Any comments are welcome

LemurificApril 19, 2013

Hi all. I would appreciate any and all advice you might provide regarding my front yard. Be honest, I can take it! This is East facing, in Cleveland (zone 6A), with a fair amount of clay in our soils. We are bringing out the left side bed. We will eventually bring out the right side bed, but that will happen later, as there is a new pathway that will have to be constructed.

What I hate in our garden:
(1) the Taxis ��" they are going to be gone ��" somehow, someway.
(2) A dying azalea on the left side ��" going to be gone
(3) How plain and rectangular our house looks. Look at our neighborsâ homes. They are all tudorâÂÂs and other 1920âÂÂs homes with loads of charm. Our house needs some character. It sticks out like a sore thumb as plain.

What I would like:
(1) Unique plants or combinations that are not in every yard.
(2) Drought tolerant plantings, as we have no sprinkler system
(3) More of a wild free form garden ��" the opposite of a topiary laden garden (beautiful, but not my style).
(4) Some plants under consideration: Agave, Blue Fescue, Miscanthus, Rosemary, Creeping Thyme, Sage, Lavender, Red Hot Poker, Speedwell, good vibrations juniper, Autumn sedum.
(5) Plants I am planning on keeping: 1 LadyâÂÂs Mantle, some mums, some phlox, 1 boxwood, 1 azalea, the large burning bush

What do I put around on either side of the front door? Should they be the same? Given our style of home, should we go for symmetry? I am leaning towards asymmetry, given that the left bed will be larger than the right? But I need some design help with this. Most people in the neighborhood use well pruned conifers: junipers, arborvitae, various topiaries, and I am not into that at all.

Also, what do you all think about a smaller Ginkgo on the far left, like maybe a Chi Chi cultivar?

We also have black window boxes, and the shutters are going to be painted black.

I know there is a lot in the post, but I really would appreciate any feedback. I am here to learn. Thank you for your time and comments.

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Straight on view

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 9:57AM
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What we will remove and expansion of bed

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 9:58AM
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Other side

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 9:59AM
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View from inside

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 10:00AM
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View from inside

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 10:01AM
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View from inside

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 10:04AM
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amanda_m(z7 MD)

I think it would improve the look if you added a wide walkway of some sort up to the front door. Your house is attractive, but the front yard does not play it up.

Are you attached to all that grass or would you want to rip some of it up for beds? Looks like you would get enough sun to support bushes and perennials/annuals.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 10:49AM
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Agreed and thank you. This house has looked exactly this way since before I was born. The landscaping does nothing for it.

We have no attachment to grass. Less of it is more to us.

The plan is to remove the current walkway that frames the right bed, and put in a wider walkway in natural stone closer to the sidewalk. Maybe next year we will do this.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 12:25PM
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I would recommend the backing up method of landscape design.
This is still my own biggest failure. I'm so in love with plants that I forget, even though I know better, that Hardscape comes first. Because, in essence, the house itself is always the biggest hardscape in the landscape, it always has the biggest impact.
You already know that, but you indicate that you're not happy with the plain, rectilinear look of your home.

But then you leap forward to plants you will get rid of and plant needs and combinations. That's a pretty long leap to achieve your goal.

Or, rather, most of your comments talk about plants. But no. 3 on the things you hate is the real heart of the matter, isn't it?

And I'm not sure that any of the plants you list will address that issue. Well, maybe the wild garden idea, but it depends on how you pull it off. And that takes you back again to planning your "big picture", including hardscape. When I read through your notes, it isn't clear to me where you want to go with it. If you intend to keep plants in onesies and twosies, and lots of different kinds, it might be "wild" but it will also be a mess.

If what you really want is something strong and dramatic, then you need to find pictures of examples that pull that off. Then try to figure out how it was achieved. It won't be frilly, fussy, or blousy, which is where you might end up if you try to combine too many plants.

"Unique" for you might mean choosing strong, bold, structural elements, not all of which would necessarily be plant material.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 5:59PM
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Thanks for your thoughts, I appreciate it. I guess I am hoping that by removing the yews and expanding the beds with some of the plants I listed i can soften the harshness of the house. How to place them to do this, I am unsure. And again I would appreciate any feedback regarding this.

In terms of altering our hardscape, I suppose the only thing we plan to do is walkway and the edging of the beds. Is that what you are referring to? We have no other plans to add columns or change our porch or anything. No fountains or anything like. I was hoping to go bold with plants.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 7:27PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

The house is very formal. Instead of having a garden that happens to sit in front of the house, I'd be very tempted to create a garden that accentuates the character of the house. It is the opposite of the direction you are thinking of, but I think it is what Wellspring is thinking of also.

Basically, very strong lines and geometrical shapes that work with the boxy lines of the house.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 8:20PM
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A multi-trunked small trimmed up tee form on the corners would look good to me. Have you considered this? or seen it in the neighboring yards?

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 8:29PM
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I understand that you may not want anything added to hardscape beyond what you have mentioned. And that's cool. To clarify, I think I'm trying to suggest that you really absorb what the hardscape is and what it will be when you've done all you intend to do. No plant(s) will ever have as much impact as those elements.
Right now, black shutters, black window boxes, and a new path will eventually be in place. These things will add ... or detract ... more than any plant combination.

Mad-Gallica puts it well. If you want to stand out with this house, you will need to work with its strengths. They're not going away, so learn to play off of that strength.

Frankielynn then goes on to make a suggestion that might move you in the right direction. A structural form; something beyond the grasses and low perennials you mention in your consider list. (Agave, which is a structual plant, isn't going to work in your zone and soil conditions. At least not as far as I remember.)

Where exactly will the path be? Will it be narrow or will it be wide, generous, adding substance to the setting? What material will be used?

Most of the plants in your consider list are not uncommon; most ... not all ... are in the 2 to 3 ft range, perennial. The agave and rosemary are not zone tolerant (although this winter I did overwinter a rosemary in the warmest corner of my zone 6 garden).

So ... do most of your neighbors have evergreen dominant, foundation plantings, perhaps hugging the house?

What do you picture in your head when you think about your house?

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 9:05PM
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This proposed project may be like when someone rearranges their furniture because they are disgusted with the present arrangement. When they finish, things look different to be sure, but not really better. Later, they become disgusted with the new arrangement because it, too, does not solve many of the problems. Lemurific, you begin with an open call for suggestions, but quickly describe a scheme style that would close off actual solutions in favor of personal "likes and dislikes" that you are predisposed to. Problems are not properly identified. To some degree, your proposal sounds like it's primarily a reaction to hating what's there and thinking that the further you get from it the better off you'll be. To me, it sounds like trying to be different for the sake of being different. Unless the problems that are inherent to your property are resolved, you'll not be any better off as soon as your new landscape starts becoming "overgrown." Design is the "thinking through" process of developing a landscape. It begins with analysis of existing conditions and making some kind of determination as to a general solution (for example ... ugly view ... needs screening.) It's your yard and you can do as you wish, but from what I can see of your own house and the "1920's neighborhood with loads of charm" is that a "wild free form" garden is not what comes to mind when I think of how your landscape could extend the architecture of your home. Nor is it what comes to mind when I think of what would be a welcomed advantage to the surrounding neighborhood. Is being different more of an advantage than being charming and beautiful?

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 9:26PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I quite like your house but am glad you talked about painting the shutters black. Look at the house that looks much like yours across the street that you show in the view from the house. It has the black shutters and that look is far more serene than the look of the white shutters. I'd be inclined to add shutters to your ground floor windows too - although that would probably require moving the front light fixtures....

I'd be inclined to keep the landscaping cool and subtle to go with the classic, quiet look after painting the shutters black. I'd stick to a largely green and white color theme with perhaps some deep, rich reds for accent. A nice white-flowering tree (dogwood...?) would be an elegant note on the right side I think. I wouldn't go wild - this is a house that would be well served by a less-is-more style.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 9:26PM
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I really appreciate the feedback. I know plants, but am very much a novice with design. I have considered that maybe instead of adding curvature of planting beds that maybe mimicking the geometric shape of the home would be better served. Admittedly, I do not like this mockup I attached, but I have considered a more geometric design. I am thinking of rectangular slate for the pathway. I am also planning on adding larger, black sconces.

The bulk of my neighborhood yards look just like mine. Heavily manicured conifers, azaleas, hydrangeas, hostas, daylilies, and loads of annuals along foundations. I like conifers, but I do not like the heavy use of conifers.

Although my house is a mid century center colonial, I am not formal. I do not want a formal garden. This is incredibly important to me as a reflection of my personality. I am plant ecologist, so this really important to me. That being said, that doesn't mean I can design a garden well.

Yardvaark, I appreciate your comments, but am unclear how I have closed off anything. My primary goal is for the architecture of my home to be better served with my garden and to better reflect my personality. Clearly, I don't know how to do that, which is why I am here. So I am open to anything. I very much appreciate people's time and opinions.

Yep, rosemary usually has to be overwintered inside. But the agave cultivars are good here. I was shocked to learn that too (native South Floridan here).

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 9:54PM
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Heavily manicured conifers, azaleas, hydrangeas, hostas, daylilies, and loads of annuals along foundations is boring to me and I don't like it. They are in 80% of the yards here. My house already stands out due to different architecture, so I see no reason to keep my garden to look like everyone else's. I am not trying to be different for the sake of being different. I just don't like what the majority of my neighbors have in their yard.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 10:03PM
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I think you are talking about yucca. They were in the back of my mind; same family "Agavaceae". But the genus Agave isn't as zone tolerant as its cousins the yuccas.
The yuccas can bloom more than once without dying off, I think, whereas the agaves die after blooming and most don't bloom for many years.

Sorry for the detour. It was just bugging me that all the Agaves were listed from zone 8 and up. So I checked the yucca to find out if it was the same family. Bingo!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 11:48PM
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You are so right!!! I've got agaves inside. But was shocked that Yucca could grow outside here. These are the guys I am contemplating: 'Golden Sword' Yucca.
Thanks for the correction!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 8:04AM
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I threw this together from BHG planner to show the bed placement and walkway. My husband is really against the central placement of the walkway. Thoughts???

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 8:24AM
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"... [I] am unclear how I have closed off anything." Your list of "likes" and "dislikes" does a fair amount of "steering" but not necessarily guarantees improved quality. One gets the impression that some plants are ruled out because the examples in your yard and in your neighborhood are pathetic looking. This is like blaming a nice car for being dented, scratched and dirty. It's not the car's fault that it's been abused and neglected. In your yard, I see only examples of plants that have been abused and improperly maintained. Overall, Yews are great, high quality plants. But your's look terrible.

"I see no reason to keep my garden to look like everyone else's." Of six of your neighbor's yards that we can see, none are examples of landscaping that anyone would wish to emulate. So the message is not to copy what your neighbors are doing. Instead, it's to bring a higher quality of landscaping (that others will wish to copy) into the neighborhood.

I don't think, architecturally speaking, that your house is as out of character for the neighborhood as you make it sound. It seems that it lacks details that help it look finished. There could be any number of various solutions that give it charm. Here's one example of how it might be done. I'm sure you, or someone, could come up with other ideas. (I don't know which driveway is yours so I might have picked wrong, but nevertheless, you get the idea.)

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 9:35AM
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Thanks for your feedback. My direct neighbors are actually not representative of the area. Oddly enough almost all of my direct neighbors have had their yards professionally landscaped recently.

I am completely on the same page with you, but am probably not communicating well enough:)

What you sketched up is actually different that I was thinking, but I like it (and so does the hubby)! I was thinking that I had to frame the porch with some larger shrubs, but I like this with flowering perennials and annuals.

Again, I appreciate the feedback that my initial ideas might be just putting a decorative band-aid on and not healing the wound.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 9:56AM
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I have incorporated Yardvaark's design and added some species I am considering. Seems messy to me - at least on this mockup.

I have 18 different species in there. The corner left tree is Betula nigra 'Little King' and a currant. On the right corner is Crataegus media 'Paul's Scarlet'.

After that I have a mix of the lavender, miscanthus, yucca, fescue, thyme, lobelia, creeping juniper, alyssum, poppy, iris, poker. I tried to keep them in odd numbers.

I also have a quince, azalea, weigelia in there too.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 11:36AM
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"Although my house is a mid century center colonial, I am not formal. I do not want a formal garden. This is incredibly important to me as a reflection of my personality."

I recommend listening to your heart ... That being said, I'll venture to put into words some of the common advice about front yards. I suspect you know it. It only really matters if a. you care to follow the common crowd or b. you plan to sell your home in the near future and think staying within a norm might help resale.

So, the common advice is ...
Keep your front yard tame, neat, tidy, and simple.
Rein in the exuberant.
Evergreens, evergreens, evergreens.
Soften corners, "nestle" ... "ground" the house with plant material.
The house is the star, so design to its advantage.
Create welcome and draw atttention to the house's main entry.

So plant material sort of takes second stage in standard front yard landscapes. The form of the plant is what is important; the specific plant type is not. Conical / pyramidal, globe, sweeping form, columnar; single trunk or multi trunk; really tall, tall, middle range, short, or ground hugging mat; solo performer or grouping ...

And these forms get moved around as bit players in the plot set out by the rules I tried to sketch out above. I'm no designer, by the way, just a learner like you. And I've learned, am still learning, where I will keep to the rules and where I will break them because I want to go beyond the generic look.

I'm still ruminating on a plant combination ... just think the one floating around in my mind might not be that great.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 12:14PM
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Wellspring thank you for the reminder. Resale isn't terribly important, as we already remodeled the inside of our house as extremely contemporary - very unlike 95% of the traditional neighborhood. We have to be true to ourselves.

This mockup does get me excited. Pretty much the same plants, although I deleted a few. This geometric pattern seems more true to what the inside of our home looks like. I am thinking slate for the walkway, but am open. I am interested to hear you all's thoughts.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 1:18PM
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While I'm sure that there are innumerable supporters of this approach to planting, it seems to me that it's using plants primarily as a horticultural display ... a mini botanical garden of sorts. Overall, it's a very cluttered effect. To the level of hoarding possibly. Each plant acts as a tightly packed individual rather than being grouped into like kinds which are formed into a larger art piece that work alongside other large (in scale with the property) art pieces. The overall collection of plants may constitute a piece of art, but its overall strength is diminished by having no particular corollary with any given architectural element (art piece.) In other words, the plants do not seem as if they are an extension of the architecture. Of the thousand shingles that are on the house, they are all similar and collected together into one element and form a single, attractive art piece. Would they have anywhere near the visual strength if they were separated and placed at a thousand different points all over the building? (I know it's not the least practical, but I'm speaking only about the visual effect, if it could be done.)

Trying to determine to the best of one's ability what the architecture of the house wishes for its surroundings seems like it might produce a higher calibre, longer lasting design.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 10:44PM
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HI -
I tried my hand at photoshopping your yard, here's the result:

I do agree with others, red brick seems to need something evergreen for balance. I kept it real simple for now, just arborvitae/junipers and lavender. You could, however, add groups of tulips, allium, liatris, digitalis, verbena etc to the lavender, and I can imagine 2 large iron vases flanking the door.

Here is a link that might be useful: image, in case the frst link doesn't work

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 4:26AM
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Brushing up my image-posting skills... one more try:

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 4:41AM
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I'm not an expert, not even able to landscape my yard - I am struggling with issues similar to yours. That is a mixing a symmetrical house with an informal feel. Primarily I'm writing because cherry trees jumped into my mind as soon as I saw your home. I can just see small cherry trees flanking your doorway. I think their open vase shape would complement your entrance and draw the eye. I agree with Timbu, go with a wider walkway. I agree with your husband, in I think a walk curved to the side would be more functional. Good luck with your plans, lovely home.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 9:43AM
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I love reading these comments - these are great. Yes, I love plants. It is true, I am going to have to show some restraint and not horde! I just love them!!! Must remember to keep it simple.

Thanks for photoshopping the shutters. I cannot wait to have those painted. Last summer, I did the front door and the house numbers, and added black rectangular window boxes and it helped so much.

So in talking with my husband, we have this ongoing debate. Do we add curves or go with geometric design with the beds and the pathway?

My thinking has evolved towards the geometric because it mimics the house shape and is more akin to contemporary design. Plus, it mirrors the inside of the house (see pic below). Can we even make a mid century colonial look more contemporary through the landscape?

Thanks for the kind comments and sketches folks.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 10:14AM
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"Do we add curves or go with geometric design with the beds and the pathway?" Last I looked, curves were parts of circles which are part of geometry. I don't think there is anything wrong with either as long as you work out the compatibility of lines and shapes. You might quickly explore 10, 20 or more walkway schemes on some tracing paper until you see something forming up that functions well and looks good. If you must "be different" it might take longer and be more difficult to find something that works and looks good. If you just need a nice, roomy sidewalk that goes well and is compatible with your house, it shouldn't be all that difficult or time consuming to discover it. I note, too, that there are a fair amount of curves in the furnishings of the rooms in your picture.

"Yes, I love plants. It is true, I am going to have to show some restraint and not horde! I just love them!!!" From the looks of the inside of the house you are definitely not a hoarder. The proposed landscape schemes with plants thickly sprinkled down from Heaven seem a bit in stark contrast. With design, what's more important than any particular plant is what work that plant does (functionally and visually) for its surroundings. Plant lovers and collectors who are landscape designing generally need to use a fair amount of restraint.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 6:23PM
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Well I am glad to know it isn't just me.

The hubs and I are going back and forth with the bed and walkway designs. I think we will probably end up with a mix of linear and curved shapes. Not all or nothing.

Plant selection and placement is playing second fiddle, although I obviously have some plants in the back of my mind.

This is not easy, and I have much respect for the professionals.

When we have some better designs, I'll certainly share.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 8:07PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

My 2 cents (worth less than 2 cents)

I like Yardvaarks design. It looks sleek and formal and would reflect the interior style.

Maybe it is the design program, but the other design looks like a bunch of random plants. Don't get me wrong, a bunch of random plants might be fun does not reflect the interior design.

Living in a warm area, I know that should I move to a cold zone I would need to reconsider my planting list. Zone pushing might end up being more work for a front yard than a back were sensitive plants can be kept potted and moved to a green house for the winter.

This written by some one who knowingly has a mile too much HD basic picket fencing....

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 10:12PM
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All the comments here have been so helpful and made me realize that I cannot learn about the principles of landscape deisgn in a forum or overnight, nor do I have the innate talent. So I am consulting with an esteemed local landscape designer in our area and get some opinions from a pro. I'll still come back to this thread with updates though. Again thanks for the constructive feedback.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 8:55AM
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It will be interesting to hear how it goes and see the direction taken. Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 9:14AM
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molie(z6 CT)

Just today read this post. I also prefer Yardvaark's and Timbu's design to yours. Yardvaark's plan provides a inviting, welcoming look to the front of your home and softens the hard edges of the house, while still remaining symmetrical to complement the architecture. Timbu's asymmetric design adds a uniqueness that kind of replicates your tastes on the interior, but it's still calm and appealing to the eye.

To my mind, the mock-ups you created with those jagged edged are jarring --- I don't know how else to say it. You said that you don't like how plain and rectangular your home is, but your designs actually emphasized those qualities. You might wonder how that is possible with all those different plant elements I've put into my design? How could it end up being so rectangular? The reason is that when looking at your designs, the eye does not know where to "rest". The eye wanders from shape to shape, edge to edge, and color to color and finally settles on the symmetrical house facade. The fact that you like wild, free-form garden design but own a very traditional, very symmetrical house is hard to reconcile, so I'm glad you've decided on hiring a well-known landscaper from your area. The end result will be a house that's even more beautiful, that pleases your tastes, and that looks as if it's properly settled into the ground. Definitely post the results when done!


    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 2:15PM
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