Need help with foundation plantings in front of old house

jlc102482(6)January 4, 2011

I need a little help envisioning what to plant in the front of my house. Currently the only thing planted there are giant, overgrown evergreen shrubs which will be removed as soon as spring hits. I am stumped as to what to put in their place, though. Every new idea I come up with makes me worry that the front of the house will look bare. I have some flowers picked out (red, orange and yellow scheme) but I know I need larger plantings like bushes to anchor them.

I want to plant a white flowering ornamental tree to the left of the house, but that's all I know for sure right now. I am intrigued with "Arctic Fire" dogwood and burning bushes. I love color and texture, especially when they last 3 or 4 seasons since winters here are long.

(The house is not as brightly colored in real life as it is in this photo!)

I believe this area faces northeast. It gets pretty intense afternoon summer sun, with shade in the morning. The tall shrub to the right of the front door will probably stay (yeah, I know it's ugly) because it affords some privacy from the house next door.

Can anyone help me choose some larger plantings that would suit this area and be visually interesting? Any ideas or suggestions are very welcome!

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Yes,should avoid to bare,direct line,formal.I guess your place is some cold,flower lift is short.add rock,maple,juniper,conifer better

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 6:57PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

How can your house face northeast if it gets morning shade and intense afternoon sun. Did you mean it faces southwest?

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 6:34AM
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jlc102482(6) I'm not sure which direction it faces! If you stand with your back facing the front of the house, the sun rises ahead of you, off to your right. The sun sets ahead of you, off to your left. Does that help? I think I need to get myself a compass!

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 10:56AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

What a beautiful house! If it was mine, I'd keep the garden cool and simple to complement the house. I think the reds of the dogwood and the burning bush might compete with the house too much. I'd use a lot of white with blues.

It's hard to tell exactly how much space you have to the left side. If there was room, I'd plant both a white redbud tree for ethereal white spring flowers and a heptacodium tree for white late-summer/early-fall flowers. They are both fairly small trees so it you put one more to the front and the other behind and to the side a bit, maybe both would fit. 'Jack Frost' brunnera, with its silver leaves and forget-me-not blue flowers blooms at the same time as the redbud and makes a pretty blue-and-white combination with it. The silver leaves look good all summer. You could plant Geranium 'Rozanne' with the heptacodium to repeat the blue and white combination in the fall when that tree flowers.

Once you establish a blue-and-white theme, it becomes easy to select perennials and shrubs to complete the scene. Phlox 'David' is a long-flowering nicely scented white-flowering perennial that would be worth a place there. I'd be inclined to replace the shrubs (what are they?) on the right with some easy care new-wood-flowering hydrangeas like 'White Moth'. The shape of the flowers sort of mirror the arched windows.

I think the clipped hedge on the right between you and the neighbours fights with the house - you wouldn't want to prune the hydrangeas that way and they would look better with the house if left to grow in a more natural way, pruning only to control size/spread. Keep the pruning cuts natural rather that shearing into rigid shapes. Could the exisiting shrubs be thinned out/pruned and let assume a natural shape?

Yours is a house that makes me want to garden there! :-)

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 11:05AM
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manda3(8a DFW Texas)

Sun rises in the East, sets in the west, and in winter, all this happens Southward.

Random:::: I remember it this way. French oie oie. Or we we. Or West on the left, East on the right. And then the quote from Shangai Noon. (WATCH THIS MOVIE! :P) "The Sun may rise in the East (Asian pride) but it sets here (West pride)."

Now your statement still doesn't make since to me. Because if you are facing South, the sun will rise ahead of you from the left to set ahead of you to the right. If you are facing North the sun will rise behind you on the right to behind you on the left. If you are facing West the sun will rise behind you towards the left to set in front of you towards the left. And if you are facing East, the sun will rise in front of you on the right to set behind you on the right.

... I'm not sure why I'm saying so much about this, but there ya go.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 12:35PM
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Thanks for all the great ideas, woodyoak! I really like hydrangeas and "Rozane" geraniums, I will definitely plant some of those. I have really gotten into gardening since purchasing this house last winter. The backyard has beautiful, extensive gardens (none of which I can take credit for!) so it's strange that there's nothing in the front of the house except some evergreens and a bunch of pachysandra.

I'm not sure what the evergreen shrubs are. Whatever they are, they are old and they are huge! They looked nice in a photo of the house taken in the early 1960s, but now they have gotten so large that they are over five feet across. I am scared to think about what the roots might have done to the house's foundation.

I would really like to prune the tall hedge on the right into a more natural shape. But is there such a thing as a bush being too old/established to train into a new shape? There are huge, thick branches right underneath the layer of needles. If I trimmed the needles even lightly, all those bare branches would show and there would be no needles left. Would new needles grow onto the bare branches?

manda - OK, now I really I know need a compass, LOL!

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 1:18PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

I thought the shrubs on the right along the porch looked like they are deciduous... The shrubs at the back of that stretch look evergreen but the front section looks like the bare stems of a deciduour shrub of some sort. A lot of deciduous ones can have 1/3 of the wood removed at the base each year to allow them to regenerate and be pruned to a more natural state - but it depends on what they kind are... Evergreens usually can't take that kind of treatment.

I'd love to see pictures of the backyard. I thought perhaps there's a clipped evergreen hedge around that which might work well in that space, but doesn't mean you can't have the front a little more relaxed to play off the utter charm of that house! If all the shrubs on the right are evergreen, you could remove the ones from the house wall at the back of the porch forward and replace them with hydrangeas. That would leave the evergreen ones to tie into the (presumed..?) backyard hedge (?) without interefering with the feel of what you might do in the front.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 4:40PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Your foundation bushes might be yews:

And speaking of the foundation, I assume it's probably not blue like the siding. What's hiding behind the evergreens? Nice stonework? Cinderblock you'd rather hide behind new, shorter evergreen shrubs? Something else?

How low are the arched windows? Four panes tall or five?

How far is the house set back from the sidewalk?


If you look at Google Maps (or other online map sites), north is always toward the top, east on the right, west on the left, south toward the bottom. Search for your address, and it will show how your house is oriented.

For instance, if your front door is at the "bottom" of your house in Google Maps, the house faces south. If your front door is towards the bottom left, your house faces southwest. Bottom right, your house faces southeast, etc.

Or tell us where your front door is (relative to the center of the house), and we'll figure it out.

It's also a good idea to observe the sun/shade patterns in different parts of the yard during the course of the day -- and different times of year, because the sun is at very different angles in midsummer and midwinter. And of course tree canopies can limit how much sun an area receives.

The amount of sun really matters for many plants. For instance, daylilies planted under evergreens or along the foundation on the north side of a building likely won't get enough sun to bloom. Shade-lovers exposed to full sun will fry and die. Afternoon sun is much stronger than morning sun; I discovered last summer that "partial sun" plants often won't survive full afternoon sun, regardless how much morning shade they receive!

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 5:29PM
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Thank you so much, missingtheobvious (what an appropriate name in this situation!) I Google-Mapped my house and it faces almost due north. I will have to pay more attention to sun/shade patterns, as I have only noted the summer pattern: full shade until noon or so, and then the front of the house just bakes til the sun sets.

To clarify, the bushes in front of the house are all evergreen - not yew, maybe juniper? The bushes all the way to the right of the house, next to the porch and near the cars, are indeed deciduous and will stay. There's a lilac, a white spirea and a forsythia. This is what they look like from a different angle:

To answer some questions, the foundation of the house is stone and I would be fine with it showing. The evergreen bushes we plan to remove hide the bottom of the two front windows by nearly a foot, which is no good! The house is maybe 10 feet from the sidewalk and sadly, there are no trees nearly.

We don't have any evergreen hedges yet, but I am planning on planting a few thuja between my house and the brown house in the photo.

Here are some backyard photos. I can't take credit for any of it! The previous owners did all the planning and planting - I just do the weeding, trimming (when I remember!) and enjoying. :)


An aerial view taken in October:


You can just barely see a pink potted hydrangea in this photo. It died soon after I planted it, and so did its replacement. Is there a secret to placing and planting hydrangeas? I would love to have some in the front of the house but I'd hate to turn into a hydrangea serial killer.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 3:39PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

Thanks for the extra photos. You've got yourself a little jewel of a house and garden!

Those white spireas are perfect for the property - but you need to maintain them or they'll get too big. They bloom on 'old wood', so wait until after the flowers finish, then prune out 1/3 of the stems (choose the oldest/thickest...) at ground level. New growth will come from ground level. If you do that every year, in three years you will have completely renewed the shrub while keeping its size moderate and keeping its natural arching shape. If you need to, you can cut the whole thing back to ground level and it will regrow. Always do the pruning/cutting back after it has flowered so you don't miss a year of flowers.

The hydrangea looks like a mophead Hydrangea macrophylla. I don't like those ones, both because they are prone to winterkill of the flowerbuds and because I just don't like the shape and color of the flowers. A north location works well for hydrangeas. As their name implies, they like a reasonable amount of moisture and will not be happy in a dry site. The 'White Moth' I suggested is a Hydrangea paniculata. Those kind are 'new wood' bloomers so there's no risk of losing flowerbuds to winterkill. "White Moth' is one of my favorite ones - it's very showy, blooms most of the summer and is very vigorous. I prune it to 18-24" in early spring and it's easily 7'+ by July. For the ones growing along paths, I have to keep whacking bits of them off during the summer so they don't block the path. But it puts on a great show so a little vigor is acceptable :-) I think you'd be unlikely to kill it...

What is the tall thing in the second photo, that shows against the brown house? Is it a vine on a support or a strangely pruned tree? Whatever you plant over there could have a significant impact on light and other conditions (mosture levels, root competition...) in the area so give some thought to that when you're deciding what to plant.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 4:53PM
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Thanks so much for the kind words and advice, woodyoak! I think my hydrangea site was too dry - I will try one with more moisture and more frequent watering this season. Hydrangeas are one of my favorites and it would be so nice to have some in the garden somewhere. As for the spirea, I'm glad to have some pruning advice for it. I wasn't sure what to do with it before, and was afraid of pruning it at the wrong time and missing flowers.

The thing in the second photo is some kind of huge rose bush. I'm not sure what its name is. The blooms aren't particularly fragrant. Here's a closeup of the blooms:

Hopefully this photo will give you an idea of the bush's size and shape. (There is a columnlar apple tree in front of it. The bushes behind the roses are the neighbor's.)

It's in a spot that gets a ton of sun in summer. To me it looks pretty scraggly and overgrown, although it does seem to bloom pretty well despite being left alone. I would be fine with reducing the size of the rosebush but I'm not sure how much cutting back it can take. It's also quite possibly the thorniest rosebush I have ever had the misfortune of getting scratched by, which also makes pruning really difficult. I swear it reaches out to get you...

    Bookmark   January 7, 2011 at 8:40AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

I think what I was wondering about may be the columnar apple tree - if that's what the dark upright thing is in the above picture of the rose. The rose looks like it could be a New Dawn or perhaps one of its relatives like Dr. W. Van Fleet. New Dawn has a nice sweet scent but it is not strong and best detected with your nose very close to the flower! It has formidable thorns and is VERY vigorous. It is pretty though. We had two of them growing on the south gate arbour until this past summer. We swagged them down the alley to control them but they were still rather a dangerous handful :-) DH called them 'the Killer roses'. So we ripped them out this past summer and replaced them with clematis. We actually did allow one cane that had wandered into the mockorange under the kitchen window to stay - it's probably a temporary reprieve though... I would only plant it again if I had a 4' tall rail fence where I could train the canes to the horizontal (climbing roses bloom best on horizontal growth) and access it from both sides for maintenance without needing to be on a stepladder. It was just way too difficult - and dangerous - to keep it controlled on the top of the arbour.

Rose gauntlets are a necessity for dealing with a big, thorny rose like that. Also, if you haven't had a tetnus shot in the last 10 years, get one! Anyone who 'plays, in the dirt' needs one - booster shots needed every 10 years.

You might want to consider removing the rose entirely and replacing it with a less hostile shrub. If you want a rose there, replace it with something smaller - plant it in a slightly different spot because roses often will not do well planted in the same spot where another rose has recently been removed.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2011 at 12:44PM
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Unfortunately I am not a big help in the area of advice, but I wanted to tell you that your house is just beautiful! I found this forum in hopes of helping my desperate landscape after buying my first house last year and saw your post. Got some ideas of my own. Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 9:03AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Since the front yard is so blistering on summer afternoons, you might consider planting a medium-sized tree to shade the area in front of the house. I'd put it 5-6' from the sidewalk and roughly even with the corner of the one-story wing of the house.

I'm conservative about tree height near houses, so I'd aim for something 20-30' tall: one of the taller Japanese maples, a Kousa (or other) dogwood, a chalkbark maple, a flowering crabapple (or one of the more attractive fruiting crabs), one of the broader hawthorns (if the thorns wouldn't bother you), etc.

Unfortunately, with a tree in that location you'd lose most of the street view of the attractive gingerbread on the one-story wing of the house.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 6:20PM
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luvahydrangea(Albany, NY 5)

I love your house and the garden in the backyard is really gorgeous!

    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 7:32PM
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Just a comment on the north facing situation.

It's the back of my house that faces due north. I'm in zone 6, which for me means very hot summers and winters with bitter cold, and cycles of snow - ice - thaw that can be plant killers. Throw in prairie winds out of the west and it's no fun right now.

But my absolute favorite planting bed is a 9' x 20' border snugged up against the back of the house beside my back patio.

I understand what you mean about the intense light in summer, but there may be a trick to it that will help you decide about what you will plant.

I've watched how the shade line moves back toward the house as we move from spring up to the summer solstice (about June 21). At that point the shade line is about as close as it will get to the house itself. For me, there's a 3 ft band that is always in the shade. I don't plant that close to the house, but I do plant near that 3 ft mark. Those plants have access to growing some of their roots toward the shade. Plus the plants nearest the house are shaded through the days of the spring when the tilt of the earth thingy is moving that shade line. Anything closer to the house also gets the reprieve from the sun soonest as the shade line moves back in the other direction further and further from the house.

In other words around the spring equinox (about March 21) the house shades an area extending beyond the bed and the patio. At that point everything is in complete shade and the plants are coaxed up from the ground by the warming earth and gentle ambient light. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths poke up a little later here because they are kept cooler in the shade. Right at the sweet spot (about 5 ft from the house in my situation) a gorgeously robust clematis is beginning to need a little more space. It usually blooms long and then blooms again in the fall. So far I mostly have shade plants in this entire bed in spite of the fact that I know the afternoon light is coming.

Kept watered, and tended, and mulched, I have been amazed at how well these shade prefering plants do. But ... I think it helps that as the earth's tilt again shifts the light southward, the shade in this area slowly begins to give its reprieve to these plants. I once used this bed for vegies ... just to see how that would go ... and the things that really love light to do well and are harvested in Aug and later, didn't produce much once they were tucked under the growing edge of the shade.

Your situation is different, so you'll have to watch the light. On a sunny day in January the north side of my house is gloomy and significantly colder. The south side is the brighter warmer side.

Anyway, my point is that you can work with this exposure and expect good results. There are all kinds of ways to create shade protection. A stepping stone in just the right spot is incredibly effective for keeping the ground moist and cool near a plant. I sometimes use that technique in addition to plenty of mulch.

I love my north side beds and was actually planning to add hydrangia to my little playground in back.


    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 11:13PM
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It's a darling house with beautiful, established gardens in back... I, too, am wondering why the front is so plain with the evergreens? I'd be looking to change the front, myself!

The lilac, spirea, and the back gardens with roses are just lovely!

Our house actually faces north, but it does get some sun at different times during the year. I've got shade plants close to the foundation and plants that can tolerate more sun planted further out.

I wouldn't know what to suggest, exactly, but I do think the possibilities are many... I'd love to see photos of "after"!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2011 at 6:10AM
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I can answer that I think. I have all my gardens in the back as well! I can't exactly explain why. I hate doing any gardening in the front or on the sides of my house. Everyone always tells me," I had no idea all this beauty was back here!"

I only have one thought on improving the garden whether in the front or the back. It is definitely a gorgeous garden and it needs to be framed out a little from the yard. An edging of some sort to separate the bed from the grass. Using an edger to give a nice clean line or a row of bricks for mowing would set the bed off visually and also help to know when weeding where the yard stops and the bed begins. It keeps the grass from creeping in as well.
How are those roses growing up the house? Just BEAUTIFUL!! i AM SO JEALOUS!!!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 1:54PM
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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)

What is that beautiful pink shrub next to the white spiea? Azelea? I see you have lily of the valley so that must be a moist area? I'd concentrate on the front landscape this year and keep all of the rest weeded and maintained. The style of the house is beautiful. Wonder what a different door on the front would look like or a small portico type porch? Maybe somebody that has a landscape design program can give you some ideas.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 10:46PM
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Cute houses do draw responses...
Here's one more:
I'd be inclined to keep the front a bit formal, and this is how - when the old shrubs are out, I'd start with widening the path to front door, then take out all front lawn, then edge the lot borders, path and sidewalk with a very low boxwood hedge, and finally fill in with a variety of dwarf shrubs and herbaceous plants (sure you can fit in a tree or two). Note: this is NOT a low maintenance option, as the hedge needs frequent clipping.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2011 at 8:09AM
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