Need help with ugly exterior and steep driveway landscaping

amandasplitMarch 16, 2013

Hi! So glad I found this forum. Any chance anyone has any idea how to up the curb appeal, landscape wise here? It all just looks like a big mound of ugly and we don't know where to start. The mound of dirt on the right side is actually really wide and goes quite a bit down and around the hill. Thank you in advance!

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A wider view of the entire front yard is definitely needed.

Besides landscaping, you might want to consider some of the color choices and accents for the house. It's not that what you have is bad, but different colors could have have a dramatic effect on the overall appearance of the house while creating a more beautiful landscaping.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 1:59PM
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Ok I will get another pic! Yes the colors are terrible, too!

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 2:13PM
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rosiew(8 GA)

amanda, it would help a lot to know where you are, what zone, also what direction the house faces.

Love the wealth of windows and deck.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 7:31PM
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Hi! Ok, here is a wider picture. We are planning on shortening the deck (removing the entire left side over the garage), and probably covering the stone around the garage with stucco. We weren't planning on drastically changing the landscaping but the longer we discuss the many things we hate about the exterior the clearer it becomes that we can't just ignore it. One thing to note - no sidewalks in this town.

Rosie - I'm in the bay area, California. The house faces East. What do you mean by what zone??

This post was edited by amandasplit on Sat, Mar 16, 13 at 22:22

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 10:20PM
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rosiew(8 GA)

Amanda, see link below for explanation of USDA Zone map.

Once you've determined your zone, add it to your user info. Also add your location. There are some talented folks on this forum who will be able to help you better than I because they're knowledgeable about which plants do well in your area.

Here is a link that might be useful: USDA plant hardiness map

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 6:59AM
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Oh, thanks Rosie! We're apparently 10A.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 12:00PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

You are lucky that it's terraced! Not sure but I think you have dwarf rosemary dripping down, which is very nice.

Some color would be great! Looks like full sun. Nastursium is beautiful yellow/orange, trails, and you can eat it!

Geraniums in pinks and purples would bring color too!

Maybe some tree roses up the driveway?

There is a Japanese Dwarf Barberry called Golden Nugget which blooms all summer, doesn't get higher than 12", and comes back every year. It's a nice mound of color!

Is irrigation in place?


    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 4:49PM
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I am struck by how much some portions of the picture do not go with other portions. It seems as if portions were designed by different people who had no knowledge of what the other was doing. There is incongruousity going on! The upper and lower balustrades are not a match. The houseboat style house and the "turret foundations" in the landscape are not a match. Is there any desire to deal with these differences? ... or just hide them as best as possible and move on?

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 8:47PM
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Yes yardvaark. Now you know what we are dealing with. We definitely want to change all of that - I think we will end up with cable railing for the portion of the deck we are keeping and the lower railing (if we keep that railing). More than actual plants, at this stage we are looking for help/opinions on how to design the actual landscape. Terrace? One raised level? Etc.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 9:01PM
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Of the two railings, it is the upper one that seems compatible with the house. The lower railing is of a different flavor.

things I don't like about the existing landscape: are the sawtooth upper edge of the retaining wall ... the square corners of the wall (where the drive meets the public walk) ... a radius corner would look better... the lack of a large tree at the right side of the front yard. The house could use some nestling in. Those "turret foundations" in the yard could make sense to me if they each held some a specimen plant. I think the yard would serve the house better if the yard were simpler. As it is, it looks busy and jumbled. A smoothly planted slope would be preferable in my opinion. there are some things draped over the retaining wall that look good. If this were carried forth for the whole wall I think it would be an improvement in the overall picture. I'm not nuts about the white painted wall and the darker other wall. If they were both covered with draping plants it would erase the differences between the two walls.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 10:17PM
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Thanks, yardvaark. I totally agree. It was all ivy before so my father in law who planted all these things years ago will definitely be rolling his eyes at us. Do you have any suggestions for what we could plant to make it smooth and simple? Are you thinking just a low ground cover and then one big tree? I hoping we can remove a lot of the dirt thats there to make it less moundy looking. Where would you put the tree and what kind? I also hate the stone retaining wall so we are going to get estimates for swapping it out, and I think you are definitely right about the sawtooth.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 10:28PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

I feel you have a couple of options in regards to the hillside planting and they all are dependent on budget.

If you have a $ 20-35 K budget for the landscaping then you can modestly revamp the terraced walls, do some eye catching planting and an irrigation system.

If you are budgeting in the $ 10- 15 K range then you will have to work within the existing terraced walls with some minor tweaks.

Anything less than 10 and you looking are just some planting and irrigation and some soil prep.

Enclosed are a few photos that show a variety of hillside remodels in the SF bay area . Most were remodels just like yours.
From California Gardening From California Gardening

Garden design by David Feix below
From Bromeliad Society Tour 2008

From Bromeliad Society Tour 2008

Hillside planting by Gary Rattway using mostly ornamental grasses
src="" height="480" width="640" />From Bromeliad Society Tour 2008 From California Gardening

Out at Stinson beach, designer unknown
From Bromeliad Society Tour 2008

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 2:50PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

that last photo is by David Feix Design,
the photo that I wanted to embed is this one - a garden out at Stinson that is terraced with a variety of stone, concrete and wood.
From Bali at the Beach

As you will notice with most of these photos, an emphasis has been put on using great looking plants that really call attention to themselves rather than highlighting the hardscaping.
They are also fairly low in water use and some of them are quite low in maintenance.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 2:55PM
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Wow, thank you so much for all those pictures! Also helpful to have some pricing guidelines, i really had no idea. I think we are going to call some landscape design type people to help us figure this out. I really want to get rid of our ugly retaining walls, and see if we can move the entrance stairs.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 2:58PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

You're welcome.
Most people have no idea about the costs of landscaping unless they have previously had some work done.
Prices fluculate wildly from area to area.
Having a designer,( especially a design and build firm) to work with that knows your specific area is always a good start.
You are fortunate that there is a wealth of talent to choose from in the S.F. Bay area.
We also have a wide variety of building materials easily at our disposal. As an example I can go down to my local landscape supply shop and have a choice of 10 to 12 different soil amendment mixes alone and if you choose to incorporate some stone into your 'scape there are several dozens of different stones to choose from.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 6:39PM
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This picture illustrates a few changes that you might explore. (The hillside planting is still too busy for my tastes; I'm just playing with what you already have.) My railing isn't a perfect copy of what you have, but you get the idea. Don't know what would be the best tree for you. Something like Arbutus might be a possibility. Surely, there are trees you've seen there that you'd welcome into your front yard. You could get some local advice on that. If your retaining wall is in "healthy" condition, you might explore the idea of modifying portions of it for improved appearance, rather than replacing the whole wall. For example, its saw-tooth edge could be altered so that each elevation runs for several feet before dropping to the next lower level. Each level could turn at 90* (as per the left side of drive) for a much more substantial looking wall. At the right side of drive I'm trying to show if the corner were rebuilt as a radius corner instead of 90* where the drive meets the public walk. (Or, consider a 45* bevel at the corners.) Another thing I'd look into is facing the wall with artificial stone for a much improved appearance. If that's out of the budget, then painting it a darker, stone-like appearing color instead of stark white I think would help a lot. I also like plants that drape over its top edge. Also, you might tweak the house paint scheme. I think a slightly darker body color might show off the white trim to better advantage. And maybe a little less busy scheme at the garage door would be an improvement. Those are just some ideas you might consider.

You ask about removing earth to make the yard less mound-like. I can't see how that's a possibility unless you were to remove those extra retained areas that sit inside of your main retaining wall. You must have earth that connects the upper level to the lower level. There doesn't seem to be any surplus beyond what you need to accomplish that (except those retained areas mentioned.)

This post was edited by Yardvaark on Tue, Mar 19, 13 at 10:29

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 10:20AM
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Wow - thank you for going to so much trouble, Yardvaark!!! That makes a HUGE improvement. I think the retaining wall is in fairly good condition, unfortunately. The white paint is awful - it's chipping away in many places showing what must be dark stone underneath. I wish they just had left it dark!

Interesting that you think there isn't a surplus. I agree, that it's those little turret retaining wall things that probably make it feel that way.

What types of plants did you paste in there? Those green drapey looking ones seem quite perfect there.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 12:02PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

On a hill like that, you NEED retaining walls. I think you can easily paint them to blend in more with the color of dirt if that's your goal.

I'd take your retaining walls in a nano!! We live on 1.4 acres, and the house is at the highest point. Front yard is level then slopes down to the street. Only one retaining wall, and dirt slides into that street constantly where none exists! Back yard slopes down, and I purchased a hiking staff to keep from sliding down. Every tree has a semi retaining wall to keep the dirt around it, and there are some major walls, but not nearly enough.

You've gotten some very good ideas here, and I wish you luck!

I have no clue how to ask advice here. One camera can't handle all the areas we need to address. It will take a day at a time! I wish the Hillside forum was active, but it's been dead a long time, so I lurk here trying to adapt ideas for us.

Good luck to you!


    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 2:03PM
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"What types of plants did you paste in there? Those green drapey looking ones seem quite perfect there." I was inspired by whatever you have growing in the lower right of the picture. The plants are not pasted, they're drawn, so they're just paint marks, not any specific plant. I'm sure there are real plants that could do what those in my drawing do.

To Suzi/aka desertdance, if you want help here, you just need to start a thread asking for it. If you don't ask for it well enough, you'll get suggestions on how to improve your request (which will more than likely be provide better pictures, not too close-up.)

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 3:01PM
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By the way, I like the deck going all the way across. If it is in good shape, you might want to reconsider removing it. Try asking over at the remodeling or home decorating forums. I doubt removal is cheap.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 7:41PM
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