Very small, sloping, north facing front yard for older house

TamarashMay 11, 2012

I have waffled for years on what to do with my tricky front yard. It is North facing , sloping and very small. I think it could really be spectacular if I only knew where to begin!

I was thinking of landscaping the entire area, maybe using short retaining walls.

Does anyone have any better suggestions?

If you click on the picture, it will lead you to a total of three front views.


May 10, 2012

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Azaleas like North facing.I use different color azaleas combinations.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 4:17AM
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Your house looks beautiful but I think it could use some lighting up. I'd personally paint the stair banister white to create a better entry focal point.

What if you were to put a climbing vine up either side of the entry. Something longer blooming and aromatic would make sitting on your wonderful porch that much more delightful. A climbing hydrangea could be beautiful too. I would place a row of bright color flowers in front of that similar to your last picture. You could perhaps make the bed 1-2' deeper then the one you have in your pic though. The grass if fine but I'm about low maintenance and would remove the grass with a some type of grass alternative ground cover.

When I see front yards similar to yours, I prefer the more simple ones. The ones that have a multitude of different plantings seem like they are trying too hard.

Perhaps Design could make you up a rendering of this. It's just an idea but sometimes ideas aren't so great in reality.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 9:12AM
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Could you post a photo (full size and directly into the thread) that is taken from straight on? Please say where in zone 7 you are.

How do you envision the front tree(s) when fully grown... with a low hanging mass of foliage that nearly obliterates the view of your entire house? Or with a cathedral-like canopy that towers shelteringly above it? If the latter, it is past time to begin working on the ultimate goal. In the sketch I'm trying to illustrate that you should be removing the lower 1/2 of branches as the tree grows. If you wait until much later to remove the branch, it will be much more work. Instead of removing a 1" diameter branch, you may be removing an 8" or 10" dia. branch. A much larger scar would need to heal. Not only will the trunk be more disfigured, but the unwanted branch may disfigure branch growth above it. It is far better to remove branches in ANTICIPATION of how the tree is to become than as a REACTION to its "past due" state.

A low, well done retaining wall made of nice materials could look fine... even classy. But it's hardly necessary to make your yard function properly. If you're just looking to doll the place up and money's no object, have at it. With the small lawn, a more conservative approach would be to replace the grass with groundcover for a more "cushioned" look, a little more interest and less maintenance (ultimately.)

As far as planting goes, what you have now looks weak. It would be better to be bold, strong... simple. (But need the straight on photo to show it.) Is there any need for screening (in a "filtered" way) the side views from inside the porch?

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 10:33AM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Instead of retaining walls what about an aluminum fence to coordinate with the porch railings?

Here is a link that might be useful: Jerith aluminum fences

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 11:55AM
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Thanks to everyone for the responses.
I will have look for a front facing photo, but I am out of the country till the end of July. Hopefully I have one in my iphotos.

We are in the Hampton Roads area of Viriginia - zone 7b.

At the moment we have an 8 year old elm tree in front of the house, and everything else is shrubs (gardenias and small box wood)or annuals. After several years of fixing up the inside of the house, I am ready to take on the outside.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 5:24PM
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    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 10:42AM
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    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 7:17PM
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Tamarash, I have questions pending so not sure if you saw or understood my response. Will be on hold until answers or pictures come.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 11:33PM
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Yardvaark, sorry for not addressing your questions sooner. I am working on getting a head on picture of my yard.

I am envisioning an open inviting area. We spend much time on our porch socializing with neighbors and friends. It is not a place we are trying to close off for privacy.

Between our side walk and street is a grassy median where an elm tree is growing slightly off center. Legally, we are not allowed to do much to the tree besides very gentle trimming as that land and tree technically belong to the city. Pruning it up should not be a problem.

Bold. simple and strong are exactly what I would like. I want to replace the grass with ground cover especially since the slope makes maintenance cutting unpleasant.

My heart is not set on a retaining wall by any means. I just want something that will look put together. Right now, we love sitting on our porch as a family or with friends, but the yard itself is not enjoyable, just functional. Since this is a place we spend a fair amount of time, I want to be able to enjoy our view.

I have asked a neighbor to send me a better picture. Hope fully I will be able to get it up today or tomorrow - we are 6 hours ahead here in Germany.

Thanks again for the tips and advice.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2012 at 4:40AM
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Tam, I'm not trying to pester you. I just didn't want you wondering, well, why is no one coming back with more? It's hard to move ahead when questions are not answered or comments not addressed.

All of what you say sounds reasonable. The nice thing about small front yards like this is that they are so easily do-able.

Will wait for that new picture and see where we go from there. No rush. Please post the picture full size.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2012 at 11:20AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

The head-on picture is not really necessary since you are landscaping for your own enjoyment from inside the space rather than for curb appeal and tree decisions.

I have a very similar porch and the thing that jumps out at me first from your photo is that the view from your porch is likely just grass unless you are actually leaning over the railing or sitting ON the steps. I actually do both, so very much enjoy the plantings near the house, but overall for there to be a nice view from the porch or front door, the "garden" should be at the public sidewalk part of the yard, not at the house.

Moving the garden to the sidewalk side would alleviate the need to put groundcover on the slope, which is fraught with problems if you've ever tried to establish and maintain groundcover in this sort of setting. Grass has evolved into the most popular groundcover for a reason.

I would tend to retain the slope... but there are a couple of ways to do it. You can do rocks on the slope integrated into the plantings, you can do a wall right at the public walk and along your walk to your stairs and fill it - this will constrain your walkway a bit - or you can do it more even with your stairs - cutting into the slope and creating a flat apron (of grass) outside of it.

You can have plantings all the way back to the house - it really all depends on how much of a gardener you are. If the row of boxwoods and matching azaleas (?) is your look - less is more could work well. Landscaping is done to reflect the people in the house, not just the house. Whatever the plant look, significant use of hardscape in the way of a wall or stones will enhance it by framing it and providing structure.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 13, 2012 at 11:47AM
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