Front Flower Beds

marlowMay 19, 2011

Hi there!

We are a young couple looking for some advice on what to plant in our front flower beds. We bought this house as a fixer-upper and are now working to beautify the front! I've included below some pictures of our front yard. It is definitely in need of some TLC!! I have taken everything out of the two beds now and am ready to start planting. The beds are approximately 7ft deep by 10ft wide. Any advice would be appreciated! Thank you in advance! Rachel

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karinl(BC Z8)

This is one of those questions that is very difficult for us to answer.

For starters, landscape design consists of so much more than foundation planting, and it is not a given that foundation planting is a good idea in most if not all cases. It's an American habit, but as you can see from what's already dying there, plants do not always grow well at the foundation. Also, they do not always enhance the house, and they are often in the way for house maintenance, plus attracting bugs and such to the house. You have quite an attractive foundation and I don't see that it needs to be hidden. Plus, you have low windows.

That said, if you want to fill the beds you have with plants, then this is a plant selection question that is much better answered at your local nursery (preferably not a big box store) than on the internet. We (who live all over the world) can suggest plants until we're blue, but if they are not in stock locally, that is of no help to you, and then we've gone blue for nothing :-) Besides, you haven't given your zone, so no one knows what kinds of plants will work for you.

Plant selection is a very personal thing too - what do you want from the plants? Something you can see flowering in summer from inside, something that you enjoy as you come and go, or something that makes the house look nice and conventional for passers-by?

What this forum CAN do is give you some broad strokes about what considerations to incorporate in your landscape planning if you give us a photo of the place from further away and tell us a bit about what issues you face in terms of landscaping - where you need shade, privacy, view, and so on.

For what it's worth, on the right I'd probably go with a garden of mostly low perennials to avoid blocking the window and to keep it interesting through the growing season. I'm going to assume it's covered in snow the rest of the time! On the left you could actually grass that in and make a better planting bed somewhere else in the yard, maybe with some tall stuff (even a tree) to provide some privacy and to break up the front of the house a bit. Of course, some people would think that a symmetrical house has to have symmetrical landscaping, but since the walkway is not symmetrical, I think the door is open.


    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 6:23PM
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As Karin mentions, a lot depends on what you want. What may be a perfect planting plan for an avid, die-hard gardener may not be appropriate for a young couple such as yourself.

One of the first things to note is that there is no such thing as a maintenance-free landscape. Even the most robust, hardy, drought- and pest-tolerant plantings (or lack thereof) will need some sort of maintenance. How much time are you willing to spend on the landscaping? How much knowledge or experience do you have, or are willing to gain?

Other random points I'd like to bring up - the success of plantings is usually strongly affected by the type/quality of the soil. Knowing what you have to work with in terms of drainage, organic matter, moisture, alkalinity/acidity (i.e. pH), etc. will help you choose plants that are best suited for the conditions - or inform how you should amend the soil.

Random point #2 - re: Karin's comment on symmetry - symmetry can be an effective way of creating a balanced, unified landscape/planting plan since both sides will be mirrored and you won't have to deal with asymmetrical balance. If you don't consider yourselves design-savvy, it can be an effective design option. Downsides - can often look "stiff," "formal," or "forced," depending on the context and how the design itself is executed.

- Audric

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 8:05PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

It looks to me like the previous shrubs were placed much too close to the house, especially considering the overhanging second story and eaves. If most of the weather comes from behind the house, the back half of those beds wouldn't have gotten much moisture from rainfall. In any case, when there are shrubs along a foundation, it's a good idea to leave the 1-2' adjacent to the house unplanted, to allow for window-cleaning, other house maintenance, and growth of the shrubs, as well as access to prune and maintain them. This would be the case even if you plant perennials instead of shrubs.

Besides knowing your zone and/or general location, it would help to know which direction the house faces. Maybe the Previous Owner chose shrubs that needed more or less sun than the area receives.

Here's a map where you can look up your USDA zone. (If you're in Canada or Europe, there are other options.)

I'm going to disagree with Karen about foundation shrubs. Yes, you have a good-looking foundation. And with the low windows, any shrubs placed there would have to be kept low. But if it were my house, I'd want something that would hide the gas meter and the horizontal (electrical?) piping -- or at least distract from it. Perhaps you could paint the pipe the color of the bricks.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 9:06PM
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Thank you all so much for your input! I can see I haven't provided enough details...
Our house faces South West and our zone is 5A.
I did work for a landscaping company a few summers back, but I spent most of my time maintaining gardens, and had little to do with design. I find gardening very soothing. I can't believe how good it feels pulling weeds and I love to trim and prune shrubs.
I like the idea of keeping the shape of the beds symmetrical but am open to mixing up the plants. I was thinking of planting a mix of shrubs and perennials. Because we get snow for 4 months of the year, it'd be nice to plant some shrubbery that will hold its color throughout the year. But in the spring and summer months, some colorful perennials would be lovely!
So as much as I enjoy maintaining gardens, I am simply stumped when it comes to growing new ones.
Any suggestions at all will be appreciated! I really appreciate you taking the time to help!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 10:26PM
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Looks as though the upright shrubs should be on the outer corners and then short mounding shrubs going toward the stoop. The front of the house already has a lot going on though, so maybe you do not want any vertical plants. I'd get rid of the upright shrubs all together and consider sturdy trellises on each far side with clematis vines since I like to put them in wherever I can. :) I'd aim for symmetry in shrubs along the back and mix it up a bit with perennials in front.

I'd move the urns up to the stoop and use them for annuals in the summer and in winter you can fill them with evergreen cuttings to keep them from looking too dreary. Then put in matching plants on either side of the steps--dwarf evergreens, small deutzias like Chardonnay Pearls because they are so cute, or grasses even, depending on what kind of look you'd like. Grasses might be the easiest to keep in bounds. If you try shrubs, chances are at first the shrubs are too small and then suddenly they are too big! Grasses also can add their own winter interest if you do not cut them back until the spring. But, perhaps you wouldn't like grasses so up close and personal. It is a matter of fitting your preferences, after all.

For perennials, well one possibility out of a multitude is baptista (false indigo) with stunning flowers, handsome foliage and seed pods to boot. A flat topped yarrow could make a nice contrast to the upright spires of baptista. You could edge the front with something like daylillies to give it an overall cohesive feel if that suits your tastes, or keep it varied with a selection of low mounding plants to provide more to look at.

You might also consider peonies, one of the joys of living in zone 5 in my opinion. If you enjoy flowers, a peony has plenty to offer for a short period of time. I find the shrubs attractive out of bloom as well. They do require some minimal care--putting out hoops to prevent flower flops and fall clean up of debris. They are best planted in fall. Also add a few narcissus in the fall to cheer you up as winter comes to an end. :D

Probably you should take a look around your area and see what grows well and also what kinds of plants grab your attention.
Good luck with whatever you decide.

Oh yes, and do you need to keep the meter accessible there? Maybe you can leave room for the reader to access it from behind the shrubs.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 3:18PM
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You can do SO much with this, I'm envious.

I would start by getting some gardening magazines and cutting out the pictures you are interested in or really like. You'll see a trend emerging soon, and that will lead you toward your style (formal, country, cottage, contemporary, eclectic, etc).

From a functional perspective consider where you will put snow when you have to shovel the walk & driveway. And consider if you want to attract wildlife or not (bees, birds, chipmunks, squirrels, skunks).

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 4:07PM
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