mosquitos. Two spruces are capable of eating up and casting a gloomy pall over an entire half of the front yard.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 3:18PM
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It's an excellent question, and I'm not sure I have a solid answer (especially because the hubby is out of town, so I can't check in with him...this might help explain why I've spent my weekend on gardenweb). Some thoughts:

-We'd like a visual barrier that blocks their house.
-We'd like a physical barrier that blocks their trash from getting in our yard and discourages them from puking into our yard (not an exaggeration--this really makes me want to plant thorns).
-We'd like to frame the house a bit better.
-We like trees, especially evergreen ones.

After the posts on the Conifers forum, I spent some time researching dwarf/intermediate conifers, like this one:
P. abies 'Suncrest #2'

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 3:36PM
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I read more below and see you've moved past spruce (probably) to thorns.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 3:37PM
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I think the thorns idea is something of a sleep-deprived temper tantrum. I don't think that would look very good, so we probably won't end up doing that.

I was just reminded of this photo in the Sunset Big Book of Garden Design that my hubby really liked.

I think we would be really happy with something that looked like this. Varied, interesting, colorful (in a way), and a solid barrier to the college kids.

Is this at all feasible? It seems like it would require masterful design skills to get something like this to look good over several years. I'm skeptical.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 4:55PM
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Thanks for getting the survey posted. Starting with a blank grid, I imported the survey (grey) and also your plan view drawing (blue) as overlays. They have incompatible dimensions for the house and it's location. Neither drawing appears to show the angled portion of the front porch correctly. The file is linked below.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 5:07PM
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I love the "Green Tapestry" picture - and it would have to be masterful because something like this takes up a lot of real estate. Even the dwarf varieties of conifers get big; just takes a little longer for them to get there.

This yard has always had a dozen or so Norway Spruce on the property lines and here and there elsewhere; some Blue Spr. which were in the wrong place but about 40 footers when they were taken down. I added some Black Hills Spr. to a small "grove" of Norways to fill in when the bottom sweep of some of the Norways start to need some limbing. And on impulse, I bought an Austrian Pine just because the thing was so darned cute. I've also got Mock Orange, Anthony Waterer Spirea, Old Bridal Wreath Spirea, Ninebarks, Northern Lights Azaleas, and lilacs. All worth considering for relatively easy care.

My considerations don't have to include sight lines, blocking sunlight, or anything encroaching on a neighboring property. I get a feeling, though, many posters on many of the gardening forums don't want anything to do with plant material that wasn't mail ordered at great expense, but our Menard's (maybe you have those in Buffalo) has some nice things - nothing fancy or unusual, but a variety of conifers and shrubs that could make up a good screening mixed border.

This city shared your pain with off campus student rentals. It took a couple of years with the city council, police department, concerned citizens, and the college and university officials to get unruly, unneighborly behavior sorted out. Absentee landlords are on the hook, and it's worked out well.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 6:16PM
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It seems like you both have lots to think about, just keep your lists and portfolios going, and check in with him again when he is up to it. Just keep thinking while you get started in the spring, working on getting rid of the ivy, and doing the general cleanup. Wear gloves if you are allergic to it. (I didn't know I was until I tried to plant it one year. I'm not allergic to poison ivy; they say if you are allergic to poison ivy you can handle the English ivy just fine, but I'd not push it in either case.)

Your screen idea is good, is the frat house the older one on the left side as you face the house? Do look into the rules on fences in sideyards at the local level. A fence is the only thing that will keep trash, and people out of your yard.

Will it stay a rental/frat house? If there is any chance that it can be sold at one point, then if you do ever have some nice neighbors then having a 'shared' green wall of a mix of plants would be nice for both of you. (A chain link fence is still a good idea).

It sounds like you need to be a 'guerilla gardener', and not make any enemies that will hound you for years to come. The evergreens are good, but also think about mixing in some decideous shrub-trees (amelanchier is one, it comes as a very large tree, down to a nice shrub size). Think spring flowers, fall color, and the smaller evergreens like azaleas, there might be a tree-like holly (you can't grow yaupon but there must be others).

In the best of worlds, letting your neighbors have some sunlight in those windows-but filtering the view with more open shrub-trees will look like it was meant to be, and will give your husband his 'forest' look he is after, and if there are flowers then all the better to make it fit the neighborhood, and be more welcoming.

I just looked at your survey, you really have a narrow lot, so you will have to think about vines, and trellis along property lines. They are a great way to fill in the spaces between the shrubs and trees that you do finally chose to go along that north property line. There is a very funny book of this concept of stealth gardening.
I've only read the one, but she wrote two. The other one is
'Mrs. Greenthumbs Plows Ahead'.

As for your backyard, you said there was even more ivy; I'd start removing that too, and check the health of your trees if there are any that are surrounded by the ivy. My parents had a backyard of ivy with a 'forest' of trees coming up through it. Everything was fine for YEARS, until this past year, and 4-5 trees toppled over. Trees broke off at the ground level even though my mom had been diligently removing any runners off of their trunks, it seems the ivy was keeping the ground and bark moist and finally rot took hold and down they came.

If you have any maple trees in any yards nearby, be on the watch for their seedlings, and if you have 'baby' maple trees-get rid of those too!!! Japanese maples are lovely, and there are other nice trees to treasure in a small space. (Before you plant any crabapple trees, check their sizes, and if any of you are allergic to them.)

The snow melt, and water table are very high in the spring, it's called 'surface ponding', and is usually not too bad, you just want to make sure you add those dried pucks of bacteria to help keep the mosquitoes and gnats at bay in the springtime.

You said there was a pond there as well. Do you think 'Bob' decided to go with a pond to collect any spring runoff, as a way to deal with the drainage that way? Are you the lowest house in the area and it just collects in that area anyway? I know there are codes that say you need to keep any runoff on your own property-we had large 2x2 grates that led out to the street and then into storm drains at the end of the street and all that snow melt was held in large basins. We planted things that could take seasonal flooding, and made some planting beds that were more like berms to grow plants that needed more drainage.

Maybe your pond is still a good idea if you use the type of plants that you both would like, it seems that 'Bob' was a minimalist and if you make it a 'real' pond with a more natural looking scene around it, it might be what your back yard needs.

Another book, there are lots of good books, is 'Lessons from Linden Hill' Nancy Ondra is one of the writers, she has a great webpage, and quite a few books-get to know your library to check these and many others out, and use the interlibrary loan system if they don't have it in their system.

You guys can do this, and there is so much to learn in the process!

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 6:22PM
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Pblge, look back at Yardvaark's sketch with the deciduous trees, he has captured the NE garden look, a bit natural, and a bit traditional. It will look different with the choice of plant material, but it's a great structure he has given you.
When you read my post you'll see that I reference another book, Gardenweb rejected the link from Amazon so I had to drop it.

The book I mentioned is "Mrs. Greenthumbs: How I Turned a Boring Yard into a Glorious Garden and How You Can Too" by
Cassandra Danz, this is the one I've read, she wrote two.

I don't know if you can watch any programming from the CBC the major tv channel from Canada. They might have some gardening shows that you can pick up. Have fun!!!

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 6:51PM
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Thanks for the help, pls8xx. I had indeed made an error on the measurement of that side of the house. It gets a bit confusing because there's no demarcation between our lot and their lot, and those sad hemlocks are technically on their yard, not ours. The new sketch tries to limit the picture to what is technically our property, although I personally won't be concerned if branches of what we plant extent into their territory. As far as the angled deck--it's an illusion. The deck is square, but the handrail cuts off a corner, which I believe once showcased "Bob's" art. Not sure what we'll do with it eventually, so I've been ignoring it. Here's the new layout sketch:

As a general question, how do I indicate the branch of the maple that hovers ~50 feet above the far western edge on this sketch?

I am hesitant about the width of some of these conifers in the "evergreen tapestry" picture, when translated to our yard--this is why I'm not fully embracing that idea right now. (This may be another subconscious reason why I was contemplating the Wall of Thorns.) It also seems like that "wall" would just look really weird for many years.

I really appreciated Yardvaark's original sketch, particularly for how it shows visual balance. I do think I'd prefer an evergreen, though, so I've been trying to figure out a conifer--or mix of conifers--that would have a similar effect without eating up half our yard. I confess I'm also having a tough time thinking about how a slow-growing conifer (really, they're all slow growing compared to typical garden plants) would occupy the landscape over a many-year time lapse. I don't know if I should create my plan for them at year one, five, or ten, and those are very different pictures!

There appears to be exactly one rental for college kids in our entire neighborhood, and their driveway (where they bellow to each other at all ungodly hours of the night) happens to be directly under our bedroom window. It's been a rental for decades, though, and there's no sign of impending change. The cops here are VERY responsive to noise complaints, which is great, but it doesn't help the times we get woken up when they noisily come and go, albeit transiently, at 1 or 4 am or whatever. Can't call the cops because someone was hollering at their buddy for a space of 5 minutes, but that doesn't change the fact that it's 4 am and we're awake! Seattle--our last fair city--gave landlords increasing fines for every noise complaint about their tenants. That sounds dreamy to us, but probably won't happen soon.

I think we decided that an actual fence in the front yard would be too much--fence in the backyard only. I'm going to leave all the backyard issues aside for the moment, though, because it would distract (me...mostly me).

Alas, we don't own a TV, so I can't watch the show you mention, Phoebe, but I will try to get my hands on that book.

My husband really likes Japanese maples, which is why that's the #1 candidate to occupy the space on the right hand side of the house (while facing it). We've done zero investigation into cultivars so far, but that seems less onerous.

Incidentally--we don't have a Menard's here.

I REALLY appreciate all of your input!

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 8:42PM
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pbl, I am not a LD and not very good at any kind of design at all, but I also need a privacy screen and was looking into conifers. Unfortunately, most of them are rather slow growing, especially the dwarf cultivars. It sounds like you need something to grow asap, and not to wait for 10-15 years for your screen to grow. There are few fast ones like thuja Green Giant, but they'll grow too big for your space. How about evergreen hollies? some should be hardy in your zone. Another thought, Knock Out roses. We had a Pink Knock Out, and it grew very fast to 6x6 feet. In my zone 6, it keeps leaves till December, and then leafs out again in March. It also has a killer thorns, it once grabbed me by my back, so that I was seriously considering calling for help. Got away from it with few thorns in my back. They tolerate part shade.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 12:04AM
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Thanks to everyone for all your help. We have the beginnings of a design in mind, so I'll be fleshing it out and reposting once we've moved on to the next steps! It's possible the final choices won't be made until we see what the local nurseries stock this spring, but this won't be a post and run. =)


    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 1:46PM
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