Cearbhaill's unattractive facade house

cearbhaillJune 21, 2012

OK, I confess- my Mom is buying the unattractive house I posted in the "Foundation Plantings" thread.

It is a beautiful and well kept home... on the interior.

Solidly built in 1955 with enough improvements (new baths, kitchen, windows, doors) and enough of the older features (quarter sawn oak floors and millwork) to appeal to her.

While the lot is huge and deep and the neighborhood well able to return the investment in improvements she is old and frugal and there would be no money spent on remodeling and hardscape. It is the very definition of the worst looking house in the best neighborhood. We could spend twice what the house is worth on improvements and not over price it for the area, but that must be left to someone in the future as she doesn't want to fool with it.

The enormous driveway on the right precludes being able to do much on that side as the concrete pad attaches directly to the house-

There is more room to work with on the left, although those windows make finding something to anchor that corner without blocking what little light there is is particularly vexing-

Here is my first idea on how to help the house- is there anything I am doing right?

Despite my horrid attempt at photo manipulation I do allow room to walk behind plants... I am unable to convey depth perception in this quick rendering. I tend to put my plants well away from my house.

Any plants will be up to me to provide, install, and maintain so at this point only the front would be addressed.

This has to be kept simple both for ease of mowing (if I can't do it on a rider it will likely not be done every week) and for maintenance. She needs to be able to water from the porch or very close to it- escaping yard work is half of why she wants to move to begin with.

Budget would be a primary factor- I want three DeGroot's in the middle there and something substantial near the left corner where conifer variety choice and placement will be crucial because of the tiny window, so the bulk of the budget would go to those plants and whatever conifers I decide to use under the tiny windows. I was going to use boxwoods on the right and just suck it up to keep them in bounds as regards proximity to the house.

In my opinion the plants I have chosen will not outgrow their spaces in what remains of her lifetime (other than the boxwoods which she really, really wants) and the home will be sold and not my problem after she passes (assuming I can improve its appearance enough to have it sell at that point).

The home faces southeast, south being on the left corner and east on the right corner.

Any suggestions would be welcome with the reminder that it cannot involve any sort of "remodel" at all- I'm looking for planting design only.

That and keeping the mowing simple.

I appreciate any thoughts.

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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I know you don't want 'remodel' comments - but those windows scare the dickens out of me! Especially since the side view makes it obvious that they aren't just bathroom windows but must be bedroom windows. Fire saftey is the first thing that comes to mind. How could anyone get out of those windows if access to the main door(s) was blocked? Unless there is a safe and easy exit from her bedroom that is not visible in these photos, I think providing bigger windows in her bedroom - or a door of some sort - would be the number 1 priority for an aging homeowner.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 9:41AM
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You should soft the house's "box" appearance and hard straight of the driveway.you could not plant trees and shrubs close up along the foundation straights.A fluid line nice.Should plant big trees to screen the right front corner of the house's top and some part of the driveway.should screen some other part of the house too.but don't block the sun light of the windows and the door.don't close up.You could check in some my pics in other thread.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 9:53AM
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Actually, (little voice) I don't find the house that bad at all. It's a modest, unassuming and well built MCM bungalow that is essentially a blank canvas as far as landscaping goes. And you're right, it doesn't have to be you that takes things to the next level.

Most importantly though, what does your mom want for herself? Does she like her privacy or is she a sociable neighbour? Has she been a gardener in the past? Does she want to continue to work outside or just sit back and smell someone else's roses? Does she prefer vegetables or flowers, annuals or perennials, sun or shade?

If it were my senior family member and I was going to have to end up doing most of the work, I think I would probably just use some colourful shrubs, small flowering trees and a few cheerful pots of fragrant annuals near the front door. Boxwood smells like cat pee to me , so I would keep it away from my entry - how about edging the driveway with it instead?

Your initial plan certainly looks do-able. Are you going for a courtyard effect? If you are, have you seen those elevated planter boxes? With careful placement, they might look referential with the home's broad lean lines while creating that sense of enclosure.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 11:43AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

When you first posted the photo of the house it didn't seem horrid to me.
The only thing that jumped out at me was the undersized windows and as one who works regularly on these types of renovations, I didn't see it as a big buck renovation.

But I get where your mom is coming from. Frugal and low maintenance are not dirty words.

I'm not from the school of smash a lot of plants up against the facade of the house to give it a sense of linkage to the surrounding landscape.
I tend to try to understand the clients role ( in your case a frugal low maintained yard is key ) and then work on the aesthetics of the landscape so that it responds to the homeowner and site in a functional way.

To my eye there is just too much flat green lawn in the foreground that emphasizes the simple line of the cottage.

If you were to simplify the planting directly against the house ( not so dense that it hides the little cottage ) and move a low easy to maintain hedge out 2/3 rds of the way into the lawn then you create a larger sense of entrance lending a courtyard feel, and can cut down on maintenance by either infilling the interior courtyard with compacted gravel or just leave it as grass and run a mower over it.

I'm not a computer sketch kind of gal, .. rather more of the 60 second sketch kind of mentality.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 12:13PM
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Cearbhaill, I think the 3 pictures you posted are pefect examples of what people ought to include when they seek landscape advice here. They give a great feel for the overall layout of the yard. Like adriennemb and deviant, I don't find the house all that bad either. It's certainly not beyond being helped by landscaping

"Despite my horrid attempt at photo manipulation..." Where did you get the plants? They don't look individually drawn (a time saver!)... Tell. I need!

I agree with the basic philosophy of placing plants where architectural-interest voids exist, but less with the details of your proposed landscape scheme. The house still seems like a box not quite comfortably fit to earth because so much roof shows. Too much boring roof is like to too much boring wall. The three 'needles' centered between the windows seem like they will mature into a flat, tall, solid rectangular 'panel' and not be as interesting as something a little more '3-D'. (Placing a new 'panel' in front of an already existing panel seems to shortchange more sculptural possibilities.) Trimming the conifer at the corner to keep it from an overgrown size as it matures would be a PITA . And it doesn't seem that the front and left side yard require being divided by so much eye-level solid mass. Even though you said no hardscape, a nice, wide walk set out a little farther from the house coming to a new, wide step would be a big, relatively low cost improvement.

(I sometimes think that when I submit a sketch like this that people wrongly interpret it as if I'm claiming no possible element need be added to the scheme, or changed. Just because I don't (can't) draw every last possibility doesn't mean that the OP couldn't use the sketch for any number of purposes including to expand on, or just to stimulate thinking if I'm too far off their track. My picture is not saying that so called "foundation" planting is the limit of landscaping. It's saying that it's the part I want to offer.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 12:47PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Windows are tricky - good egress always means greater vulnerability to unwelcome intrusion. But I'm with Woody that seeing those same windows on both sides of the house has me going.... umm, bring me the wrecking bar.

The thing that interests me in your first photo is the for-sale sign. When there is no sign, your eye scoots unimpeded to the house across that brief expanse of lawn, and *crash* lands on it.

If you put plants at the foundation, your eye still scoots unimpeded across the lawn, but now it *crash* lands in the bushes. No improvement.

Put a visual resting point at the for sale sign, or probably more to the left, and maybe another thing or two to look at, and your eye will begin to meander to the house, having a more pleasant journey. Plants are good. Trees are good. Specimen shrubs maybe.

Something that allows the eye to understand that the green strip is a space that a person can be in.

But as you discovered in buying the house (or rather, your mom) looks are not everything. Every single thing you add to the yard adds work - raking, edging, trimming, pruning. If something tall is next to the house as per Yardvaark's favourite umbrella plant :-) you can add eaves cleaning to the list.

So what I would probably consider is a fence, a charming little picket fence. Maybe with one specimen shrub placed near the fence off to the left, far from the house so it can grow without any attention. The ideal design for this house would be different depending on what people live in it.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 1:31PM
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Thoughts to think about for sure.
Thanks everyone.

She is fairly adamant about not wanting to expand the beds because of maintenance. She cannot do it and I am just this side of overwhelmed maintaining my own gardens.
Once I show her Yaardvark's mock-up she may loosen up a bit, but again- getting away from outside work is a large part of why she is moving.

woodyoak I will speak with her about fire safety- but the windows would have to be to code... right?
At least now we know to have a plan so thanks for that.

adriennemb she does not want to work outside- at all.
It will be my chore. She will not be social other than waving hello. If she wants to spend time outdoors amongst flowers she will come to my house just around the corner.

deviant-deziner thank you for the sketch- I will show it to her.
The first plan I made for her widened the sidewalk on the street side and curved it to join the driveway, plus planted on the street side of the sidewalk. She said no, that was too much stuff. She really wants only to do the bare minimum to make the house a bit more attractive.

Yaardvark- those hastily rendered "plants" are GIMP font blobs used repeatedly. Sorry I don't have a set of plant stamps for you.
Your mock up is beautiful and I will show her.
I think it will stimulate both of our thinking processes in a very good way. I thank you for taking that time.

karinl- Yes, her house her decisions.
Besides leaving her high maintenance yard of over 40 years, she is making the move to keep things easy for me as she ages. The least I can do is let her make her own decisions as regards plants, and for her less is better.
I'll mention a picket fence :)

Thanks everyone.
I enjoy being educated!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 3:41PM
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Cearbhaill -
if the windows stay as they are, I'd rather keep all the colour and interest close to the walkway. The left side could be just a solid wall of green - evergreens are slow growing, so you'd have to buy your plants big, but would you also consider decidous shrubs?

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 9:18AM
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I would consider deciduous shrubs in the second tier of plants but want conifers or broadleaved evergreens for the major portion of the plants.

She is seriously not interested in gardening, just making the home a bit less stark when folks come to visit.

I showed her the mockups generously provided here and her comment was:
"I LOVE the one with the big bed on the left but it would be pricey and high maintenance and that is simply not my goal."

Gotta love the lack of tact- she knows what she wants and fancy is not it :)

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 11:12AM
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Remove all the existing stuff in the ground and keep it sharp with perhaps gravel between lawn and house. Duplicate the under window arrangement Yardvaark shows, on the other side of the door, keep a hanging basket. Renew these three every summer and buy your mum a watering can and perhaps a contract with a lawn firm.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 5:46PM
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Does viburnum rhytidophyllum stay evergreen in your climate? I'd be looking for something globe-shaped rather than columnar for screening.
Heucheras are fairly low-maintenance plants with lots of variety, they keep their leaves through the year even in my zone 5, and would contrast well with the boxwoods.
Have you also thought of automatic irrigation?

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 3:55AM
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Regarding maintenance one thing is for sure: selecting a tree that must be trimmed to keep it from being too tall or wide takes significantly more effort than selecting a tree that grows only to the desired size. It's one reason large "shrubs" make some of the best small trees. Removing lower branches is a maintenance task that slows and eventually ends. Pruning top growth on the other hand NEVER ends.

Getting weeds out of beds and keeping them out is probably the biggest chore that one must face. How difficult it is correlates directly to the management practices one employs. There are easy ways and difficult ways and a lot has to do with preparation before planting.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 7:02AM
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timbu- Viburnums make my teeth hurt- between finding suitable pollination buddies and coordinating their bloom times I am not taking on another species of them, sorry.
Automatic irrigation is not necessary or something she would ever do- watering plants is not a chore.
A chore is something you do not enjoy doing :)
And for the record I find pruning to be one of the most enjoyable activities imaginable.

I use heucheras a lot on my own property and she likes them, so maybe we'll use some although most of my main issues here are vertical. Ground cover color is easy, lol.

I weed approximately eight hours a week on my hands and knees Yaardvark- so if you have some magic potion, do tell.
It's elbow grease all the way around here and I have a big yard. Throwing her an hour or so a week will barely make a dent in my routine.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 7:24AM
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There's not a "magic formula" but several practical things one can do. For a project at one's own (or mother's) home where plenty of time is available, a nice way to remove weeds is via the layer of newspaper or cardboard covered with mulch. Kill existing plants/weeds with light starvation over a period of time... a couple of months depending on what the weeds are. If you're not adverse to chemicals, judicious use as needed can be a great help. After planting, the use of pre-emergent granules--per a proper schedule--can help a lot during the first two years of the establishment period until the plant "canopy" produces sufficient shade. A heavy mulch layer helps as I'm sure you already know. Never letting weeds go to seed makes a big difference in the beginning. Employing all these methods makes it so that routine maintenance is just a series of light touch-ups and very little chemical use.

I love pruning, too. But not on top of a 12' ladder.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 7:52AM
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Oh, no weed magic, then :)

I do all of those things and still spend eight hours a week (more in the spring) weeding- maybe your definition of a "light touch up" differs from mine. I suspect that I am simply less tolerant of small weeds- I'm a "must. be. perfect." sort of gardener.
Most days I enjoy it.

I hear you on the ladder- but I am a tad confused because nothing I am considering in this thread would require the use of a ladder to prune, certainly not in my mother's lifetime. Slow conifers are slow :)

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 12:56PM
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My magic wand spray comes out of. Since I am intolerant of any weeds--seeing the smallest, barely visible one as only the start of a colony, and eventually a society--I can't imagine--unless you have an acre--how you can spend 8 hours per week hand weeding if you're amenable to using the full arsenal... in particular, never letting weeds go to seed. You'd need to be very specific about what the actual problems are in order to have solutions better diagnosed.

As far as pruning on a ladder goes, I'm reacting to the photo of your proposed conifer at the corner of the house. Having no idea what plant you actually would use, I'm imagining it as one of the billion house corners in the USA where that little sucker-of-an-evergreen is later 2 or 3 times the the height of the house. It seems the alternative is a dwarf that takes forever to grow and no one willing to wait 30 years for it to get to size. It's waiting, or regular top-pruning, both of which I dislike. (I don't mind the waiting as much as the ladder pruning.)

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 1:52PM
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I'll be careful with my conifer choice.

And as for the weeds- yes, I have an over an acre and a good deal of it is beds.

My specific problems are that seeds germinate in mulch, birds drop seedy poo, squirrels bury seeds, acorns sprout, hickory nuts sprout, berries sprout, and I'm surrounded by woods which send all manner of things in via magical invisible runners and airborn seeds. If all the wild violets in eastern Kentucky would die I could cut my time in half.

A major issue for me is that my budget dictates buying smaller plants and waiting for them to grow which leaves me too much unfilled space. As it becomes more dense my work load will decrease- I've only been here since '07 and a few beds are nearly there already.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 2:32PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I often wait till they're big enough to yank. Twenty baby weeds often become only one big one.

I've started investigating tools with long handles, like cultivators, hoes, etc. My hands and knees days are almost over, prematurely because I have done too much garden work the last 20 years. Take it easy out there!

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 2:42PM
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"I have an over an acre and a good deal of it is beds."

Therein lies the problem. You just need more of you, a tractor-towed spray rig, a lot of Preen and institute some all-the-beer-you-can-drink weeding parties!

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 3:42PM
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I am 100% on board with deviants design, it adds depth to the house and low maintenance. I would get some lattice work for the front middle and get a climbing vine, maybe a climbing rose for it, to me that would also add depth, color, intrigue, and a bit of mystery.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 2:50PM
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trilliumgreen(7 PNW)

Cearbhaill, when you threw this house out as an example on the foundation planting thread, I thought it was very helpful in promoting a more tangible discussion. It is helpful for my own thought process to have it more fully fleshed out in this thread. I also really like modest homes.

I particularly like the bed lay-out yaarkvark proposed. I think it works either with or without the small tree between the windows. The bed could be simplified by using mulch instead of a ground cover. It might be worth while to invest in good edging to make mowing easier.

I'm no expert but have a few photos from my time scouring the web that you might find interesting. Both of them use a rock bed right around the house and very simple plantings placed away from the house

Contemporary Landscape design by Milwaukee Landscape Designer Ginkgo Leaf Studio

Modern Exterior design by Austin General Contractor Texas Construction Company

From your description it sounds like the motivation for improvement is to help the house sell down the road, but when the time comes to sell, the location will offer much of the appeal. For what it's worth, I would do whatever makes your mom and you the most happy (thinking especially about your time commitment) and not feel obligated to make upgrades.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 11:33PM
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"From your description it sounds like the motivation for improvement is to help the house sell down the road, but when the time comes to sell, the location will offer much of the appeal. For what it's worth, I would do whatever makes your mom and you the most happy (thinking especially about your time commitment) and not feel obligated to make upgrades. "

That's some good reading between the lines!
She is planning many improvements on the interior and who knows, if she lives long enough she may go on a tear and do something more extensive on the exterior down the road.

When I moved back here in '07 and started on my own yard project she caught the fever and did a bit too much in the way of landscaping on her current home. She had it professionally installed but the maintenance surprised her a bit and she is now pretty much put off by the thought of pulling weeds.

I just want to get some basics in there this fall when planting time is here so they can get settled in and start growing while she is consumed with the interior for the next year or so.

I would do far more extensive plantings if it were mine but it is her home, her money, and she has opinions- I'm just the help here :)

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 7:06AM
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I would shift the focus from the foundation. The yard needs something setting it back from the street. Out where the For Sale sign is now - put in several sections of fence in a style you like - probably picket. On the house side create a planting bed at least 4 foot deep - plant a nice arrangement of perenials/ shrubs and zone/sun appropriate plants. Get suggestions from a local nursery or hire a Master Gardener/garden club member to draw up a simple layout. This will give your mother a view SHE can enjoy while improving the curb view. Hold off on making changes to the foundation for a bit - ideas and motivation will come for that down the road.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 9:46PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

I would make one suggestion that no one seems to have addressed. I don't know how old your mom is, but most seniors want to stay home as long as possible. Even more than the financial aspect of this, I would be thinking ahead of time of how to adjust the walkway to handle a short ramp and wider walkway.

It was eye-opening when I broke my leg at age 54 and couldn't make it up four short stairs to the front door. Access was impossible without a ramp, first with a wheelchair and then a walker. And extra width helps, because sometimes you have to maneuver around the disabled person to do something.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 2:24PM
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