Cottage-eque to make it look manicured?

melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)May 4, 2012

I am pretty happy with our front yard landscape. There is no lawn, and I have trees/shrubs/perennials everywhere. When I'm working in the front yard, I feel so happy, I think it's a pleasant place to be. There are lots of bugs and birds, it feels like a little oasis in our neighborhood of lawns and meatball shrubs LOL!

However, my DH practically hates it. He says it's unkempt and disheveled. I have been working on the yard for ten years now, but I feel like I'm just spinning my wheels trying to make it look more appealing to him (he says the yard looks embarrassing). I'm ready to capitulate and try to achieve something less personalized.

Mainly I'm trying to add some organization and uniformity. Along the house I've taken out mixed plantings and am having only 2-3 types of plants together. For example, along the walkway on the left side is a narrow planter, about 2 1/2 feet deep (between garage and walkway). It now contains only "Egyptian Ibis" daylilies and peppermint. And along the front of the house, I've taken out a lot of things and it will be only "Veitchii" gardenia and some groundcovers (baby tears mainly).

The other thing in the works will be to add some one-block-high terraces (probably three terraces, each 15-ish feet long) to the steeper hillside (we are on a corner lot). This will help with "mulch erosion" (happens every time it rains, we are tired of it) and will probably make that area look more visually organized.

To be totally honest, I can see my DHs point. When I stand across the street and look at the yard, it DOES have a haphazard feel. But when I am in it and I look at things up close, I think it looks great ;-)

I wondered what other kinds of things could be done to make it look more maintained and less "wild"? I'm looking for more generalized ideas, like what makes a cottage-style garden look organized rather than messy? For what it's worth, our landscaping budget is negligible. The BIG feature/expense will be the DIY terracing. But I have a TON of plants, many of which can be divided or propageted if I need more of the same.

Thanks :-)


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A pic is thousands words.
You really need to post some pics that show the context and situated and conditions(if have,include drainage irrigation)and the property
and the perimeter line of the yard and You need one that shows the overall yard from the street(They are not too close up).
first upload photo to any photo-hosting site.Photobucket and Flickr are examples . While at that photo on the site,
look for a link to "share." Then look for a way of obtaining "html code" (don't select the thumbnail version.)
Copy that code and paste it directly into your message here.
You should tell me that sun light time(or where face?) and climate and soil,or local name.
I prefer to add some ideas on some intention is to avoid the result is very different from your image and
wordy suggests,help you easy read and visual understand a couple of examples of how to tie it all together and
great planting combinations and contrast and shrubs nice mix and coordinate colors.
Don't worry the budget
suggests+unskilled labors+DIYers=nice SAVE MONEY gardening.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 12:52PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

I can post pictures, but mainly I was looking for general ideas rather than specific things for our front yard.

Like if there were any "rules" to reign in cottage style LOL! Be back with photos, and I guess w/some of my specific ideas.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 1:00PM
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I think the terracing will help it look less frazzled. Several houses in my neighborhood have similar front yards - no grass, cottage-feel. The ones that look better are the ones where the plants are tended and pruned when necessary. Having the shrubs and trees pruned up when appropriate and having swaths of the same or similar plants makes it looked planned and not thrown together. They also usually have some amount of non-plant material whether it's rock terraces or low picket fences or pathways.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 1:17PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Our neighborhood has cottage-style and trashy-style. I think one in particular was shooting for cottage, but just missed the mark. Too much stuff placed haphazardly.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 1:39PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

If you've perused the forum (and I think you have, I recognize your name?) then you know what will happen if you post photos, so if you don't want that, you need not do so - it won't necessarily improve the discussion. Many people can give you overall guidelines in words - especially a couple of us who have been there, done that... basically, coming to landscape design from gardening.

I think you are going somewhat in the wrong direction with reducing plant variety, and somewhat in the right direction with the terracing.

Stand across the street from your garden, and you should see some overall shapes stand out. These will not necessarily be the shapes of the beds, although they can be, and certainly will not be the shapes of the plants, but perhaps the shape of the negative spaces, if there are any. If there are not any, there should be - they can be path or patio if they are not lawn. Hardscape or clear edging can help those shapes stand out, and can create an overall impression of lines delineating the space. This is what your terracing will be doing.

Plants are, in the end, mostly green blobs. I'm an up-close gardener too, but every vignette needs a frame of some sort. If you've created a lovely quality of space, it may just be lines, frames, definitions, that are needed to give it an overall attractiveness as a frame for your house as well.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 1:48PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

Oh yeah, I've been on GardenWeb for years...not so active for a while (I have a 7 year old and a 3 year old). I'm just starting to have time to work in the yard again LOL! :-)

I took pics, but really they just make the yard look like an ugly mish-mash...perhaps the "trashy" look of someone who tried but missed the mark (how embarrassing, but possibly true).

Oh well. This is the side of the front that will get a few one-brick-tall terraces...they will be split-faced cinder blocks like the ones used in the low retaining wall to the backyard.

The terraces will end, sort of by "dying" into the side, close to this stand of birch trees:

I LOVE the birch trees! Years ago, GWers recommended that I really ought to take out the trees. They totally block the front view. But they give us some nice privacy and they are really so pretty. I love their grace and I just can't bear to see them go. Not to mention our front faces north-WEST, with full sun all of the afternoon (and deep shade near the house until the full sun hits).

I'm not kidding, I probably spent the first 3-5 years just figuring out what kind of plants can tolerate deep shade followed up by full sun in CA ;-)

We don't have ANY clear beds/bed shapes, perhaps that's part of the problem. Recently DH installed a low brick border around a bed in the backyard and it really did make an amazing difference. Perhaps I need to think about that in our front, too.

I love to use mulch in all the beds, and mulch the "pathways" around the beds...but all the mulch blending together may be a visual issue.

Also I have a dwarf Bearss Lime and a semi-dwarf Owarii Satsuma that I want to plant in the front yard as well.

I'm planning them for on the right side of this walkway, where it's sunny (10:30am)...the left side is the daylily/peppermint area I mentioned earlier.

This spot is so perfect for them, light-wise/drainage-wise. I also think that the house will benefit to have some evergreen trees, much of the yard goes dormant in the winter (not everything, but all the trees currently are deciduous). Most of what you see there is going to be tilled or somehow removed. I've been taking out the daylilies and iris, and what is left are planting "mistakes". I'm imagining something very basic, the citrus trees and either ground cover or mulch (or both). And MAYBE a clump or two of iris. But I'm planning to move most of the iris to either the terraced area or the birch trees.

The area under the front window is where the rest of the "Veitchii" gardenias will go. But I am still taking stuff out and we need to add dirt. There is one gardenia there now and it's done well for the past 10 years (I planted it when we moved in).

So -- eagerly ready to do some clean-up and pull things together!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 2:33PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Here, the standard solution is lines. Having negative space that is recognizable as a geometric shape can work wonders on mentally organizing a garden. Clean, crisp edges are pretty much a necessity.

This is a Beatrix Farrand garden in Hyde Park. There is a secondary path about 2/3rds of the way across the bed. The paths are straight, with very noticable edges.

I'd start by weeding, and making a clear edge between the beds and the driveway. That should actually help a great deal.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 3:17PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

mad_gallica -- yes a lot of weeds/junk grows up through the pavers/little rocks. I've been trying to get creeping thyme established but it grows so slowly. There are places that have it, then the rest looks ug-lee. I didn't realize the weeds had as much effect as they do, but maybe I have just been in denial!

Thanks for that photo, I can see that defining line, between the grass and the bed, makes it look more crisp!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 3:36PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

I just found this on Google:

I guess the hardscaping/borders/lines effect IS missing, considerably, in the yard; most of these photos show a cottage-ey planting next to a path or a border...and in my yard its just one giant planting!

Would it help if I moved the plants so they were more lined up? Or more geometrically spaced/planted rather than kind of "scattered" (cause when I see the photos, they look scattered -- even though when I am IN the yard I still think they look great).

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 3:46PM
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I think there are at several things you could do to dramatically improve the appearance of the front yard.

1.) Create a distinct separation between tree canopy and whatever grows below. Remember that a tree's canopy creates a "ceiling" for your person or for your view. A good rule of thumb is that, at minimum, you ought to be able to physically stand upright below the canopy. Even better, lift the canopy some so that it's not scraping the top of your head. Even better still, lift it sufficiently that you could jump and wave your arms without scraping it. Like a higher ceiling inside a house, it will "feel" better than one that is dragging low. Usually, removal of lower branches results in greater growth at the top of the tree so it's not as though there is much net loss of canopy. Neither will this diminish significantly shade that affects the house. Additionally, plants below the tree get more light and perform better.

2.) Work toward a goal of not having exposed mulch as right now the yard looks a bit like a bird molting. Where mulch is exposed, add plants, or encourage existing plants to expand into those areas. Near bed edges, find mat-forming plants that will cover mulch. It would be my preference to have greater uniformity in these low plants so that they worked as a team to linked the taller plants together. I would concentrate on taking care of the edges first as what's beyond is less obvious than what's at the edges. And since much goes dormant during the winter, I'd look for a mat-forming/ groundcover type plant that is evergreen or has a great winter look. The edges are critical.

3.) As Tanowicki mentioned, I "second" keeping the plants well-groomed at all times. And keep all weeds eradicated.

4.) It is not clear where the edge of the driveway is in your 2nd picture. Define it clearly.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 4:09PM
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Look at these pictures for some inspiration. Closer to your neck of the woods, maybe - at least in California.

Here is a link that might be useful: From the Cottage Garden Forum

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 4:19PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

SWOON that is a lush and gorgeous yard! I forgot about the Cottage Gardens forum ;-) Our front yard does NOT feel lush, not at all. And I am a stingy water-er, which doesn't help come July and August.

I went out for a while and just did some clean-up/trimming. I think I have a much longer road ahead of me than I realized...but with "clean borders" in mind I go!

I have a lot of society garlic in the backyard that has outgrown it's space/welcome. I was going to throw it out, it's so dull. BUT maybe that's what I should put as borders to help define the spaces. It's free (so fits the budget) and pretty darn tough.

Yardvaark -- > thank you for mentioning the tree canopy. I had not realized it but the canopy on those trees HAS gotten lower than it used to be. I forget that the weeping habit of birch makes them grow down. I think you used to be able to see the house from under them LOL.

I haven't really done a lot in the yard since my second son I totally appreciate all your thoughts/comments. It's helping me see things with "fresh eyes"!

Question: there is an area that I can envision creating a LARGE bed with a border, but we also walk through a path there quite often. I've always thought of it as two separate beds, but if we put stepping stones along the "path" can I still design/plant/border it as ONE large bed rather than two divided by a path?

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 5:07PM
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I think if you made a defined path through the bed, you could still plant it as if it were one bed. If you look at the photo mad_gallica posted, you can make out the secondary path (just barely) and the garden at that point is designed as one garden with a path through it.

You may want to go with a different material for the path to make it super clear. That could be as simple as a different size mulch or even a different type of mulch in the beds (something less woody) and the woody mulch in the path. There's someone on the boards who's done this to great effect in their yard but I can't think of the name.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 5:28PM
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It looks like you bit off more than you can maintain. There are lovely plants, but there are seas of barrenness and a lot of weeds in between.

Especially in the first picture, you have a lot of plants with a great shape. You need more definition and shape elsewhere, and the bare patches should be more filled in.

With that particular style, an easy combination is spikes + mounds. You have lots of nice mounds in the first picture--now fill in all the bare places with veronica, salvia, and lavender. Squeeze in a patch of SUBSTANTIAL bearded irises and daylilies, planted tightly together. Garden phlox or hollyhocks could back it up. Right now, you have short stuff at top, when that should be where the tallest is. Move what you have up by the tiny tree down to the edge, and fill that space with substantial things.

You don't have the typical "too messy" cottage garden, where both weeds and flowers are 4' tall and bursting out everywhere. Instead, you have a bit of a haphazard, scattered garden. It needs MORE, not less, and it needs heavier mulch and more weeding.

There is so much open space that if you don't have major plant purchasing in the budget, I'd say it'd look better to move a lot of the plants so that you have complete beds where you really want them and put lawn back in the center/super wide path/whatever.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 12:15AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

So first I better say that I concede that with the photos, it is possible to give much more focussed advice.

That said, all the general advice still stands. But plant selection is more of an issue than I would have anticipated from what you wrote.

What I'm doing in this post is going to sound like unrelenting critique, but please understand that in my view, naming the problem is always a crucial precursor to solving it. And how can I see these problems/mistakes? I've made 'em all myself :-)

Part of the problem is with the word "cottage" garden, and what that means vs. what you actually have. Note that the photos of the "successful" cottage garden are more perennials, where your garden is more shrubs. That's an issue because your shrubs have mostly the same form - they are balls. If you were to take the cottage garden photos and make them black and white, you would see a lot of plant form supporting the impression that the flowers make.
That form comes from different types of perennials. And, I might add, a lot of built structures to support/frame them and as focal points.

As for the flowers themselves, perennials and roses tend to have much showier ones than the shrubs you have - tiny flowers, little impact.

In truth, what you have is more of a woodland/desert scrub look due to the trees and shrubs. BUT before you destroy that by limbing up the trees, consider that (a) much of your privacy probably comes from that birch curtain, and (b) even if you limb it up or give it a haircut, the growing conditions under it will be challenging - and it may be hard to dig in those terracing blocks or establish any new plants.

And also in truth, you do sort of have a lawn area; just that there is no grass in it :-) It seems to be an open area that is undefined and unassigned.

Two other bad news things: one is the strip by the garage. These are very challenging spots. Plants don't grow well in them, and they're very hard to make attractive. In your case, I'd almost be inclined to make that one river rock. I sympathize with being a plant collector, but those are doing nothing for your space. What you could do is look at low-growing succulents, either in attractive pots placed among the river rock, or in the ground.

Finally, it is incongruous that with an all-over garden, you've got plants at the foundation. So you've both rejected a standard foundation planting (and blocked the perspective from which that is most often appreciated) and also got one.

The transition from gardening to landscaping starts with stepping back from the individual identity of your plants and seeing them as contributors to the big picture. This means you see them as a form (eg, low perennial vs. daylily so-and-so). This helps when shopping, where you look at potential purchases this way instead of just with "I like the close-up photo of that flower."

The other aspect of the transition is simply to start with the big picture and then adjust the details, instead of trying to assemble the details into an appealing big picture. I think the way you are visioning the big bed/pathway question is heading for disaster... the bed's location or the path's location are like the effect of the effect of the effect of a bad decision, when what you need to do is go back and revisit the decision that started the dominos in that direction.

I think you should mentally clear your slate entirely and draw a plan view of your lot. Then establish objectives for your landscaping... how you want the house framed, the house and yard shaded, views blocked or opened, and what maintenance tasks are included or excluded (primarily, that would be lawn mowing, but also, keeping rock clear of fallen leaves, sweeping concrete, whatever). Do you want your doorway to be open and airy (sunny?) or nestled and intimate? What do you want to see out the window? Having lots of space for plants is a legitimate objectives, but what plants those are is for later in the process.

Now put into your plan view any existing elements that already achieve the objectives you have in mind. Don't rule out cutting down the trees you have if they are in the wrong place. This doesn't mean you have to cut them NOW, but rather, that you can plant a new tree in a new spot and work up to taking the birches down eventually if that is what works better. Even if the trees end up staying, the process of deciding that they stay is an instructive and mentally centering one.

Third step, draw spaces on your plan view... paths where you will walk, and spaces to sit, look into, or plant in, or have kids play. How are you going to frame, define, and differentiate those spaces? Only THEN do you get to plant selection for within those spaces, and that is where, for example, selecting plants that bees like would be on your list.

Your terracing plan is a bandaid response relative to this comprehensive planning process. One of the objectives you might set is "retaining near street." The best way to do this is probably with one bigger wall rather than with three single levels. Extending the wall you have, in effect, will make it easier to manage the spaces both above and below it. The three single rows of blocks you propose are again, in effect, a bandaid on a bandaid on a bandaid.

If you commit to an extension of the back yard wall, you can put a couple of steps through it or at the end of it as it morphs into the slope under the trees.

It gets too complicated to explain the process further until you've taken some of those steps and made some of those decisions, but one thing I would encourage you to do is to do them with your husband and incorporate his thoughts about the space and appearance. I hate to admit it, but after I spent years puttering on my own in the garden it looked like heck and only when my husband put his spin on the space did we make the leap to a nice yard with a garden in it rather than one amorphous mess of plants. Our motto now is that two brains are better than one, however much they disagree, so as long as we can avoid fighting like cats, we try to deploy them that way :-)

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 1:47PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

In defense, the "sea of barrenness" used to have a bunch of plants, but I have been haphazardly digging them out or weed-whacking them down since January. I have a few more things to remove, then I will try and chemically kill the rest of the garbage there. Then it will be a relatively clean slate, in preparation for my citrus trees. I still have a ton of the EI daylilies, so I will plant them along the other side of the walkway as a border to match the daylilies all along the left side.

Love the SPIKES + MOUNDS idea...I DO have a lot of mounds and few spikes. I can find more spikes, I have a ton of spuria iris that has 4' tall leaves, perfect spikes! I hadn't realized that my supposed mass-plantings of iris are really just nothing b/c they aren't massive enough. I also have a very tall, spike-like rosemary that does well, maybe I need more of that, too!

More plants, not fewer: I'll need to wrap my mind around that because DH says there are too many plants. My toddler will nap soon, then I plan to go out and do some more work. I like to propagate things, maybe I can start a few more shrubs.

Yes, after ten years I agree that this yard was me biting off more than I could chew. :-( All the beautiful, lawn-less yards in Sunset magazine made me think I could grow something beautiful, and I've been trying, but I guess it takes more work than I realized. And I did not stick with my original plan, every year I diverged here or there...until I have this yard that I love but that I can see is one that only a mother could love ;-)

Sometimes I see the front and think that it represents my thoughts -- a lot of haphazard ideas swimming around in my head, partially implemented but in chaos and never done.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 1:59PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

Karin --

I just read all your comments, and THANK YOU for taking the time to explain things. I agree, our yard doesn't look exactly like a cottage garden, but I didn't know what else to call it! I was going for something like the low-water, xeriscape yards. And I do like it when I'm out there, but I can definitely see there are problems.

I've always thought of the front yard as having an inner, private area and the outer, public area. It's a large part of our total yard because of the type of corner we're on (the back is irregular and most of the yard is on the side, behind that retaining wall).

What kind of things could I do to make that private inner area/less private outer area idea work? Is the area just too small for something like that? Should I consider a fence of some sort, as a visual divider?

I have never considered growing succulents in that garage strip, I was afraid the leaves would get burned during summer. But, yes, I agree that the area is a challenge and it's so narrow. It's a great place for peppermint though ;-)

I'm not sure that we can DIY an extension of the retaining it's not built correctly and has cracks in it. We can't re-do it at this point, though, so we are just living with it as is.

This was my inspiration for the smaller terraces coming off the main wall; it's not exactly a match to our wall, but I thought the idea could work:

I don't know, I wasn't really prepared to consider completely re-doing the yard. I like the views from the window (our only house window that looks at the yard is my son's bedroom window. The trees are situated to provide privacy.

There is not much left to the foundation planting: the gardenia and a few calla lilies. I hadn't considered it was incongruous, but I do want something there to provide cover -- there is an ugly sewer clean out that sticks up right in the middle of the area, and was the reason I created the area (when we bought the house there was no planter there). I thought a row of gardenias would make DH happy. He loves white flowers, and they do well there b/c they get shade most of the day.

What to do...I will go and weed, and think about the things you've suggested as far as making it a clean (cleaner?) slate.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 3:14PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Rather than terraces how about a 3' tall fence? Our original kitchen garden fence was from Garden Zone. We had a problem with rust (from the inside out). I'm not sure if our humid climate played a role or not. I have a feeling it did. It might hold up beautifully in a drier climate like yours. Another option is aluminum, but that's typically more expensive.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Zone Fencing

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 3:32PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

Natal -- I like the fences you linked, but I'm not sure I see how that could help with the "mulch erosion" problem we have when it rains...that was really the main reason we thought of terracing the hillside ;-)

I was also thinking about how we USE the front yard, and I came up with it: WE DON'T. Seriously. I work in the yard, and sometimes the kids go out to catch bugs.

It's a front yard in a suburban 70s development of 0.13 - 0.18 acre sized lots, starter homes approximately 1200 sq ft. The yard just helps your house look nice, I guess. Since we're on a corner AND a hill, it's not really a good place for kids to play, especially not little boys like I have.

Mainly I wanted it to be low water and inexpensive, not a lot of $$$ going into things like hardscape (I had never planned to live here as long as we have, so didn't want to invest that kind of $). I also wanted the maintenance to be things like pruning, dividing plants, weeding. I did not like mowing the grass/weeds on the hillside, so I didn't want it to remain lawn. I do most of the upkeep, my DH has seasonal allergies and I am more of the gardener (we just don't share the same vision of what makes a nice yard).

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 3:47PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I'd suggest more massing of similar plants, and using lower growing ground cover type plants to tie areas together. Low growing perennials can be used in the same way. Since you've stated that you prefer lower water using plants, I'd stick with selecting from more drought tolerant types. Some plants that come to mind would include Nepetas, Iberis, Spanish lavender, Society Garlic, Zauschneria, lower growing manzanitas and ceanothus. I'd also suggest that massing of easy growing herbaceous perennials such as Euphorbia characias wulfenii, Lobelia laxiflora, Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve', Helliborus corsicus and taller growing flowers such as Verbena bonariensis, Kniphofia uvaria cultivars and Alstroemeria Third Harmonic and Ligtu Hybrids could give you some needed seasonal height and contrast. Soft abundant looking gardens in Sacramento might also use some of the great perennial grasses, large growers with drought tolerance and texture/height/color might include Muhlenbergia dumosa, Eleymus condensatus 'Canyon Prince' or restios such as Chondropetalum tectorum.

Massing of plant types of contrasting colors/heights/textures and season of bloom will go along ways towards making the garden look more interesting from a distance. The UC Davis Botanic Garden has a great web site with their Best Plants for valley conditions, and is also worth a visit to see the residential scaled display gardens that
are more towards the western end of the grounds.

A last suggestion would be to check out the book titled Plant Driven Design by Scott Ogden and and Lauren Springer Ogden.

As to your mulch on a slight slope that doesn't want to stay in place; if you replace it with the coarse stringy redwood bark type known colloquially as "Gorilla Hair mulch", it will mat together and stay in place on slopes. If you don't mi d the coarser appearance, it would save the need for terracing.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 7:16PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

bahia -- thank you for the plant ideas. I have a lot of Society garlic and something related to the Kniphofia uvaria called Bulbine frutescens. Both do well in the yard and I can use them as budget-friendly groundcovers. I guess I don't think of them as very exciting, but if they help tie everything together then I will use them.

I will see if those books are available through the library, they sound like they will be helpful w/my issues. :-)


    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 7:53PM
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>What kind of things could I do to make that private inner area/less private outer area idea work? Is the area just too small for something like that? Should I consider a fence of some sort, as a visual divider?

Make two bed areas--a mass along the front, going back no further than that tall shrub in the first pic and the tree clump in the overview. Then have a stretch of grass for the eye to rest, and it would be now DEFINED as "private," whether or not it is.

The other bed would be under the window and along the sidewalk--much narrower. In fact, depending on the size of the space, I might put a bed only under the window and just have the sidewalk be up against grass on the right side, if I thought the grassy area would look too squeezed. And--no terraces. I'd have the beds on the edges defined by the slope itself, with the lawn as a flat pane above them.

And since you would have a lawn area, your DH might be much happier at the lack of constant "stuff."

You could also fill that area between the wall and the sidewalk with cannas, if it faces any way but north. (I'm on a canna kick now, aren't I?) They're my go-to solution for hot-climate narrow, miserable sunny spaces that would benefit from height. There have been cannas in a sun-blasted spot between a sidewalk, the driveway, the house, and a 6' fence at my parents' house for 20 years, and they have NEVER missed a step.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 3:48AM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

reyesuela -- it's interesting that you suggested cannas for that narrow garage bed; I had cannas there for a couple seasons. They did really well, but looked barren during winter. They were bright red, maybe I'd like white ones better.

I am not sure if we're going to still do terraces or not; if the shredded redwood won't wash off, then that is probably better for our time/budget, and will allow me to buy a few more plants to fill in the barren parts of the "outer area" But if DH is still interested in terracing, maybe we'll do it anyway.

My DH says he doesn't want a lawn (that's what he said this morning), but maybe we can grow a nice groundcover in the bare area of the "inner area"? I really like ornamental strawberry, although I know it can send little runners out like crazy.

Prior to all the mixed shrubs, etc, on the slope I grew a huge patch of Myoporum parvifolium. DH says he loved it, but I found it Dullsville. However, maybe that would be a good choice, too, for a groundcover on the inner area. I think ornamental strawberry accepts more foot traffic tho.

When I talked to DH about it this morning, it was clear that he's still pretty mad that we no longer have all the myoporum.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 11:20AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

ditto : more massing of the same type of plant and a low groundcover to tie it all together.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 11:34AM
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Cannas are about the only thing with height that will really behave itself well there! Bamboo is evergreen, but you HAVE to commit to controlling runners with a root barrier. Cannas would look a lot more "together," and however bare in winter, it'd took great all spring, summer, and fall.

>My DH says he doesn't want a lawn (that's what he said this morning), but maybe we can grow a nice groundcover in the bare area of the "inner area"?

Yes on groundcover, no on strawberry. I have it. I hatehatehatehate it. Hate it. HATE IT. It's pretty impossible to control in the flower beds. At this point, I mostly ignore it and the violets and just plant around them. Life's too short for THAT much weeding. (The strawbery scrambles over mulch and goes through it.)

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 11:42AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Seems to me that "more of the same" knitted together with groundcover is a workable solution for the slope, but doesn't quite give you the privacy you are after. For that I think you need a buffer of taller shrubs, and for maximum effect those should be at the top of the slope.

Gradual slopes really are the devil; my yard has a couple of gradual slopes and it has taken me years to come to grips with them. Seems to me there are two options: you either flatten them out with a retaining wall, or you exaggerate them, even if only in your mind. I think the latter is the right approach here if you can solve your mulch-washing problem in another way.

The primary problem with your yard at the moment is, I think, just too much amorphousness. Amorphous slope, amorphous plantings, amorphous open area, amorphous driveway shape, even amorphous lot shape. To begin to address this, I think you need clear boundaries. Again, this doesn't have to happen on the ground right away. It has to happen in your head. Day to day decisions that make sense will flow from that.

You can begin by delineating a boundary at the top edge of the slope. From there outward, I would consider that the public face of your yard. It has no function other than to look pleasing. Budget and logic may dictate that you use fairly dense low plantings, knit together with groundcover - the groundcover your husband likes seems like a good idea (and/or the mulch that won't wash away).

At the top of the slope, however, I would recommend a taller border of shrubs, some of which seem to already be in the yard but not necessarily in the right place. That's your "fence." You could even put an actual fence there at some point.

Inside that shrub boundary is truly private space. It's your horticultural playground and a space that is not so easily seen into. But again, boundaries will help that space look nice. I've scribbled around a bit with what I fondly imagine might be a plan view of your yard with an idea of what kind of shapes you might use.

One thing to remember is that to overcome problems, sometimes we have to regard as variables even things that seem to be absolutely fixed. For example, the assumption that you must put a bed under that window. An ugly sewer cleanout can be disguised in any number of ways - a pot, a birdbath, an obelisk, you name it. So if I had my druthers, I think I would take this "patio" space to the window, build around the cleanout, and then put something in front of it. You already know from your garage bed that it is really hard to make a bed like this look nice. (I don't know your plants, but maybe cannas can be used in the bed by the garage).

Now, this "patio" again can exist at least for now, only in your mind. You can plant your trees in it, but what having it "delineated" does is prevent you from mistaking it for a flower bed. Whether it is eventually a lawn, or a paver patio, or an expanse of mulch, is up to you - the point is, you know to keep it clear under the trees.

If you do want to pave it, or some semblance of it, that can be cheap in your area. No base layers needed, and can be done just with plain concrete slabs from the big box store (24x24 are nice, but hard to handle unless you'll have hubby's help and the use of a hand truck!). Watch craigslist - you never know. If the area is open and defined, you can pave any time, or not at all.

I'm a novice with Paintbrush, and couldn't figure out how to open the crayon box today, so this is all done in one colour, but is hopefully clear. Just a suggestion based on some guesses, and maybe an illustration of what it can do for your thought processes to draw it on paper.

Karin L

PS if you can't solve your mulch problem, consider making a wall of those blocks you are planning to buy anyway, with an apron of low growth outside it and the tall shrubs inside it.

PPS the Xs below are meant to be approximate locations of your new trees.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 1:22PM
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I change the yard frame,add curve,make plants and the yard combination and contrast and are some expensive,but you could select some ideas from it.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 10:15PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

I planted several "Tuscan Blue" rosemary shrubs today (near the top), to add privacy, height, and more spike/upright forms :-) I took them all off a large shrub growing in another spot, there were many rooted branches (due to not being pruned for a couple years -- I pruned it finally, too). I also planted a relatively large line/patch of white Spuria iris, again to add more spikes.

Karin L --> I appreciate the mock-up you sketched out, you definitely captured the gist of our yard. DH and I are going to try the shredded redwood mulch, as well as adding more plants/groundcover plants, to try and fill out the slope.

I love the idea of using 24" x 24" paving stones to make a large patio, and echoing the shape of the front yard in the shape of the patio; it would definitely save us on water and would create a nice outdoor space, especially as the privacy shrubs fill in some more. DH even talked about maybe building a little gazebo!

I think you are right on the mark w/your comment about the yard being amorphous. In fact, there were times that I can remember just looking around and thinking "Okay, this looks like a good spot for this shrub" and plopping it in. Now I can see that by not having a plan in mind I ended up with something that just doesn't work...yet. I really hope that we get close this year :-)

I have been reconsidering my citrus trees, too. Perhaps they could be used for privacy rather than close to the house. I need to go out and take some measurements of that area.

reyesuela --> you are right about the ornamental strawberry; I have some and I think I will leave it where it is. It fights with some very prolific violets, and does okay. I also have some under a dwarf Oleander, low-water, and it's been well-behaved but it does send out masses of runners. If I add more groundcover I think I will use what I have: myoporum parvifolium, bulbine fructescens, society garlic, or some grevillea that is under a foot tall (I wish I could remember what it's called, but I can't)

I am reconsidering cannas now, too. If they were white instead of red, they would do well. The reds did super!

designonline6 --> that's an exciting mock-up! I like the curved walkway up to the front door, if we ever re-did the walkway I would prefer something like that, with gentle curves.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 11:26PM
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Karin L was pretty much reading my mind here! That's 90% of what I was envisioning.

The "taller shrubs" really only need to be 4' tall to give a really good visual break, BTW. That height gives you an intimate feel but with plenty of borrowed views beyond the private space. It's not true *privacy but *intimacy.

And, yes, my violets and my mock strawberries are everywhere in my beds! At this point, I choose to view them as a design feature....

    Bookmark   May 7, 2012 at 2:29AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Sounds like your wheels are finally getting some traction rather than spinning, so I'm sure things will be working better this year!

Regarding the citrus trees, it is plant shape that will determine whether they work for privacy screening or not. If they can be kept branched very low, they might work; if they tend to lose their lower branches, there will only be a trunk at face level from the street, so they won't do much for privacy.

Another option for tree placement (in addition to a shrub screen, probably not instead of) might be among the low-growing plants on the slope, similar to how your birches are placed. A limbed-up tree in that area might be nice (although would also change light levels, so would eventually alter growing conditions in its shadow). However, it won't provide privacy unless it has a drooping canopy like the birch.

It all depends how many plants you want to cram in there :-) By the way, is visibility around the corner an issue from a traffic or pedestrian safety perspective? Just a thought.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 7:15PM
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Brad Edwards

Simple, fill in the gaps around the street in the plants with perennials/evergreen shurbs, native low sun drought tolerant things that do well in your CA area. I am guessing your husband was talking about the entrance, it could definitely use some sprucing up. What about an espaliered bougainvillaea along that wall, there isn't much room for anything but a pink, yellow, or red buganvilla would look beautiful when blooming.

While citrus trees in the entrance sound nice, they grow tall, would really block the height, and have thorns, unless you got a variety you could espalier along the wall. I would also add two pots on either side of the entry just to create some symetry and plant with 2-3 things or even succulent groupings "due to not having to water". I would think two aloe vera would be cool there, though I am not really sure about cali.

For privacy with your height I would look into a climbing rose, bougainvilleas, or something that works well in cali. I would get 3 4x4x10 foot post, stain them, and then get some 12.5 gauge wire, drill the holes like in a vinyard and use it around the edge near the walk, make 4 rows of it, cut the 4x4 in half, bury them about a foot deep then let the climbing vine of your choice cover about 3 1/2 foot of privacy screen around your yard :). Again a bougainvillea would make a good choice for thickness, color, and security. It would take some work but would look amazing.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 12:08AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Most of my plants will not work for you since I live in the Oakland hills, just at the edge of the SF fog belt. But when I look at your photos, there seems to be little foliage variety. It's not just all the round shapes being the same height - there's little variation in color, texture, and leaf shape.

Everything seems very small-leafed except for the spiky plants. I'm afraid that rosemary will only add to that overall effect. If one were looking from across the street, I think the plants you have mostly blur together.

Much as I love bougainvillea and it grows well in your area, I'd be a little leery about planting it near any pathway. They have pretty ferocious thorns and your walkway isn't very wide. I've had shrub roses rip pant legs apart because I had them beside a walkway. Plants always like to grow where it's open - I have a lot of narrow beds, and it's a fight to keep the plants from "leaning" out into the paths. I do a lot of staking and tying (plant bondage, what fun...NOT)!

I adore foliage; evergreens are the mainstay in my garden. Flower colors come and go in a month, but 'good bones'; e.g., handsome shrubs look as good in January as they do in July.

Being an amateur, I'll post some of my photos (taken at different times from 2008-2011) to hopefully show what I mean. You will see we are dealing with a more severe slope than you have, so we have done a lot of terracing that isn't shown in these shots. Anyway, maybe the photos will help spark some ideas for you!

Early spring, so nasturtium leaves add a brighter green note and nice round shape. Notice, BTW, the 'Tuscan Blue' upright rosemary that is against the house, underneath that white awning over the front window. See what I mean about the small leaves? From far away, they just blur visually.

Early spring: notice the LH corner, where the small white flowers (Iberis) are at the corner of our front walkway

In the photo above, iberis was in flower with the bearded iris dormant. At its peak in April/May, here's the explosion of color when the iris bloom:

On the shady side, this bed is terraced into two halves. I read somewhere that the eye can discern more shades of green than any other color. Every one of these green plants is a slightly different shade, in addition to the difference in leaf shape and size:

Backyard, looking downwards (from my neighbor's sidewalk) towards our shed. The plants you see are in a terraced bed approx. 3' higher than the ground level of the shed. See how the fine leaves of the Coleonema are set off by the darker, round-leafed pelargonium and the bigger leaves of the Meyer lemon (left side) and variegated euonymus (right side)?

A closer look at the bed above. It is in partial sun and is NEVER watered in summer. It lives on the runoff all the way from the front of the house, some 75' uphill:

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 6:25PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

Wow lots of great ideas!!!

I do like the look of Bougainvillea, I'm pretty sure it would not like our winter freezes :-( And I've heard that the thorns are quite unfriendly.

oceandweller you have some really cool ideas, things I had not considered. I especially like the idea of two large pots planted with succulents. I have a hanging pot of spider plant, but I am terrible about remembering to water it so it's barely hanging on. And I have a pot on the plant stand with a spider plant and usually some flowering annuals...but, again, I will forget to water until the flowers are wilted :-(

I especially like your fencing idea; I'm not sure if DH would go for it, but it sounds relatively straightforward. It would be perfect for privacy, and also be narrow (unlike trees or shrubs). Definitely giving that some thought.

jkom51 -- I have seen your photos before, and DROOLED over them. You have a gorgeous yard, exactly my style (not that you can tell...LOL)

I'm not really sure what type of broad-leaf, evergreen, xeriscape plants for full-western-sun-all-day might be out there, but maybe I will go to the nursery and look around. Just for some ideas! The leaves on my rosemary plants may be small, but I think the form will help a little. I know they will grow well in the area, too, and the price was right (free divisions off my large rosemary) ;-)

It appears that you really tried to vary both the height of your plants and the shade of green, and it turned out gorgeous! I will try and remember that when I look around at the nursery, especially about the shades of green.

Karinl -- you are right to mention visibility around the corner, I really shouldn't plant anything tall near the sidewalk. I'm not sure if the citrus will lose their lower branches, but I think they would be okay for 4 - 6 years, and I really hope we move by that time. If not, I am willing to re-address the situation then. I already have the trees and was planning them in the front all along, so even if they aren't privacy for the long-term, they will do for now. Is it sacrilege to plant a landscape for the relatively short term? ;-)

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 1:50AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Thanks for the compliment, Melle! I too like oceandweller's idea of pots - especially in that long narrow strip leading towards your front door. It would cost $$, but I have to think that some round cobblestone-type rocks, or reused bricks, interspersed with a trio of large handsome planters, might look very nice.

But I have to confess I have had a running battle with plants in planters because like you, I water as little as possible and plants in pots really don't like that! I've been switching over slowly to succulents and other plants that are xeric. I've been surprised, though, that an English lavendar has really not liked being in a pot! It wilts surprisingly quickly. I'm thinking of replacing it with lantana instead.

There's also the issue that the bigger the pot, the more costly it is to buy and to fill. I have stopped filling containers with all soil; they dry out and STAY dry, taking way more water to re-moisten than I'm willing to give them. My latest solution is to re-use the styrofoam packing peanuts to halfway up the pot, top it with a double layer of fine mesh screening, and then put the soil and plants in. I also make sure to leave room for cocoa mulch on top; fine bark would also work, to help retain moisture. It's been almost a year and so far, so good.

I really struggle with planting combos for containers. It's impossible to know how big the plant will really get - so often plants get a lot bigger than listed - and some are just more aggressive growers than others. I have seen a beautiful planter bowl that wasn't more than 3' round, filled with a variety of plants that included a very young "Bowles Mauve" erysimum. In my garden that plant gets to be a 5' round, pokey, monster shrub! I can't imagine such a container would look good for very long, LOL.

There is also the issue that not only the containers but the plants in them would have to contrast well against the color of your house. The one big advantage of containers is that for cold-tender plants, getting them off the ground really, really increases their chances for survival. I have a trailing pelargonium that loathed being on the ground in my garden where chilly winter air shriveled it, but it loves being in a container no matter how cold it gets and has spread some 3-1/2' down and around.

This combo, below, has worked out well, and it doesn't seem to need much water. I try to soak it well once a week, but don't always remember. I've posted this before, I think. It's a common green draecena and a lovely silver-leafed trailing kalanchoe:

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 11:46PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

I love that draecena/kalanchoe grouping! And today there is a nice feature slideshow in the paper (online) of low-water/full sun plants so I will probably look into some of them for filling in the gaps in the front :-)

I really appreciate all the ideas/input here, it has been really helpful!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 2:14PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Nicely done and good points, Jkom. For a landscape like this, a lot of the impact depends on gardening decisions!

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 4:36PM
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