New help with basic design, new construction

BeccaMI(5)February 28, 2013

Hi all,

Praying Yardvark or someone can give me some good basic ideas on front yard landscaping for our new house based off of this very limited picture.

The house will sit on 1.65 open acres with a lake behind and golf course on the other side of the lake, so not a lot going on in the "background" of the house.

The lot is totally empty right now, no trees or anything. So, I'd like advice on what plant this summer (in MI, zone 4/5) to get us started knowing that it will take years to get it all done.

The house has dark gray siding, black shutters with white trim and grey stone work around the base. The driveway will be about 60 feet long from the road.

Any advice on style, planting order (what to do now vs later), or colors would be greatly appreciated. I'll see if I can find a lot picture or house color scheme picture to upload too.

I think something "clean" or "manicured" vs. cottage would look best and I love flowering trees, cherries....just not sure where to put them.

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Here is a similar style house and color scheme. Our door will be a light green color. Same set up as far as sidwalk into house, etc...

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 10:06AM
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Is your house under construction now? Since landscaping concerns itself with how to enhance the relationship between house and surroundings, it would be better to wait until you can supply photos after the house is framed up and sided. (Please show right, left and center all taken from the same standing position.) If you want help with any siting issues, you can supply plan information now. Based on the second photo you've submitted, I'd encourage you to build wider steps (so they look scaled to a house your size.) They should span the entire space between columns. I'd make the sidewalk wider, too. Adding cheekwalls would be nice feature, too, if you have the budget to accommodate doing so.

Regarding the planting in the above photo, IMO it is rife with errors ... things nearly the opposite of what one would want to do if they are trying to ENHANCE the space. In 15 years it will be a mess that someone is dying to rip out.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 12:26PM
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Thank you so much for the quick and helpful reply! I'll wait until the framing is done (about a 1.5 months from now) and get some better pictures up.

Great feedback about the steps and sidewalk too - I'll see what I can do.

Funny to hear your critique of the landscaping, I know I would do something just as terrible - that is why I'm here!!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 12:48PM
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Brad Edwards

I have to agree with yardvark 100%. The landscaping sucks, a tree blocking the view of the front door. I know thats just a picture depicting the house, but wow.

First thing first, you definitely do not want to block the view of the lack from behind the house nor the golf course. Therefore, no large trees in the center of the backyard. It would be a cardinal sin and would probably depreciate your home 5-10% in total value.

I think you would want to draw your eye out. That pretty much takes away heavy foundation plantings. Then where to plant?

Is it a naturalized setting? It's a golf course, are there woods surrounding? Its a pretty large lot so you have a ton of options if its clear.

I am doing 1 1.5 and here is a quick list of what I am adding,
Ginkgo, Felix Jury magnoliasx2 for the corners, firemaster, yoshinio cherries, black gum, live oak, 2 little gem magnolias, witch hazel, two weeping redbuds, and two burgundy heart redbuds in the front 1/2 acre. Here in Texas I am stratigically placing them around the outside and trying to keep it looking as natural as possible. The live oak will be behind the black gum in case it eventually falls the branches form the LO will catch the black gum. They will also shade the driveway eventually. Many of the smaller trees will be closer to the house but not in the foundation, except the two travaleer redbuds and the corner magnolias. I plan on trimming the rest up to give a pretty clear view to the house. I also have two fire dragon shantung maples to frame the driveway entry. Sense the lot faces south I can pull this off because I am doing overly large beds and little grass, also knowing that eventually there will be a lot of shade, its strategic to lower the outside air temperature, you need to think about doing the opposite in Michigan, you want to retain the heat inside your home and kill the windy days to the north, or the wind coming off the lake without blocking the view.

In the back I am going with 4 cherries, 8 apples, 7 peaches, 2 plums, 2 figs, 3 pecans. Pecans in the very back by the woods. This seems very informal, however I will be making beds not rows below them. Why not after all have fruit vs an ornamental? I love edible gardens and already have 1/2 this stuff for transplanting, I would say buy a couple of trees in advance.

Back to your yard, I think you need to focus on corner beds along the sides of the yard. Also, sense your in Michigan I would focus on a slight windbreak to the north if possible. I would also focus heavily on evergreens more than anything. You could then use dwarf trees in front of them for fall/spring color.

I would focus first on the trees, then shrubs. Don't worry at all about perinneals or annuals, not even worth the time when your looking at 1 1/2 +acres. You can always add them later and remember when your doing large expanses of perinneals and things like bulbs its better to have 1000 bulbs than 20,20,20,20,20 etc of 50 different kinds if your going for a more formal look.

I would try and incorporate a small area for compost, maybe some northern highbush blueberries along the side out of focal view. What about a center path that starts off wide and narrowing down the center that leads to the lake, making the back yard look much bigger? A couple of benches at the back by the lake would be nice with a flowering tree or two. Its almost impossible to give you an accurate design without seeing the property ie is it narrow, wide, diamond shaped, pentagon etc. Guessing its about 130 front 400 sides giving you a ton of room for planting down each side "just like our lot and my reasoning for giving you me tree list". I am going without shrubs for the most part except some loropetalumn. Remember with a new site its good to bring in about 1k of good soil after the build for the beds. Personally I like composted manure, with pine bark, peat moss, and shredded leaves. Throw in some kitchen scraps into each bed and add a can of cheap fishing worms. It would be well worth the 1k. Its much easier to fix soil problems BEFORE YOU START PLANTING, than trying to fix them later.

#1 thing in new home construction....

Also, drive through the entire neighborhood, take pictures of your favorite trees, shrubs, bushes, and other nice neighborhoods in the area. That will give you an idea of what grows, how well it looks, and if you don't know ask your local nursery. I find it better to buy trees in the 6-8 foot range and then let them grow on an empty lot though its worth it to spend the extra money on one focal tree for the front yard, for us we will probably be spending any extra cash on the live oak. I can get a 17-20 foot for about 2,500 in ground. That is more than the entire cost of all my other trees "what I paid or will pay for them". But will automatically give the home a somewhat finished look, vs 10 6-8 foot tall trees. I also won't have to wait till I am 60 to really enjoy it, "I am only 30".

Hope that gives you an insane amount of food for thought. Don't get caught up in the small stuff, draw your beds and tree placement out on paper, draw them out again, then do it again for the last time at a couple of week intervals, you'll be insanely glad you did when you have that focal color, great windbreak in winter, and coordinating flow. Good luck.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 1:41PM
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Brad Edwards

Also, think about your home and put it on the paper, draw arrows from your rooms with windows and think about what you want to see from them. I'd layer from tall to short for trees, shrubs, and perennials/bulbs. Do the same with the street and even neighbors. Focus on the direction you'll come up the street from and the first things you'll see and your golden.

ex your pic what stands out to me the most is the misplaced tree, that 1980 lamp post "not working with that house" and the overly large boulders that don't match either. Its also from the pic about 1/5 of an acre, your lot is 5-10x that size. With your two story I would focus on a large 35 foot maple on the left side and something like a cherry, redbud, magnolia, etc on the left 15-20ft that way it makes the house look much bigger/wider from the street.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 2:07PM
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This is not meant to be realistic, but merely illustrate in a gross way the primary sins of this landscape. To me, the message the planting arrangement is sending is: "the entrance area is our private space; keep out." Of course, a homeowner could limit much of this "sin" by rigorous pruning. But in fact, 90+% of them never do. One wonders, why create this problem in the first place?

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 11:19AM
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You all are fantastic - and funny. Note to self, posting "bad" pictures really irritates you :)

Oceandweller - that is A TON of information, thank you so much for taking the time to write that all out.

We are in a subdivision (the lots are about 2 acres each), so I wouldn't call it "naturalized." The back yard could definitely be though - there is a ton of scrub and wetlands mixed in to the lake front. The lot next to me has several river burch that I would kill for. The lots are basically empty fields right now, with a thin tree line at the edge of the lake. The lots gently slope down to the lake - then on the other side of the lake the golf course slopes up (if that makes sense) - so your point of not blocking the view is well taken!

I like the idea of ginko, cherries, red bud and fruit trees. All things I love and which would give me the flowers in the spring too. The buying order of trees ->shrubs -> perin. was helpful too, as well as considering the windbreak!

That will be a good thing to keep in mind along with some privacy along our back decks (one second story and one on the ground).

I can't wait until the framing is up and I can send you all better pictures, thanks so much for the time and insight!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 1:44PM
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Brad Edwards

If the lot next to you has some river birch, I would try to find some identical trees albeit smaller of course and replicate that into your design. It will tie into your neighbors backyard and from a distance make both look bigger. What are the lot dimensions, pond/lake locaiton, and house dim? I mentioned the look because a lot of new neighborhoods are stripped of the natural woodland, to me its nice to bring back some of the native trees on larger lots, not saying it needs to be a woodland look, but going the low maintenance route to me is huge even if you do yard work because you never know who your going to sell it to now days, its something more than 1/2 of the landscape designers I know don't think of with their intricate landscapes.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 5:45PM
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Lot dimensions are 575-613' deep (lake cuts into the backyard more on the right side of the yard) and about 162' wide. The house sits back about 60' feet from the road....oh heck, here is the picture :)

The foundation just got dug this week and of course instead of sitting us in front of the clear part of the lake, they sat us in front of tons of scrub and saplings - so clearing that now seems to be the first order of business. (that is the squiggly line in the back). The first solid line past the squiggles is wetlands then the next solid line is the water line. Of course, no river birch on our land...

Other than that scrub brush tree line we are pretty much sitting in an open field (on a slight hill).

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 3:31PM
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I'm going to speculate that when you get the house finished and we see a picture of the front, everyone on this forum will agree that the steps and walkway to them are too narrow for the size of the house. Building steps and walks in accordance with the former minimum Soviet Block standards is a nearly universal problem. This is the time to get those things fixed. You might explore the walk layout, too. Usually, those could be improved.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 4:08PM
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The house is getting closer to complete, so I'm hoping someone can help with the placement of trees and the basic layout of the front gardens. The tan trim will be painted white and the front door will be a light green color.

Sorry for the multiple posts, like so many newbies I can't figure out if it's possible to post multiple pictures at once.

Oh, and I'm 40 weeks pregnant - so this is probably the most "up to date" shot I'll be able to post!

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 8:23AM
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Front porch detail - wierd "dead space" issue between Soviet era sized walk and porch.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 8:24AM
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view of lot - wooded back line will mostly be removed over the next few seasons in order to get a view of the lake. There are a few birch trees we'll keep.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 8:26AM
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Congrats, Becca!
My baby is 10 mo. old, and I too was smack in the middle of a bunch of planning and planting when she was born. [and still am, lol!]
I feel like oceandweller is right about getting the trees and shrubs nailed down and waiting till later for perennials. Good advice when a baby's on the way as well! ......Take time to enjoy it with your little one, too. Mine absolutely loves being outside, touching fuzzy mosses with her bare feet, [with Mom's help, of course] feeling [and pulling apart!] a rose, [I garden organically, so I'm not afraid to let her do that.] hearing and watching the birds at the feeder and birdbath, etc.
The nice thing is, she doesn't care that everything isn't "finished" yet, she just enjoys things for what they are, but the memories will live on forever..... best wishes and blessings on your family and your yard!!

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 9:11AM
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Thanks so much posey! I have two very active young boys now and this will be our third. I am terrified of how to see all this with them running amok!

Oceandweller did offer up some great advice, I'm hoping he and yaardvark will pop back on with some more placement advice on those trees and shrubs!

Enjoy your little one this summer!

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 11:41AM
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This yard needs good size street trees to help frame the view and scale down the size of the open lawn. As the house is void of features on the left side, that side should be screened from view with limbed up shade trees set in a groundcover bed. They could run farther back, in addition to what I've shown. A medium height, shade and sun-tolerant hedge could run along the bottom of the house on that side. A flowering tree in a groundcover bed on the right side would help balance the scene. Near the porch, I see the need for very little. There's nothing to hide and the stoop is low to the ground. Other than a couple of annual clumps and a little vertical foliage plant near the garage wall, the space between walk and stoop could be turf or a VERY LOW groundcover.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 3:02AM
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