help with balance

RoseAbbeyApril 2, 2010

Hi, I would like some help in trying to figure out what to plant in my flower bed to help balance the gazebo which is on the other side of the patio.

I am thinking I need some heavy looking plants for balance. The exposure is north, east and west. We will be moving the tree to the centre of the bed. I am looking to incorporate shrubs and prennials into the bed. We have hydrangea there already. I would like something that will have some interest in the winter as well.

The other question I have is should I plant something around the gazebo or leave it plain and perhaps have some hanging baskets? Thanks

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No one has any fences? It seems that this area needs some spatial definition or boundaries.

I'm not a Landscaper but I don't really see why that planting bed should be fully responsible for landscape balance or that it should be even considered until more of the landscape has been designed.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2010 at 8:08PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think a larger bed would provide much more effective balance. It isn't helping that I'm having visions of tree rings because the bed is so round and the tree already more in the middle of it than I would like. (As Duluth recently replied on another thread, search for the Renegade Gardener's web site and read his views on tree rings).

To illustrate, that rock-edged bed in the background provides a perfect balancing feature for the gazebo. I don't know if it's yours or a neighbour's, but it creates a really good counterpoint. It echoes the colour and makes the gazebo less of a "it just landed here" feature by being bigger and more grounded. If you want to bring that effect to this patio, I think a more organic approach would also serve you well.

As suggested by your second question, I think the challenge is not so much to provide balance to the gazebo as to integrate it into the patio scape. I suspect this would be far better achieved by running the bed all the way around the patio with some graceful curves rather than with a strictly geometric circle - again, take a hint from the rock bed in the background, which does not have a tidy shape and thus gives the gazebo context. If that rock bed were also round or hexagonal or square, it would not connect to the gazebo at all, they would just be two discrete elements that happen to be sitting in the same yard. That is what the gazebo and your new bed now are. In fact, it's what your patio and the gazebo now strike me as being.

In fact, depending on how much you like to garden, I think you could even connect the bed right to the gazebo - is there a path to the gazebo? That could maybe form the end of the bed.

Somehow, I think to achieve a really pleasing design, you have to answer the unspoken question of "why is the gazebo here?"

I'm going mostly on feel here - not being a trained landscape designer I can't always articulate the principles - but there is something about the patio that makes it look like a bit like an afterthought as well. If you had asked in advance what shape a patio in this location should be, there might have been a better choice. So that being the case, it may be that putting a more nicely shaped bed around it with a visually dominant border all around it - something like those rocks in the background again! - as well as a more prominent pathway to the gazebo, would mitigate the extremely rectangular effect. You can also consider something like a rock wall, if that's in your budget or interest, to mitigate the fact that the patio "just ends here." Again, the question that the mind asks is "why does it end right there?"

Form follows function as well as aesthetics though. If, for example, you plan to hold croquet parties and the croquet will be off to the left of this picture, people will need to get from the patio to the grass. So you would need in that case to either truncate the bed or leave a wide grass path through it. Regardless, if you continue the edging material and the planting style on the gazebo side, the bed will have continuity.


    Bookmark   April 2, 2010 at 8:09PM
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isabella, no one has fences and that is way we like it.

karin, thanks for the post. I didnt take a photo of the whole back yard to show how everything relates. I didnt think I needed based on my question. We like the shape of the bed and the way the gazebo and patio relate. All I needed advise on is the choice of plantings for this particular bed.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 7:11AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Rose it's good that you are clear on what you like and want, nothing wrong with that. The difficulty arises when you want help to achieve an objective that your design doesn't enable. For me, plants won't balance the gazebo, only hardscape and mass will do that. So it was a question of whether your priority is to keep the bed as it is, or create balance.

That's just one reason why I at least didn't answer your question just as you asked it (other people perhaps had other reasons). The other is that straight plant selection questions are very hard if not impossible to answer. If you've perused concurrent threads you might notice that questions about plant selection don't usually get much action on this forum. Plant selection depends so much on what's available locally, local conditions, and your personal taste that it's very hard to make recommendations. Usually people are far better off going to a good nursery locally than asking for advice from people who might as well be in another galaxy. We've all tried often enough to make suggestions and then nine times out of ten the person doesn't like or can't get or can't grow what we have taken the time to think of.

Fro the sake of lurkers and other people who have posted questions and aren't getting answers, I'll also mention that the people who spend time on this forum are mostly here because of an interest in design. I think it speaks to the difference between the home decor forum and this one to say that plant selection is the decor once the design is done. As I've seen many examples of on the decor forum, the decor can be really tough when the design is badly done - I'm thinking window treatments and backsplashes, for example. And as I think I said on the decor forum a while back, it can be frustrating when someone comes to the landscape design forum with the design already done and asks how to decorate it, often to mitigate or achieve something that could have been or can still be accomplished with a different approach to the design.

Having said all that, I am not sure that evergreen plantings in the bed would really be an enhancement; it might be better for the bed to be bare in the offseason. An evergreen shrub would be kind of hanging out all by itself out there in winter. Having it bare will leave the bed shape the dominant feature. Unless you plant a little circle of boxwoods or something to that effect that accents the bed shape rather than compromising it.

As for planting up the gazebo, I actually like it plain. It depends again on what you like. From a design perspective, I'd say that the environment doesn't seem to suit a cottagey gazebo, so I'd stick with the classic/Grecian look which I feel the gazebo, being painted rather than natural wood (or is it light wood?), seems to have.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 11:07PM
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KarinL, I understand the difficulty you refer to in trying to suggest plant selection. I do like the idea of the boxwoods to accent the bed. I think they would give it the weight I am looking for as they are dense and also stay green in the winter. In the other beds in the back we also have some cedars, evergreens and yews which add to the winter interest but I wanted something different in this bed. Last year when we built the gazebo, we did enquire about how to finish the patio on the opposite side and were told by a designer that a large bed planted with heavier looking shrubs would balance the gazebo and that we didnt necessarily have to have hardscape on that side for balance.

I am still unsure about planting around the gazebo. DH doesnt want anything around it but I think it looks a bit bare but we will leave it for this year and think about it.
The wood is actually clear cedar, we like it when it turns naturally grey which hasnt started yet.

I really appreciate your post KarinL, thanks

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 8:16AM
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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Have you indicated what geographical region/climate you are in yet? That is critical to plant selection.

I agree that the bulbous outline of the end of the bed is undesirable, the rest of the bed should be made to flow into it more gradually.

The tree should be faced down with evergreen shrubs, preferably broad-leaved evergreen if climate and exposure permit.

Get your hands on a copy of Garden Design Illustrated by John and Carol Grant to see how to use different categories of plants in mixed planting design.

And how to plan and use lawn and bed shapes.

Inexpensive classic reprinted many times, but not I believe currently in print. I encounter it in libraries and used book shops here, and I have seen used copies offered online.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 11:18PM
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A bed around the gazebo will do a great deal to balance this composition and add unity to it. Right now yu have a battle between a structure and a planting bed. It is not a fair fight. Make it a battle between two beds - one has a tree in it and one has a gazebo in it.

Size and dispersion affect balance as well. The trick here is not to make the tree bed heavier, but to moderate the gazebo. Make the tree bed a nice planting and then work the balance by changing the gazebo through planting and bed size. I'd beef up a planting on the house side of the gazebo with bigger plant forms and lower and spread the planting as it wraps around the outside of the gazebo and back to the patio.

As Karin said, you plant choices are to do with you taste and local conditions (as Bboy said). The design part is more about form which you can then find suitable matches for.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 7:19AM
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bboy, I am in zone 5 southeastern Ontario, sorry I left that important part out. We have a very wide ranch style home and we had a professional landscaper do a design for the front, and both sides of the house but we didnt have the patio or gazebo done at that time. We have copied the design of the beds that he had at the corners of the home to soften them. We had mention we were going to do a rectangular patio with gazebo and the oblong bed is what he had suggestioned. I do like your suggestion of the evergreens as we have quite a few we planted on our two acre lot and it would relate.

laag, thank you I like the idea you suggestion about the garden around the gazebo with higher plantings and then the lower ones. We positioned the gazebo to view the lake so we wouldnt want to hide the view. That would tie the gazebo in nicely to the rest of the beds. Any suggestions as to types of plants, I live in zone 5.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 12:33PM
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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Evergreen shrubs are the flesh on the skeleton. All deciduous and herbaceous makes for an insubstantial planting. Hence the tendency to display flower borders against walls or clipped hedges, even when these may include some evergreen shrubs.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 1:45PM
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I know you didn't ask, but I'm going to tell you anyway: Your design problems run deeper than "balancing" the bed and gazebo. Sometimes you can get so close to something that you lose the ability to see something as others will see it. The house (a most lovely house, to be sure), the patio (starkly unappealing, I'm afraid), and the gazebo just don't "fit." I would bring in an expert. It would be a great pity to end up with something amateurish. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he didn't want to talk about more trees for those open spaces.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 10:37PM
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They don't fit unless context is built that results in them fitting. The challenge of design is to build context where it does not already exist.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 7:04AM
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whitecap, what you dont see is the rest of the backyard which has many trees, which include fruit, deciduous and evergreens, large flowerbeds all planted last fall. If it was later in the season and things were in bloom I would take a picture. There is nothing ameteurish about our home, here to show you the finished product is a picture of the front which was planted early fall last year so everything is still small, The back will be finished to the same level.

I plan on adding a garden around the gazebo as I agree with laag's comments. The patio looks stark of course it has no accesories on it. The gazebo is a perfect fit for this backyard as we live in a waterfront community and have beautiful views from there.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 8:24AM
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Maybe you should reconsult with your front yard designer, as he/she has seen the entire property and how it all fits together. All we can see are the few bits of open areas and not the whole picture, so any advice from us wouldn't necessarily be very useful. This is probably why you are getting comments like you have about context, balance, etc. because we can only advise on what we know and garner from you gradually as it is revealed.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 9:19AM
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This may be totally off ... but how does a point of reference influence our perception of balance?

If one were to step out onto RoseAbbey's patio from the house would the perception pick up on a mass over there and another over there, but the primary focus would be on the lake. Then one would realize that, "Oh, if I go to the gazebo, I'm going to have a better view of the lake?"

How does the lakefront play into this, or am I rowing my boat in the wrong direction?

I guess what I'm really trying to point out is that some of the responses have been frustrated with an apparent lack of demarkation or definition ...But doesn't something as big as a lake change things?

Several hints from RoseAbbey point to a real spaciousness here. Possibly an issue of scale?

In my neighborhood lots back up to the back fence of someone else's yard. In a way that tends to make one want to protect or enclose closer to the home, tricking the perception by blocking out the neighbor's in an effort to play with the impressions of both privacy and, oddly, spaciousness.

But if my backyard backs up to a lake, there's something different going on, isn't there?

So is "balance" here also helping to frame that primary experience? And, so, moving us over to the gazebo to get a better look?

RoseAbbey- Without knowing what your plant palate already includes, it would be hard to suggest specifics. And what do you want? Simple, elegant, somewhat formal yet natural? Low key enough that your DH won't find it distracts from the gazebo's form? What has your designer used in the front and side areas? Any favorite shrubs there that would work as the base for the gazebo bed?


    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 10:35AM
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Thanks Wellspring, I dont think you are off track at all.

We are trying to have the best of both worlds here, some privacy which we have accomplished I believe with our landscaping last fall and also keeping some fantastic views of the river.

We have a alot of different flowering shrubs and evergreens as well as perenials and quite a few types of hydrangea which we love. I was thinking of perhaps having a simple arranagement of smaller variety hydrangea around the gazebo with maybe a couple of boxwood at the gazebo entrance. In the other flowerbed where we have a couple of hydrangea already put more boxwood to give it the "weight" it needs. We would like to keep it simple and elegant. Thoughts?

    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 12:22PM
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I don't like box. Visually, I do. It's the smell. To me it ought to be called "cat box".

So ... I'm prejudiced. But there just aren't enough zone 4, 5, 6 broadleaf evergreens. Try the amazing search engine at the Missouri Botanical Garden and see what that turns up for you.

I'm needing to re-think much of my hodge-podge garden and working in small and intermediate evergreen forms is part of the plan. For needled evergreens I'm intrigued by the different chamaecyparis. They are slow growing, come in various sizes and forms, different colors, and have a softer texture than most other needled evergreens.

The Girard rhododendrons (azaleas) have been bred for colder zones. Some are evergreen. The one that MBG likes best is one I'm trying for myself. It's Girard's Rose. Hmmmm ... RoseAbbey? Yep, it's got rose colored blooms. It's evergreen. And, the foliage turns a pretty red for fall through early spring. But ... what can I say ... it's an azalea, so it'll be picky about where you put it and what sort of soil it's in.

I like what you are thinking about with continuing to work with your hydrangeas. Do you already have Hydrangea quercifolia (zone 5)?

But these are, as it were, just shots in the dark.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 1:10PM
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wellspring, I never noticed that boxwood had a smell, although I have never sat around it. We usually have them in the spots you walk by or through. I will have to go out and smell it. I will do a search for broadleaf evergreens and see what I come up with , thanks for that suggestion.

I dont have the hydrangea quercifolia but I did look it up, it grows to 8 feet tall, it is a bit tall for what I am looking for around the gazebo, it is very pretty though.
If you were planting hydrangea around a gazebo would you do 8 plants, it is an eight sided gazebo, or would you do 16? Not quite sure about that.

We have one azalea, we bought late last summer when everything was going on sale. Was fairly cheap so we thought we would give it a try. It is coming along beautifully so far, we planted it in the north side of the house.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 2:47PM
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Okay, I can see the patio is Mickey's "face" and the gazebo and the tree bed are his "ears" and so can go for balance there. I also believe that laag has supernatural powers to discern some basic things that can improve that isolated area without knowing much about the rest of the back property. (I really mean that it may be so obvious that a few things would help and you can do those and get a sense of accomplishment without getting all bogged down about the larger design issues).

But I am still interested in more of the whole. Even just focusing on the patio, I am interested in what makes the patio feel good and useful, or not. Just from that one shot, I feel a need for enclosure (not view-blocking, but for cozy-ness).

I have no idea what it "feels" like to walk out on the patio and where the eye goes--as in wellspring's post--and how that might influence what is good for the patio and the gazebo and all the related stuff.

I am not getting the sense that the ways the small-picture landscape choices affect the overall integration of house and site are important to you right now and if that is correct, then you will be aware that
"design" conversations will go in a different direction than if one were trying to ground the house, frame the views, and all that.

I guess you are aware that oak-leaf hydrangeas are available in dwarf forms.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 1:17PM
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No supernatural power, just observation that it is very unlikely that a picture would have been taken from this angle in such an open setting if there was anything at all close by to influence this space. The long shadows and their direction did not hurt either. The tree and gazebo are framing the open space across the back of the patio. They either want it open for activity or a view or something else.

I'm a big picture guy, but there is a lot of evidence that the OP is looking to create space in the immediate area of the patio with it open to the back for whatever reason.

People photograph landscapes the way that they are thinking about them. This person is thinking about the patio space.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 8:21PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

There are different kinds of boxwood and only one smells. Problem is, I can't remember which one. If it smells, you'll likely already know it. A neighbour of my parents has a front planting of it, and the whole area just reeks as if of tomcat pee. The planting's been there for years - it obviously doesn't bother some people - it doesn't even bother me that much, really. But it's not for surrounding a gazebo or a patio. An internet search for "boxwood cat pee" or something to that effect should quickly reveal which one not to buy.

I am not sure that Laag's description evokes a mathematical/geometric/formal arrangement of shrubs around the gazebo relating to its shape but rather a more naturalistic grouping/flowing look that will de-emphasize its geometry. If the latter is what you're going for (and I would argue that would best match the planting style of the front), then I think the idea would be groupings of two or three hydrangeas here or there in the bed, or single hydrangeas grouped with other types of plants for good foliage/size/shape/flower contrast.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 8:37PM
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We have 42 trees/evergreens planted on this two acre lot, not counting the liliac bushes along the back. 28 trees are in the back. Most are scattered along the sides and back of the property for privacy. By the patio and gazebo which didnt show in the picture except for the one in the bed are 4 trees, 4 locust and 1 magnolia, for privacy/coziness and shade. There is an open area past the locust, in the middle of the property which we like to keep, there is the septic tank and we like the open space for our grandsons to play soccer on. Anyway, the reason for my original posting was to get ideas how to landscape the patio/gazebo area, we are very happy with the rest of our landscaping so please dont dwell on the landscaping of the whole property.

KarinL, I like the naturalistic grouping/flowing look you suggest. I think I will plant something I already have in the back along with the hydrangea to have continuity, instead of planting something totally different. Thanks

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 10:19AM
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