Help with Front Yard Design please?

osirus226June 6, 2011


We're looking for some ideas on how to rehab the front yard of our new house!

We love these bushes but we arent sure what to put behind them.

Also, the small hilly area beside the stairs does not receive much light and we're not sure what we can plant here. This is all clay as well (yay!)

Any suggestions are welcomed! Thank you so much!

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I would second the recommendation to look into retaining walls or boulders to help stabilize those slopes. However, instead of replacing the existing clay soil on a sporadic basis whenever planting, I would suggest adding peat moss or other organic soil amendments before you start planting to give you a head start in making your soil more workable. It's much easier to work the soil when there are no plantings in your way!

Google search for "amending clay soil"

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- Audric

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 12:12PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Loving the bushes is not the same thing as loving where they are, and I would suggest you at least consider whether they do serve your landscaping needs where they are. They might, in that it is actually nice to have height from bushes that do not also block access to your foundation, and in that you can have a bit of a secret garden back there... or plant something like delphiniums that will tower above them. And, keep them pruned for size and shape. They are a bit blobby at the moment.

You definitely need structure to contain/navigate whatever plants you choose. Weed and mulch to start with, make your pathways and retaining walls/rocks, and THEN look for plants.

I'm not clear on what the first small photo shows, as it does not show the bushes. For the benefit of anyone else posting, and FYI in case you post other questions, there are too many photos showing too little information here, oddly enough... I think taking a few pictures from a further distance would have served the purpose better, and given less to scroll through. Up close photos of dirt and plants don't really serve landscape design, which is a bigger-picture undertaking than gardening.


    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 1:11PM
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Thank you for the replies so far, greatly appreciated!
That side slope area thats eroding, there was a wooden wall there but we took it out because it was protruding into the driveway and was all decayed.

The front bushes there were out of control when we first bought the place so all we've done so far was just a little trimming because at the time we didn't know what kind of bushes they were as they had no flowering.

I will get some new photos tonight from further away to give a better idea of what we're working with.

Thanks to all!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 1:49PM
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Ok I have some more pics I just took tonight, I hope these can be a little more helpful.
Thanks again!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 9:40PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

The additional pictures do show that you have scope for much more interesting landscaping than you have. You could have a small tree, an upright form perhaps, in the front, and certainly much more form, foliage, and flower interest from other plants. The flowering bushes, which I think are Weigelas, are simply doing nothing for the site. Of course you can choose to keep them, but in terms of achieving the best possible outcome here, I could live without them, or maybe with just one. Obviously it's your choice though.

But before you make any plant decisions at all, you need to address your structural issues. It appears you've got new stairs, which are good to work around, but the front retaining wall is also not that much longer for this world, plus it's hardly the most attractive solution there as well as being too low and too short.

As you have retaining issues all around this little garden, it might be an idea to forget about plants for the moment, and figure out what topography you want and how you're going to hold it in place. A single sort of retaining material, anything from natural stone to concrete to wood, should be used to retain it all along its whole length and up the driveway and the side; this will avoid exacerbating the slightly patchwork (if you don't mind me saying so!) impression that your house makes. You may actually be able to just remove a lot of the dirt and then you'd have much less to retain. Your foundation won't be attractive down further, assuming it does go down deeper! - but you can cover that with siding and plants. Or, just build a retaining wall system that is big enough to actually hold the dirt that you have. As you move along the side of the house and under the stairs you can add the odd bit of stone (as 98 Charles described above) to accommodate internal changes in level.

Speaking of foundations, this looks like an old house in an old neighbourhood and the foundation will likely need attention - repointing the brick, staining or replacing the porch skirt, etc. As such, you might prefer to stay with perennials rather than shrubs at the foundation, as perennials are more easily moved to allow such work to be done.

So do your weeding, maybe remove some dirt, and then assess what you have that really needs to be retained. Redo your wall (or at least make a plan for it so you know where you're going), establish a path through the area so you can get in to maintain it, and then go to the nursery and select plants you enjoy. This garden can accommodate some really nice tall perennials and much more interesting shrubs, all enhanced by some really nice unifying hardscape. Give yourself license to remove whatever's there, all of it (including that stupid plastic under the dirt in the last picture!!!).


    Bookmark   June 9, 2011 at 10:48AM
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Thank you so much for your time in helping us with our new place!
The darker mulch on the right side of the house is actually the neighbors property, so thankfully we don't have to worry about that part.
I also tried to post another last picture but I wasn't able to do a reply after I just wrote the past one.
Here is the last pic I took of the other side on where our driveway is (still not much prettier than the other side though lol)

I will give consideration to getting rid of those bushes. Heck I could replant them in the backyard if I love them so much.

I had a friend make a recommendation to me that we should build a few levels of flowerboxes, which someone had mentioned earlier so I'm starting to think about that being a good idea.

We have a mason who is going to take care of the repointing of the bricks in the front yard as you can see its clearly eroding away.
Also, I was planning to stain the new steps a much darker color as right now all they do is stick out like a big sore thumb. Would a dark cherry color look nice do you think?
Sorry I'm asking a lot of questions!

Anyhow, thank you so much again, Truly appreciate it!

    Bookmark   June 9, 2011 at 11:04AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

To the contrary, I wouldn't let the neighbour landscape the right side of your house, as their taste and maintenance standards are obviously quite low! Not to abuse them, my place doesn't always look much better, but at least it reflects on me :-)

Wherever the property line is, your retaining wall should go to that and then up the side of the house along it. You may need to negotiate that with your neighbour, that is, whether you build above their wall or replace it altogether so that their property stays level past their driveway. If you picture adding another foot at least to your front wall, and then extend that mentally up the side of the house, I think you will see what I mean. You can either just build that top section, or you can build that right to the ground. It takes some practice to visualize what retaining walls can do. Kind of like giant flowerboxes, as your friend has suggested.

As for the stair colour, what you need here is unity. The stairs stick out not because they are new, but because they are different from the porch railing and side porch and lower wood siding. So staining the stairs something different again wouldn't help. I doubt that a stain would have the same effect on all the woodwork, but it might at least even things out if you stained it all - try some patches, see how they compare. Mind you in my neighbourhood, which I'd say is of similar vintage, we paint rather than stain, and you could certainly paint the whole shebang one colour or one set of colours. You'll likely do a paint scheme that incorporates the upper portion plus shutters, if you plan to keep those - check out the Old House forum for paint colour threads, especially with brick. Stained wood might look nice with brick, mind you - it is always a bit of a trick to co-ordinate paint with that.

You sound like you're working on all the right ideas landscaping-wise! There is a huge amount of improvement just waiting to be achieved here.


    Bookmark   June 9, 2011 at 7:46PM
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Thank you again, Karin! I'm heading over to the old homes forum right now. :)

    Bookmark   June 11, 2011 at 10:13AM
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ingrid_vc(Z10 SoCal)

I realize I'm being premature with my suggestions, in view of all the preliminary steps that need to be taken, but just as food for thought I'd like to suggest some plantings of older roses for this older house. I'm thinking for instance of hybrid musks that make large, graceful bushes, some of which can even be used as climbers (Lavender Lassie comes to mind or Cornelia) in order to soften the rather tall facade of the house. Toward the street, above the new proposed retaining wall shorter roses, such as polyanthas, could be interspersed with daylilies and other companion plants for a colorful and low-maintenance display. I would also consider some strategically placed evergreens to give structure to the plantings and to provide interest in the winter.

You might want to investigate on-line nurseries that have a good reputation such as Palatine, Pickering and Roses Unlimited to give you an idea of what kind of roses I'm talking about. These roses are much hardier and more disease-resistant than hybrid teas or floribundas, and have much more attractive bushes.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2011 at 6:24PM
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I was thinking of roses as well :)
Thank you for the suggestions on all the plants and the online nurseries.
I can't wait to get the quote from the landscaper and see what the next step will be.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2011 at 9:53PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

consider some strategically placed evergreens

I would plant an evergreen shrub or shrubs to hide the space under the landing (where the stairs turn, viewed from the sidewalk).

And probably a shorter evergreen to the immediate left of the wooden wall, where the stairs begin.

Roses are all very nice but those under-stair areas will never be something you want to look at, unless there's adequate sun and -- someday -- decent enough soil to grow a healthy groundcover there. [I believe you didn't tell us which direction the house faces.]

    Bookmark   June 11, 2011 at 11:08PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I would go for an Alpine theme with lots of conifers and boulders. You almost have to be a mountain climber to get to the front door.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2011 at 4:46AM
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rosiew(8 GA)

Agree that the steps would look better stained or painted - also do the existing wood. With a really good cleaning of the existing wood first. How long ago were they installed? And are they built of pressure treated lumber? If they are, a waiting period of at least six months is generally required before applying paint or stain. Do ask the smartest person at a really good paint store. Can't offer the technical reason, but there is one - plan to paint my PT fence soon, installed last year.
Love your place.
Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA

    Bookmark   June 12, 2011 at 7:59AM
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Thanks so much for the help!

I am not 100% sure on which way the house faces, but I believe its Southeast.

Those newer steps are pressure treated lumber and they were installed at least 6 months ago as we started looking at the place in Fall of last year and they were there then.
I have heard of the necessary waiting period too for the treated lumber.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 9:59AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

If the house faces southeast, I would think the areas under the stairs can probably support most groundcovers that don't require full sun (but can handle it), provided they aren't shaded too much by the rest of the landscaping, and also provided you water as needed. But of course, all gardening is a learning experience....

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 12:45PM
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I know its been a while, but I just wanted to update with some pics of our little bit of progress. :)
Here is the before:

and after:

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 1:58PM
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sorry the before pic wont show up :(
We haven't put in many plants as we still need to fix up the soil, but we at least got the bushes in the front chopped down a bit, and we got the painting done (that took us a LONG time to do)

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 2:02PM
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