What to plant around new patio border??

judysgardens(7)April 27, 2007

I'm hoping to get some help designing this border to make it a cozy, private area where my DH and I sit, entertain, and enjoy the view. As you can see from the pictures I've included, this patio is situated off the street side of our house. Even though it's not an extremely busy street, cars and people frequently go by and look up at us and we feel we're right out there on display.

Click on the link below and look at the album called "Patio Extension"

As you can see from the picture with the markings on it, we are going to remove the strip of grass, and put flagstone pavers in extending our current cement patio, the circle represents a 3-tier fountain for the noise effect and we are going to leave a 3 foot border around the outside perimeter for plantings. We don't want whatever we plant to grow too tall to block the mountain view, but tall enough that when we're sitting out there, we have privacy from the street below.

Here are the conditions of the site, full sun and has irrigation. I live in the pacific northwest, zone 7. The root systems of the plants, shrubs, etc. cannot be too extensive, because it will be close to the retaining wall structure. The shrubs that you see there now have been removed, they were Escallonias and they flowered all summer, but attracted a huge number of bees that swarmed around the area. Not good for a patio border!

So, what I'm looking for is a layering effect. Shrubs along the back consisting of a mix of evergreen and decidious, layered in front with some perinnials. I want there to be a nice effect of foilage color and texture contrast. Some flowering plants that will not attract many bees. And interest through the spring, summer and fall months.

I know that's a big order! I'm open for suggestions, please!!


Here is a link that might be useful: Patio Extension Photos

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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

I'd be curious to see the view from the road up toward your patio. Do you have any plantable area below the masonry? I'm thinking it *might* work to plant something below that is just tall enough for you to see over, but that blocks the upward view from the road. Looking down onto flowering shrubs or a flowering tree canopy can be a wonderful view, and might not have the tight space constrictions presented by the little patio border. If the plants below run interference for you, you could grow something smaller up top. Or it might not work at all, I can't tell from the photos.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 3:20PM
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Hi Catkim - thanks for the quick response! I didn't take pictures from that view, but I will this weekend and add them to the webshots album. Right on the other side of the retaining wall going down the slope are 12 Mock Orange shrubs which should grow about 8 feet tall and should flower beautifully. However, last summer, there were no flowers on them, but it was just their second season from bare root plantings. That's not really enough height to do what you suggested. I think your suggestion is a good one, but I really don't want to remove those. One problem is that most medium to fast growing evergreen or deciduous trees are too tall, and the shorter, slow growing ones grow so slow that it would take several years to get some privacy. I know what you mean that the border is narrow and does not allow for a lot of plantings. I was thinking of spacing it out with a few shorter variety Rhodies, maybe a few Dwarf Hinoki's, maybe some showy grasses, stuff like that. What do you think?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 3:55PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

The other issue you have is that a retaining wall topped by upright growing plants - if it's height you want - always looks a little odd from the retaining wall side, in this case the street. Something growing over the wall and drooping usually looks better, and would also hide the bony ankles of any shrubs you plant.

Your idea for the narrow border at the top of the wall actually sounds pretty good for making a nice border, and the grasses may be just the thing for privacy, and they would also give some of that sweeping look that will soften the wall. But those big grasses might have big root systems? You'd have to select rhodo varieties that like the sun up there too. And would hinokis give you the height you want fast enough?

I think if I had it to do I would use smaller grasses or creeping junipers along the outside edge at the wall, and then group a couple of feature deciduous and evergreen shrubs to do the screening, punched up with a few perennials you like along the edge of the patio.

The idea of trees below is one I like - it is all too seldom realized that a screen doesn't have to BE right where you want the screening. Why not plant some fast and some slow-growing trees if you have space for any, and take out the fast growers as the slowpokes get to size? Some mock oranges can actually get to more than 8 feet, so they might even do the job, and they bloom reasonably in partial shade in case you can intersperse some trees there.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 6:34PM
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saypoint(6b CT)

Three feet isn't much space, you'll barely fit any shrubs in there, much less have space for layering. I'm not familiar with what grows in your zone, but a series of trellis panels will take up almost no space, and you can get instant screening at the exact height you need. Maybe a square pattern trellis, not the diagonal ones which care a bit overused. You could even have something custom made, or try it yourself if you're handy, and cut out a "window" in it where it's not needed for screening the road.

A climbing vine that flowers and attracts butterflies or hummingbirds would dress it up and give you something to look at if you ever get tired of the view.

Otherwise, a simple hedge that's kept trimmed, or tall grasses as suggested previously.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 7:06PM
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KarinL - that's a good idea about planting something that will drop over the wall. What do you suggest? I don't have too much experience in hanging vine type plants. I think if I can at least start out with hinokis that are about 3 feet high, that would at least give us some privacy when we're sitting at the patio table. They get about 4-5 feet tall, so they'd probably be the right size eventually. I bought 3 Rhodie PJM's and it says they do grow well in the sun and I do have irrigation for them. And they get 4-5 feet tall.

And, when I'm looking at the grasses, I will talk to the nursery staff about the root systems. Do you have any recommendations?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 7:15PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

The junipers I was referring to would be the carpeting types, 'Blue Rug' or 'Motherlode' or similar, which creep along the ground if it is flat but grow over the edge and down a wall when they encounter it. I suppose if your wall is really high you could consider clematis or other vines to go over the edge, but you'd have to be able to get at the wall from below to do annual maintenance. If you took Saypoint's idea of the trellises, which I can also visualize being quite nice, the vines could also tumble right down the other side quite fetchingly. It could look pretty cool. Other than that I'm not sure what plants are usually used to go over walls... I've seen some but can't name them all. They're usually not so much vining as mat-forming; they just form their mats vertically!

I was thinking that smaller arching grasses, like Carex testacea or dipsacea, would just soften the edge of the wall; of course they woudn't really droop further. Those root systems would probably be no threat, but the bigger Miscanthus types would concern me there. Their bases tend to become quite massive, I think.

It's funny to debate whether three feet is much space or not, but I garden on a city lot that is only 25 ft wide and most of my beds are 1-2 feet wide, never mind 3... that seems like oodles of room to me! I simply prune a fair amount so that my shrubs only consume the headspace I want them to have, and so they have a high canopy and I can plant under and around them.

Of course the other thing about this project is that it won't be written in stone. Why not try a sort of hedge of the rhodos and hinokis and see how it looks; you can always add or amend in future years.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 11:15PM
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KarinL - I've added 2 more photos so you can see what it looks like from the street side of the wall. You can see the Mock Orange shrubs in front of the wall. They're only about 4 feet tall right now.

The junipers sound like a good idea. I would like to have something creep over the wall. The wall is only 4-5 feet tall and I really don't want something that I'll have to get out there and maintain. And, the Mock Orange shrubs may grow tall enough to add some privacy from that side of the wall.

I also think 3 feet is enough space to make a nice border. I will prune things back so they don't encroach on the patio too much but flow onto it some to soften it. I really don't want a hedge look, I don't really like the neat, manicured look. I don't think I'll go for the trellis because I really don't want to have a wall of any kind to block the view. And, like you said, what doesn't work can always be changed! :)

    Bookmark   April 29, 2007 at 1:56PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Looking at the last photo, the trees at the bottom of the slope may grow tall enough to begin to screen the view in just a couple of years. Make a border you will enjoy, and don't worry about the screening too much.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2007 at 5:34PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Those photos help a lot, Judy, and in view of them, I think Catkim's idea is really the one to go with in the long term. Even if the trees at the bottom of the slope don't do the trick, a couple of trees mid-slope certainly would - beeches maybe? I planted one for my parents yesterday so they're on my mind.

But you need screening short-term, and for that I would indeed plant shrubbery around the patio, maybe even something quick-growing so it functions in the next couple of years. You can take them out once your trees grow in. some shrubs that put on lots of annual growth would work - for me, Vitex and Leycesteria are two that do. Coloured-stem type dogwoods too. Oh, but bees... maybe your rhodos and hinokis remain best.

The moral of the story is really that screening doesn't need to be right in front of either the viewer or the viewee; it just needs to intervene between the two.

I also wonder if you've thought about the edge of the wall from a safety standpoint - don't know if you ever have inebriated guests, small children, or, like me, have clumsy moments yourself! Shrubbery serves that function too, although a little fence under which those ground covers creep over the wall might not hurt either.

Anyway, lots of options... and room to try them! Should be fun.


    Bookmark   April 30, 2007 at 1:08PM
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Gosh KarinL - you are so right about the safety issue. I do have a little 2 1/2 year old granddaughter who comes over often and loves to run around outside. I think I'll put a 2 foot edging of the green fabric deer fencing woven through the border plantings. You shouldn't be able to see it and it will prevent any accidents. Thanks for thinking of that!!

I don't think the evergreens we planted at the bottom of the slope will really serve as privacy for the patio in anytime in the next 10 years or so. We planted them for privacy towards the bottom of the slope where we plan to put a garden and sitting area under the flowering cherry trees down there. And, it's a great place to throw the ball and play with our golden retriever. We should have good privacy in a couple of years for that. But, I do think that the Mock Orange shrubs will grow taller and along with whatever I plant on the patio border, the combination should give us good privacy on the patio.

Thank you and everyone else who responded for all the great information. I'm looking forward to putting it all together and enjoying it this summer!


    Bookmark   April 30, 2007 at 1:50PM
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I have one more question about this retaining wall, patio project. I think I'd like to put something to gradually cover the retaining wall itself. Like some kind of flowering vines growing up or creeping ground plants that drop over and hang down. I know the Mock orange shrubs will bush out and hide most of it, but I think it will look fuller with something on the wall. The material used on the wall were just plain cement stone-like blocks. Maybe something evergreen so when the mock orange loose their leaves in the winter, there is still something there.

What do you think?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 12:48PM
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