Plant / design ideas for ugly boring exterior

weed_ninja(5b)June 23, 2012

Please help I have a very ugly boring exterior I am trying to spruce up. I have to keep the driveway and concrete porch but everything else can go. I was considering doing a square flat cut stone (limestone,flagstone)flanking the driveway right to the street but the cost was too high. Now I am considering just replacing the existing walkway. Should I keep the concrete borders? Rip it all out? What type of plants would you recommend as the area under the tree only gets a little sun in the morning. Someone suggested a simple boxwood hedge all the way across the front, is this too boring? I would like something easy to maintain, and unusual. Any creative ideas ?????? I would really appreciate it as I am stuck !

Thanks !

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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

what is your budget ?

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 3:27PM
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molie(z6 CT)

Would you be willing to prune up or get rid of the tree? It hides the house.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 8:52PM
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The tree more than anything else seems to be screaming for attention. Ever sat at a dining room table with a centerpiece that blocked the view of the person across from you? This tree seems to be doing exactly that... blocking the view of the entrance and other important architectural features. Removing the bottom 3' of branches would be a good start. Cut back to the main trunk without leaving stubs. Remember, the branches that remain will grow longer and hang down more each year so that later, you'll need to remove some of them.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the concrete planter. It could be improved by thicker, fuller... maybe even more colorful planting.

The plan-view layout of the walk seems fine but it looks like it brings one to a giant (9" or 10") step in order to get up onto the porch. It looks like the walk has settled. Raising and re-setting the pavers, reworking the edge and blending the grading would cure that. What is it about the walk layout that disturbs you? While I don't think it's necessary, improving the walk by making it wider and at an improved elevation or layout would not be harmful... except to your pocketbook.

Improving what plants you have near the house would likely help, too. But your pictures are not good enough to show clearly, what exists. A SMALL tree in the vicinity of the left, front garage corner would probably help your house look more "nestled in."

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 8:19AM
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I guess the last 2 responses above confused me. Are we looking at the same house? I see a blue spruce that is already pruned to remove the bottom roughly 6-8 feet of limbs. I can see the house well enough through it, and I'm sure the homeowners can see out the front window well enough. What is there to see, anyway, the identical style of house across the street? Maybe if you're Mrs. Kravitz and like to watch the neighbors, lol.

Personally, I would 100% keep the spruce at this point if it were me, unless it has some disease issue that photos don't show. I wouldn't bother changing out the walkway and the enclosed bed unless it was crumbling, looks decent enough and you could devote that money to other aspects of the project. I would plant MORE and BETTER plants, extending the bed further out, creating some sort of shade garden under the spruce, using containers if root competition made it absolutely necessary, and using some taller screening materials further out at the periphery of the bed nearer the street to create privacy for the homeowner and keep any potential "Mrs. Kravitz" across the street from watching. You do, of course, have to keep in mind any restrictions placed upon you by code or HOA rules concerning the amount of lawn you are required to have and how tall/large plantings can be. That could be limiting factor.

Since we don't really know where you are, what your climate is, and what the exposure and soil are, we can't really suggest specific plants for your region at this point.

My almost completely uneducated in the field of landscape design 2 cents worth. Take it for what it's worth.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 9:38AM
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Spruce are common in yards here; most are old and 40-60 footers. They're limbed only when the ground sweep branches start dying making it necessary. I'll probably get an argument here, but they're also fairly shallow rooted. Not uncommon for a heavy snow load (or a high wind or terrible rain and flooding such as we experienced last Wednesday) to take them out rootball and all. I've got two 50 footers that I want taken out just to avoid potential severe house damage.

I'm not fond of toadstooling mature trees and shrubs.

Sorry yard, but I would not limb the OP's spruce, but concentrate on the planter and some shade/partial shade loving shrubs in front of the porch and maybe along the curve of the walk. I wouldn't be too quick to rip up the concrete work either

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 10:46AM
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@ duluth - Bingo!! "Toad stool" is the perfect analogy for which I've been mentally searching. Thank you.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 10:57AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Is "lacing" of conifers, I.e. thinning out some of the branches so it appears more open something that is done to Spruce trees in the midwest? This is fairly routine with massive Coast Redwood trees of similar form here in northern California, and the benefits are visuslly opening up the tree to reduce windload in storms, admit more daylight and views of the house, and give the house/tree relationship a better balance. Like some others here, limbing up a tree isn't always the best solution, and still leaves the visual of the tree dominating the scale of the house.

A photo taken from the porch bench/living room window would also help with getting germane advice. Personally I have never liked those sorts of pathway runway lights either, and the raised planter might be raised to the level of the entry porch and faced in brick, perhaps with more elegant wall lights built in. A new sweep of shrubbery adjacent the street and curving in at the driveway might give a nicer presentation from the street as well as from the house, while minimizing difficulties with tree root competition and deep shade.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 11:24AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

My front garden started with a big white spruce somethiwg like that one. I tried gardening under it for two years before giving up and having it removed! In my experience and observation of those types of trees, limbing up tends to lead to the tree getting quite ugly quite quickly :-) Without the support of the lower branches, the ones above seem to deteriorate and lose needles/skeletonize. The tree's roots are a dense, hungry, thirsty mass, so planting under the tree is difficult to impossible. Containers are a PITA to water - removing the tree is the best option in my opinion.

The little raised concrete bed could look quite nice with some plants draping over the edges. It's hard to tell what the shrubs are in the planter so it's hard to say whether to just add some things to it or remove what's there and start over with different things. The drop/step down from the porch looks a bit high but it's hard to tell whether you could reduce it simply by relaying and raising the brick walkway. A bed on the outer side of the walkway would look good if it was nicely shaped to blend the driveway to the porch in an open sweeping curve.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 11:46AM
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"Lacing" a conifer would ruin the shape that attracted you to it in the first place. Most that I'm familiar with: Norways, Colorado Blues, Black Hills, Siberians, have a symmetry that taking out random or middle course branches would destroy.

Here is a link that might be useful: extreme perhaps

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 12:03PM
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Forgot to add... willful lacing of conifers would be virtually non-existent here. Lightening might do it, snow load might do it but generally not someone with a chain saw.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 12:13PM
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This house isn't necessarily ugly... just very 60/70s, and the blue spruce really adds to that "period" feel (which could be enhanced by putting dwarf blue conifers, hostas, etc. in the concrete planter and sprinkling little spring bulbs in the lawn). Continuing the paver walk along the driveway is an option. On the other hand, if you're not happy with the style of your house, I think landscape alone won't improve matters but a complete facade makeover is required.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 4:56AM
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If you are looking to add some visual interest, I'd seek out unusual plant combinations for along the front of the porch. Look into shrubs with foliage or other features that stand out. Weigelea My Monet, Deutzia Chardonnay Pearls, contorted filbert (Henry Lauder's Walking stick), witch hazels, come to mind.

If you like boxwoods, a row of them could give a tidy look to your front as well as provide a pleasant evergreen backdrop for some other plants. Or, you could have one boxwood on the far side of the porch with other shrubs and perennials filling in the area.

I wouldn't mess with that conifer unless you want to put in a large garden in the front (of course, I think that coudl be lovely as well, but it seems beyond the scope of what you are looking for).

How about a few shade perennials slong the curved walk way. Perhaps lady's mantle, variegated soloman's seal, bleeding hearts, toad lily. These coudl be underplanted with some smaller bulbs (crocus o& small narcissus). I would avoid blulbs with large leaves since this is such a high visibility area. The dying leaves just aren't pretty.

Also, I would get rid of the shutters. They look out of place to me. Plus, a different set of pots and bench could compliment the front of the house better. Instead of the urn style, I'd look for some more upright planters with simple lines. I love the look of the bench, but it seems too ornate for the porch.

Is there anythign wrong with the existing walkway? Uneven surface, poor drainage, etc? I'd focus on a few plants with features YOU find interesting instead of tearing out hardscape features unless they have issues that need to be addressed.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 8:18AM
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I'm usually a proponent of keeping trees but I don't think this one is doing you any favors. You've lost a chunk of the yard to the tree. If you want to reclaim the front yard, you should get rid of the tree.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 10:15AM
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Brad Edwards

You really could use some sort of groundcover under the gigantic spruce, be it perineal, bulb, annual, evergreen etc.

I would take those two pretty urns and probably put somthing like sweet potato vine and supertunia in them to make some explosion of color and focal.

I also am not feeling the curving of the bed, I think if you run it straight to the drieway, essiantially extinding it, it would compliment the straight lines of the house more.

I think hostas, pansies, and roses go well with the home.

Most people don't talk about color, you have sort of a contrasting color scheme with the brick color and the spruce, I would take the blue spruce color, and the brick color, and find shades of plants in between to blend them, like hostas and roses :) "especially if you have that much shade".

Not saying you have to do any of this, its just a pretty cost effective and cheap approach.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 2:19PM
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Your house is attractive. Once the tree is gone - there is no putting it back. I agree with the posters that it may provide desired privacy and shade. I would start by painting the shutters the same red as the door. Hard to tell what if any sun exposure you have under the window but could a window box be installed under the window to balance the shutter / window size? If not think about replacing them with ones that fit the window or taking them off. The bench and urns are nice but do not complement your house. They might be able to be used away from the house ( think a lttle seating area under the tree - or in the back yard)
I think a simple bench or pair of adrironack chairs maybe again in red under the window would be nicer. Any porch planters should echo the simple lines - nothing fussy. Your raised bed has potential - but the plants in it are boring - have a local nursery help you with plant choices for the planter. Your walkway is nice - maybe you would like to border it on the outside with soft zone/sun appropriate plants. Remenber any thing planted there will always be competing with the tree for water - if you are not comitted to providing water to any plants there - don't even waste your effort and $'s by starting. Keep in mind open space is also a part of the landscape canvas. Keeping or removing the tree will need to be decided eventually as your plant choices may change with the change in sun exposure.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 10:23PM
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Weed ninja seems to have disappeared.

Ironically the OP asked about "sprucing" up the yard and most of the responses focused on the spruce tree. And rightly so. The problem with the spruce tree has nothing to do with limbing it up or not, the problem is that it dwarfs the house. Perhaps if ninja had a two story house, the spruce could be close to proportional, but on a small lot achieving any kind of proportionality is hard to imagine. Just because some naive previous homeowner bought a 'cute' little tree at home depot and plopped in the middle of his front yard with no consideration of its ultimate size, does not mean you have to live with it. No matter how many hostas, or annuals ninja plants, no matter whether the shutter color changes, it does not change the fact that there is a fatal landscape design flaw- the disproportionality of this tree to the house- that will not change. A hosta, is not going to balance the weight of this huge tree. Colorful annuals are not going to distract the eye from a giant toadstool in the yard (giant broccoli anyone?) Until this flaw is removed, the spruce is cut down to go onto its next life as mulch for other plants, you are talking about lipstick on a pig. (sorry, I hate that metaphor, but it is too appropriate to pass up.)

Perhaps this discussion results from the possibility of disregarding a 70 foot tree in a photo in which 2/3s of it is cut off. I would like to believe on the DESIGN forum there would not be this much discussion of a huge design flaw if it wasn't for that possibility.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 9:22AM
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