Help w/ foundation plantings on Split Level

debhawks(4)May 5, 2012


Looking for suggestions to renovate the Left and middle section of this West facing zone 4 foundation planting.

I would like to work in some grasses if possible. As you can see, our low windows are somewhat of an issue. Also, the h20 spigot is in the center of the house, so we need a little space to get through. Not really loving the stella d oro daylillies anymore, they could go, and I feel this area needs to soften the affects of all that driveway hardscape.

On the far right of the foundation is an ornamental crab surrounded by spirea which we would like to leave as is. This is a split level home, a design nightmare as it is. Please help!



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Here's an idea for re-shaping the bed that helps plants fit easier with the structure. It's a multi-trunk tree form made of a limbed up shrub... such as Euonymus alatus 'Compacta' or Kolkwitzia amabilis... or could be pollarded, multi-trunk Jap. Maple 'Sango kaku', etc. Groundcover below could be lily of the valley, or find something even lower so as not to impede the windows. You could incorporate a ring of Hosta, Astilbe or similar around the tree form, if desired. Incorporate stepping stones to get to the spigot.

(It is way past time to start limbing up and shaping the crab if you want decent structure to it.)

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 5:55PM
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We specifically wanted a columnar shaped crab there. I should have been pruning all along? In your opinion how should it look? Thx

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 7:06PM
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You select some plants from here,park,local is easy.your problems are how match the low windows?Are you sure that you and other people's visual feeling accept your combinations and contrast?I try to do some for you.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 7:08PM
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Re: the windows, I feel I need some plants for height there but don't want to block the light to those rooms.

I like this layered look but don't get what else you mean?

Yardvaark, don't wan to offend you as you spent time and replied, but that tree concept looks odd and unbalanced to me.
I've always thought the foundation plantings help anchor our house visually to the land.

Much thanks for all advice!

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 8:20PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

I view the low windows as a fantastic opportunity to create a beautiful view from the inside of the house as well as from the outside public view.

Borrowing a trick from classic Japanese tea houses I would 'frame a view' within the windows and would layer in a multi-tiered garden rich with texture.

The placement of a low open branching tree with interesting bark would be placed to the left of the window as you are facing the house . Then a low layered plantscape of dwarf mugo pines ( winter interest ) carex or stipa ( an ornametal grass for a soft wispy texture ) some daphne or other low growing evergreen for scent and a drift of spring and summer bulbs.

A serene dry river rockery would compliment the vignette and also can be used as a path to the water spigot.

I would probably also insert a sculptural focal point. It doesn't have to be large or in your face bold.
It primarily would be seen from the inside of the house looking outwards .
A small water bowl or a simple lovely shaped boulder that would be framed in the view thru the windows. A delightful little visual surprise for the person looking out.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 10:32PM
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I put a weeping cherry in front of the low windows on one side of my split level, where I have a huge blank modernist wall above. Works great. Right now, I've got a mixed planting of various things I've rescued from around the yard there plus what gotten for free/on clearance underneath (because I don't forget to water and baby them), but I'm planning on moving my euonymous emerald gaiety there eventually.

You actually have an easier situation--the big central blank area rather than low windows and stark wall above. I like the idea of a multistemmed bush/small tree MUCH better there than a column. To be honest, where I have another big, blank section of wall, I started with a solid column and am unhappy with it. The vase shape works a thousand times better.

I'd go for helleborus for your groundcover, personally. Euonymus emerald gaiety can be pruned if any bits get too tall, and it's just delightful. Beware: deer agree.

I'm kinda partial to lilac for that location, but there are lots of options.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 3:04AM
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Yardvaark are you out there? I've been studying, searching other posts and seeing other ideas you've been posting. Yesterday I saw a Double Viburnum tree form that was gorgeous and it clicked, I realized what you were trying to convey in your response to my post. I didn't get the "pollarding" term.

Posting a wider view to show the River Birch, much concrete and garage as long as the house. I'm considering putting composite shakes in slightly darker tones on the front upper of the house.
The reason I thought your idea looked unbalanced was bcause the birch tree placement roughly in the same area, but further out in the yard. That makes it feel right side heavy?
Would same idea work with tree form shrub on L house vicinity?

I've also been studying tree form per your comment re; the flowering crab on the right. Is it too late to start shaping that tree?
One more question: Is it better to buy this "shrub" in tree form, or shape it myself? I know how to prune my perennials and shrubs but have never shaped my trees.
Much thanks to anyone with input.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 10:17AM
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Debhawks, the last photo posted should have been your first one. I didn't understand the "unbalanced" comment. Now, seeing a non-myopic view of the Birch, I see the conflict. I'm still OK with the groundcover portion of my earlier submission, but think the tree-form shrub should be a smaller version... something that would only get 8' ht. So not intended to be anything one would walk below. Some of my advice about it will seem to conflict with advice I give later, below. But this is an architectural "fix" situation... not a normal, straighforward landscape use. Not enough time to do now, but let me explore this later. It could possibly be something different, too.

Do I need to preach about how the Birch should be limbed up?... to higher than what you think because the upper limbs will hang lower over time. If you do the minimum, it will be back in your face not that much later. I would create at least a 12' clear trunk to start...asap.

It's always better to start shaping woody plants while they're very young, but starting late is better than not starting at all. I would limb up the crab asap, too. Worry only about the trunk structure & canopy elevation. The head of the tree will form no matter what height you put it at (within reason... we'll not consider the outside extreme limits; we're just talking about normal situations.) Develop a nice bouquet shape of trunks. Remove those that spread too widely outside of the imaginary "cone" shape. (I think 50 to 60 degree spread generally works well.) To my thinking, a canopy should never begin below a persons head (but I've stated an exception above.) That's the minimum--or it obstructs view--but higher than that is fine. Think how you prefer the ceilings in your house to be somewhat above your head, not scraping against your hair. It's the same with tree canopies. On a small tree like the crab, I'd give a light trim to the outside dome shape of the canopy just to bring it into greater uniformity... if you have the means.

You really DO need a tree at the left of house to make it look finished and established. It's too vacant over there. A medium size flowering tree could be nice. I'd also consider side a large tree-form "shrub" (12' - 15' ht.) by the mailbox corner--with some underplanting-- to help reduce the airport look of the driveway.

There are very few instances where suitable shrubs in the tree-form can be purchased. The overwhelming preponderance of landscape thinking is ruled by horticulture, not by design. The horticultural thinking has it that woody plants, for the most part, should be allowed to grow as nature dictates... with just a little tweaking here and there. There are notable exceptions, but they have occurred with few plants. In most of cases it is far better to create the tree-form that works for your particular situation using the plant that suits your needs. It's not hard. It takes a little time, but not much effort. I can elaborate later.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 12:27PM
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Sorry this is coming in pieces but I decided to include pix of L, CTR, Rt of house.

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Do you mean L side of HOUSE, not garage, as there is concrete between the garage and shed and it's a driveable service area?

Do you mean a planting to INCLUDE the mailbox, or just back a ways from it?

When considering the foundation planting, I'm always trying to bring that receding front door into view, and, make that dead space between the 2 top windows less of an eyesore.

So, place the 8' or so tree/shrub in line with the front door, or just catch the L corner of the house?

DH has been limbing up the birch all along as they weep so much, and when I went into the street to take the pix, I see what you mean, it needs more.

Re; the crab, I took close up of that too and will be researching how to start on limbs this size, what time of year, etc.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 6:36PM
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I see what you mean, it [Birch] needs more." ...Waaay much! It's spreading it's problems around other parts of the yard. Limbing up will also display the beauty of it's trunks much more.

In the obviously quick sketch, don't look for details, just gross placement and concepts. You'd have to adjust ideas to suit your tastes, purposes and conditions. As I said the left side looks vacant so a little tree (made of shrub) in a bed by the mailbox and a medium flowering tree Such as Redbud or Saucer Magnolia set further back toward the house. Adjust placement to suit the conditions.

I'm trying to address the empty space near the upper windows of the overhang, so the little tree (made of shrub) returns @ 8' ht. & wider spread... limbed up to allow light & view below. When a small tree goes up against the house, It's just chopped off at the back so it's a 1/2 or 2/3 tree... and behaves like a wall sconce turned upside-down as opposed to a free-standing lamp.

With the "hidden" entrance an arbor comes to mind as a way to bring the entrance farther forward and expand its size. A heaping, flowering vine would help the "dry" look of that inside corner. A number of vines or combinations of them could provide a long term seasonal floral display.

"Re; the crab, I took close up of that too and will be researching how to start on limbs this size, what time of year, etc." Forget research. Just get a pruning saw after breakfast tomorrow and cut off every horizontal limb that is below the height of your head. Leave all main trunks. Step back and evaluate. Not high enough? Cut more higher. This cutting will cause the tree to grow more at the top. Bottom branches can always be remove any time of the year.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 11:22PM
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Ok, I'm sharpening up the saw! One more thing; earlier in the post someone mentioned an open cascading kind of shrub for L house corner as opposed to something def shaped. An example would be Jap Maple, or similar. Something soft, airy, open, yet eyecatching. Your thoughts?

Thanks everyone for your time and advice. I have some great ideas to work with now!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 8:40PM
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If you mean left of overhang, I'd be returning to a very small tree suggestion (like my first...lilac size) not a shrub at the ground. I wouldn't want something with foliage obstructing view to doorway as viewed from street. It would need high limbing to get over view of door. A Jap. Maple would eventually cover left, upper windows.

The arbor idea would not really require overhead portion... just a vertical arbor panel with a "window" opening that looked like it was an entrance would do it.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 3:10AM
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