landscape design ideas - shady formal garden

lovetorenovateFebruary 8, 2010

I'm new to the garden forums - but mostly do historic renovation work (and frequent the kitchen, bath, paint, and decorating forums - although I love to garden too). The house I live in now, I'm planning to stay in - so I'm down to some of the finer details that I don't always get to when I buy, renovation, and sell every 2 years.

I've got an area between my house and my neighbors which is completely void of any landscape design. There's a large tree which shades the area. I'd like to create a formal garden - maybe Charleston style. I've got two young boys and the backyard is full of toys, bikes, playset, etc - I'd love for this side yard to be elegant and tranquil. I'm considering an arbor as an "entrance" from both the front and the back yard. I'd really like a water feature as well - maybe a fountain as well as a place to sit and relax.

Here are some photos. I'd love your ideas on what might work well here.

the front of my house:

area between mine and the neighbors:

close up of area as viewed from my backyard:

Thanks so much!

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holleygarden Zone 8, East Texas

You have several things you need to remember when designing your garden. First, you want a fountain but you have two small children. So, I would suggest you go with a 'pondless' water feature (the water goes into gravel instead of standing water before recirculating), or a wall fountain. Both of these are usually smaller and would fit the space well. I've also seen a water feature that was beautiful and only 1" deep. They kept it colored to give it an illusion of depth.

The other thing to remember is that you will have leaf droppings continually, so you could either go with pavers or concrete if you wanted to blow off the leaves, but definitely not pebbles or gravel.

Your idea of arbors on either side of the space is a good one, and will be beautiful, I think. Since you want 'charleston style', why don't you frame the area with raised brick that you could also use to sit on. If you want more privacy from the neighbors, leave enough room behind for some plantings. You could then put some beautiful wrought iron furniture there with large potted palms and ferns.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 10:59PM
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What a wonderful project! I'm not in your zone, but are there fragrant vines and plants that will do well on the shady side of the house? Such a small area would be perfect for a fragrance garden. Maybe a fountain (up high enough the boys can't climb in) with lots of white flowers that show up well in the evening...and are relaxing and calming during the day.

Two arbors are a great idea, more climbers (possibly clematis, jasmine and/or honeysuckle) and maybe some roses. There are so many easy care roses that will do well, have a great fragrance and are white or pale pink. Planted where they get some morning sun, the shade will keep the flowers from turning brown so quickly.

Is there anyway you can put up screens or trellises between the two houses. I know it's not a large space, but even strategically placed metal trellises will help give you some privacy from the neighbor's windows. It sounds like a great garden project and I hope you post pictures when you're done :)

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 12:51PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I would challenge your description of the area as being "devoid of landscaping." What you have there is landscaping that consists of a large tree.

Seen as a positive, the tree already gives the area, in my opinion, much of what you seek: elegance and tranquility. I'd bet it's a lovely shaded glade in summer, although the foliage is too high to address the excellent point made above regarding visibility from the neighbours. Address that somehow, make the entry arbours that you suggest, and add a chair and a small table for your book and beverage, and you could already put that in a landscaping magazine.

Unfortunately the tree can also be seen as a negative. The tree requires most of the nutrients and moisture that the ground there has to offer. Depending on what kind of tree it is and whether it has shallow or deep roots, you may or may not be able to plant much else successfully. The amount of weed growth is indicative of how likely it is that you can grow other plants - note the bare ground on your hellstrip, out by the street, that announces that THAT tree does not share well. There is a bit of growth between the houses, so you may be luckier there. But also, the debris from the tree gives plants below a bit of a challenge, and they may suffer; at the least they won't tend to look nice - again, depending on what kind of tree it is. For example, hostas grown near a tree that sheds constantly look like heck their entire growing season.

I guess I belong to a minority that believes children can be taught not to climb into a fountain, if a fountain is what you want, but tree debris cannot, and will indeed have to be considered in your design - ask me how I know! What might be more fun and easier to maintain is a birdbath.

What will work? I think you need to think of dry shade conditions when you pick your plants, and of hardscaping that can be easily cleaned of tree debris, or that still shows through piles of it. I don't really get a sense yet of what you want this area to do, which is what would dictate how to start - with a pathway, a seating destination, or just something that looks nice. If the latter, with a formal style, then a vignette of evergreens, coniferous and broadleaf, enhanced with hellebores and ferns for instance, would be excellent - if plants will grow and thrive under that tree. That's the million dollar question. One plant that I'm pretty sure could be amazing there, at certain times, would be cyclamen.

You can also go container in a situation like this - that's what I do in the areas under my willow, but a willow tree is in a class of its own for interference.


    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 7:39PM
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linda_schreiber(z5/6 MI)

Lovely home!

Arbors, yes. I would also get some divider up between you and the neighbor. Enclosing a space often makes it feel larger, rather than smaller. Counterintuitive, but it works. In this case, I would probably suggest a wood half-and-half fence, with solid fencing about half way up, 4-5' and with trellising on top of the fence. Link here that at least shows the basic concept, although I would use a little lower fence and much wider, more open, trellis squares or diamonds or other shapes above. (I have no connection with the company whose site had the picture. It was just the closest picture I could find to what I had seen before that would fit.)

It is hard to tell precisely from the photos you posted, but it might be possible to create a small 'L' or curve of the fence/trellis to adjoin the front arbor, creating a space for a small private seating area.

I would build the arbors in a similar style to the fence. If you can renovate homes, you can probably do all this yourself....

I would also use container plantings as much as possible. The tree is a great asset to a quiet, relaxing space, but it is also greedy.

It sounds like you want a water feature for the relaxing sound of the water movement. Is there any reason you can't have a small standing fountain feature that is roofed to block out most of the tree debris? Think of a small basic fountain structure built to mirror the fence/trellis style, with the pump mechanism built into the base, probably in the area of the front corner of the small side porch. Incorporate a 'roof' over the fountain in the overall design. No danger to kids, much less tree debris to clog the system. But the sounds of moving water.

Here is a link that might be useful: Basic concept fence

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 8:19PM
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Where is the property line? Who would get the tree if a fence (or some sort of boundary) were erected?

- Audric

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 8:52PM
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linda_schreiber(z5/6 MI)

I would break the fence near the tree (far enough away to allow for growth) and restart it on the other side. Whichever side of the line the tree is on, the trunk is too good a feature to waste. And as it grows, it would damage a continuous fence, anyways.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 4:28PM
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The back porch bumps out a little more than the rest of the house. Is there anyway you can fit a seating area against the house? A comfortable bench or a table with a chair or two should fit in the space.

I don't know how you want to use the space, exactly, but I'm doing a similar small garden space just for me. Most of the gardens are designed with kids in mind, but this one is not. I want to have a fragrance garden that can also be used for making tea and potpourri.

I plan to have a small table with two chairs. Climbing roses will be on the arbor over the seating area, with pots on either side for star jasmine and white petunias. I'm using antique rose colored bricks to pave the seating area and the path. A few damasks and David Austin roses for fragrance and petals, with lavender, lemon verbena, salvia, bee balm, and spearmint. I plan to put a bird bath in the middle, surrounded by white petunias, edged with sweet violets.

I don't know if this will give you any ideas for your garden, but once I decided what I wanted to do in the garden (sit and drink tea and be surounded by fragrance) the plant choices were much easier :)

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 5:16PM
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