Front Yard Foundation Bed Renovation

UofAHogJanuary 6, 2014


I moved the family into a new home last June and feel like I'm finally at the point where I can make a plan of attack for the front yard landscaping. The house sits on about half an acre of what once upon a time was a well cared for yard. From the looks of things when we bought the place, little to no yard maintenance had been done in the last 3 to 5 years with gardens having largely died out and all of the trees and shrubs being overgrown. I spent the Summer and Fall cutting and clearing the bulk of the property but honestly it was an exercise in keeping up with the explosive new growth.

Here is the front yard as it looks today:

For 2014 I would like to renovate the foundation beds along the front of the house and add stone borders to the island beds in the yard. I've already picked out my border stone and am just waiting for a warmer weekend to lay it down. I've come here looking for your advice on the foundation beds. I plan to remove pretty much all of the existing plants and start over with a cohesive theme that makes sense with the relative symmetry of the home. I'm looking for a dark green evergreen bush that could be used in groupings to either side of the front porch. My earlier research brought me to Otto Luyken laurels to fill this roll. I would love to hear some suggestions on other options or possible partner plants to add interest.

On the left I'd like to maintain some kind of height underneath the upper window on the left side. There simply isn't as much room between the windows on the right side so a vertical element may not be in the cards there. Also on the right, I plan to end the bed where the walk tuns toward the door. That yew positioned out in the yard has a date planned with a tow rope and my truck. I'll also be removing the mulch bed on the yard side of the walk and sodding that area in. Here are pictures of the left and right sides as they exist now.

Left Side

Right Side

As you can see, the current selection of plants is pretty random. It would also seem that whomever picked the shrubs in the beginning didn't trouble themselves with worrying about how large the specimens would eventually grow. Neither of these are mistakes that I'd like to revisit.

The porch area is proving to be a bit troubling to me due to its varied 2'-3' raised height. I would like to maintain evergreens here but I don't want them creating a wall in front of the porch. The bed has about 8' of depth between the porch and the walk. The mulch bed in the foreground of the picture will be replaced with sod.

Any suggestions or thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Please remember that I'm planning on taking this back to a blank slate so I'll be open to all possibilities. Hopefully taking care of the planning now will allow me plenty of time to make my changes early in the Spring before the weather gets too hot.

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'Otto Luykens' will get far too large (or require too much trimming to keep small) for where I think you intend to use them.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 3:16PM
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Well, I thank you for saving me from a maintenance mistake. Do you happen to have any suggestions for shrubs/landscaping that would be more appropriate in my beds?


    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 4:29PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Some questions for you, UofAHog:

Which direction does the house face?

Will you want to plant anything other than evergreen shrubs in the foundation beds (annuals, perennials, bulbs, etc.)?

Are you interested in keeping the two tall evergreens on the left and/or the shrub between them?

[I know what you mean about random shrubs. That's what the Previous Owners went in for. And how they got the two small hollies centered under the largest window, I will never understand: everything else seemed to have been purposely not centered.... Plus those hollies were the only two of anything that matched....]

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 8:23PM
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One idea...

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 9:34AM
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This is the simple sketchup 3d model

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 9:37AM
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The front of the house faces due West. It gets strong sun from noon to 3pm during the summer. The trees in the island beds provide a break from the really harsh late afternoon sun.

I definitely want to plant more than shrubs. I'm prone to a bit of collector-itis when it comes to gardening so as this is the front of the house I'm trying to achieve a more organized theme. I have only really talked about shrubs so far because I view them as the keystones to the landscape. I for sure want to fill in with variety of annuals, perennials, and bulbs. I'd rather like some type of evergreen main shrub mixed with some loropetalum purple pixie and then some perennials for seasonal color.

Those two tall evergreens on the left are one of the items i hate the most. I just feel like they cover up the house and are terribly overgrown for their space. I've add a few pictures to explain the mess a bit more. The two holly trees flanking the porch area are the exact same species. Just the one on the right was chopped in half just prior to me buying the house. They both have dreams of being 20' tall trees and tend to grow about 12" a month.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 10:40AM
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I am not a professional but I did win a landscape design contest when I lived in New Orleans! For what it's worth! I love your house, and I like how the trees in the island beds do not obstruct the view. You might want to re-think your idea of stone borders around them. While stone is beautiful, of course, the borders will require you to weed-whack or somehow edge around them, whereas the mulch is very low maintenance. You can easily dig a small trench around the mulch islands to keep the grass out, I think it is easier than installing borders and such. I think the shrub/tree in the middle on the left side might be a crape myrtle and you can actually keep it the size it is by pruning (not hacking it back aka crape murder) it in winter. The plant to the right of it seems to be a holly which is doing well but covering up the window, I don't know if it can be saved and moved. The one to the left of the crape I guess is a juniper, I don't like them, they are not attractive to me, and usually are planted way to close to houses and should be removed in my opinion. I do not like the look of "meatball" sheared shrubs, I like a natural look, so I would remove all the larger squarish or roundish shrubs. The little shrubs in front of the porch look fine, if they are a variety which stays small and can be left in a more natural shape or trimmed like they are, as that would not be too much work. The yellowish ones (euonymous?) and the 3 dark green ones to the right could stay. For symmetry, I would remove the dark green one on the far left next to the yellowish one. More in next post.....

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 10:42AM
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I'm in northeast MS so close to your zone. I really like cleyera, I had them in New Orleans, and I have several here, and they stay 4 or 5 ft for me and always look good and have been disease free. Lorapetalum gets big, you would want to see if you want the big ones that get like 8 ft or more and need to be pruned but then shoot up leggy growth where you prune them, or go with the dwarf ones. There is a green one with white flowers too. There are several kinds of viburnum that you might consider. Also many hollies. I find these to be very low maintenance and look good year round. Even rosemary is a pretty shrub, mine stay very manageable and look good always, they should do well in Western exposure with sun. If you can find daphne (I am looking now for one) some are evergreen some are variegated, and smell great. I find the mopheads (yellowish foliage can't think of botanical name) look good all year. Also abelia, there are many kinds, these are wider shrubs and can lose their leaves if really cold. I would be careful of nandina, which is very pretty with berries and looks good even now in 7 degrees, but it spreads like bamboo. I just love roses, you could certainly poke a few in there that tolerate that sun (most do), I know knockout roses can be maligned as over-used, but I have very good performance from them and I think they look fine even in winter. Enjoy your new home, it certainly is beautiful and Tennessee is such a beautiful state!

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 10:54AM
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Uof..., getting suggestions in this thread does not absolve you of the need to work out an actual landscape plan before you begin making changes (except demolition of what you're certain must be removed.) I'm in agreement with you that it would be best to begin with a clean slate.

IMO, other than noting the names of a few plants you would like to incorporate, if possible, it's too early to be focusing on what plants should be used. At this point, you should be determining the space that plants should occupy and what forms the plants should be. After making those decisions, it's a lot easier to decide what plants could best accomplish those goals. Because windows and porch floor are so close to the ground, you might consider that perennial masses and very low shrubs might be useful to you.

One built-in problem I see is that the walk is very close to the house where it terminates at the drive, which means that there's not much room for plants at the end of the house. Too bad, as it's a place where a small tree or large shrub would help, just off the end of the house (as viewed from the front.) I'm offering a pictorial suggestion that is a place to start thinking about the overall scheme. There are opportunities to refine and personalize it to suit your needs and desires. In it, I'm considering that the planting bed should jump the walk and continue farther in the leftward direction ... so that enough plants can provide a more balanced look to overall weight of plantings. In it, I considered that the existing crape myrtle could be moved and become that small tree that is shown to the left. The shrub marked "A" is not something I'd normally squeeze in at the corner of the house, but if the walk was to remain, I'd consider creating a topiary-like shrub hugging the corner ... like a Camellia possibly, but with the notion that it could never be allowed to grow beyond its desired size. If it were my house, I think I'd explore reconfiguring that left end of the walk.

"... stone borders around the tree islands ..." Hmmmm, that could mean a dozen different things ranging from decent to horrible. If a "border" sticks up above grade, it had better be perfect in all respects (geometric form, pitch, thickness, materials, construction, color, etc.) If it is not, it will be a detriment, not an assett. If it is flush, as a mowing strip, it had still better be quality of layout, materials and construction, but an mow strip is not as prone to creating a disturbance to the overall picture. If you don't wish to spend the effort and cost of making it awesome, it would be far better to do as lousianagal recommends and use the trench edge ... which is easy to fix if later determined that there is a size or shape problem. Much that can go wrong can be prevented in the 2-D planning stage.

In the picture, I have barely an idea of what any of the plants might be. I'm just thinking of their shape and shape and size. The color means nothing other than to differentiate one plant, or group of plants, from the next.

@Yin ... while I think your pictures are interesting, you might consider explaining the logic behind what you create in the picture. For myself, I cannot determine how one arrives at these end results, as there doesn't seem to be correlation to architectural features of the house ... almost as if you could use your picture in front of ANY background and behind ANY foreground. If I saw only your concept, without the background, I'd guess that it was a back yard landscape due to the outdoor dining furniture.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 1:43PM
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My sketchup model is too rough,there should be a more desirable way of connecting to the porch. My idea is to build a littler cute garden in the forntyard, since this land is huge.I think it will be nice to create a charming landscape piece, which not only shows "welcome" to people, but also provides a nice seating area.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 1:11AM
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Yin, I was referring more to the other drawing. Many of the plants seem to screen the house instead of showing it off. The garden itself could be a pleasant place to enjoy relaxing in the outdoors, but there is already a default seating area via the covered front porch. Granted, your paving and seating space is spacious and has the potential to be a much nicer place than the front porch. But the homeowner must then commit to having privacy in the front yard. Most homeowners would not be willing to do that which is why entertaining spaces in the middle of the front yard are extremely rare (in the US as a whole. I'm sure there are small pockets where it is done.)

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 9:05AM
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Some homeowers also would like have a nice patio in their private spaces of the front yards

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 11:02AM
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louisianagal: Thanks for taking a look and offering your thoughts. I really appreciate the suggestions because as an engineer I have a need for plans but when it comes to the creative details I can get a bit hung up.

yin49: Thanks for taking the time to offer up some ideas. Unfortunately, I'm not really following your thought process. I'd much prefer to keep any seating area in the backyard.

Yardvaark: Apologies if I stepped on your toes somewhere in this thread. I didn't intend to go about this endeavor all freestyle as that is pretty much the antithesis of how I work. I actually started this thread seeking help in developing a plan for my yard as I know that developing the structure of the planting is a weakness I have.

I see that I was perhaps looking at what I could build with a given set of blocks(plants) rather than looking at what I wanted to build and then choosing my blocks. I do like the way you frame the house in your sketch. I like your use of low mounds/groups rather than rows of hedges. The area where the walk begins is a problem and I am unsure if anything sizable will be able to be planted there. I'll work on a plan view layout to add some dimension to my pictures.

Regarding the stone border for the other gardens, I have attached a photo that show what I would like to do. Please excuse the state of that bed. Winter has been pretty harsh and that area was covered in a stand of pampas grass 6' tall and nearly 8' wide. The stones are pretty uniform at about 4" tall with 3" sticking above grade.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 11:13AM
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"Yardvaark: Apologies if I stepped on your toes... " I didn't perceive that.

Plants can be problem solvers, if one knows what the problem is and understands the personality/character of the plant. But not knowing the bed shape, size and way it is divided and what parts of the house one is willing to screen and what parts shouldn't be screened means that the problem is not well enough understood. My sketch is exploring how PART of the problem might be solved, but since it is from only one viewpoint, one must be thinking of how it can be converted (with or without refinements and alterations) to work in 3 dimensions. If you like the plants as low mounds and groups better than the much more common -- lines -- then it would be ok to begin transferring those ideas to plan view for working out and further refinement. I'm not trying to shove an idea or scheme down your throat but am trying to show a process. You can alter a/the scheme to suit your needs. If one begins selecting plants before knowing how those plants should be shaped, sized and arranged, then the chance will be greater that a plant would become a problem CREATOR instead of a problem solver. To take one example, in the scheme I've offered, I see only one place where a single 'Otto Luyken would work. You might come up with a different scheme to work in more, but you'd need to create that need first.

Thanks for explaining the "stone border" with the picture. Sorry to say, that is not what I consider to be a good solution as compared to other possible solutions. I'm not saying it to hurt your feelings, but to let you know that better is available. What's wrong with it? First, the scale ... a 3-inch wide stripe embedded in the ground reads as thin as a knife edge relative to the size of the entire lawn ... especially if it is raised above the surrounding grade, which seems to be the common, popular way of doing it. Second, that it is raised ... so as to give the bed an appearance of emptiness instead of fullness. Third, and again this seems the popular way of doing it, but the shape outlined is a quarter-circle ... why is there a flat spot at the 10 o'clock position? It adds an air of sloppiness or cheapness to the appearance. It would look a whole lot better if you: create a mowing strip (a flush, inlaid strip) ... that is at least 8" wide ... that is organized and laid out with perfect plan view geometry. In the case here, you'd be working with a sloped grade, so the strip must be created with a smoothness and uniformity that flows with the grade. If there is an imperfection in the grade (a bump or "pothole") then it would be imperative to fix the grade in order to create a border strip with a uniformly smooth, flowing grade. Granted, my solution costs a bit more than the solution proposed in the photo, but the difference in cost is far less than the differential in appearance between the two different schemes.

This post was edited by Yardvaark on Wed, Jan 8, 14 at 17:53

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 5:49PM
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But some your guests will enjoy your waiting seating area in the frontyard. Sometime you like to see the activities of the surrounding in the frontyard.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 8:41PM
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Other ideas

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 8:47PM
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This is a rough sketch, but I agree with Yardvark that one of the biggest issue, is the lack of space where the path meets the driveway. I'd go a step further and say that a bigger problem is your lack of layers, everything just slopes and the walkway doesn't have a nice flow.

My vote would be to add a retainer wall at the bottom, expand that area so you could add a nice tree and then re-do the walkway with staggered levels. It was tough to photoshop the look I was going for, but hopefully you can follow.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 11:16PM
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Another thing that would help guide the eye to the door and create more separation between the porch and the house would be some sort of railing....

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 11:37PM
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I was able to spend a bit of time outside this weekend and get some measurements made. Here are the results:

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 12:37PM
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It helps to see the plan. We rarely see such nice, accurate drawings by homeowners!

IMO the existing bed lines could be improved:

A. I can't see the overall island to tell what shape and size it should be, but this type of bed edge with flat spots and mishmash of odd curves disturbs me (like you can't believe!) It would look much better with smoothness, uniformity and flow. And it should coordinate well with the other bed(s).

B. It's a sure bet that you'd want to reconfigure the bed line to add more volume to the bed so that plants have room to grow without looking pinched. And to bring it farther away from the house (off of the R. outside corner) so that it can be shallowest at/near the entrance. This feels more inviting as viewed from the street, similar to "D" in my ultra-simplified example. How spacious you ultimately make it depends on what plants will go into it and how much space is available]. To the contrary, if the bed is at its greatest front-to-back depth right at the entrance, the look is more like "enter if you dare." (In many cases it's: enter if you can squeeze past the tunnel of plants almost blocking your way. Hmmm.... similar to the scheme of what you have now ... example "E".

C. If you don't make changes to the walk, I'd consider creating a quarter circle island bed similar to that shown. (I am staunchly against the common practice of confining walkways with plantings, but make exceptions for islands so long as they are not too long.) The island would help a little with placement of larger plant material off the left end of the house (where something of height is needed.) It would be a good place for a multi-trunk crape myrtle limbed up nice and high so as not to obstruct the view or pathway. (If pollarding annually, 9' is usually a good height.) Whatever groundcover is at the base should be relatively low ... 12" to 18" max. so as not to seem foreboding to the entry experience. (See far left of my earlier illustration. I could still see a Camellia-like plant hugging the house corner so long as it was not allowed to get too wide.)

D & E are examples of house & foundation bed line relationships already mentioned.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 2:26AM
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jcalhoun(8b Mobile County AL)

I would rip out all of the bushes and shrubs you currently have. I like the porch and would extend the steps all the down instead of having plants there. I have never been a fan of large bushes close to a house. I'd go with smaller stuff. Carolina allspice, sweetsrubs, blueberries, etc. A few witch hazels would look good further away from the house.

I'd put a couple of American holly trees in the front yard to break up the "plainness" that is there now. Maybe add some black gums and sourwoods too. Eastern red cedars would work if need the pointed conifer look. Could also make a few short needle pine species look good there.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 12:40PM
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