Design help deperately needed

Fiamma1960April 14, 2011


Am having a really hard time with the design for gardens in my front yard. We live in Ontario in the country and the lot is fairly large (100' x 800') and have no landscaping at all at the front of the house. The picture I've attached shows the front of the house. The driveway is on the left (south) side of the house and is quite long (approx 10 car lengths). Should the garden line the driveway all the way to the house? Should we just do a garden at the front of the house? Should we do straight lines? Am a real newbie at this, have no idea where to start!

The front yard faces East but because there are so many trees we only get partial sun on the driveway side and full sun in the middle of the front yard. We have rabbits, moles, skunks, racoons, etc so I worry whatever we plant may get eaten!

We have been given a dozen rose of sharons and really love black eyed susans and purple cone flowers. Are these good? We're in the country and will never have a manicured lawn, it can be a semi-wild perrenial garden.

Any help whatsoever would be greatly appreciated. We just don't know where to start.

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sorry, but there's no picture attached, that would really help.

I'd suggest looking at pictures of houses with large front yard (google image search is a good start) and see what you like and what you don't like. I love cottage gardens, (full of colors and textures and tons of different plants).

You also have to consider costs, it's going to be pretty expensive to buy a ton of plants to fill in your large areas. You might want to start small and have the gardens "grow" every year as you divide and replant and things reseed.
You might want to plant a natural meadow that would take up your whole front ayrd. I ahve no idea who to do that.

Have you visited any local garden centers (not necessarily the big box stores) to talk to the mabout your plans at all? Maybe drive around your town and local area and see what other people are growing.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 11:37AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

A picture would be useful... With a big property, I'd be inclined to use ornamental trees and shrubs as the primary elements in the front. You could make it equally as colorful and floriferous as a perennial garden by choosing the right plants, but the scale would be a lot larger. That would suit the size of the property and reduce the maintenance required. I'd include perennials too, but you'd need fewer of them and I'd focus on big ones and/or masses of a limited number of them.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 12:06PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

What do you want to see when you look out the windows? What do you want people to see when they drive past the property?

Make a rough diagram of the front yard, labeling areas where you might locate the desired views. Start with the house; from windows, porches, etc., draw arrows in the direction you would like to see a view. Then draw arrows for views from the street -- or even from neighbors' properties if that's relevant. Think about whether each view would be farther away or nearer. Don't neglect things like trees for backgrounds. Add any areas where you need privacy barriers -- or places where you need clear sight lines for vehicle safety.

Make another diagram -- this one's not so easy -- that divides the yard into function areas. For example, entry to the house (with clear sight lines from the driveway), sitting area, children's play area (if relevant to the front yard), wild bird area (feeders, birdbath, plants shelter or food), or extra parking for parties.

Make another diagram that divides the yard into areas by how much sun they get (and whether morning or afternoon).

Now compare the different diagrams. Nothing will ever be perfect. What are your priorities?

The dozen rose of Sharons could be a unifying factor for the yard (tying the yard together, giving consistency amid the variety of other plants). Or it could be a hedge or line of trees. Or something else.

Your coneflowers and black-eyed susans are going to need a lot of sun. Nothing says that can't be in the middle of the front yard (I made a large bed that winds through the only part of my front lawn that's reasonably flat and gets afternoon sun; it's a weird shape that was dictated by the terrain, a neighbor's driveway sight lines, the state road regulations, and the location of existing shade trees). Keep in mind the height these perennials are going to be; in summer, will they block a view? And if you're making a perennial garden, consider adding something evergreen so that area has some winter interest, spring bulbs for spring interest, chrysanthemums for fall interest, etc.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 12:28PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I don't have a driveway but what I hear on the forum here over and over is that it is nice to have clear sides to the driveway, no plants, no beds. This enables far easier access for cars, and for people going to/from cars, also I imagine snow clearing might be an issue.

The place to start making decisions for something of this magnitude might be with the maintenance question. The first responder above suggested cottage gardens, but man, you could be out there weeding and clipping and edging all year every year with extensive flower gardens. Well, I exaggerate but I'm sure you get the idea. You have said you'll never have manicured lawns, but a lawn that you mow with a ride-on is one of the easiest ways to maintain a large space like this in an attractive state.

You've also said you're a newbie plant-wise, and you don't know where to start. That means not only is the garden going to grow, but also that your knowledge will have to gradually grow. Or, it means you should get someone to just design and install it all for you, and you will learn as you live with it and take care of it.

It really all depends on what you want to spend your time doing in terms of both learning and maintaining.

If you like those rose of sharons you could certainly start by planting those somewhere, and they can be moved for a few years yet if you change your mind. But by all means, post a photo (here or on the gallery side of the forum, but link to it here) and perhaps someone will advise where they would be best placed.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 1:21PM
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Thank you all so very much! Please follow the link below to go the my first message, it has a link to the picture of the front of the house.
Again, any help is greatly appreciated!

Here is a link that might be useful: House Picture

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 11:05AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

When you provide some feedback to what's already been said, it's possible that people will be able to move forward with more advice if they have any. Also, the picture is only of the house; if you want some suggestions for the whole yard a wider perspective of the whole yard might help.

What I can say based on just this photo is that the porch makes a fairly dark impression due to its overhang and this would be exacerbated if the house faces east. So I would tend to keep plantings well away from the house, especially taller trees or shrubs that would make it feel even more closed in. Much as I imagine it is a wonderful place to be on a hot afternoon, it needn't present as a cave.


    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 10:49AM
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If you could post a photo of the bigger picture (what?) as karin suggests I think we will get away from inappropriate guesses somewhat. Woody lives in rural Ontario so you should check out her garden although it is probably not a beginners garden it will demonstrate the wisdom of "keep plantings well away from the house". Further agreeing with karin it is in the to and fro (feedback) that you will gain the impetus.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 5:46PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Ink - I'm suburban Ont., not rural... I'd love to have a lot the size of the OP's! (I fantasize about buying the neighbours to the south's property when it eventually comes up for sale (they are elderly...), knocking the house down and adding the property to my garden! It'll never happen, but one can dream...:-)

I would likely have some garden beds close to the house but they would be part of the larger overall garden. With that amount of space to play with there would be lots of options, I'm sure, to use larger scale plantings (e.g. use lots of ornamental trees and shrubs). The plantings should be done with the intent to create one integrated garden, not just a series of nice ornamental beds.

I'd definitely start by working out an overall plan/vision for the entire space before starting working on specific smaller spaces. I did that here - while I didn't have a down-on-paper plan, I had a more-or-less clear idea of what I was going to create here. It took 10+ years to get most of it in place (I'm at the tinkering/refining stage now). Each year I worked on specific bits but always in the context of moving towards an overall plan. Specific details of the plan changed as time went by but the original overall 'vision' continued to be the guiding principle. I think a general approach like that would work for the OP.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 7:27PM
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Wow, you guys are GREAT! OK, I'm going to take more pictures and include the driveway area and post them. I like the idea of a tumbled stone (I have enouth of them)walkway from the driveway to the front entrance of the porch. I could line the walkway with gardens and let the garden grow each year to extend it down the driveway (south) side of the property. Keep those suggestions coming because I'm starting to actually visuallize this! Thanks again to all.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 11:15AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Start off with the 'bones' of the garden first. That's evergreen trees. Then deciduous trees, followed by evergreen shrubs, then deciduous shrubs. Perennials and groundcovers come next. The shape of the lawn is more important than the shape of the beds. Keep in mind the foot traffic pattern around the house. The shape of the lawn should not look contrived. It should 'fit'.
You can fiddle with Blackeyed Susans and Cornflowers in the meantime in a bed near the house. Design the cake before the frosting.

My garden is at: Webshots phildert


    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 6:58PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

For some reason, I was ruminating on this property last night... A bunch of questions came to mind.

When I relate the property size to our property, it is 1/3 wider but over 5 times longer. That's a rather odd shape to work with. Is there a particular reason why the property is so long and narrow? Given the shape and size of the property, I assume that it might be likely that, at some point, you'd sever one or more lots and sell them...? If that might be in your plans, would those lots be accessible other than by crossing the land closer to your house? The reason I'm asking all that is that I wouldn't bother spending too much time, energy or money on the part of the property I might sell and, if access must be provided to the lots that might be sold, you'd want to factor that into your plans (e.g. don't plant trees on it; plant easy-to-remove cheap stuff or don't plant anything on it and just keep it roughly cleared. Do you have a bush hog type mower? It might be a useful thing to have on a rural property that size.)

You mention both no landscaping in front and trees that cast shade - so what is the existing vegetation on the property and how does that relate to what you like/want to do? For example, is there open space/cleared ground in a suitable spot for a vegetable garden - if that's something you want? Is there an existing forest or woodlot suitable for developing as a woodland garden - if that's something that interests you?

I think the very first step you need to do is think through what your future plans are for the property itself and how that would affect where, when and what you develop as a garden. At the same time, assess the potential of the property vis a vis what exists now and what you'd like to do on it. Having done that, you will have a better idea of how to start laying out the spaces you want to work with.

Consider the shape and size of the spaces themselves, including access/paths between them all and between them and the house. Once you're happy with the spaces and the circulation routes between them given the planned uses for the spaces, then you can move on to the more detailed hardscape and planting.

It might sound like a lot to do but much of it can probably be done in your head - and you've probably aready thought about a lot of it. You just need to organize it in a way that helps you to move forward without having to backtrack later and undo things.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 12:08PM
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