foundation planting for side approach

krdpm(6b/7)May 1, 2012

We've been in this house 2 years and just recently have gotten around to addressing the front landscaping. The front beds were just solid ivy. I ripped that out last fall and we began trying to plan the plantings.

The unique issue here is that the approach from the driveway to the front door is completely from the side. The front edge of the property is all dense evergreens, so the house is just barely glimpsed through the trees from the street, and the driveway comes up off the cul-de-sac to the right of the house and into a side-loading garage.

People arriving are confronted with the side view of the house (a raised ranch), and then have to make the decision to head around back or the front. As it stands now, the back has a gravel walkway, seems more open, and is much more inviting. The front has no pathway at all, which for some reason isn't that uncommon around here. Very odd. Obviously putting in a walkway is going to make the most difference, and it's in the plan for next spring, probably a 4-ft wide paver walkway with a landing area at the base of the porch. Would've loved to do it now, but there's only so much money, and finishing the downstairs bathroom won out!

The left (non-approach) side is fine, but the approach side, to the right of front door, is making me nuts! There's a pieris, then a barberry, then a row of china girl/boy hollies,a few moonglow euonynii in the front, a dwarf fountain grass, some random junk. Lotsa weeds. The pieris and hollies are staying, but there's no plan other than that. I can't decide what to put at the far end of the foundation as you come around the corner from the driveway so that it feels open and welcoming and signals "come this way". Normally I see something with a little height there, but in this case the most important comsideration is not at all the view of the front of the house head -on, which no one ever sees, but rather to not visually block the approach to the front door.

The hollies are in a row along the back, and I actually like the linear structure of the dark green as backdrop. The bed will then curve out from there pretty deep, with more interest/variety in front. The area at the end to fill could be about 6 feet wide, maybe more, with maybe a roughly similar depth, maybe more. I should measure it, but I'm hoping the pictures will work!!

We're in southern CT, 6b but some say 7 now. The front faces east/northeast, so closest to the foundation only gets 2-3 hours of sun, but it increases as you move out. The fountain grass on the outer edge did fine. Decent soil. I very much want at least the back stuff to be evergreen, then maybe layer some deciduous things in front. I'd love to incorporate a small hydrangea, if possible. I feel we're kind of stuck with either a low-ish yew on the back corner, or maybe a rhododendron. Then in front, I have no idea, but I need it low and inviting. Also thinking maybe a japanese maple, but very small and open.

I've spent a ton of time trying to get photos uploaded, so I'll give it a try. If by some miracle I can get the photos to post, I should add that the watering can perched on the pot is there to indicate the site of a post lamp, and the hose is just roughly showing a walkway. Also, the septic is in the front so there will nothing planted on the other side of the walkway. The walkway will curve around down to the driveway and the triangle of grass will become part of the bed, but is an area has to deal with snow from driveway shoveling. Downspout normally extends to driveway, not right into bed. Also, as you're walking to door, I plan to figure out some groundcover or plantings to the left to incorporate the big azaleas. We'll prune them after they're done flowering. Some other random info--I would like to keep anything flowering white/pink/red. No blue or purple. The whole property is kind of wild/woodsy, and I do tend to like orderly, serene, so I'm not looking for some big landscaping statement in the front. Just want to hide the foundation, anchor the house to the land, and move people along to the front door. Will probably be putting in a red japanese maple to the left of the house. Everything is either crazy tall or short, so we will be working on getting somemid-level interest going, but I don't see that factoring in here because of septic and wanting to keep open path/sight to front door from driveway.

I so appreciate any thoughts/advice anyone may have. We have so, so many projects going on, both inside and out, taht I'm really getting overwhelmed. This is the least of the landscaping issues!!



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Yikes!!! only one picture!!
I will try again.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 2:17PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think you already have your answer... definitely the pathway you have in mind. I think it could have a couple of steps, since it climbs. If you expect company to find it at night, lighting along it and at the destination (not out in the middle of the yard) would help. Is your mailbox at the street? One placed at the path as a decoration would be sort of indicative, but I think it will be pretty clear once people have a choice between a paver path and gravel that the paver path is the more formal one.

If you need a temporary and fast solution, you could get some large concrete pavers to make a stepping stone path, which are cheap and could even be factored into your eventual paving design. Otherwise to get through the winter, there is the option of a sign that says "front door" with an arrow :-)

If your steps extended to an elevated landing that was visible from the driveway (as your back deck is), that might help too.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 3:38PM
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Thanks so much for your speedy reply. We're already set on the pathway, and it'll be pretty wide so the post lamp will be just to the side of it at the end. Porch light lights the front. My big, making-me-crazy issue is what to plant at as you go around the corner. Normally I might end up with something bigger/denser/higher if it was only to be viewed from the front. Instead, as you approach it can't be overwhelming. First I was thinking the base plant, against the front of the house to the far right, would be tall and narrow, with smaller things fanning around it. Problem is, anything tall there could feel like a blocking wall, even if it's pretty far back against the house. My latest is a yew that will maybe grow up to the height where the brick starts, maybe a few feet more, and spread a bit side to side. I'm so limited by the shade.

If I did the yew, then do you have any thoughts as to what could kind of "surround" it? I usually kind of know what general layout/shapes I want where, but here I'm just not sure.

We want to get this area planted with some of the main anchor shrubs on the corner, then we can create a bed outline which is obviously also a walkway outline, then live with it for awhile and make sure it's a good curve before we lay the walkway. Area is less sloped than it looks and will only need one step.

Great idea about the pavers for now! We've tossed it back and forth since we've been here. Somedays I think, we've sucked it up and dealt for 2 years, just save the money and wait until spring, other times I think maybe we'll get some bluestone squares, not cheap, but they can contribute to a planned patio on the side eventually. Unfortunately the pavers we'll be using for the walkway don't come in anything stepping-stone sized.

So, do you have any thoughts about general shapes of shrubs/plantings in this area as you enter the (future)?

Thank you!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 4:07PM
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"(future) walkway"

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 5:00PM
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Ideally,you can pick up your design from tons pics,to avoid very different result from your image and waste your money.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 6:06PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Something to keep in mind is that some people are going to insist on using the back door no matter what. They don't consider themselves 'worthy' of the front door. My daughter's friends and my in-laws both fall in this camp. We have a similar setup in that people park in the driveway, and are then confronted with two paths. One, that goes to the left, obviously goes to a back door. The other, that goes to the right, equally obviously goes to the front door. The back walk can be covered with plants and pitch black, and some people will *still* insist on going there instead of the well-lit front walk.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 6:11PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Oops, I guess I skipped the main question - sorry. I think again you have the right objective in mind, but I think you have inserted as a given something that is fighting your objective - the bushes you have decided are staying.

I have to admit that my thoughts are formulated with a bias against foundation planting - I hate it in an otherwise mostly empty yard - and I'm not a pro, just a homeowner myself. But what I think I would do is devise a low planting with successive floral/foliage interest that does not involve shrubbery at all.

It would help to know plants for your climate better, but both bulbs and perennials could work. Starting the year with Hellebores and snowdrops, other bulbs can carry you through to hosta season and flowers from geraniums, ligularia, and many other plants. The common plants may not bloom much in that exposure, but if you expand your search a little - chionodoxa, pushkinia for bulbs, for instance - you will find some that will. You might have the odd tall plant - nectaroscordum would be cool if it doesn't lean too much - but not a wall of anything.

The purpose would be just what you have in mind - to make people want to walk that way. In summer low foliage (ferns for instance) is also a draw; shade is not limiting at all if you expand your definition of plant interest to include foliage texture and colour. But flowers will always help. And growing low, nothing will obscure the view of the eventual destination: the porch. I love yews and even hollies but no one is drawn to look at them up close, so they have no purpose here, and even the pieris, friendly as it looks, is working against you now because it blocks the porch.

Plants that grow at the foundation are meant to be seen from a distance - you do not have to anchor/nestle a house into the site from up close. What makes it even more pointless to put any shrubs here is that many of them will grow outward, seeking light, and again fight your objective of an open, inviting walkway. Put things along the walk that people will want to look at up close and that will not reach out to obstruct them. It doesn't have to be a lot - always just a few clumps here and there - but enough to beckon.

Regarding the usual purpose of a foundation planting, hiding the foundation, I think I would either paint it or face it with something - probably stone or tile, to avoid having to match the brick (and it would be too much brick anyway).

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 6:37PM
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krdpm, as I view driveway the end of your house, I think I'd be hard pressed to find and example of a house begging more for a small tree at either side to make it's large, formidable end-wall seem less imposing. I'm not implying that they must be plastered up onto the house, only that they should be configured to reduce some of the end-wall blankness.

The location you've chosen for the lamp post seems oddly distant from where it should be... which is nearer to the drive. Maybe you're trying to make it do double duty, but I think this is not as good as having it do one job well.

In getting people to perceive the left of drive as the main front entrance, I think you need to make it a significantly more inviting approach than the right of drive. The pavers are good as long as it's a wide, spacious feeling walk. It should fluidly sweep into the yard rather than being tight or abrupt. I would not begin the walk too close to the house, but probably far enough back so that if a car were parked in front of the garage door, the walk would not be obscured. I don't even think that it necessarily needs to allow a person to see the front door (as one can't anyway) but that to present a more finished, grand appearance: smooth, sweeping elements guiding one around the corner toward the front. A person should become obsessed about seeing "what's over there?" They approach and then, voila!... the house entrance becomes obvious. I can think of many a high-dollar subdivision entrance in which no homes can actually be seen. It is the dolled-up grandness of the entrance itself which lets people know where they are and where to go. A nice (tall, wide and properly ornamented) arbor could eventually be incorporated for a sense of architectural importance. (The existing Azalea may need to be relocated if it's pinching the arrangement of elements too tightly.)

That the grade is higher at the left of drive is a feature that is UNinviting. I would re-grade for the walk, letting it sweep off the drive without any step. Furthermore, I'd blend the new grade back into the existing grade far enough so that the feel is one of spaciousness, not tightness. While better done with a Bobcat, it's not so large that it can't be done manually.

It is only the concrete portion of the foundation that that needs to be hidden. What is planted should not cover up the windows. To do so would only make the house look swamped, engulfed and creepy. Whatever you plant for the front foundation planting, I'd keep it simple and clean, not a busy clutter of variety. Because the front of the house meets a sloping grade, I'd maintain shrubs to that they were matched and uniformly even from one end of house to the other. If you allow shrubs to slope, it will add an unstable look to the house. It would be easier to maintain if, instead of shrubs below the window, you grade those areas to level in parallel with the house wall, and plant them with single type, limited-height perennial/groundcover mass. That way, there's no height trimming below window and you get the "window box" effect of plants or flowers spilling outward.

By contrast, the right side of drive could be made more private... a hedge, fence or dense plantings, a gated arbor, etc. so that people are not, by default, invited to go that way.

By yardvaark at 2012-05-02

By yardvaark at 2012-05-02

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 4:46PM
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Thanks again for all the great suggestions.

designoline6, is that summersweet clethra? A shrub that's great for this area, and one we're planning a bunch of in the back where we have wetter areas. I like how you drew it. Unfortunately, can't plant anything out that far into the front. Still thinking maybe a Japanese maple.

karin1, I love the idea of perennials and bulbs and actually plan to incorporate them into the beds, but here in CT if that's all we had, the whole front would be bare for 5-6 months of the year. The grasses and a few other things do have some cool structural interest in the winter, but unless there's something evergreen in there too, it just looks desolate. The plantings will extend out at least 6-7 feet in front of the back holly row. I will check out all those that you mentioned.

yardvaark, yes, the side approach is just big flat blah wall! It's awful, but also pretty much the norm around here. Sometimes looks like a face to me, with that motion light as the nose. (wreath or evergreen swag thing looks nice on there all winter.)

One issue we have to consider is access to the back/side/front yards for trucks. Seems we always need tree guys to come for something, and nothing can go over the front lawn because of the septic, so we need to maintain access to the right. My solution is a row of feather reed grass-overdam, lining that right side of the driveway, not too tightly spaced. Hoping it will create not so much a total screen as a visual stop, more of a psychological screen. Also, won't be an issue with the snow that gets piled there by the plow, and we can either plan work in the yard in the late winter/spring when it's cut down, or worst case scenario a few of the grasses are trashed for a season by trucks, but nothing permanent. What do you think?

As far as the grade, I think the pictures make it look like much more of a slope than it is. All of the walkway quotes we got were on the fence about needing even one step. They all priced it, but said they were pretty sure that with their measurements it should be avoided. It's really quite a nice gentle flow. I think I'm just a bad photographer! Also, with the septic in front and excellent drainage /flow in the area, doing anything to change the flow/grade in the front of the house just isn't an option. I can work around terrain and landscaping issues, but I cannot handle sewage backing up into the house or having any type of issue with the septic!! Things are just fine now, and I'm deathly afraid to do anything that might lead to a septic issue.

Totally agree that everything needs to stay gently below the window level and not be too busy. So many people around here plant to fill any blank space beside the ground floor windows, and I don't like the look at all. I just want a big gentle sweepy flow.

In the pictures the hose marks the edge of the walkway closest to the hose, then the walkway will be 4 feet wide off of that, so post lamp will be towards the driveway end maybe 1-2' from outside edge of walkway. Driveway and entrance have great lighting, it's just that area as you approach the end of the house (when leaving) that's dark. Picture is deceiving. 4' wide walkway will flare to 6' as it enters driveway.

Given all that, I'm trying to finalize the general structure of the end of the bed on the right.

This is the bed to the left of the door, just to show. Will be tweaked and added to, but general layout is okay. Might consider an upright blue-ish juniper on the corner behind the ninebark down the road, and will maybe swap out the first euonymus for a bluestar juniper. All down the road.

Shot looking out front door to right. Will probably put in a red japanese maple, maybe fireglow, roughly in the tan-ish area of grass. Away from wires, kind of half-way between house and the trees on side, and as you walk up the walkway from driveway it will be dead ahead in your sight line, but in the distance.

Shot of front from further back. Huge sugar maple to the right of drivway and garage. Bigger than it looks. Beautiful. Can see the little dark green dots of the feather reed grass pots. Can't plant until next week because a truck needs to deliver an Autumn Brilliance serviceberry tree to the backyard. Also can see the hay in foreground where I'm planting grass to creat a nice defined edge to the front grass rather than raggedy patchiness dribbling into the pine needles under the evergreens.

SO...this is my real question...(given that nothing is changing in slope or grading), what is the basic structure of this end part of the bed? It will be about 8 feet deep. The measurement to the end of the downspout rocks is about 6 feet. (the downspout is usually extended to go to the driveway.)

All those rocks will be gone and that grass triangle will be part of the plantings. I need to get something at the end of the row, against the foundation, evergreen. I think it should have some visual weight, and will grow up to roughly the brick, and softly grow a bit over the right edge of the house.

A rhodo is an option, but it seems like the shape is too similar to the pieris. It would be, from doorway: big blob....lots of little blobs..then exact same shape big blob on the end. With yew it would be: big blob...lots of little blobs...then big, different shape and texture clob on the end. (Also, whole area could use some needled stuff added.)

Please note this back row is just the back/base and there will be six feet-ish of low plantings, perennials, etc, extending out in front. It isn't just the "row of blobs"!

Either way, I really need to figure out what's in front of the potential yew or rhododendron, something low but kind of a focal point right as you come around the corner, maybe in the general area of the end of that rock row. I was thinking maybe temporarily a small, white-blooming hydrangea. Cheap and can be moved relatively easily in a few years. Any other ideas?? Picture the row completed in the back, what should be the general arrangment of the area extending out from there, in the yard direction, on the end? (I can figure out the rest of the run, shooting for low simple, some mix of textures, etc. It's the end that I can't envision) Of course small stuff, but one round pretty thing, 3 very small roundish things? Maybe even something with height if it's airy and narrow? What about a very small open upright Japanese maple, situated back enough so that it would be possible to prune it to keep branches from impeding walkway? Of course there will be other low stuff in that area. I've got some nice white bleeding hearts and tons of ferns we can use in the area that's now grass, at least for now. The whole area on that corner needs to be the pretty, inviting, flowing, kind of open, come-this-way area.

If I can just get a concept of general structure for the area, I can fill in with cheap things or transferred stuff, get the evergreen structure settled for the back, and maybe get whatever pretty little mini-accent thing for the end of that rock area, either the permanent thing or a cheaper temp thing for a few years. (of course, rocks won't actually be there. It'll just slope down.)

Sorry for such a long post. I appreciate any and all thoughts. As I mentioned, we're really trying to get a basic structure decided for that area at the end, and money is tight! We have a million projects going on, and of course I'm spending all my time focusing on this, the smallest issue. We have another area that's a massive project, so maybe it's just easier to focus on this for awhile!

The big project:

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 12:09PM
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