red brick ranch needs a complete landscape re-do

LbrookFebruary 4, 2013

Please help! We moved into this house two years ago; have been spending all of our free time and $$$ on the interior. This year we get to tackle the exterior and hope to give the house some desperately needed curb appeal and an overall friendlier presentation to the neighborhood.

First some dimensions: the distance between the curb and the nearest part of the house (garage) is 80 feet. The slate patio shown in front of the front and mud room doors is 7 ft wide x 22 ft long. The area that is currently occupied by overgrown hedges is 22 ft deep by 37 ft long. We are in central NJ, zone 6b.

The main problems to address (in my opinion - feel free to add your own!) are: (1) planning a landscape that draws your eye to the front door - currently is quite hidden by the bushes; (2) soften the large span of brick on the far right side of the house; (3) remove the edges and replant; possibly including a seating area; (4) improve the view from the kitchen window - noting that once the large hedges are removed from current landscape, the blacktop will be visible from the ktchen window [this is the 3-panel window between front and mudroom doors]; (5) avoid feeding the deer! it is not uncommon to find a half dozen deer strolling through the front yard, and (6) minimize appearance of the driveway from the street.

In addition to new plantings, we expect to have budget to replace the slate patio, garage door and soffet/gutters. Thoughts on colors and materials would be most helpful. Sadly, do not expect to have budget to replace the driveway with a more attractive material. The playset will be removed.

One last thought - though the house has some mid-century modern elements and strong horizontal lines, we are favoring more of a natural landscape plan to keep consistent with the overall lot which is heavily wooded behind the house.

I don't know how to post multiple photos on one post. The picture attached here shows the house viewed from the street. Will create additional posts to share 3 more photos (1) close-up of slate patio; (2) close-up of hedges; and (3) view from the kitchen window.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my long post!

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Here's a photo of the slate porch accessing front and mud room doors.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 7:54PM
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Photo 3: closer view of the house and hedges.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 7:55PM
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Final photo: view from the kitchen window.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 7:56PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Nice house! You are fortunate to have a nice broad entry patio already. It does look busy with the patchwork of slate. Maybe some very big (40"?)bluestone pavers edged by the brick at the steps would give it more finesse?

Overgrown hedges happen. Plants that once were young and cute become an amorphous blob over many years. Starting fresh with almost anything will give you some attractive natural plant shapes to show off against the brick. Select plants that won't outgrow the location and require shearing, and you won't re-create the problem.

How much time are you interested in devoting to maintenance? If you are an avid gardener, you could create a bed along the front of the house that provides lots of seasonal interest, flowers, and herbs for the kitchen. If you prefer low-maintenance, stick with evergreen and foliage plants to put on the show.

What sort of tree is that in the lawn across from the kitchen? If this is a diy project, I wouldn't get too involved yet with planting along the drive. Start close to the house and work outward. On the other hand, if you are hiring a crew, some low-growing colorful shrubs set back from the drive, but out from the trees where they'll get plenty of sun and not have to compete with the tree roots could enhance the view.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 11:18AM
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Since you know for certain the hedge is going to go away, it would be helpful for anyone trying to help you if you removed it first and then posted photos that allowed the house features to be seen.

When you say "re-do" of slate to you mean that the area may be re-configured in a different layout, or that the slate will be removed and other material will replace it in the same configuration?

Beside the hedge, what bothers me most about the foundation planting is the unbroken (and therefore dull and uninteresting) roof line.

" [this is the 3-panel window between front and mudroom doors]" It does not show.

I would suggest you also post a photo showing the view from inside the kitchen window.

To post multiple photos, you'll first need to upload them to a photo-hosting site like Flickr (or the like.) There, you can copy the html code for each photo (one at a time) and paste it in a single GardenWeb message. It'll show in the preview mode so you can double check if it's working.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 12:21AM
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catkim, you are so right about the slate being too busy. I have been so stuck on how much I dislike the stone's color palette (it is so dated with the dark reds and blues) that I hadn't considered that the shapes themselves are not right in the space. I like the idea of larger pieces of blue stone. I wonder if I could play off that cool gray color for the garage door?

As for how much time we would be able to spend ... we are somewhere between low maintenance and avid gardeners. We both love the idea of a mixed perennial bed but we tend to be pressed for time. Would probably prefer a bed that has a backdrop of evergreens with some perennials mixed in for variety and color. Definitely would like to incorporate herbs in this space (so long as the deer don't gobble them to the roots!).

The trees across from the kitchen window are white pines. Most of them will need to be removed at some point which will leave us with too much exposure to the neighbor's yard.


    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 8:40PM
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I really, really wish we could remove the hedge now but the ground is frozen hard and hubby believes he will be able to transplant those beastly hedges to a new location. Why? Why? Why? For now, we are at a standstill in the negotiation on the fate of the bushes.

For the slate patio, we are open to any design plans that improve the approach to the front door. I don't think we would want to go significantly bigger just because of the added expense.

I hear you on the roof line. It is something we've discussed plenty. It is dull and boring.

Apologies - only a portion of the kitchen window is visible. The three panel kitchen window is the one above the scooter (visible in the 2nd photo)

Photo #4 is taken from inside the house (my windows are so clean :-) that it is hard to tell that the photo was taken from behind glass)

Thanks for the tip on using Flickr to post multiple photos - will do so next time I have new photos to share.


    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 8:59PM
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"...but the ground is frozen hard and hubby believes he will be able to transplant those beastly hedges to a new location. " What kind of a location would deserve such a penalty? There is such a thing as quality and it would not be worth the digging effort attempting to salvage such misfits. Much better to buy young plants for the "new location" and shape them properly along the way. Digging and replanting those shrubs would be like trying to restore a rusty Yugo without a transmission to pristine condition.

It is small trees, strategically placed in front, that will add interest to the dull roof line and help "knit" the house to the ground.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 11:21PM
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Yardvaark, ha ha, I will mention the rusty Yugo to him! One of hubby's qualities that is both endearing and frustrating is his refusal to kill any living thing. Spiders and stink bugs get politely escorted from the house. He's transplanted a jungle worth of ugly and nearly dead plants "just in case". These bushes, though, are something else. I am sure he will eventually come around to our side but not just yet. I will try to make some drawings this weekend - would love to get more of your thoughts on how to use small trees to distract from the dull roof line. I have been picturing a weeping Cyprus (or similar) on the far right side - where that large span of brick is located. The cyprus gets to be about 10-12 ft tall. Are you thinking to place shorter shrubs near the windows and taller ones tucked between as foundation plants?

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 8:40PM
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Yes, some of us find it very hard to just cut down a shrub and discard it. This is not a good trait to have because to have a beautiful garden or landscape one must be ruthless and "shovel prune" poor performers and plants that are just too much trouble and don't contribute to beauty. When you remove those hedges (they really need to go) it would be a good idea to chop those hedges up into smaller pieces and place them somewhere in the woods for a wildlife-friendly brush pile. This might appeal to your husband as it would to me. An alternative is to buy or rent a chipper/shredder and shred them for mulch or for a compost pile. These sort of options work for me, becoz I also have problems with just killing a plant. For example, I can't just throw away a live Christmas tree after the season is over, but use it under a bird feeder for shelter during winter, cut it up for layering mulch over other beds, or throwing it over my back barbed wire fence (no one is back there just a field) to make brush piles for the birds, rabbits, etc.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 11:30AM
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I'm trying to show a general concept of interrupting the roof line with plant material, silhouetting tree trunks against a blank wall to add interest and not covering windows. The details, with what plants, shapes and colors would be open to your interpretation.

"Are you thinking to place shorter shrubs near the windows and taller ones tucked between as foundation plants?" I don't think taller ones between (if I understand your question.)

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 12:23AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Sorry Yard, but this is one place where your oft-suggested trees aren't terribly effective as a design solution. It's almost as though you've moved the hedge up in the air. In my non-professional opinion, something more columnar, similar to Italian cypress or perhaps spire cherry would offer more structural contrast to the horizontal line of the roof. I would also seek more diversity in the plant forms along the facade. Although I acknowledge that's probably just a quickie mock-up to show off the suggested trees, the little faux-fluffies shouldn't be taken seriously as a design suggestion. (right?)

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 11:28AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I agree that trees are a good part of the answer re the roofline issue, but like catkim, those ones in your mock-up Yard don't look right to me. Given the white pines (my favorite evergreen trees!) I think the best trees would be ornamental trees that might naturally be found in or near a woodlot. Things like dogwood, serviceberry and redbud come to mind, particularly the dogwood and serviceberries as they both have good fall color in addition to the spring flowers. If this was my property, I'd plant it all with the trees on the right in mind - i.e. plant it all with edge-of-woodland trees, shrubs, and perennials. That would give it one, integrated theme across the whole space while providing lots of scope for interesting individual spaces within the overall space.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 2:27PM
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"...a general concept of interrupting the roof line with plant material" is only going to show ONE example ... not ALL the possible examples. A canopy--or a silhouetted form--might be a different shape than what I've shown. If one thinks a columnar shrub is a better solution between windows, why not SHOW IT so it's readily apparent to all if it has more appeal, or not? "I would also seek more diversity in the plant forms along the facade." But what does that mean and what does it look like? I just drove by some "diversity" that looked ghastly.

"... those [trees] in your mock-up Yard don't look right to me." Nor to me. A real tree, of the right species, well groomed and tended, sized and proportioned, in the right season would look so much better than a Google Image pastie. But then, I'm just trying to show a GENERAL CONCEPT.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 3:36PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Yard - part of the point is that sometimes you do a better job of 'the general concept'... one of your loosely scrawled tree drawings would have been better than a bad image paste. :-) Presentation matters....

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 4:36PM
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More important than how imperfect the illustration is the question, "what could it transform into?" Cat says columnar shrubs. To me, that begins to imply something more like sentries to a passageway. I prefer the look of shelter and protection that the tree canopies give to "eyes" of the house. But I don't like that in the picture, "bangs" are poking the eyes out. (Should have limbed those trees up a little!) Though the two plants are matching, I don't think it's the case that they must, given that the space on the R. side is a fair amount larger. Maybe it's the case that they shouldn't. It's something to think about. Maybe the right side could be a small, grove-like affair (like lilacs might do) and the L. side being something smaller and tidier ... maybe even single trunk. Those are things that the OP could explore. The lessons I hope are learned are...

Don't plant a tree smack in front of a window.

Don't plant a big honkin' bush that will "eat" the window from below. (Such as there are a whole row of now.)

Position foliage in front of a part of the roof so that some of it's boringness is removed.

Similarly, use a plant as sculpture by placing it in front of blank wall space in order to add interest to the view of the wall.

There are other messages contained in the picture but those are the main ones.

Woody, your point is taken but sometimes I have to change it up. I prefer loose scrawls to cut and paste, too.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 2:04AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Here's my (very bad!) attempt to illustrate what I'd do to both try to disguise the long low roof line and also integrate the space with the trees on the right:

The red line is trying to show that I'd want the tree tops to form a rising line drawing your eyes out to include the wooded area on the right. I'd use a smaller, perhaps a single-trunked, tree on the left and a taller one, perhaps a multi-trunked clump, on the right. I think I want both spring flowering and both with good fall color.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 10:36AM
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Woodyoak, I think your suggestion is very clever! It could even be balanced on the left side of the house (where there is now some sort of shrub) with another tree of the same size and variety.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 3:12PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

I like it, but I'd move the tree further right, so it could go further back, and look more like a designed composition from the kitchen window.

This has to make sense from two axis - from the front, and also from the side. Not impossible, just a bit tricky.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 4:58PM
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Woody, I agree with your red line ... as a transition from the woods and as a directive to "funnel" one's attention leftward toward the entrance area. Though you don't implicitly state it, your picture implies greater formality of form as one moves from woods toward entrance. I agree with that, too. I'm still leaning toward multi's in the L. tree position rather than a single trunk. It feels beefier and that's my preference over a wiry look. (I tried--drew in a single, too--but I didn't care for it. (But the right specimen could change my mind!)

I see, I need to state: "Here's my (very bad!) attempt to illustrate what I'd do," in order to stave off heavy-handed criticism of my sketches. I'll try that. :)

The red "X" is suggesting that the neck-breakers be removed and the existing tree trunks be put into balance.

It seems to me that new small trees coupled with the existing tree (at opposite side of drive) the roof line vastness is dealt with (at least from the street view.)

I'm considering that there might ought to be an intervention orchestrated for this man who wants to dig this hedge. It's just not right and we all know it. Before he ends up like Whitney Houston, there must be something we can do. Please... think of something.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 8:32PM
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First, thank you everyone for being so generous with your time and ideas. Yardvaark - I can definitely see your point about treating trees as sculpture to add interest to the front of the house. And, woodyoak, I really love the idea of gradually raising the height of bushes/trees to bring the eye up to the white pines. Since the spans of brick are larger on that side of the house - it would seem that using taller and larger plants to that end would solve two problems since there is quite a bit more brick to cover on the far end of the house. Yard, I see you electronically removed the much hated bushes.

I'm posting a new sketchup image which illustrates one of our biggest challenges with the space - the very significant square footage between the house and driveway. Can we fill the foundation bed to cover the land and if we do - will that hide the architectural/sculptural nature of the trees and bushes? Seems, Yard, you were thinking mostly ground cover plus some interesting tree forms. Any thoughts on what we might plant in the front yard to focus the attention toward the entry? We will be relocating the dogwood that obstructs the view of the front door from the driveway. Other ideas for new plantings that might draw the eye up toward the house?

Yard, hubby and I just read your last post. First, the comparison to a Yugo and now Whitney Houston. It is more than he can take. I think we've broken him. Thank you, thank you, thank you. :-)

On a serious note - I was thinking we would remove the dogwood but it looks like you've moved it closer to the house. I read on another GW forum the advice "people are drawn to spaces for people". With that guidance in mind - we have been hoping to give the front door the greatest visibility possible. Am I making to much of a clear view to the front door?

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 8:51PM
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If the dogwood is the tree that I trimmed limbs off of (with red X) I did not move. Just trimmed. "Am I making to much of a clear view to the front door?" I don't think you're making too much of it, but I don't see that the tree's location--while I can't be certain of it's exact coordinates, are going to make that much of a difference. I think it is too far (more than 20-25') from entrance door to be considered a true obstruction. If it were limbed up properly, it is workable in it's present location. The front entrance can still be visible as people do not line up at the exact point opposite the front door, to view your house ... just as your photo view of it does not. Usually, the view to door is a moving target. What you do with shrubs, perennials and groundcover can pull everything together with the tree in its present location.

I would give no worry to the amount of space that exists between drive and house. It's a plus that you have adequate room for plantings. Depending on how much you like and want grass, you can determine how much, if any, you wish to include. If you incline away from grass, you can fill whatever space is not occupied by trees, shrubs and perennials, with groundcover. It's your choice. It might be nice to have a goal of enclosing the porch with enough plant material height that the slab looks inlaid as opposed to stuck on top of the ground. But I wouldn't have taller plants adjacent to the slab or create a feeling of being enclosed, encapsulated, engulfed, etc. It seems as if being on the porch would feel nicer if one's view from there had direct access to the surrounding space.

(Electronically, I do as I please. In the flesh, it's a different story.)

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 10:33PM
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Thanks again for suggestions, Yard. I think it is time for move on to plant selection ... Will try to post updated sketches once we have some more specifics. BTW, definitely agree that it will be nice to soften the "slab" of a patio with plantings that more or less meet the edge.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 8:11PM
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Did the picture the other day but forgot to post it.

A) Perennial or shrub color. I'd not make it taller than adjacent plants but shorter would be OK.

B) Annual or perennial color.

C) Perennial or woody hedge that does not exceed 3' ht.

D) Perennial groundcover below trees with showy flowers or foliage. The two "Ds" could be connected and the "C" between them eliminated if more simplicity were desired.

Not labelled, but the remainder is groundcover.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 5:05AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I wouldn't foresee and problems filling that amount of space but I think, at this point, you need to think about themes to help you decide what and how you'd fill the space. If this was my property, as long as I knew for instance I was aiming for lower stuff near the entrance, rising to taller stuff at the outside corner and that I was wanting to link the space to the wooded strip on the left, then I'd consider things like how much sun does the area get at which times of day, what is the soil like - both pH and soil structure, how dry is it/is there easy access to water, what do I want re extent, timing and color of flowers, etc. If the grass strip along the trees is yours, I'd also consider adding ornamental trees and larger shrubs along there too, selected to tie in with the choice of plants in the house bed. Your deer problem would affect plant choices and/or maintenance (need to protect young plants) if you can't otherwise physically exclude them from the property by, for example, deer fencing. Given my 'screen name' you can bet that I see the potential for a beautiful woodland-themed garden that uses ornamental trees and larger shrubs in the outer areas of the space, scaling down to more intricate/detailed lower plantings the closer you get to the front entrance, all working together to present a united picture. Your property is one of those that immediately creates a mental image of a space that I'd love to have!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 2:08PM
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