Help w/ front landscape (Pics enclosed)

buckley28March 29, 2010

Hi all,

New member here. We have recently, finally, started our front yard landscape to be more curb appealing. Like many current home owners we are on a pretty small budget but would like to create a very nice and welcoming entry into our home.

We took some pictures (see below) to help with getting the nursery folks in the loop and give us some ideas as to what to plant in the areas. The only problem is the sun beats down during the mid day/summer except in the alcove spot. So we would need some plants that can withstand that northern Cal sun. Also, the wife woul dlike some color in addition to some of the filler plants (she's looking for a lot of grasses). Additonally in the alcove we would like a focul point plant or small tree...I dont know any help is greatly appreciated.

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karinl(BC Z8)

Help people to help you... First, step back and take a picture of the whole house, whole lot, from the street. Second, there is no need for any of those up-close pictures of the beds unless someone asks for them; one comprehensive shot of the entry area will suffice.

Then go to your photobucket account and copy the HTML tag from each photo that you want to post. Paste that into the body of your message here. The photo should show up when you hit Preview Message.

Third, what is that cool tree trunk that looks like it is growing directly on top of all your utilities, and how long can it continue to grow there?


    Bookmark   March 29, 2010 at 4:22PM
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Here's a pic I think you want (best I can do at the moment):

The only trunk thats growinig by the utilities is one of the two trees we want to keep there. And its not growing on top of the utilities...I moved all the sprinkler lines around the roots and the water line is out of the root way as well. We're fine, it can continue to grow as long as I'm living there.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2010 at 5:14PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

First off, I don't know what kind of siding you have, but growing plants right up against the outside wall of your home is generally not recommended. Hard to tell from your photo so it may be okay, but you might want to ask a pro to take a look and see if your planting areas shouldn't be moved outwards from the house a bit.

Secondly, Northern CA is a very big place with a lot of microclimates. Even Sunset magazine breaks it up in multiple zones and I personally have always thought they should break up my zone 17 into at least three more. Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties have very different weather patterns, IMHO. much watering are you willing to do? With the new water bill cutbacks of around 20% everywhere look to be coming on a mandatory basis. This is actually not the season for planting - late fall is when you should be putting in plants, allowing winter rains to water them for free and letting the roots get established (hopefully you have good soil and not clay where they'd just drown). OTOH, the pickings in the nurseries and garden centers are starting to hit their stride so you'll have a good choice of plants coming in over the next few months.

The "bible" of western gardening is the famous Sunset Western Garden Book (exact title), a large-size paperback whose latest edition is 2007. You can buy it used on very reasonably. This is more for researching specific plants; for ideas about design you might want to go to your local library or bookstore and thumb through "Western Landscaping Book: Companion to the Best-Selling Western Garden Book", which you can also buy used in ppbk at really ridiculously low prices at

I suggest you look through the latter first before buying it as it's a 'photo idea' type of book - either you'll see something that's applicable to your situation or you won't.

There are hundreds of plants that would work in your sunny garden beds, and just as many that would work in your alcove. None of them are very large areas, so you're only looking for a half-dozen or so mini-shrubs. 'Color', BTW, is really best achieved by plants with interesting foliage that provide contrasting texture/shape/colors to your lawn. Flowers are a bonus that come and go, but good foliage mixes will provide interest 365 days/yr, which in our climate is a lot more important.

This grouping, for example, would adore sun and take relatively little water. Substitute an evergreen groundcover like Iberis (candytuft) or even a trailing pelargonium for the nasturtiums on the LH bottom. Since the phormium here ("Rubrum") gets quite large, sub something more colorful, like "Sundowner" phormium, which has lovely pink tones that would pick up your brick trim, is smaller, and has leaves that curve downwards:

This is "Sundowner" phormium:

Shrub lantanas (as opposed to trailing ones) are nice big rounded mini-shrubs, 3x3', that look lovely with variegated pelargoniums. Both are very drought-resistant and take little water. Pelargoniums come in many sizes, shapes and flower colors, so pay attention to what the tag says (although they can be inaccurate; but you have to start somewhere):

Here's a partial sun combination - Strobilanthes (very frost tender and needs some partial shade or it burns), spearlike foliage is a bearded iris, and a round variegated-leaf pelargonium, either "Skies of Italy" or "Mrs. Pollack":

The following are examples of shade foliage mixes that turned out very successful and illustrate what I mean about foliage being so much more versatile than just using flower color. In this one it's variegated aucuba, bearded iris, and oxalis siliquosa:

This is a chartreuse plectranthus groundcover, a small "Endless Summer" hydrangea, and a "Jack Frost" brunnera:

I have this combination in full sun, but both mini-shrubs get good-sized over time, a full 4x4'. They look good together, though - Loropetalum chinense 'Rubrum' and the gray-leafed Euryops (the dark green leaf form is more common, but it gets even bigger, to 6x6'). The tiny daisy-like flowers are Santa Barbara Daisy, a very xeric trailer/groundcover. A purple osteospermum stuck its head in there, too. HTH give you some inspiration!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2010 at 10:04PM
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iris_gal(z9 CA)

Lovely traditional house. I see a lacy red leafed Japanese maple in your alcove.

A clump of Hamlyn Dwarf Fountain Grass where the pots are and another to replace the tall sword leafed plant that chops the doorway view.

Remove the daylilies & other plant in front of the brickwork and use white Marguerites (?). Your house has lots of interest so I would not introduce too many different plants. Trying to think of a tidy-looking heat lover that stays under 3 feet.

Under those gorgeous tree trunks I'd like to see something graceful. Carpet roses are an idea. The 2 existing shrubs look like azaelas? Keep them.

Maybe a huge pot of Dietes at the outer 90 degree turn of the sidewalk.

Or Nandina to replace the lg. sword leaf and intersperse marguerites with dwarf fountain grass in front of the brickwork.

Or a Loropetalum to replace the sword leaf. They combine nicely with grasses and grow slowly. Maybe not good in your zone?

Can you tell I think that sword leaf needs to go?

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 5:08AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Because this forum is for the discussion of design issues rather than for plant selection (though people often provide help with plant selection as well), I would like to address the shape of your sidewalk and entry pad.

If you want to make it welcoming, it needs to be open, not look like a little pathway through a forest of plants. While there should certainly be plants in the picture, they should accessorize the space, not dominate it, and it should (a) be clear to visitors where they should go, and (b) look as if there is a space for them when they get there. That is why I would want to make a more substantial landing pad at the door. I think I'd also change out the black screens, which make this look a bit like a back door, and certainly not a very welcoming one.

I would remove that Darth Vader spiky plant and the two pots beside the doorway. Now you can go in two directions: either plant low groundcover plants in each space, or lay pavers in that entire entryway over both those areas that are now dirt to make a rectangular landing pad. I take it your porch is hot, so paving it will exacerbate that problem, but it may also be so hot that you'll have trouble getting anything to grow and it might not cool things down anyway. If you pave, I'd suggest accessorizing with your classic urn/chair (though you probably only have space for a stool, but anything to put things down while you open the door is good).

In an ideal world you would replace the entire sidewalk into perhaps a curved one and make a nice transition into an entry pad, but for now budget suggests settling for altering the shape of the sidewalk by adding pavers - as to an extent I can see you've already done. Besides, that lets you get the shape right before you do an extensive replacement. Staining concrete to match pavers is also an option.

If you want to shade the entry, you could plant another small tree to the right of the sidewalk corner, and prune the canopy high so eventually the canopies of the two trees provide shade from above without blocking the view to the door.

Finally, I am still curious as to what kind of tree that is. I'm relieved it's just growing on your water lines, thought that was your gas line or cable or something. I don't see the trunk flare at ground level. Have you added soil there? The tree might not like that.


    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 10:47AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

I disagree with the 'carpet roses' idea. I have a groundcover rose right by a walkway, and it was one of the dumbest ideas I ever had. Talk about a bad location! Those plants throw out long branches in every direction and the thorns are ferocious. I'm constantly pruning it to keep it from ripping up pant legs. Love the color of the blooms (I have a dark red single) but I will never, ever plant a rose of any size beside a walkway again. Bad, bad idea. Even more rounded bedding roses like 'Electric Blanket' lean into the walkway and have to be pruned and staked back.

Pelargoniums or nice little shrubs like Rhaphiolepsis indica 'Ballerina' work beautifully beside walkways and accept light pruning gracefully.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 2:48PM
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mjmarco(Zone 6 Upstate NY)

What is the name of the bigger tree on the left in your first picture? Do you know if it is hardy in zone 6.
thanks md

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 9:00AM
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Hey guys sorry for the delay. I've been reading through the post and first off have to say that I build houses not much of a gardener but shhh dont tell my wife lol. With that being said I'm not sure what the tree is other then its seem slike the development went crazy with these trees back in the late 80's when they built this area of houses. I will say that both of the trees seem to be quit healthy. One throws out a very purple bud and the other white. I'll try and attach another pic showing them.
As for the plants..I'm open to everything. Our goal is to make the entry way a lot more exciting and welcoming. I'm not in love with anything thats there currently...except for the firn but I can move that too. The stuff in the front and even the spikey plant can go for all I care.
Oh and we live in the Sacramento area so summers are HOT!

The plants against the house will probably stay so will the trees. I turned up the soil and added like 7 bags of Miracle grow soil to help with the stale old soil.

We were thinking a fountain here but the wife wants a focal point plant. Pretty shady here as the roof covers it but still gets mega hot in summer. Really want to have one may big plant with grasses and colorful plants surroundiing.

Another possible focula point leading up the pathway. Maybe a short Japanese Maple with surrounding grasses (the wife loves grasses). Again not in love with the plants here so they can go. But this area gets planty of sun and HOT HOT HOT.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 6:03PM
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The trees in the foundation beds look like crape myrtles- from what I can see of them. Having them in that foundation bed isn't really a great idea.

I'd also think that those shrubs that are hugging the foundation should be removed, as well as that raised area of soil next to the siding.

I am NOT a landscape professional, but I do know that those kinds of things are bad for your house. I can see some wear and damage to the house trim, and it looks like the lower portion of the siding was replaced? Hardiboard? Termites?

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 1:26PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Well, there's a lot worse things than crape myrtles, and if they're healthy and pretty, keep them! Sacramento's a boiler in the summer/fall and this is not the time to be planting anything anyway! The rains are pretty much over for the year, which at least was a good amount this time.

Definitely remove those shrubs by the trees, though - they are way too close and not a good idea. I assume your house is one of the standard developer builds so the discoloration to me looks more like dirt than any structural damage/replacement.

Don't go overboard with grasses. A few clumps can go a long way, and there's always a short period when they look really ratty and you have to chop them down, with a couple of months of looking at an ugly flat-top clump before new grass stems take over fully.

If you want a Japanese maple, pick a true dwarf and put it in your alcove. If you try to put it in the other beds, the sun is going to burn most of them without a lot of watering. BUT, you actually should take that raised area out. Even against cementitious siding, it's not a great idea to have soil and water right up against your home, and especially with a corner crack that could prove really vulnerable.

In your brick wall L-shaped area, outside of taking out the phormium, the plants under the windows look like a good selection of what's suitable for your area. Just fill in the blank areas with some more plants with foliage that will contrast with the wimpy daylilies - I loathe Stella d'Oro so I hope you have something prettier - to give it a more lush appearance.

Lawn is a nice backdrop to flowers and shrubs, but the plants you want to use need to have good contrast to the color/fine texture of grass, and enough 'presence' to visually balance the house (your top layer) with the grass (bottom layer) by having sufficient mass to form a good middle layer.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2010 at 11:09AM
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The raised area in the corner was just recently installed. There is going to be a redwood backdrop nailed ot the existing siding. In addition any dirt that meats the redwood is blocked by a plastic root barrier that is strong as hell. So any dirt/water up against the house has two seperate layers to get through before it touches the siding. With that being said we're not moving the raised area because its not going to effect the house in any way. I apprecaite the insight, probably should have stated that the area was not 100% complete.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2010 at 12:03PM
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