Help us move on from 'zero-scaped'

trilliumgreen(7 PNW)May 10, 2012

My family and I moved into a new home this spring with a "zero-scape" yard. I come to work each day a get to look at a different zero-scaped (though better executed) landscape and definitely want to do something different at home. Besides, I love plants. Any help towards making this happen will be greatly appreciated, so thanks for any advice and insight that you are able to offer.

My general plan of attack is to try and get some shade trees in this spring (which means it needs to happen soon) and do any hardscaping this summer/fall. Putting in the rest of the trees and other vegetation will happen in subsequent years. I do want a plan to guide all this (lesson learned from last house).

A bit of site info, we live in central Washington (USDA zone 5 was just recently changed zone 6, sunset zone 2b). In between the wind that tends to blow from the N/NW and dry climate (~9-12 inches) per year it is a challenging place for plants to grow up. Right now I am focusing on the front yard, which faces roughly N by NW.

Based on a bit of pursuing of this forum, I have done this brainstorming (based off conversations with my husband):

Establish objectives for your landscaping (front yard):

1. Keep our house from roasting. Shade house and yard from hot afternoon sun while still maintaining some openness / view to the west. Is shade needed in other areas of the front yard too because of all the gravel?

2. Pleasant view when looking out from living room / serene, naturalistic, informal feel

3. Provide balance and draw eye away from the massive attached garage

4. Make the front door more of a destination / given it more focus.

5. Four-season interest

6. Obscure view beyond the front yard

7. Low water use

8. Create a garden that allows me to indulge in a bit of plant lust without creating too much maintenance

9. Use materials available on-site

What existing elements already achieve objectives you have in mind?

� Lilac hedge - once the younger plants are taller it will be sufficient to meet objective 5. Also, right now older plants create a nice entrance that the existing path passes under.

� Rock gravel (as I am envisioning it right now, we would keep things mostly gravel / not do lawn).

� Existing concrete walkway? It would be convenient keep it, but changing it is on the table.

Here is what the place looks like. I now realize that this photo was taken pretty close-up, guess I was trying to spare you from the ugly fence that will be removed one of these days and the wagon wheels that are popular around here but not my style. It was taken at about 7/8 last night (I mention so that the shadows are placed in context). You can certainly see what I was talking about in objective 3! From Front Yard

Here is the first idea I was working on. Here I was concentrating on how to keep the existing walk-way (and expanding it) and shade tree placement (I think it is obvious, but those are the large green circles). I started to think about where to put some tall ornamental grasses (brown circles) and evergreen shrubs (solid green circles), but felt a bit stuck.

table style="width:auto;"> From Front Yard

Here is a second idea that was born out of feeling stuck with the first design. I put a "patio(?)" in front of the front door. When I did this, plant placement seemed to make more sense to me. I think the patio provides a bit of structure / geometry so I didn't feel like I just had a sea of gravel to work with. However, I am not sure that a patio makes sense (would it serve any function?) Also, how to tie in the patio with the front door? From Front Yard From Front Yard

When I showed these to my husband he was concerned that we weren't including enough shade trees in the front. I think since it faces NW, we aren't really missing out on much potential cooling, but I want to throw it out there. I think that larger trees should be to the front and side of the house (as shown) and any additional trees in the front should be smaller, more ornamental types.

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Your house has a "lean and hungry look", to quote Shakespeare.

I'd have to think, but plants might not give the front door any real focus. Is there any way to beef up the entry - unfussy pilasters with a simple molded edge header? Assuming there's a bit of space under the eave.

No help at all (beyond loving lilacs) but I don't know what I'd do without my lilac hedge - my neighbor and I have an unbroken city block long row of the old syringa vulgaris. Uniform in height - about 15-16 feet.

Others on the forum are infinitely better at critiquing plans and suggesting tree placements, etc., so hopefully they'll be chiming in.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 5:11PM
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I contrast the house straight line with curve sidewalk and trees combinations.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 5:44PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Honestly, I'd put your landscape budget into finishing the facade of the house before installing any plants.

I could see planting a few shade trees to get a start and provide some shade but there is no sense / cents installing any foundation planting that would be trampled on without paying the proper attention to the unfinished architecture.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 6:09PM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

Thanks for the initial feedback. The exterior is certainly bland, but I had never thought about it as unfinished. Deviant-deziner, I would be interested to know if what struck you as unfinished was strictly aesthetic or also something pertinent to the integrity of the house (of course there are things that qualify as both)? Your point is well taken that we shouldn't make investment in landscaping, that will then be in the way of improvements to the exterior.

Those issues are also at the heart of Deluth's observation that landscaping alone may not be sufficient to draw attention to the door. I hadn't though of pilasters (honestly, I had to google that word to know what you were talking about). I would also be up for other suggestions (even though that is venturing out of the scope of landscape design). I had thought that trellis might make sense, but don't know if it would be best to just place the trellis over the door, or run it from where the house recesses by a few feet to the end of the house, away from the garage.

I also enjoyed hearing about the lilac hedge that is a block long :)

Design - I am very fond of both aspen and katsura trees. We have aspen in the back yard, where there is room for them to spread. I would love to have katsura in the front, but don't think it would do well with our wind. I also like how you did the sidewalk.

I don't think I was very specific with a request in my original post. I am after feedback on shade tree placement and hardscaping, and advice on how to think about the space in general given the goals I identified. I have read enough threads on here to know that very good feedback is often given that is beyond the scope of the original questions though, I am open minded to hearing that too. The way I look at it I have time on my side with this house. Deviant-deziner and Deluth are both right that landscaping alone may not get me what I want in terms of the home exterior, but I don't think it is too early to get feedback on developing a plan, especially since we do want to get some shade trees going (and I don't want to plant them and then move them).

Thanks GW!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 8:37PM
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"I also enjoyed hearing about the lilac hedge that is a block long :)" Me too!! Would like to see a picture of that in bloom!

Trill, would like to give you constructive criticism, but find the picture lacking in the basics. It shows the house, but gives no feel for the yard... cannot sense the yard size or layout. Or the approach to the house. It's hard to distinguish betwen shadows and plants. It's too small. Would be better if you post pictures at full size. Please add pictures. See my diagram below for a rough idea of what pics I think are needed. (and please take pictures without strong shadows.)

The house doesn't look unfinished to me, but it has a Japanese, almost Zen quality to it. If it was grey I'd think you were in Nagasaki. I think landscaping could make much difference whether you add to the house or not.

Before jumping headlong into the design phase, it might be a good idea to work on the analysis more. We need those pictures.

The gravel adds a lot of heat to a yard (what's in the sun anyway.) How do you envision the gravel working with plants? The plants are in conventionally mulched beds, or directly in the gravel? (I pity whoever has to do the actual work of it!)

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 1:15AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

To my eye the house is missing its trimwork. From the photos it looks like just the casement work was installed and it is still awaiting the sills, header boards and band ends to be set in place.

A modest part of my design practice is exterior architectural renovation so the first thing that came to my eye and to my experience as a project manager was to put the correct process steps in order ; finish architecture and hardscaping and then start on landscaping.

If the exterior of your building is finished then I can see going forth with the landscape installation once you had a landscape plan in place.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 1:40AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Yes on the need for more pictures both from the house showing the views out, as well as views across the garden to/from the driveway, as well as views of what you want to screen out and from the street showing the existing plantings.

I'd second the opinion that the house facade looks rather bleak, and doesn't have the balance of features to warrant calling it zen-like, it just looks unfinished. The undersized front door with the narrow straight walk directly from the street doesn't add any appeal. Some sort of small porch orjust a small overhang at the entry plus some posts would help immensely. I'd also suggest tearing out the walk and replacing it with a more contemporary layout; perhaps a series of rectangular/square concrete pads with space between for either plantings or gravel, and these could join with a series of similar layout to the driveway. Would you actually use a hardscape/patio here in the front yard, or would it be more decorative? I'd definitely consider using some large boulders in groupings in combination with a variety of perennial grasses of different heights to soften all that gravel. If you like a more naturalistic look, you might consider using tree species that lend themselves to being planted in a small grove, and varying the sizes and spacing so they look more natural. Best locations would be determined with additional photos showing the context and adding a north area. You might also tell us what trees do best given your winds and near desert conditions. In general if you are wanting shade in summer only that will mean faster growing deciduous trees with smaller sized leaves that will tolerate regular drying winds. What tree species do you see around town that you both like and see that do well in your area?

You should also probably consider the need for irrigation as part of your design, and determine the type(drip/spray/automatic/manual) before you do any planting. You may find it advantageous to plant in the early fall to better establish trees, planting now with no summer rains will definitely require more irrigation to establish. I might also suggest considering using some mounding within the garden to make it appear less dull, and not wrap a continuous walk around to the back yard as your scone scheme shows; maybe switch to a more meandering walk with flagstone step pads for access. Is your lot on a corner, as it sort of appears to be?

I'd you have seen some attractive xeriscape style gardens in town on your way to work, take photos of them and analyze the layout and plantings to see if you can apply similar treatment to your own garden. You might also find it useful to get a consultation with a local landscape designer to get you started, as your first passes at a layout don't seem to demonstrate a "feel" for landscape design in support of your goals. A bit of professional help at the start could help to loosen up the design and help address the requirements and goals you have stated.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 11:57AM
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The Zen expert might do well to realize that "almost" means not quite.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 2:53PM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

Thanks again for taking the time. Yardvaark, I appreciate that my house would even bring to mind the work "zen" even if you meant "not quite." I also appreciate your willingness to help. I had thought that we would plant into existing rock mulch.

A bit more context - we have 7 acres out in the country. The house sits at the back of the lot, far from the road. The the perspective of the house in this photo is from our drive heading in. The same angle as before, but taken from further back. This time you get to see the fence and wagon wheels which will be going: From Front Yard

This is the view taken from the driveway, looking west across the front. In this one you can see the power line on the west side of the house: From Front Yard

Views straight on and then to each side, all taken from the same point. These illustrate how NOT to use pavers, but it isn't worth the effort to make it a bit better. I'd rather just do something right when we address it and live with it this way for now. From Front Yard From Front Yard

I will be weeding this patch of gravel this weekend ;) From Front Yard

This one is dark, but I will post anyway. It shows the view looking straight on from the front door. This is the view I would like to obscure (mostly the nearest neighbor's house). I am fully aware that part of the issue with the view is our stuff - the irrigation piping and the trailer. We will be moving this. From Front Yard

Bahia - Lots of great suggestions. In terms of a front patio - the main hang-out area is definitely the back (more wind sheltered, easy access to kitchen, looks out on a creek). Maybe it would be different if there was a nice patio in front, but my gut is telling me that it would be more decorative.

This is a look that I very much would like: "I'd definitely consider using some large boulders in groupings in combination with a variety of perennial grasses of different heights to soften all that gravel. If you like a more naturalistic look, you might consider using tree species that lend themselves to being planted in a small grove, and varying the sizes and spacing so they look more natural"

My husband really wants large shade trees: Kentucky Coffee Tree, Japanese Zelkova, and Hackberry some that we have in mind. People grow maples around here with enough water they seem to do fine. I really like the form of the golden rain tree. I am partial to smaller trees with nice branching (Chinese maakia, and even sumac or maybe even a shrub maple pruned into a small tree). I like the idea of using groves of trees. For my space I thought that smaller trees would be more appropriate, rather than trees that are very large at maturity.

"…your first passes at a layout don't seem to demonstrate a "feel" for landscape design in support of your goals." Could you give some specific examples about what is off, especially with regard to the second design (I think in the first one I was letting myself be too constrained by keeping the existing walkway). I am reposting it with the N arrow, and general location of the power line, and existing conifer sketched in: From Front Yard

I like the idea of large concrete squares inset in gravel - I'd thought about this but thought that shoveling this kind of a walk isn’t practical? Am I wrong?

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 3:59PM
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A special request... please take future pictures in the daylight, not by moonlight. Shadowy areas are very difficult to make out. That said, Wow... what a difference a few photos make for getting a COMPLETELY different feel for the property. Completely different!

Let's iron out pedestrian circulation in the front yard. Where do people walk? ...from drive to front door? ...from door to front fence? ...from fence to garage? the right side yard and around to back? Please explain how these areas are used for circulation.

It is your intention to replace the front fence only with the pending landscaping, or is there something else pending? The existing hedge will remain? If remaining, what are these plants?

Your second plan seems somewhat fussy, spotty and contrived. Things do not jump out at me as being where they are for particular reasons.

>"For my space I thought that smaller trees would be more appropriate" Smaller trees seem at odds with your goal of "keep the house from roasting." I understand why small trees are cherished, but I don't understand the idea that small trees can serve the purpose of big trees just as well. Or why big trees just aren't welcome. There are only two ways to keep your house from roasting. Crank up the AC, or shade the house. A big tree a little farther away is better than a small tree closer up.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 5:08PM
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ah! duluth Shakespeare, what was he talking about?

"Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous."

Caesar is used to a more plump appearance and sees a threat in what is different. Should t'green challenge Caesar or go with the flow?

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 7:36PM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

I'm up for a bit of a fight to reform my yard, I just don't want to be fighting it forever...

Ok yardvaark - I will get you some better photos. I don't have my camera on me today though. Circulation paths are primarily (in general order of use) from the hedge to the front door, from the driveway to the front door, and then to the right of the house around back. The hedge is made up of lilacs of varying ages. I like the lilacs and want to keep them (especially the older ones with an interesting growth form), but it doesn't necessarily have to be a hedge or a single species hedge. I also like lilacs pruned into a more open form, which might be nice if we then placed something different in front of the lilacs (ideally evergreen). I want to take out the fence simply because I don't like it.

When I mentioned smaller trees being more appropriate, I was specifically thinking if they were to be arranged in a grove. But we certainly have room for larger trees (and smaller trees could be used as an understory eventually). We are going to do some casual grouping of trees further from the house then the area I am showing, but I am most concerned with getting good "bones" in terms of tree placement and walkways in the area I am asking about.

My thought process so far has been:

(1) A grouping of 3 larger shade trees to the right and front of the house to provide shade from the hot afternoon sun and provide a bit of visual "weight" to balance the large garage. We were also thinking that we would have a high canopy on these trees, so we had the benefits of shade but in the house, it would feel more open looking out.

(2) - A medium shade tree closer to the house to help obscure the height difference of the roof. Perhaps this tree should come out further from the house and be larger.

(3) - Paths leading from the hedge and from the drive to the door, and then from where those two paths converge, around to the side yard. Often in yards the central part is grass, providing distinction between planted beds and borders. Since we are not doing a grassy area in this space, I thought maybe a patio could provide some of this contrast and make sense where the paths converge. But maybe since the patio likely wouldn't be used as a patio, this would be trite.

Those are really the elements that had been given some thought in the planting scheme.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 5:40PM
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I'm not asking you to re-do all your pictures. Just that when you add more, make them normal. At first, I thought I was coming down with macular degeneration! A photo to replace the very dark one would be good.

Thanks for the answers.

Heck, your whole yard is practically a stone patio. I get the impression a "patio" per se is not really needed. But you could use some paved space at the door where people might collect or stand for a short spell. Some kind of roof structure overhead would make a lot of difference in the general look of things. It could be an arbor and it could have arbor sides, or not. The entrance needs dolling up.

The existing paths are too narrow I think you already know. The walkway connection between front door, drive and mailbox area (or whatever you have up there) seem fairly standard. The walkway from front yard to back yard via the side yard... what's the frequency of use for that? When people use it rarely they just use the grass. Sometimes they put in stepping stones. If used more often, they put in a more permanent walk. Where do you fit in with those possibilities?

By "open look" of Lilacs, does that equate with tree form where the lower branches and foliage is gone? Can't speak for where you live, but when I lived in Illinois, this was the look that Lilacs took to on their own. They would sucker, form groves, and lose their bottom foliage. Some people tried to keep them low, but is was an ongoing chore. If that's what you mean--since there is more than one type of Lilac--will yours achieve this without much effort? There could be conflicts to come as the shade trees grow and dominate. Lilacs are not known to love shade. How would you like to see that shake out?

It is a large tree in the vicinity of the garage and towering over it that will be most beneficial in bringing the scale of the garage down and making it not stand out so much. Don't have a good picture of the garage that includes space to left of it. Need that.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 7:10PM
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What the heck? That looks like an Albuquerque tract home from the 60s that got blasted with a coat of stucco and too much rock. Why would anyone do that in Washington? WHY? WHY?

I'd start by removing all the stone. But if you like should go with a desert look. Russian sage, artemisia, rosemary, cotoneaster, that sort of thing. Trees: Tall twisty cedars, unless they grow too slowly. Weirdly, crape myrtles can actually give the same feel that a cedar trunk does. Lots of spurges and euhporbias. Flax works peculiarly well in these gardens, too. Does ocatillo do there? Lots of yucca will.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2012 at 11:39PM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

Reyesuela - we have already done a lot of work on the interior of the house, and you would not believe the amount of times we have asked ourselves, what were they thinking? When we were haggling over the price of the house, we specifically called out "a lack of landscaping" as one of our price justifications, and they replied that it was "zeroscaped." I had heard of xeriscaped, but not zeroscaped.

I do think that gardens with a lot of stone can look nice. I love this one for example:

asian landscape design by san francisco landscape architect Kikuchi & Associates

I also love ornamental bunch grasses and lavender.

Yardvaark, thanks for sticking with me here. I need to get the kiddo up and get ready for work, but I'll get back to your questions on my lunch break.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 9:21AM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

Yardvaark - it is really helpful that you pointed out that all the rock is already like a stone patio. That is one of those things were a bit of outside perspective really helps (why I am here in gardenweb bearing my house to the internet-world). I also agree on beefing up the entryway with more of a decent landing and an arbor overhead. I am inclined to expand the arbor across the large window (going towards the left of the house). Also yes to the need for a wider walkway. The concreted area immediately adjacent to the house (going from front door to drive) isn't useful, and we will be tearing it out.

The main traffic pattern to go out back is through the side yard that I've shown (as opposed to over by the garage) - unless you want to travel through the house. It gets used, but not a ton. Walking on the larger cobbles isn't particularly comfortable (and isn't inviting). Before I had thought it might make sense to put in a crushed gravel path. It occurs to me that a much wider "pathway" (similar to what I would envision the width to be if it were grass - 10 ft?) of crushed gravel may work. I can also see stepping stones. I don't really see pouring concrete.

Good questions about the lilacs. Around here I see large lilac shrubs and also lilacs that appear that they are pruned into a tree shape. I don't think they grow that way on their own. In the hedge we have some larger lilacs with old, gnarly branches that I adore - you can see them in the winter but not now that they have leafed out. I have thought about pruning down the suckers (they appear to sucker a lot) and leaving the old branches. But I do not know that much about it.

As far as lilacs and shade... if I have to pick between them I would go for shade. I had thought by keeping the shade trees close to the house, I could avoid this conflict? If eventually we have to replace them, I would like to go with an open-branching shrub that only grows to about 10-15' height. Evergreen, or mixed evergreen-deciduous would be great.

There is very little room to the side of the garage :( - after about 10' the land drops off very significantly there with a steep slope, and we want to maintain the current access.

Here is a pic of the hedge when it actually has some sun-light on it. Random planting boxes will not be sticking around. I know that before I said that I wanted to keep the lilac hedge (it isn't quite a hedge yet), but it would be more accurate to say that I want to keep some of the lilac plants. I also don't envision a clipped hedge: From Front Yard

Thanks again for your help!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 10:29PM
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The owners were probably just ignorant. A LOT of people think that xeriscaping is really called "zero-scaping," and those people think that it means that they can just pave over everything!

And yes, it can look great...but you live in the region that has such incredible, amazing weather for gardening that you can grow almost any temperate kind of garden and it will be not just stunning but a riot of astonishing beauty.


Whatever you do, the current walk and yard do NOT work. The walk MUST be higher than the gravel.

You already know that I'd get rid of the gravel. Let me explain why gravel + abudant rain = unending nightmares.

Gravel doesn't just sit peacefully on top of your soil. It sinks into it, slowly. And organic matter from above--leaves from whatever you plant, for example--filters down, too, and makes more soil. What you end up with after a few years is not a nice pristine expanse of gravel but soil well mixed with gravel--inches and inches and inches of it.

My house was built in '65 as a Prairie style meets Arts and Crafts meets 1950s Modernist. And the owners put in gravel under the eaves and around the bases of the mature trees.

And I curse them on a daily basis. Lengthy, inventive cursing.

And, yes, there was actually a plastic barrier under the gravel around the house. Now there is plastic under a whole bunch of dirt and gravel around the house. It did not work at all.

Now I see that this is actual siding on the front, not pink stucco. So if it were my house, I'd get rid of the gravel even if I had to haul it all by hand, and I'd put a porch on the house--not a victorianesque porch but a clean, not-quite-craftsman style porch. And THEN I'd think about the landscaping.

I entirely believe you about the amount of work you've but in! The nice thing is that it look like it's in good shape, whatever "quirks" it may suffer from.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 12:50AM
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I don't like the mass of gravel either but the OP is in central WA so it's much drier than the west side of the Cascades. I don't think one of the problems is gravel + abundant rain and there are a lot less things which can grow out there.

OP - have you been to any high desert museums? I know there's one in Bend but there might be one closer to you. They have a good range of plants that fit your climate.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 1:11AM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

Hey reyesuela - thanks for your input and interest. I certainly appreciate you sharing your experience with gravel and the long term issues. I am not one to vacuum up organic material, so that really is an issue to think about.

I'm just east of the cascade mountains in the rain shadow. While we are less than 2 hours away from Seattle, we get 10 inches of rain a year (we are just a little lower in elevation from where ponderosa pine transitions to sage brush). We moved from Seattle a few years ago, and so I am just learning how to get things to grow here. Western Washington is amazing for gardeners, but there were several rainy springs when I was loosing starts to rot (and if not rot, then I was battling slugs), and so there were downsides. Right now we have lots of wildflowers in bloom in the sagelands - balsamroot, phlox, lupine, and soon bitteroot. The spring ephemerals over here are a plus.

Our neighbors are currently dealing with marmots living under their house and eating their wiring, so at least we don't have that problem.

Here is a link that might be useful: Alternating sized concrete pads as walkway/patio

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 1:28AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

With that gravelled in front yard, I think the previous owner was correct in calling it a 'zero-scape'. Personally I would be inclined to remove most of it, or perhaps use it to delineate a 'dry creek bed' within areas of softer landscaping. I am assuming you don't get all that much snow that sticks in winter, so that separated concrete step pads with lower soil and ground cover plantings between them or gravel wouldn't be that much of an issue to keep shoveled in winter, perhaps I am wrong about that. If you are willing to consider some sort of decorative arbor/pergola extending across the door and picture window, that could definitely go a long ways towards making the house look more interesting at the front. If heat issues are a major concern on the roof at this northwest corner of the house, then larger trees to shade the roof should be a priority. On the other hand, given that you have larger trees behind and to the side of the house, a grove of smaller scaled trees at the northwest corner would look more attractive against the backdrop of the house and larger trees beyond.

As to creating a patio in front, perhaps just enlarging some portions of the pathway to create a sense of arrival is all that is necessary, in combination with plantings across all that gravel to soften it and reduce the glare. Ground cover type junipers or cotoneasters in combination with grasses and wild flowers and boulders would help a lot.

I'm attaching a photo of a design I installed with varying sized concrete pads as a walkway/path within a garden to give you an idea of how breaking up the expanse of paving can add interest. Perhaps a built-in seat wall with some berming could also be incorporated into your garden entry if the idea appeals.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 1:51AM
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Ah. Got it!

I used to live in the mountains of NM, right where ponderosa turns to pinyon--so it had a similar climate.

We had lots of aspen (don't know if you have the elevation) and something surprising that did AMAZING there was weeping willow. It's short-lived, but it's pretty much the only broadleafed tree other than a few cottonwoods/poplars, the invasive Russian olive, and a couple of maple types that did well.

Lilacs did GREAT, BTW. Really, really great.

You might want to check out High Country Gardens online. I never ordered from them--their prices are a bit frightening--but their catalog is spectacular for your type of climate!!!

All the plants I suggested earlier should do--but probably not the ocotillo, depending on how cold you get.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 1:53AM
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What would be your objective in taking an arbor over the window left of front door? I see some places (blank places) at the house where plants would look good. The house looks a little naked. In the sketch I've blocked out possibilities for plant masses just to get you thinking about it.

I didn't get that far, but something low and colorful below the picture window could be nice... perennial or annuals in planter, etc.

Don't pay any attention to the walk scheme. At this point it is just half baked thoughts. I'll come back to it later. Do I understand you to mean that the main walks will be concrete, but the path to the back will be lesser?

Is is lilacs that form the arch over the walk... or is that something else?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 2:09AM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

tanowicki - I've heard good things about the high desert museum in Bend but haven't made it there yet. We have a few xeriscape demonstration gardens in the general area, but nothing quite like that.

bahia - You are absolutely an artist. Thanks for linking to your own work, which is inspirational and for your thoughts on maintaining the gravel. I will have to give that some more thought. I agree that smaller trees in the northwest corner would be more pleasing to the eye, but I think our desire to shade the house in the late afternoon will win out.

yardvaark - yes, those are lilacs that arch over the walk, older bushes (with the gnarled branches, which are very visible in the winter). I need to give the size of the arbor some more thought as taking it across the window is more of a gut reaction, but may be contrary to the goal of bringing attention to the front door. Your visualization is helpful. What would be the mature size of a "small tree?"


    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 10:21AM
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12' - 16'... with, eventually, a comparable spread.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 10:27AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Is the critical need for sun/heat moderation at the roof, or late afternoon sun through that picture window? If you were to carry a trellis across the entire front, you could add grape vines or wisteria to drape over the top. The trellis could be built to actually sit above the roof eave if you don't want to obscure the view. Vine tracery draping off the trellis would definitely soften the image of the front elevation.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2012 at 1:39AM
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About the house: I think the main culprit for giving it the "hungry look" is the big, undivided window - looking like an empty eye socket. You could try this experiment: put a ribbon of white tape across the window (not in the middle, but towards the left side a bit) step back and see if you like it.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2012 at 2:33AM
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trillium, you need to give feedback.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2012 at 11:52AM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

I'm back folks, thanks for the continuing feedback.

My husband is set on large shade trees close to the house and at this point I'm happy to accept that instead of fight it. I am not exactly sure about the walks - I would like to do cement for the walkways between the hedge and front door and drive and front door, but that isn't a given.

I have been looking for entryway inspiration with a trellis, and came across this which I like a lot: From Front Yard

At this point, I am thinking about retaining a large swath of large graveled area, which will serve as "negative space" and in a more lush climate would be grass, and doing more traditional beds (dominated with ornamental grasses plus a few low evergreen shrubs and flowering perennials) around the perimeter. At this point I am thinking that swath of gravel could be adequate for a walkway around back. So I am thinking something like this (which is pretty similar to what you showed ardvaark): From Front Yard

Timbu, you are right that the window looks large and vacant. I'm inclined to try and soften it around the edges, while still preserving the view out the window.


    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 11:56PM
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What's your thinking on carrying the arbor over the window at left? Seems like it would be more reasonable to be there if the stoop continued that far too... which would incline the stoop to being deeper. The arbor without stoop seems like it could be light competition for a plantings below Unless there was the right plant that liked heat and shade. Have you ruled out a gable structure for the arbor? For an arbor to be effective, it needs to be in t 9'-10' ht... range as foliage will be hanging down from it... a good bit above where you or I show it. It's just something to keep in mind.

In the landscape beds your mentioned, are you saying there will not be gravel mulch in those beds? It seems OK for the path to the back yard through the gravel to just be a swath of gravel... but you can stabilize it for better walking conditions. Do you anticipate night lighting? Is this a DIY project or will a landscape contractor build?

You know that tree leaves and gravel are not necessarily going to be a low-maintenance combo? The gravel is maintained more like paving than a planted bed. You'll need to remove leaves. That's starting to sound like a Gingkgo might be the tree to have.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 5:59AM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

For me it seems to make sense carry the arbor over to the left so that it can tie into the location where there is a jog in the exterior wall. I wanted to avoid having to many jogs along the front, and providing the feeling on a house that just keeps getting added onto piecemeal over time. To tie into the existing roof line would be 8' for the arbor. I think this is possible, if any vine placed doesn't hang down significantly, though not ideal.

Through this process I am thinking that I would be more happy with the outcome if I have landscape beds with organic mulch. Otherwise it is going to continue to feel like a sea of gravel. I like the idea of better prepping/stabilizing the surface of the swath of gravel that would remain. I don't anticipate night lighting. This will be DIY.

I would love to do ginkgo. My husband things they are too slow growing. *sigh* I am planning on planting a small grove just west of the area we are talking about. I think since the trees are a priority, we will just need to live with the maintenance needs.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 9:18AM
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"I wanted to avoid having too many jogs along the front"

Your house seems to be suffering from a chronic abundance of pronounced "plain-ness." I don't see the advantage of adding an architectural feature that should be amending the condition while it is trying so hard not to. Your house needs something interesting... not the absolute minimal extension of the uninteresting. Realistically, any arbor is going to be 3' or 4' depth. It's going to create a protrusion if it's worth anything and the jog at the roofline is so minimal that a meaningful arbor could not be made to match it. Taking the arbor way left while the paving is centered between windows looks unbalanced. The fundamental purpose of the arbor is to create the appearance of an entrance which should give a sense of importance and sheltering. Being realistic about it, vines are not going to hang out only at the top side of an arbor (as in your artist's illustration); they'll hang down to. It looks like there's only a few inches above the door to the eave. An arbor need to be higher than that if it's going to look any good and not be a head-scraper.

You haven't yet reacted to other negatives I brought up about this. A gable arbor might do a better job of adding interest to the architecture.

According to your husband, what tree grows at the speed he'd like to see?

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 12:20PM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

Hi yardvaark - again it is helpful to have your eyes on it to shed light from a different point of view. I like the idea of a larger trellis (length-wise), maybe even extending from where I originally drew it to the end of the house, so that it would be more prominent, and certainly not the "minimal extension of uninteresting." (which BTW is a great phrase). I am also ok with a trellis extending pretty far from the house (4' or even more) - I never thought it would be in line with the existing jog. The idea of connecting with the existing jog (the wall jogs, not the roon) was an attempt to *integrate* with the existing house, rather than do whatever despite the exisiting house. Does what I'm describing make sense (even if you don't agree)? I do think that the asymmetry you bring up is a very good point

Do you have any photos of a gable arbor used right-up over the entry? I don't feel too concerned about plants draping down. It seems like I have passed under 8' tall arbors before with vegetation before. I'm not planning on using anything like wisteria. Maybe a clematis? I wouldn't mind doing some pruning.

As for trees - we were looking for something that was good in touch conditions. Coffeetree and hackberry seem like contenders.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2012 at 3:32PM
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One line covering another line does not do much to make the first line prominent. To my thinking the whole point of the arbor is not to slip in unnoticed, but to give the plain looking architecture something to jump up and get excited about. The plain looking front door is not saying "entrance"; it's saying "closet"! The arbor is an opportunity to change that. I don't see it that "long and low" is doing much about it. It seems "safe," timid... and also ineffective. The objective of adding an arbor is to stand in for what normally would be done by an architectural roof structure: provide shelter (or in the case of an arbor... convincingly look like it), add importance to the entrance and add architectural interest. I can't see that the arbor idea you've proposed is making the best of an opportunity to accomplish those things. In some ways it seems to be working in the opposite direction. Extending the roof in the same plane is not a possibility. Why not start the brainstorming process by loosening up the thinking... and then tame and modify it as constraints presented themselves? My crystal ball predicts that you will either need to extend above the existing roof line (another reason to avoid the left-leaning imbalance)... or "go gable."

I don't have a picture of an arbor as we're talking about at the front door. Such a picture would be rare because--as I mentioned--an entrance normally has a pre-existing architectural roof feature doing this job. You may need to peruse Google images and imagine one image superimposed on another. You might study images of entrances and see what makes some of them desirable and successful.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2012 at 12:14AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

You might want to consider framing out your entry pergola with the main horizontal supports to float above the height of your roof eave, and the top cross pieces could extend slightly over the roof. Making it wider than the typical 4 foot width would seem to fit your situation. I wouldn't rule out slower growing trees such as Gingko's, they can look especially good as a grove.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2012 at 2:54AM
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I keep picturing this home as needing shutters and french windows or maybe slightly lower windows..... more space between the bottom of the eave and the top of the window? Or maybe hide that area somehow? Something just doesnt look right about the windows and I cant get past that...

    Bookmark   May 28, 2012 at 3:46AM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

Bahia - I like the concept that you have shared for the pergola. I particularly like this example that I came across, but one of the reasons it works so well is that it is able to take advantage of an existing roof-line change:

contemporary exterior design by san francisco architect Feldman Architecture, Inc.

Stompoutbermuda grass - can't say I am much of a shutter person. The look I am drawn to is pretty simple, though not nearly as stark as the house as it is now. I think with some landscaping though, some of those oddities won't stick out so much.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2012 at 7:22PM
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While the arbor looks nice, it would be a mistake to place posts for it so close to a wall (left side of arbor next to window.) It would be difficult to maintain.

I think Bahia and I are saying the same thing: that you must lift the height of the arbor, one way or another.

I agree with him too that Ginkgo's would be way up there as a choice in spite of not being the fastest growing trees. In the long run, they would more than make up for it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Krieble garden, Ellensburg, by Mark Turner

    Bookmark   May 28, 2012 at 9:10PM
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Hi trilliumgreen,

Well, here's some late interest in your thread. First let me introduce myself. I have no training in landscape architecture or design. But I like to see gardens, I like plants and I spent a lot of time looking at pictures of gardens in books when I was too ill to read during a couple of extended medical treatments. I live on the wet side of the mountains from you. I feel I'm somewhat out of my league posting here, but have some thoughts.

Is your garden for grownups, or is it for children too? I ask this because gardens can be magical places for children.

You mention the wildflowers near your home; do you see your home environment also as a place for nature? You might think of your garden also as a habitat for birds, butterflies and insects (but not the marmots). For example, for a climber you could consider honeysuckle, as hummingbirds like its flowers.

I've seen some very nice gardens in the Denver area, and there are books written by Colorado authors that might be an inspiration for gardening in your dry climate. Perhaps your library could help you with these. "Plant-Driven Design, creating gardens that honor plants, place and spirit" by Scott Ogden & Laren Springer Odgen and "Cutting Edge Gardening in the Itermountain West" by Marcia Tatroe are a couple of these. Both books include quite a few photos with low growing plants in gravel or pavers. Both include plant lists, including some trees. One of the places where I've seen the golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) was in the Portland Chinese garden; I can see why you are interested in growing it. Tatroe lists it as "xeric", so it should be fine for you.

Have you seen Cynthia Kriebe's garden in Ellensburg? Garden photographer Mark Turner likes it so well that he has posted over 100 photos from 4 visits. He names the plants, which is very helpful. The western larch, a deciduous conifer, is in this garden - I think it's a fairly fast grower.

I think gardens with a serene and spacious feeling can work well in semi-rural settings because these blend well with the surrounding countryside. For me, using low plants (even in gravel) with tall conifers and upright-growing deciduous trees is a starting point.

Best wishes - you should be able to create a garden that brings you and your family great pleasure.


    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 2:56AM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

Hi IshCountry Gal - that is a great link that you posted! I also really appreciated hearing your thoughts. Yes, we are very much interested in nature, and actually the largest appeal of our site is that a creek runs through it, but that the house sites on a terrace up out of the floodplain.

I had heard of the Plant-driven design book but not the cutting edge gardening one. Thanks for the recommendations.

Here is a link that might be useful: Peshastin native plant nursery

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 11:25PM
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Hi trilliumgreen,

I see that the Ellensburg garden in the link is part of the "Inland Northwest Gardening" collection of photos, which includes over 100 gardens! These photos are mostly vignettes of plants in eastside gardens, which might be helpful for selecting plants for your climate, but not for devising a landscape plan, which is a tougher challenge for most of us.

A creek flowing through your place sounds very nice! We selected our house for its semi-rural environment and view, but certainly not for its landscape or its front entryway.

One other link which might of interest to you is to a nursery in Peshastin (near Leavenworth WA). I've enjoyed visiting there in the spring when the plants (especially the penstemons) planted around the nursery are in bloom and abuzz. The owner also has an orchard and grows native plants for restoration, so the times when the nursery is open to the public are limited.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 1:49AM
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