How to embrace this little hell strip

whaas_5a(5A SE WI)February 18, 2012

Of all the things giving me trouble I just can't come to an agreement with this very narrow strip.

Perhaps the selection of plants works or perhaps I should just mass one type of upright plant and then maintain a taller/narrow conifer closest to the porch to fill that empty spot next to the door.

This area is shaded until about 1pm and then sunny until 7pm.

As the days get shorter its shaded until 3pm so the perennials started to "reach".

Its all that siding that is bothering me. If I had more width I could fill it up a bit more with height.

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Have you thought about a trellis with a vine? The only other thing that comes to my mind is a piece of garden art. That sidewalk is rather narrow so I fear most plants would want to infringe on it.

What's with the plant containers with rocks on them?

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 10:24AM
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I'd second tanowicki's thought about a lovely permanent trellis, either painted in the colour of your siding so it will be more of an architectural interest in winter or a lovely but flat arts and crafts style structure in cedar on either side of the window. To me, a vine on a wall can be really ugly when there's snow on the ground so perhaps a fast growing annual is the answer. On a similar exposure to yours (we even share the same plant colour palette!), I use Cathedral Bells "cobea" aka the cup and saucer vine. It grows and covers amazingly fast, has a really subtle sweet smell so nice that close to the entrance and the pendulous flowers, though fairly short lived, are prolific and extremely attractive.

I'm still looking for a spot for that chimney fire oak...

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 10:51AM
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Cimicifuga, blue hydrangea, leucanthemum, peonies, hakonechloa 'aureola' grass; would be some of my choices for that area. I think you might be happier with a little less space between the plants, they are newly planted? if so they will probably fill in more, but you could probably tighten up some of the spacing to have a more immediate garden look with the thought in mind that you will divide and separate in 3-4 years.

In terms of that strip, i would look at trying to get a perennial for height and an edging plant in the two feet or so that you have available.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 11:03AM
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Let me pile on. I second (or third) the advice about the vine on trellis. I'd make it out of slightly "beefy" wood, 2 x 2 or 2 x 3... maybe even 2x4 main posts (no 1 x 2's.) Decorative end cuts (maybe just angle.) Keep it away from the wall a bit and don't make too wide that it crowds either the window or garage corner after the plants grow. I'd use a vine that twines and would not have any chance of attaching to the wall. My preference is painted white to add more charm than barracks paint theme. Blue or pink or anywhere in between flowers would look great with that grey. Mandevilla as annual would be one example.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 11:40AM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

I like what you have now. I might add some lavender.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 11:44AM
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With the present mood I am not sure if a criticism would be acceptable so I am asking in advance. Do you mind if I make a few observations not directly connected with your hellstrip?

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 12:18PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

All comments are welcome and thank you for the advice so far!

Whether you like or dislike I always take the advice. More advice outside of the hell strip is welcome to.

The plantings will likely evolve as I'm a bit of collector and this was just season number one!

About the trellis
I'm liking this idea...
Would a traditional rectangle or semi-circle (at the top) be a better choice?

Do I put this trellis towards the front or back?

I'd probably go with an ever-blooming clematis or climbing hydrangea.

About what I have
Everything was planted this past spring/summer/fall. Plants will fill in but I perhaps have the wrong plants from a height perspective.

About the containers
I used those to map out my plantings as it helps with perspective. This was a pic from earlier in the season. So all the containers are now spreading/globular dwarf/mini confiers.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 1:16PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Sorry I have a cold kicking in and a little one bantering away while I read the posts. I've noted the plant suggestions (perhaps annual) and the fact the trellis wouldn't be laying against the siding.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 1:24PM
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Too bad about those inconvenient spaces. I always regarded them as do the best you can spots.

I'm not going to third or fourth the trellis idea since being in Wisconsin it's going to be bare or covered in dead for a chunk of the year. And I don't know where or when I developed my dislike for most outdoor wall art - especially when it's front and center. (Probably too many decorating sites advocating turning your bungalow into a Tuscan villa by nailing something in wrought iron over the fireplace). :-)

What you've got will grow; and as mentioned above, tightening it up might end up more pleasing. Some of the sedums clump well and give some height. What's the variegated shrub - boxwood, red twig dogwood, weigela? How about the mound - mum, one of the geraniums?

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 1:48PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

If you feel the need to add some height why not consider something for the porch? Is the door centered or is there more space to the left?

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 1:58PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Open to ideas with the porch too.

I really wish I could use container plants but its west exposure so it gets pretty hot. I have a Ginkgo that might shade it in 20 years!lol!.

Duluth I've thought that as well but perhaps if its painted and its a plant I can cut back in the fall it might look more kept. I'm a neat freak to a point so I'd be out there in a heart beat to clean it up. You got it, Weigela 'My Monet' and Sheffield Mum.

Not sure if this additional pic will help or not. This is quite the tunnel view.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 2:15PM
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My preference is for square shape trellis because there is not that much room overhead. I made one I liked a lot (all 2x4) that had the cross pieces set angled like louvers. Their protruding ends were angle cut (probably 22.5*.) Was strong and easy to make. For roses so the slat spacing was a little wide... about a foot. A little string help could aid any plant in the beginning.

I would center it between walk and wall or maybe just the back side of that line.

Clematis is great choice! Because of limited space, I would go with smaller one. I know of at least two different "climbing hydrangeas". The one I know first hand will tenaciously root on wall.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 2:44PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Have you considered an obelisk? I have 3 of the ones linked below in various beds. They do add winter interest even when there's nothing growing on them.

I'd also be inclined to focus more on the porch using furniture or a bench.

Here is a link that might be useful: obelisks

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 3:11PM
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I thought of a couple more possible solutions. One is based on providing a place to set one of those half planters designed for placing next to a wall. With some kind of half topiary-ish plant in it.

The other is creating a way to hang a planter with a trailing plant spilling out of it. For example, something like a Grecian water urn planter that is spilling burro's tail. (not shown.)

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 3:14PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)


I like that design as well. Keeps the plant away from the siding. Lines would seem to complement the straight lines of the house a bit more and it has some flare yet more simplistic then a typical lattice style trellis.

As for the location is there any reason from a design perspective it should go to the left (towards the house) or right (towards the drive) of the window?

The half planter is another good idea to get character and height but due to the western exposure it may cook the roots even if it is a light colored pot.

Planter...hmmm...haven't even consider that. I wonder if a tall narrow conifer to the left of the window, then a planter (with over flowing stems to shade the pot) right under the window, then a trellis to the right of the window would be too much?


I actually never heard of or seen an obelisk. I'm intrigued but not yet sold. I'm going to keep that in the back pocket as it gets the vertical height and some architectural interest. If I can find one that has more of a peak similar to the windows up on the roof I may really like the idea then.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 4:48PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

My first thought was an obelisk/tuteur too. But the more I looked at the first picture, the more I didn't want to make that a 'busy' wall/space. What popped into my mind's eye at that point was a tall, narrow (modern/minimalist) black planter on the porch with something simple and tall in it - not planted in soil but more like in a vase. The images that came to mind were bullrushes or pampas grass plumes or some other tall, dried grass - you'd want something that didn't seed.... Then I'd keep the plantings at the base of the wall simple but densely planted. I'd use a limited range of plants - only 2 or three types at most - with a consistent color theme of some sort.

I can't do Yard's fancy drawings but this is the sort of scribbling on photos that I do to help myself work out ideas...

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 5:22PM
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I went shopping for you online (I much prefer spending other people's money) and got you a selection of trellises (with some suggestions of how they can be used), obelisks and annual cathedral bells.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 6:02PM
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Now that another question has popped up regarding the other side of your drive it is evident that you don't see the garden (English sense)as a whole but as a series of unconnected gardens (US sense) and this would be my main criticism. Another thing is the dominance of the concrete being so white in the photo. I would suggest a bolder approach to the planting which is predominantly mound shaped which together with the same shaped small rocks aid the dominance of the concrete. There is also something awkward about the swoop on the other side from your narrow strip and you might want to reconsider this. The evenly spaced lights add to the monotony even though they match the mushrooms on the other side.

In a nutshell: bigger and bolder planting, bolder boulders and try to unify the whole area.I love Katsura and another 17 of those would do it (joking).

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 6:03PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Sure are some nice ideas coming up that I would have never thought of.


Dried grass in a planter on the porch is a great idea. I don't have to worry about roots getting baked then.


Thanks for posting the image links. For my personal tastes I lean towards 1, 3 and 4 (starting top left). Is it a good thing that the colonial grid pattern would match my windows?


I have a few questions to help understand the suggestions.

1)I've always viewed english gardens as formal, symmetrical and simplistic. Are you saying I should try to tie the two together with symmetry (bed and plants)?

2)You mention a bolder approach to the predominately mound shape. What are you referring to here?

3) The swoop opposite of the narrow strip. How can I make this bolder? Are you saying reshape the bed? Stretch the bed? I guess I view bolder as in more significant.


    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 8:36PM
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Repetition in the landscape is be a beautiful thing. I like your choices of trellises too - the rest may be too busy for your setting.
And personally, I would love to have that stainless steel obelisk in the middle of my own garden.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 9:05PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I sure admire repetition but I have to have a dog and a cat, not two dogs!

Its the toughest thing for a plant collector to embrace.

Someone on this forum offered the best piece of advice I intend to hold onto for a long time. It finally gave me balance. Instead of repeating plants I can repeat the color and texture! So simple yet so perfect for a collector.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 9:23PM
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You seem to have misread what I wrote whaas and I am not sure how to correct that, could you read it again.

The main thrust of what I say is unity which is often lacking in a collectors landscape and is certainly lacking in yours. Unity is not the same as symmetry although this is one way to accomplish it. As analogies seem to be popular at the moment: consider a museum which is a place to exhibit individual specimens to their best advantage. The best museums not only have attractive individual exhibits but they are arranged attractively in an attractive building so that the WHOLE experience is enhanced. Picasso's nailed to trees in a Wallmart car park wouldn't have the same effect.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 9:44AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Right now the whole idea is to create an appealing picture from the point of view of a person standing at the end of the walk looking at the front door. So the problem is defined as dressing up this fairly large expanse of wall.

But that is going to be a tough problem to solve. The bed isn't big enough. There is a fair amount of shade, and an overhang that blocks rain from much of the bed. So let's not solve that problem. Let's make a new problem. How do we expand the picture to include the rest of the front yard? There is a fair amount of space there.

To throw out a specific example, put something like bluestone pavers over the small bed, and put a bench in the middle of that garage wall. Then across the walk from the bench, a path into the front 'garden' of either grass or more pavers. A focal point planting across the grass would finish it off.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 10:17AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Not a problem, I appreciate the elaboration. It can be tough to communicate via posts on a forum. I did reread your post several times to soak it in. The same with this follow-up post.

Are you saying the media (in this case the beds) should emulate each other and play off the curves of the surroundings (in this case the driveway and walkway)? Perhaps you're saying I should consider repeating groupings to highlight individual specimens?

Sorry I have a hard time with applying analogies. I'm ok with direct criticisms so don't hold back! I have a tough skin like you wouldn't believe.

Here are a couple other views. Not looking for anyone to redesign this but perhaps picking on certain elements will help me think outside the box to create the unity you mentioned. I've fine tuned some of the plantings since this pic.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 10:19AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I think a little overall context would be useful. How big is your lot in total? Until these last pictures, the house looked like it was in a suburban setting. But the trees in the background in the last pictures makes it look more rural or semi-rural, and with farly rolling ground...? Is the shed that you can see in the first of the two pictures above on your property? Do you have a picture from across the road that shows the property on both sides of the house - i.e. includes the larger 'hellstrip' in your other post?

I may be misinterpreting Ink's post too but I think one of the issues he's talking about is that you need to consider the whole of the front as one unified space instead of the left side as one area to plant and the right side as a separate area. You need to consider them as a one space where the two sides 'talk' to each other across the driveway in various ways (e.g. have plants in common and/or colors in common and/or paths that visibly link the two areas together and/or.....)

It looks to me from what I can see in the piecemeal pictures that there is likely a good opportunity to use my favorite 'tool' - shaping the lawn to make it a stronger space that helps define the shape and flow of the garden. But it's hard to tell from the pictures so far - in them that large backward-C-shaped bulge of grass into the bed by the walkway looks awkward and in need of reshaping - which is what leads me to the idea of reshaping the whole lawn, which would reshape that bed.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 10:59AM
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Now that we can see that whole side of the front yard, and can guess how it ties in with the other side, I'll second woody's suggestion
of reshaping the grass area - and not only because I seem to be unable to form any original opinions lately. Maybe great minds really
do think alike :)

Remember what we all have been saying about repeating, referencing, unity? That backwards swoop of grass does look awkward because it introduces yet another wave form that doesn't tie into either the driveway shape or the walkway. I would be tempted to expand the bed nearest the walkway so that the edges echoed the shape of the cement (yay, room for more plants). Repeat in the opposing bed so that the resultant "L" of grass was soft and graceful. Visually then, the impact of the flat expanse of green would rather parallel that of the drive.

And if you do decide to add trellis to the blank wall (I prefer #3, stained in the attractive but subtle colour of your siding), I would
further translate that same pattern into a low railing between the pillars of your front porch. I'm always nervous of little ones tumbling
off the edge, even if it is only a few inches.

How much is that doggie in the window?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 12:28PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Here is a bit more. Not sure if you guys remember any of this from fall 2010.

I ended up pulling the left side front yard bed further up as I needed more privacy from a neighbor.

This was pulled from a scaled plan. SOme of the plants and bedlines have changed.

Here is another front view (I'll get more recent views tomorrow).

Facing the home this is the left side going back.

Facing the home this is the right side going back.

I don't expect anyone to redesign this but if there are some suggestions to improve flow or creat unity if would be appreciated. I need to get a better front view so you can see the front with the right side area that is right of the driveway. Perhaps I'll start a new post "how to create unity between the front left and right side yards.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 12:33PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Your property/problem is one of those that triggers the 'what would I do if this was my property?' speculations. So I had a bit of fun playing around with your plan view. CAVEAT!! My taste is wildly out of sync with most people's. So I'm not suggesting this as what you should do; only offering it as a different perspective that might help you look at things with fresh eyes.

I'm not certain from your drawing where the path from the deck to the lawn is and whether there is a deck, balcony or patio or something like that outside the part of the house labelled as master bedroom. So I just made that bit up :-)

The first thing you'll note is I eliminated the wiggly edges:-) They're one of my bug-bears and it hurt my brain to look at them :-) I like rounded corners that follow the track your feet normally take; as shrubs and other plants grow in size, the straight line sections would naturally soften.

With the non-rectangular lot lines at the front and the sloping line of the driveway on the right side, shaping the lawn is not as easy as it otherwise would be. The most direct way I could think of connecting the left and right sides is to keep the line where the lawn meets the driveway the same on both sides - i.e. that the driveway is just a line slicing through the lawn. Then I'd use repeating plants and/or colors to reinforce that the front should be 'read' as one space that happens to be sliced up by that driveway.

So, for what an oddball's idea, check this out :-)

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 3:04PM
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Just a quicky (said the actress to the bishop) why does the grass look so bad?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 3:57PM
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Ink - I don't think the grass looks that bad. Some of it might be weather related. It seems like Whaas is more about the plants outside the grass and only cares that the grass area looks like grass from a distance. I could be wrong and bringing my grass standard to bear on this - it's green and mowed. I think a little weeding of the most egregious weeds (in my yard that's thistle) and some overseeding and it will look fine.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 4:10PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

HEY! I asked questions and you come back with a question about the condition of the grass? I think your testing my tough skin!lol!

Tan, you'rd right I paid more attention to the plants. The lawn was put in October 2010 and that is the lawn in June about 3-4 months of growth. Naturally the seed the builder used had alot of weed seed.

Woody, you're right...not my flavor BUT you gave me an idea with the curve in the front next to the walkway and how to tie it in with the otherside. I always like your point about looking at the grass area as the shape as well.

If you guys don't mind I'm going to officially kill this post.

Good feedback on the original question about the little hell strip. I have something to work with now. I'm going to start another thread and post better info regarding where I'm at today...I took a few side steps in this post.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 7:31PM
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