Large flat front yard... plan ideas?

vamppireMarch 6, 2013

Hi everyone! Always wanted a house with a large yard and I finally got it last year... but now I'm faced with this barren 3500+ sqft front yard and not sure how to put together something interesting and coherent.

The driveway is on the right side and goes behind the house. There is a concrete walk from the driveway to the front door. We are already planning a new paint job and remodel of the porch, and likely a 2nd path from the front door towards the sidewalk. Note that the photos look bare due to recent foundation work.

I like cottage style gardens, or anything with no or little grass. I realize that leaves a whole lotta space to fill, but we plan on being here for a very long time. I'm very willing to put in the work! I'm the kind of person that wants it all right now, though I realize a large yard may take a few years to finish. :)

I am in south central Indiana, some sites say zone 5B and others claim 6. The soil is ridiculous heavy clay. The house faces south, and the yard is a mix of sun and dappled shade due to a few trees around the lot. I think I can figure out which plants will work, but need help on a general layout. I'm just stumped with this large flat plot. (And we already have veggies in the back, so no edibles wanted for the front.)

If anyone has any ideas, or knows any place online that helps with large flat yards, do let me know. :)

Thank you so much!

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Let's start with the obvious. The tree I've circled is creating negative vibes and need to be removed. It's coming up in the armpits of the two larger trees and creating a visual jumble that will not become harmonious at any point in the future. (One needs to die so that two can live!) Can't say as I'm happy the leaning tree is at the edge of the driveway; it may have a limited life, too, but can be dealt with later.

What kind of tree is at the center of your yard. (I hope the answer is not silver maple!)

Wouldn't you agree that the left side needs some screening so that you don't see so much end-wall of the house next door?

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 8:11PM
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Hi - Thanks for your reply! I'm not seeing an image in your post, but about those driveway trees - we have not had a survey done and are not sure if those are on our side of the property line. I agree the leaning tree is something to look out for as is the growth of the cedar but visually I don't have a problem with them and a survey plus tree removal isn't something I want to budget for at the moment.

We did actually just remove a dying huge silver maple behind the house ($2500+..ouch!) but the front tree is a white flowering one, maybe a pear. A lovely surprise our first spring here last year, it's beautiful! I'll take a closer look at it this year to confirm the type.

The neighbor's house isn't something that is visually a big problem from what I've noticed. That might be the angle of the photo. Some screening could be worked in, but not a priority.

My plan thus far consists of some plantings along the house between the house and the walk (which is a fairly narrow space, 3-4 ft) and the plot on the left side of the entry as well, in front of that double window.

But once I think about the open area, I'm at a loss!

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 10:08PM
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This is the kind of look I love, anything from woodland to cottage-y. Much easier on a small yard though I guess!

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 10:15PM
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Sorry, forgot to include the pic.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 10:41PM
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Vamppire, I'm not saying that you need to visually obliterate the left-hand neighbor's house with total screening. But their blank end wall--which is part of the picture of your house--could certainly stand some modification. A large wall like that--unadulterated--is not exactly in concert with the cottage/woodland look you're striving for. I included the right side view for the purpose of comparison. Over there it looks like space that belongs to you. At the left side, it looks as if invaders have taken over your private space.

"Loving" a look and maintaining it are two different things. Some people start out on such a venture but decide it's too much work. If you don't take on too much at once, you can probably reconcile the learning curve with the maintenance demands. Start small, like near the house, work your way outward over time and you can get a feel for what it takes to keep it up before you've undertaken too much. It's not that bad, really, and you sound committed to making it happen. Once you learn to keep weeds under control, you'll be ahead of the game.

In terms of general layout, you'll want to organize plant heights, with the tallest near the back of the view and the shorter plants at the front. But the cottage look has a lot of "mixing it up" and is not terribly stringent about hierarchy of plant heights. Notice how the houses in the photo you supplied still have what amounts to foundation plantings ...small trees and shrubs nearby. Large boulders can be incorporated if you wish. If you don't get large ones, I think it's better to forget about having them at all. Because you have more space to cover, you could incorporate larger groundcover areas than the standard 3' x 3' patches. Instead, some of your groundcovers might cover 150 s.f., or more. And there's nothing wrong with lawn remaining at the street until you finally overtake it.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 11:34PM
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Hi - thank you! I'm more concerned with the overall picture than the details, I think. I understand maintenance involved (I'm sure I'll screw it up at first though!) and the theory of plant arrangement within beds, but am asking more about actual bed placement/arrangement on the lot, I guess. I've just had trouble finding examples of large flat yards without a big expanse of mowed lawn. I know we can't tackle everything in one year, but a plan would help so we don't put down things we later wish we put elsewhere.

Since posting the message, I've gotten more (albeit vague) ideas about it, thinking of open areas in the center of the yard with plantings around the borders and house.

Does anyone ever put down a fence on one side, say the front of the yard (set back a bit from the sidewalk)? Maybe with a little L-shape extended on the sides, but we can't afford a fully fenced yard. I'm not sure I like the idea of a fenced yard vs. an open one, but just trying to consider all possibilities and thinking that might give some definition and something to plant against too. We would do that after installing a pathway from the sidewalk to the door. But maybe it would just look stupid? I couldn't find a good example of such a thing online.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 10:10AM
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Yes, people sometimes use partial fencing in a decorative way. It could come down the side line, turn the corner and run paralleling the front public walk and terminate at an arbitrary point (to which you would give reason with your planting arrangement!)

In a full blown cottage garden there is usually no lawn. The entire yard is a bed. In a conventional yard, the bed line is what divides the bed from lawn, which is usually turf. Exactly what are you trying to divide from what? Is there ANY turf in your vision? Is there a turf substitute? If there's no division, then it's just arranging plants (and mulches, pavings and appurtenances, if they're part of it.) The main advantages to turf in a landscape are that it's low (a visual and physical pathway,) uniformly green (beautiful, uncluttered "white" space,) and durable.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 7:46PM
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Have you heard of native gardening? There is a famous book by Sara Stein called "Noah's Garden". She also has a second book "..Further Adventures".

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 8:11PM
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molie(z6 CT)

I think eliminating the flat look of your front yard will go a long way towards creating the kind of garden you like. How about starting with a large berm to the right of the tree in the first photo? It doesn't have to (initially) cover the whole area in the third photo, but if you begin with a modest garden area it might please you and also give a taste of what's to come when you have a cottage garden.

Think of a free-form garden. I'd start by laying out a 100 ft garden hose (if you have one) in a wedge shape that has two straight sides along the square edges of the sidewalk. But then create a more curved (or several curved) outer edges facing the tree and the street. Look at the design over a few days. Check it out from all parts of your yard and from the windows inside to make sure you can live with this shape garden.

Next you'll need many yards of top soil--- the expensive part --- dumped within this shape. Use an iron rake to spread the soil out, creating rises or hills. Some of these should rise several feet above ground level but also slope down to the level of the ground along the sidewalks. It's important that this berm not be flat but have hills or valleys as in the image you provided.

Many folks on this forum have done this very sort of thing in the gardens they own or have designed and probably could provide better photos than the ones I have. This is a berm we created at the end of a long garden that slopes down to the river. We put up a stone wall at the end of the berm to hold back the soil. The photo was taken from the deck so it's hard to judge the rise of the berm.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 2:26PM
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Thanks for the ideas all! We continue to draw sketches and mull over them and posting here has helped the creative juices flow. Much appreciated!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2013 at 12:34AM
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This article about "Top 10 Blunders" has some really great advice to guide you as you're planning your landscape. (Be sure to click through the embedded "Secrets of a Beautiful Garden" about the importance of foliage.)

Some advice from MY experience as a homeowner-gardener:
1) Think about your entire space, but only tackle one area at a time. Otherwise it's just too overwhelming a project. Like the article above says, you want to think of your entire property as one landscape, but you probably only have the focus (and budget) to actually plant/build one area at a time. So give each area your attention instead of rushing and short-changing things, and then wishing you had done something different.
2) Use formations, like berms, boulders, benches, low walls, flagstones, etc. And don't forget tall shrubs and small trees.
3) Plant perennials with room for annuals.
4) It takes 2-3 years for your plantings to mature and really thrive. On the third year, you'll feel like they're really taking off and filling in the way you planned. So don't get discouraged.
Good Luck!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 10:58AM
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I take it your garage has a side entry since I see no garage door. With such a huge expanse of yard and something you paid a pretty penny for, take advantage of it, but not necessarily with plants.

Using pea gravel or crushed stone~whichever is the most affordable as well as longer lasting~I would bring the driveway toward the front of the house, as in circular. This will help break up that expanse of space, and give smaller areas to define with plantings.

This is sort of the idea, but the garage pictured is not attached. Your drive would come off the side of the house and circle around. Clear as mud?

Here is a link that might be useful: Driveway

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 3:33PM
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I have a large side yard that I have been converting to flower garden since we moved here almost four years ago. The beds lack good definition/shape and I do not have suitable paths. The soil is heavy clay and we have some water drainage issues. I have also been searching for web sites with ideas for landscaping the large flat yard but haven't had much luck. We are usually do it ourselfers. We finally decided to set a budget for some work and hire a landscaper for paths, patio and soil ammendment.

I have settled on a few ideas. I'd like to have different micro zones in the garden. Right now it is a hodge podge of a few perennials and a lot if annuals. I want to designate areas for different types of plants or even functions. A cutting garden is important to me. I also have a lot of peonies so Id like them arranged in a cohesive way. Basically, the area is too large for it to be a homogenous blend of plants. I think setting up different visual areas or vignettes will help make it more attractive.
ETA: We have our first appt with landscape designers starting this week so this is our before pic.
Here is our side garden last summer:

This post was edited by trovesoftrilliums on Mon, Apr 29, 13 at 20:26

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 8:23PM
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