Winter dreaming about my spring project

drtygrlJanuary 12, 2012

I would really love to read your ideas about this area of my yard! I have really big ideas, but I would love to develop and hone them by discussing the potential of this area with you.

SUMMARY: Basically I would like to make a walk through garden in an part of the yard I have cleared an area between our lawn and the neighbors field. On the other sides it is bordered by the road and the barn. It currently has a canopy of trees but I am willing to any of them down with the exception of the large black cherry trees. My biggest concern is to have the garden not feel like its a big entrance to the barn.

I was surprised when we bought the house that there was not a driveway from the road to the barn, but after long consideration and knowing the zoning laws in my town it is not currently a possibility.

BACKGROUND: we have lived in this house for 6 years-- renovating the interior and taming the yard. To say the yard was an overgrown jungle is an understatement. In this area, and actually most of the areas within 2 acres of the house we have gotten things under control. As any property can be, some of it was a learning experience, but mostly it was just a lot of hard work.

SITE PLAN: I sketched up a basic site plan and attached it. I left off the contour lines because it was hard to read; but we live on a mountain and its steep. I have a map of those if it would help. From the road to the drive drops off about 10 - 15 feet, from the drive to the front of the house it drops off about 2 feet, the house has a walkout basement and the top of the backyard is reasonably level until it drops off 15 feet over 10 feet. Considering we live not he side of a mountain, the drainage, especially in the area we are looking at is pretty good.

ISSUES: We live in Zone 4 - so its a pretty rough winter. We are also very exposed to weather living on the side of a mountain. This area is a bit more sheltered than the rest of our property being shielded by the barn and a little grove next to it. We have deer, but mostly our dogs keep them out of the yard - but the deer used to sleep in the grove on the south side of the barn in the winter before we had the dogs.

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Oh my, this poor old soul needs to move back to the country. What a setting, what a view!! You lucky girl.

Where exactly is this new garden to be? Is it on the deck side of the house?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 7:28PM
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As a girl who grew up in the suburbs/city I LOVE country life!! I am really blessed that we found this gem of a property. Some other time I will go on and on about how great it was and is raising kids here.

The new garden is between the house and property line by the small barn and between the road and the barn. Basically around the barn. Sorry I left off the compass - to the left is south, top is west, right is north, bottom is east, generally. Forgot to say that the dotted line around the southwest corner of the house is a possible future screen/three season room. There is a small deck you can see in the photos, but it is coming down and being replaced.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 7:47PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I think it would be easier if you showed us your 'really big ideas' so we get a feel for what you like/want so we don't go off on a tangent. A 'walk through garden' is really not enough information.... What do you use the barn for, both now and any future plans for it?

I agree that it's a beautiful site - although steep hills and I don't agree with each other these days :-)

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 8:46PM
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You stated that you don't want the garden to feel like a driveway to the barn but do you need to use the area as a driveway to the barn? In other words, if you put a big rock or something right in the middle, would it be a problem?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 8:47PM
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No problem with anything obstructing the barn from the road. Thats actually the idea. There needs to be access to the barn for the lawn mower - 60 inches - i usually access it from the right side of the photo - so maybe a 5.5 ft clearance from the front of the barn. (We have a zero degree turn mower - so there is not a huge need for clearance)

@woody - most of the site around our property is not so steep that it would be difficult to walk through. I left the question purposely vague because i would love ideas that are different from what i have been considering. I find that I have really expansive ideas for other peoples properties, but I am having a problem looking at this part of my property in the same way. I would really LOVE to hear what you all think without my opinion clouding the picture!

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 9:13PM
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Yeah, the best thing about raising kids in the country is that you have to drive them everywhere - the car is almost better than the traditional dinner table for those long, meaningful conversations that strengthen us as a family...

Since you are basically giving us carte blanche to garden in your little corner of heaven drtygrl, I would take advantage of that slope framed between the beautiful cherry trees and your prospective screen porch. Remove the darned grass and use a backhoe to create a long stream with rock, different levels and courses, culminating in a pool at the bottom. Hee, you still have the rest of the winter to do all the research necessary in constructing such a water feature and the artistry to make it breathtaking. The money might be another matter :)

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 9:49PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I'm having trouble matching the drawing and the pictures. In the drawing, it looks like the barn door faces the fence(?) to the west and it looks like there is a run of fence going up to the barn (?) But the second picture looks like the barn door sort of faces past the house - and it looks like the house and barn are in a different position relative to each other than is shown on the drawing. I assume, based on the driveway, that the road is the line on the east side? So the veggie gaden is parallel to the road? What are the dimensions of the space we're looking at? Are you planning on gardening all the space E to W between the house and the property line to the south? Is the land beyond the fence yours? Do you need access - e.g. a gate - through the fence and, if so, where?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 10:13PM
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Are your plans to scale? i.e. 1/4 inch equals two feet, or the like? (That veggie garden in the drawing looks awfully tiny)

The plans don't seem to match the drawing. I'm seeing a deck on the wrong side of the house or something, there...

Lots of drainage and run off, there. (Add gutters and drains eaves.) You'll have to allow for that run off with your plantings and beds. Retaining walls, mebbe...

Soil conditions? Soil tests? That'll determine what you can get away with planting and how many amendents you might need, which will have a significant impact on your design(s).

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 10:43PM
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Thanks for all the questions!
The plan is to scale. I did sketch in the veggie garden without a ruler, but thats about its size - 20' x10'. The road frontage is 250'. I apologize, the road is the property line at the bottom of the plan. I will probably be moving that veggie garden; its location was related to a large spruce which we have since removed so it is now in an awkward position. The barn has doors on both ends. One end with the barn doors is roughly parallel to the road. If you drew a line off the back of the house the front of the barn would be on that line. The side with two windows faces the house. The lower doors open to a pen and then the field below the fence which we do own. (The previous owners had sheep)

Right now there are decks on both rear corners of the house, but the small one that you can see in the pictures (on the barn side of the house) will be removed to build a screen room.

The area I am looking at using is actually pretty flexible but I would say about 75' x200'. The soil here is fantastic - lots and lots of rich loam. I haven't had it tested. Generally people don't have gutters here because of the winter - but the run off is not a huge issue in this area. You can't tell from the plan - but the road runs downhill, as well as the land to the barn, so most run off stays in the ditch by the road. I will try to sketch something up this afternoon to make it a little clearer.

@Adrienne - I think the best thing about the country is that the kids can play outside all the time - less TV video and computers! (My 15 yo was jumping his mountain bike over the new snow banks yesterday evening - love it!) I love the idea of planning a garden around a stream, I have often thought of that for the other side of our house were we get a lot of runoff - but it would be a great way to organize this area. Because its shady over there I am not sure about where to locate a pond - but I am going to figure it out so the kids can terrorize some Koi or something.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 8:42AM
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Thanks for clearing things up for me.

I think you have some great ideas!

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 10:13AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

drtygrl - if you're going to post an updated version of the plan, could you please mark on it your common routes of travel through the yard - i.e. from the house to the barn; house to veggie garden (where are you thinking of moving the veggie garden to?); house to anywhere else you go to regularly...; the route you regularly take with the lawn tractor; routes to and from the deck; etc.... I think you mentioned dogs... do they have regular patrol routes? If so, mark their routes too. Where the major grade changes are would be useful too.

What about the usual questions re what you want to do in the space? Are there any young children to consider, or just the teen?

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 10:25AM
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drtygrl, not trying to give you grand schemes, but just some reaction to what's there and how I see "flow" shaking out. Looking at the view from end of the drive, I don't get a clear vision of where I should WANT to go. Grass bleeds off in many directions and obstacles are located in the lawn at several places. I think the main path should have a clear direction and entice me into the yard and around the corner. As the left back corner is high ground, I long for it to be terraced/retained--stone seems like it would be so good with your property--and to contain a focal point that makes me want to investigate... a statue of Jesus... a totem pole... a monster phallic symbol... no... minors in the yard. Forget that... whatever. I could even see the koi pond incorporated into the retained space as one possibility. Would need to reconfigure the veg garden, of course. I'm sure you don't need suggestions of what or how to plant so I'm just showing "green-ness" for landscape areas. There's no suggestion implied of what, or how, it is.

I also think the bed @ the house should be wider around those lilacs with some uniformity in low edge plantings that "greases" your visual trip around the corner.

I see two good possibilities (or a 3rd if you get rid of that other tree) for secondary off-shoot paths that go to the barn.

Sadly, as the main grass path continues, it wants the property now occupied by Mr. PG Hydrangea. And since that plant is in competition with a tree, I would let it go. Don't know if there is any possibility of moving it. In my yard, I would try but it looks like a real tough operation with what's nearby.

That's my 2 centavos.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 3:35PM
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I like the direction that Yard is taking in that plan, especially with the focal area. And the stream can easily run as part of the grassy corridor under the shade of the trees so long as the destination pond(s) at the bottom of the slope gets 6 hours of sun/day.

And yay, an old sheep shelter and pen. How do you feel about getting a few chickens? Maybe more importantly, how would the dogs feel?

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 4:24PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I'm more impressed than ever at Yardvaark's digital drawing skills after attempting it myself - without any success! I gave up on trying to draw lines and just used dots - which, while the lines are crooked, look less offensive than my attempts at lines! :-) The text is hand written because I did that when I was scribbling ideas on a copy of the picture - which I scanned before attempting the digital stuff. Rather than overwriting with Photoshop, I'll try to 'translate' a bit :-)

I would never suggest this plan to anyone who was not an experienced and enthusiastic gardener! Like Yardvaark, thought grass paths were the obvious starting point. But then I thought - 'How do you make a grass path through the lawn?' There has to be something defining the path. For me, in the case of a grass path, that's usually the garden beds beside it. That would make for BIG garden beds here. Which led me to the thought of making the grass path very wide to be the lawn and turn the very large bed into a small forest! That became the SE side of the yard. I'd plant for a spring display of flowers in trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs, chosing ones with good summer foliage (including a few showy green and white variaged ones to add some summer oomph) and great fall color. That would take care of a lot of the need for some focal point in that corner if you planned it well - although a special something could be added too.

I moved the veggie garden to the sheep pen area - might as well make use of any sheep manure that might be there:-) The pen looks like a good size for a veggie garden, and you could use the fence for a nice display of clematis and other flowering vines. The area looks to be already gated so that might come in handy if you need to do some critter-proofing....

I put a big shrub bed along the barn, extending towards the east to divide the lawn-path in two, leaving the branch to the lower level slightly narrower - I'd want to save that hydrangea if I could!

I agree re widening the bed along the house (I took the wiggle out too :-) I think the wiggle would mess up the nice smooth line of the lawn-path.

I'm not sure what is at the back of the house where the curved lines with the arrows are, but it strikes me as a place for a patio or terrace. I assume the field behind the fence remains a field, perhaps with mown paths leading out from the gap which I assume is a gate. Depending on what is grown in the field/its use, that area could become a flowering meadow.

drtygrl started off by saying she had 'big ideas'... Is this one big enough for you?!

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 5:56PM
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I absolutely LOVE the new perspective on this yard - thank you so much!!

I still look at things and see what used to be there so it is terrific to get all these different thoughts on it. Part of my struggle is that so much of this area has been recently cleaned out that its hard for me to put anything back in! Particularly the area on the side of the barn facing the house, it looks so nice an clean to me after the problem area it used to be.

My first thought about the bed in front of the house was that "I can't widen it - the heating vent would kill anything I planted". But then I thought that i already have day lilies there, so if I created a massing of that it could survive. And it would be more proportional.

Yard - There is a low stone retaining wall along the east side of the front yard and it would make good sense to carry that around to the corner you identified as needing a focal point. I have an idea what you were thinking - see the pic below. I completely agree with your comment about "obstacles everywhere". There are really too many things competing for the eye. Both of those paths would be fine without removing trees.

Woody - thanks I love your big idea! The area that you targeted as a forest is already a really good spring focal point with tons and tons of bulbs in it. I think it would be terrific to add a redbud for spring interest. The area in the back with the arrows is a perennial bed that drops about 12 feet in elevation from the lawn. I do plan on installing a patio back there in the spring - I ran out of money this fall!!

Mr. Pee Gee is an issue. I believe it is too big to move. I cut it back to about half size 2 years ago - so its even smaller than it used to be. Its a beautiful shrub, just unfortunately planted in a bad place.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 7:20PM
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Nice little stonehenges!

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 12:10AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I assume the previous owner was in the business - of some sort - of stone?!

Now you need to tell/show us what your big ideas for the space are.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 10:51AM
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OK, this is half baked brainstorming, but... based on Adriennemb's comments about the stream... what if the lawn became "flowing water" ... and spilled out of an upper pool into a river of green... and onward...? And landscape beds were the "banks" of a river...

And WHY is a "heating vent" in the yard?? That serving of lilac needs a bigger platter!

I gave up on trying to draw lines... Woodyoak, it might make a difference that I'm using touch screen tablet and stylus. I don't think it would work well with a mouse.

Uploaded with

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 11:25AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Yard - I wondered whether you used something like a stylus.....

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 12:15PM
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Yardvaark. on the right piece of property, that 'flowing water', 'river of green,' idea would be an interesting challenge, and a wonderful view.

For example, instead of a water feature with a waterfall, plant some sort of trailing vines or ivy, inter-twined with trailing rosemary or something similar, to represent the waterfall...and use irish moss or corsican mint or something similar to represent the stream. Put a few lighter colored plantings here and there in the 'stream' in order to mimic rushing water or hidden rocks. That design idea could work with shade tolerant plants or in full sun plantings.

I think it'd also be interesting to try something like that in a desert xeriscape, using drought tolerant plants.

I think that's a great design idea.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 8:35PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

drtygrl, how about starting a new hydrangea -- or even more than one -- from cuttings?


Fish sculptures, wbonesteel -- you forgot the fish sculptures! One of them balanced atop a thin metal stake, as if he's jumping out of the water.

Colorful plastic dragonflies, swooping over the "water" on metal wires (about the gauge of stiffish floral-wire stems, so they'd move in the breeze).

I just wish trailing rosemary would survive the winter here in zone 7....

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 10:37PM
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wbonessteel, Just brainstorming on this thread, but in general I rather like the idea of 'lawn as flowing water' and can see many possibilities in what you mention using various types of groundcover-ish plants to represent various kinds of flowing water. Seems like the trick would be making sure that it was reasonably low maintenance. I think, by default, it would want to be high m! (I once used Heavenly blue morning glories climbing strings off of an open deck. The effect was as if it was a waterfall. Until they went nuts.)

    Bookmark   January 15, 2012 at 10:56AM
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Yardvaark, that would be part of the challenge - finding reasonably low-maintenance plants to make it all work w/o keeping you sweating too much to enjoy the view. Add considerations for the hardiness zone you're working in and the planning - alone - would keep it interesting.

(Try to keep ivy and vines away from houses, sheds, and any other structures you want to keep, folks. It sure does looks pretty, but sooner or later the vines and ivy will literally tear the place to pieces and bring it down.)

Missingtheobvious: Those ideas would work great as long a person used some discretion. Adding value and interest with certains types of statuary can be a *very* good thing. Gotta be careful, though. If a person takes it too far, they can unintentionally achieve a garish and visually conflicting space.

Personally, I do like to try to balance the dichotomies of life in garden design - un-inhibited natural plantings vs geometrically shaped beds and walkways, for example - but it can be like performing a high-wire balancing act. One wrong move and you've created a chaotic and ugly environment instead of one that is graceful and beautiful. Beauty vs the beast within, or control vs chaos, if you will.

This is one reason why English Country Gardens have been so appealing through the ages. The conflict is resolved, and wonderfully so, when the plant tells us 'This is the way I'm going to grow, no matter what!' Then, contemplating our country cottage garden, we reply with, 'Fine. You can grow any way you want, as long as you grow here, and not there.' The conflict resolved, a compromise is reached and chaos becomes indescribable beauty...and peace and rest are achieved...and not an inch of space is wasted.

Which is also why I think Yardvaark's idea is so appealing. Soil and shade permitting, the plants can grow any way they need to grow, while we design and install a living 'painting' of a river or stream in a garden or landscape.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2012 at 12:11PM
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Hi there drtygrl,
that`s an amazing piece of land you`ve got there, I hope you have a great time redesigning it.
You know, you sent me such a nice and helpfull answer last spring when I was between jobs (or rather out of) and was somewhat at my witts end, posting this thread about career choice.
Guess what, yesterday a year ago I started a new job in a small landscape design business, working part time . It`s kind of perfect, decent boss, interesting project, and I can put in all my funny bits and odds of knowledge or experience. I do have to commute though (to a small farmer`s town in semi-rural Switzerland, sharing the funny old railway car-thingy with Japanese tourists now and then), but, hey, that`s the tiniest fly in the ointment.

I hope you don`t mind me sending you this off-topic thing, but I couldn`t find an em-ail address of yours. I just wanted to say hi and thank you again,
have an inspired season, bye, yours, Lin

    Bookmark   May 24, 2013 at 4:34PM
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What a nice thing for someone to come back and say and what a nice message to receive!!!

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 2:53AM
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Wow! Thank you linaria, I am so happy to hear your good news.
I was completely surprised, because I hardly ever check garden web anymore. It is a cold and rainy saturday here and on a whim decided to see what people were talking about here. I was really surprised when my topic was at the top!
So a year in the perfect almost job - designing, that is great!! Congrats!

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 8:21AM
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