Want to change the front yard plantings

westcoastjayApril 24, 2011

I am looking for some help in redoing the plants in my front yard. I was thinking something more contemporary like grasses etc. What do you think. I would prob like to keep the boxwoods as they were just planted last year. The front yard faces north so right next to the house is shady or very late afternoon sun at best. Front yard

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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I'm sure you'd rather have plant suggestions that will survive where you live, so we really need your plant hardiness zone. If you don't know your zone, you can look it up here (lovely map; I wish there were something like it for my part of the world):

It seems to me that the bed in the photo above and the smaller bed in the lawn near the street are conflicting styles; perhaps that's part of your dissatisfaction. What did you have in mind for the boxwoods: a solid mini-hedge border, or continuing the string-of-pearls look?

    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 12:02PM
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Hi Missing
sorry I'm in vancouver so I think its zone 8. When I planted last year i was hoping the boxwoods would become a solid border. That may not work with a new design.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 12:16PM
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Your architectural style is quite traditional so how contemporary you may wish to go re: the landscaping is your choice. I think what you may be looking for is not really a more 'contemporary' look but something with more distinction than the rest of the neighborhood. Personally, I'd be inclined to stay with a more traditional plan but with more unusual plants than the standard pieris/boxwood/rhody selection common to 99% of PNW gardens. The boxwood border/future hedge is certainly traditional but boring in the extreme.....I'd be highly inclined to remove it. And it wouldn't hurt to provide a bit more dimension with respect to the foundation planting bed....perhaps by berming or mounding a portion of it and even including a good sized boulder or two.

Vancouver (I assume B.C.?) has a great selection of nurseries so you shouldn't have too many difficulties in locating something beyond the obvious. A couple of dwarf conifers, sarcococca close to the house (in the full shade), maybe a Drimys lanceolata, Mahonia 'Soft Caress', Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey', a couple of unique ferns (so many to choose from) could provide a start. A shady location calls out for foliage color so include some gold in there (the 'Little Honey' will provide some; maybe also Choisya 'Sundance' or Ilex crenata 'Lemon Gem') or other variegation.

If you want pieris - and a great shrub it is for that location - look at 'Cavatine' or 'Prelude'. Smaller and more compact (won't interfer with windows or require pruning) and without the glaring salmon colored new growth that is standard for most varieties and is omnipresent in every NW garden - very crisp and clean looking. As for grasses, larger ones really need full sun and are not as well-suited for that type of planting situation as smaller, more mounding forms. Look at Carex morrowii 'Aureo-variegata' or 'Ice Dance' or Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' or 'Albostriatum'. Deschampsia 'Northern Lights' is great in part shade and has wonderful coloring -- looks great with golden foliaged plants and dark purple heucheras.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 6:19PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

OK, so I love rows of little boxwoods. If I didn't have the mania for plant acquisition that I do, I would definitely line my walkway with little boxwoods. And in an ideal world I'd have a curved walkway to make it look very much like what you've done.

But here's the thing: rule one with a recessed doorway is generally to pull plant material away from the walkway, which builders always make too narrow and too close to the house anyway, the landscaping objective being to overcome the builder error and make the area feel and look more open and welcoming - make it look like there is space for someone to be, and they will want to be there.

Rule two is usually to paint the door a light or bright colour so as to avoid that feeling of your front door looking like the entrance to a cave, but builders and even owners seem to have an irresistible urge to paint them dark (I know the trend is for dark doors, but the designer mags cleverly usually show them on flat or exposed-entry doors - and then people with recessed doors copy the trend without recognizing the key difference).

All that to say that I love your box-edged bed but if I had laid it out I would have done it in mirror image, that is, sweeping down the lot line, not the sidewalk. Then I might sink stepping stones in the lawn so in spring I could walk over and admire the emerging leaves and buds of the wonderful selection of plants one can grow on the west coast.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 10:20PM
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Something about the equal radius curves coming together to form a point seems too contrived (although I know all landscaping is contrived, I don't think it should look that way - it looks like it's trying too hard).

To work with what you already have, I'd be inclined to move the boxwoods to take the boxwood curve from directly in front of the first shrub (in photos 1 and 2) and sweep it off to the right, curving around the island and all the way to the front, but leaving a wide swath of lawn between them. That is, bring the curve that swoops toward the house way forward with a much larger radius. (I confess to being at a loss for how to integrate this with the part of your neighbor's lawn that it would connect to, however. Perhaps some larger shrubs, or a short fence painted to match the house, behind them. Or just bring them out to the street and leave the grass behind them.)

This would give you a larger section to work with in front of the picture window, where you could incorporate a simple feature (perhaps a boulder? as gardengal suggested) and put your grasses around the feature and in the sun. Don't make it so high as to obscure the window, though, or complex enough to compete. I think this would be more modern, without veering too far away from the traditional look of the house. I would also think you would need to use more delicate looking grasses instead of giant ones to make it work visually.

KarenL, why does a mania for plant acquisition preclude lining your walkway with boxwoods?

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 1:58PM
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My suggestion: keep the boxwoods and keep them pruned to a hedge. Fill the space surrounded by them with a tall grass/wildflower mix if you like, the boxwoods will keep it organized.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 3:15AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I don't know, timbu -- that sounds like a lot of weeding would be involved, including the space under the several dozen boxwoods.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 1:02PM
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Ummm... probably, if heavily seeding wildflowers were used. Clumping grasses and perennials (e.g. Agastache, Echinacea, Eryngium) would be a safer choice. Since the OP seems bored with shrubs, what would you suggest?

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 4:05AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Sorry, timbu: apparently I misunderstood what you meant by a tall grass/wildflower mix which would be organized by the boxwoods. To me that sounded like the sort of wildflower lawn mix which includes both grass and wildflower seeds, such as this one. (I actually like it as an alternative for a standard lawn.)

Also, I have a fairly low opinion of decorative tall grasses, dating from childhood encounters with pampas grass (papercuts, hay fever). Too often they seem to be used to add height: really in place of a shrub. But in winter, the grass has to be cut back, and where there should be extra height, there's nothing; I'd rather have a woody shrub that provides height twelve months of the year.

As to what I'd suggest, I'm afraid I dislike the location/shape of the bed rather strongly. karinl explained it perfectly. If the bed has to be kept, I wouldn't have anything over about 8-12" -- certainly not the boxwoods, which despite being short (at the moment) are much too wall-ish for me. That whole bed has a palisade effect: walling in the walkway ... squeezing the walkway between the house and the bed ... a barrier between the house and the yard.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 9:24AM
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I'm not sure the OP is necessarily bored with shrubs.....just the selection he/she may currently have :-) And rightly so. It is both a bit sparse as well as offering up the same routine selection of plants one sees everywhere in the PNW.

And I would be extremely hesitant to suggest something as unruly looking as a wildflower/grass mix to a front entry planting. Unless in a very informal, country-like setting, this will persist in looking weedy and messy and be bare for a good portion of the year. Not at all an appropriate choice for an urban, groomed entry landscape. This calls for a thoughtful mix of broadleaved evergreen shrubs, dwarf conifers, a few deciduous plants or perennials and/or low EG ornamental grasses. And a little height is fine.....in fact, necessary to supply some scale and dimension. But I might resculpt the bedlines to be a little less enclosing/more flowing as well :-)

Would be very helpful if the OP were to respond with some thoughts and clarification.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 11:15AM
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