Landscaping front of basic Cape-style home

lizzie_nhMay 15, 2010

Okay, I have been wrestling with a landscaping problem for a couple years now, and have just found this forum and hope someone can help. I simply do not know how to landscape the front of my house in anything more than the most simplistic way. Sorry, this post is kind of long.

I will post pictures if someone can tell me how - I know the photos will help a lot.

Here are the details of the house and its surroundings. My house is a basic Cape - symmetrical in design, with the front door in the center, two windows on either side of the front door, and two dormers on the second storey. The front door is raised up maybe 3'-4' from the ground, so there is a front porch that goes up several steps. Right now, this is your basic builder-grade pressure-treated wooden porch with railings. (We may or may not replace this.) There is also quite a lot of foundation showing because of how high that first floor sits off the ground. There is no side addition like some capes have - it's a basic rectangular house, with white siding, black shutters, red front door.

The lot is a large rural lot with about 10 acres, mostly wooded. The house is set back maybe 150' from the road, with a gravel driveway (flanked by woods) that slopes down quite a bit to meet the house. The land continues to slope beyond the house, so the back of the house appears to be 3 storeys, with a walk-out basement. There is a back deck on the first floor (appears to be second floor) and a large grassy area out back and to the right side of the house. This is all surrounded by woods, and the woods are criss-crossed with old New England stone walls, some of which are visible from the yard.

My problem is coming up with a landscape design for the front area of the house - to the left and right of the front porch, under the windows. It's a very rural/wooded setting, but the symmetry of the house and the traditional colors seem to call for fairly formal plantings. I'm having trouble coming up with something somewhat formal that still integrates well with the surrounding woods. There are several new houses in this style in my area, but the homeowners have not landscaped at all, so the houses don't provide much inspiration. And capes in suburan areas lack a number of elements with which I am dealing, so I don't get much inspiration there, either. There are also two "design problems" - first is the driveway. The gravel driveway comes right up to the house... there used to at least be a strip of grass in front of the house, so there was some delineation between the driveway and the front of the house, but that got chewed up by a snowplow. Because of where we park the cars (the driveway swings to the right so the cars are somewhat in front of the house but tucked off to the right) we can't take up too much space in front of the house with plantings (maybe 6' can be used.) The other design problem is the wooden porch... it's fine, but it looks "unfinished" - it's totally open underneath, too. This is one detail which is decidedly NOT formal.

My attempts at landscaping the front of the house have, to this point, included planting 4 small-ish (3' now) boxwoods - two on either side of the front door, centered under the windows. I have mulched around them with a dark brown mulch, and edged them with a rectagular granite blocks (maybe 4" x 8" in side.) The edging is completely rectangular... it comes out perpendicular to either corner of the house, and then runs, again in a straight line, along the front of the house, meeting up with the bottom of the porch. I was pleased with this at first, as it was certainly better than having absolutely nothing. Now, because of the lack of variation in color and height and texture, it looks very amateurish to me. I also think we should have, perhaps, built a stone wall a foot or more high (in place of just stone edging) and raised everything up a bit.

So, the real question - what groupings of plants would you include? I have ideas about plants that I like but can't think of anything that I can plant with boxwoods, which are so formal and compact... how do I begin to integrate other plants? The boxwoods are oval in shape now. I'd like variation in height, too. I'm not totally against removing the boxwoods altogether, or digging them up and raising everything as I had thought of before. And should the edging or wall (if I use it at all) be rectangular, or maybe curved to complement the very square house?

I'm not against paying for someone to come and landscape the place, but if I can do it myself, I'd like to.

Thanks for any responses... I hope people can picture what I am describing.

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I just wanted to add that this is relatively new construction (6 years old) and it was a spec house. It was one of those cookie-cutter new houses with absolutely no landscaping. My husband bought the house when it was new (before I came along) and made other changes to the surrounding area, but did no landscaping out front... that's why it made it as long as it did as a blank slate.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 11:08PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Ten acres and stone walls: ooh, I'm envious!

mjsee explains posting pictures on this thread:

The site's instructions are here, but apparently difficult to follow:

It would probably help if you could tell us which direction the house faces and how much sun the boxwoods get. Also which USDA zone you're in; if you don't know your zone, you can enter your zip code at this site and find out:

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 1:05AM
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tibs(5/6 OH)

Can you use any of the stones from the walls? I am envious too.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 8:51AM
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Thanks - I will read that explanation of posting pics and post some. Right now I don't have any that really show the surroundings AND the house - I have one zoomed right into the front of the house, which shows the "problem spot," and I have a bunch of others that show just the (non-problem) land.

We could use stones from the walls. These are granite stone walls (typical all over New Hampshire, especially) with round-ish stones. They're really very pretty, weathered, some with lichen. We have some very intact ones, and others that are halfway buried in the woods. We really have an endless supply of rocks from the walls or even just in the ground (even digging to build raised bed gardens was quite the project.) In a way, I hate to remove rocks since the walls are old and historic, although the walls in the woods aren't really seen by anyone, so we could take stones from those. We have thought about it, but even the small ones are so heavy that it would be rather difficult. We did have the thought of using them to build a stone retaining wall out front and planting in there.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 9:25AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I'll just add to Mel's instructions that your photo will show up when you hit "preview message." If it doesn't show up, then do not hit "submit message" - go back to Photobucket and make sure you have the right code.

But you've done such a good job describing that it seems a shame to spoil that with pictures :-) so I'll try to suggest something useful from your OP.

First, review some other threads on foundation planting - oh my lord, how many times have I said, does it really need foundation planting? Your porch might seem to call for screening of the underneath, but maybe you want to lattice it in or do something with just stone instead (or concrete blocks, like ours :-(...). The one thing I hate about porches, including my own, is that you can't seem to have one without also having a horrid low area underneath it that either looks ugly or, if closed in, is a claustrophobic cave. And that can be good critter habitat. That's another reason I prefer to pull plants away from the foundation if you have space, that the more secluded it is, the more attractive it is for habitat and the less you can get in there to chase critters out.

So I have some other concepts that might transition better to the woodland: specimen plants here and there, or larger island beds with an assortment of plants. I actually find detached islands a bit random, so I tend to make mine isthmuses (perhaps more accurately peninsulas, but I like the former word better) extending from a border across the yard, but if you don't have borders, they'll have to be islands.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 3:03PM
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