Design dilemma!!!

zgardennut(zone5b)February 10, 2011

I have this weird area between two entrances that I can figure out how to plant up! It has been a mess for years because of the lack of knowing how to handle it! I have all but given up!

Please think of it as a clean slate. I will be sooooo grateful for any advice!!

Thank You!

~This area between the two steps. There is a small sidewalk next to the house on the flat of that hill that goes to the hose spigot. From 2011-01-21

This one is looking further down the sidewalk to the right.

From 2011-01-21

This one is to the left. We really only use the ugly wooden set of steps.

From 2011-01-21

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Looking at your photos, it appears to me that you need significant hardscape renovation. You will probably get better recommendations if you give the location, climate, and budget, along with whether you prefer DIY or contractor construction.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 1:48PM
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Zone 5 PA
and we have hard winters as the pictures show only a small portion of what falls here.
I can't do hardscape. It would be a planting of some kind.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 1:56PM
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So you are looking to plant something between the two steps? Some sort of groundcover would be easiest. Is this area in sun or shade?

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 2:36PM
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I might be tempted to put an evergreen juniper groundcover between the steps, and a tall, upright evergreen at the corner of the house, where you now have what appears to be a clump of ornamental grass.

Your two sets of steps don't seem to be singing in the same key. I might take a look at upgrading the "rustic" set.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 5:21PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Prostrate junipers would work well on the slope, but need quite a bit of sun. How much sun does that area get? Which direction does the house face?

What's planted in front of the porch? How do you feel about those plantings? You might consider tying the two areas together by having some of the same plants in both beds.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 5:33PM
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Having the two sets of steps for your property seems a little confusing and disjointed. Have you thought about eliminating the set of stairs on the right. Then open up the railing on the right side of the porch for a step down, followed by a brief walk before adding another step down--so that it's a nice and easy transition from porch to walkway. You can make this connector walkway/steps out of pavers or concrete whatever is best for you as a DIYer. You might need a little handrail for the initial step down off the porch but not so much for the second step down.

I would then plant a row of a low growing shrubs and/or perennials that can hold the slope. You can incorporate some of those same plants to the left of the porch steps to unify the property.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 8:05PM
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It gets the hot afternoon sun cause it facesnorthwest
I wouldn't mind tying the two areas together. Or three areas
It would be I guess. (including the hedges on the right side
Of the ugly steps) I was thinking maybe something taller on
Top of the bank to hide the hose area. Idk. Then do I put a privet row the whole way along? Eewww. Treat each set of steps separate
Doesn't seem right. In front of the porch is a spirea and 3 weigelas
Along the front of it in a row. Anything can be moved. I have a few plants to move that could be used. Oak leaf Hydr. Viburnum?

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 8:09PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think a more comprehensive description of your situation might help. For example, why can't you do hardscape?

People often go straight to plants to try to solve a landscaping dilemma, but plants are really only the icing on the cake. If the cake isn't there, or isn't solid or straight, the icing can only do so much. OK, bad metaphor, but I hope you get the point, which is that plants alone do not constitute a landscaping solution.

As Theresa points out, you've got a stair design problem, and by far the most logical approach might be just to address that directly with a whole new set of stairs to serve how people really use the area. If you're renting or something, obviously you won't want to do that. Even then, plants can only unify/beautify the areas between stairs so much - a little retaining wall or something like that would do wonders here. Again, you may have a good reason not to do that - but tell us why, what the constraints are - maybe they are budgetary, or physical - and then people can really give you some useful advice.


    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 9:26PM
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The reason is budget and this is not our house. Also a retaining wall would be great but not just one in between
the two stairs. To do the entire side of the house would be too costly. It is an historic house and this bank has been here and a problem since I moved in as a child 40 years ago. The sidewalk too is original. The ugly stairs will be replaced with the same materials as the side porch so it needs to strictly be a design issue. I can't figure if the area should be considered a patch of ground or design the plants around each set of stairs. I think it needs height next to the house. I don't know.
Does the privet need to be used to unify the area of the stairs with the back area? Maybe use the junipers like suggested then to hold the bank? I even thought to grow the privet and make an arch with it to go over the ugly step area. I need help.....any suggestions would be considered!
Thanks again!!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 10:04PM
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I would use the small wall or double row of rocks to hold dirt in & have more of flower bed with smaller plants. Privet out here in Ca turns into a huge tree if you aren't trimming it all the time. I also found out I'm allergic to it as are my GK's. DD is adopted so didn't get problem from me)His daddy was carrying him in & his arm & leg brushed by the shrub & he broke out head to toe so we stripped him & got him in bathtub & he was OK in few minutes. Anyway I wouldn't think you would be causing a problem using double row of large rocks to edge of both sets of stairs & filling in with annuals or perennials & maybe larger shrubs at back. How wide & deep is the area? Spirea is white I imagine so something with some color would be nice. Purplish,red or lime green shrub would maybe look good. Hard to tell with snow & winter brown all around. Good place for rhubarb- it likes full sun & has pretty green leaves(poisonous leaves tho) with red & green stalks, makes great pies & sauce.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 2:20AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Oak leaf hydrangea or viburnum would both be too rangy for this area, I think. Is this a public sidewalk? Weird paving if it is. But whatever, you will constantly be pruning shrubs like that off both the top and bottom walkway.

Not sure how you got to privet, and you sound a bit fixated with it? for some reason that escapes me, but it wouldn't be my first choice, pruned into an archway or not. If you want hedging - not the worst idea, a low one could be quite pretty and unifying - I think I'd choose something different.

I don't see how you wouldn't be constantly losing soil off that slope, so I would do something at the bottom, either a vigorous ground cover or stones or a wall, to do some retaining.

How about a spreading cotoneaster if that's hardy for you? Combined with one of the ground-hugging junipers, though eventually the cotoneaster might shade that out.


    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 11:48AM
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I think the privet might be what is planted to the right of the steps?

I also think we may be over thinking the slope - it really is not a huge drop- looks like about 18 in over 2-2.5 feet. I think planting anything would prevent the erosion of this area. The pile of snow is misleading.

i dont know what the budget is or what the restraints are; but my first thought is to connect the porch and nicer set of stairs to the top of the second set of stairs and eliminate the steps down. Then the access to both areas would be through the one set of steps and extend the garden to one area.

If that is not possible, I agree with some height in front of the meter/hose area. It needs a bit of structure in the back of the bed closest to the house, so, in addition to something for height perhaps 2-3 small spirea to add continuity to the left side. Then some perennials in front, depending on what you like. Since snow gets piled up there, I would stick to perennials in the front, so they will not have structural damage from snow and ice and less impact from anything they use to treat the road and sidewalk.

The pictures really help, but perhaps a better idea of what you are trying to accomplish and what you like would be helpful.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 3:46PM
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@ drtygrl, The suggestions that you made ~If that is not possible~ section of your post, is right on the lines of what I was thinking. You are right about the drop of the bank. I wish the privet was smaller in stature but it is so old that it comes in the same width so for now I guess it will have to stay. I was thinking to put a cranberry viburnum at the top of the bank, centered. It has a more vase like shape, this should give height next to the house and hide the hose area. I have two small arbiv. staggered to the right of the nice steps that I thought I would keep trimmed to a taller one and a shorter one. and spireas and perennials in the front, per your suggestions.
Right now I have a 'snowflake' hydrangea at the top of the bank centered that I think I will move because I don't think it will hold up to the snow and won't give height like I want. What do you think? Maybe some staggered rocks to slow the water run off when it rains? mulch? junipers?

    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 8:28PM
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my first thought is that I would not center the shrub you choose for height. The area is not symmetrical, the stairs are not balanced, so my instinct would lead me to locate a shrub on the left side.

Can you give us approximate measurements of the area we are looking at? From looking at the pictures I think the shrubs you are thinking about would be too big, but once again, that can be deceiving. Arborvitae will be very difficult to keep small enough in this space. Although it is very small now, it is not a small shrub. It is probably better to choose something that is the correct size rather than try to keep something small that wants to be big.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2011 at 8:39AM
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