'Foundation' Planting... a good thing?

yardvaarkJune 17, 2012

From time to time a comment is made that "foundation" plantings (as they are commonly thought of) may not be needed or desirable. When habits like "foundation" plantings develop, they seem to persist even when their original reason for coming about does not. In some cases houses are indiscriminately smothered on all sides with plants. Typically, foundations today are not the eyesores they were in the past so I don't see a need to engulf a foundation with plants as a routine treatment. I see no need to obscure a feature on a building or wall as long as it looks good and adds interest, but I cannot wrap my mind around a blanket notion of plantings backed up by wall (which might happen to be a foundation or contain that element) being unnecessary. To my thinking it is often plants that make the difference of a wall being attractive and interesting, or not. What I see as negatives are both blank voids on walls that are not addressed with plants, and visual obliteration of interesting architectural features by plants. How does one justify having no foundation plants as a routine treatment?

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Im going to be watching this thread! I like to be "practical" which isnt always "beautiful". To me, foundation plantings like shrubbery means a LOT of maintence headaches to keep them pruned (to allow air space) and when it comes time to paint the house etc. With trees planted close to a house there is always the concern of falling branches damaging a house or rodents using the trees to gain attic access, etc. For me, bulbs or small annuals or garden decorations are more "practical" but again, that doesnt mean "beautiful".

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 3:54AM
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OK- gotta define "foundation planting" before this goes any further.

OP said "plantings backed up by wall" and the second response mentions "foundation plantings like shrubbery means a LOT of maintence headaches to keep them pruned (to allow air space) and when it comes time to paint the house etc. With trees planted close to a house."

So are foundation plantings only those plants placed directly against the structure or does this also include properly constructed beds that one can always walk behind to service the house?

In other words is the topic issue surrounding the structure with plants or specifically their proximity to the structure?

As to the question "How does one justify having no foundation plants as a routine treatment?" I think the words "routine treatment" confuse me.
Isn't a design specific to the structure, its location, and intended use?
I would not think anything would be "routine treatment" if a personalized design is the goal.

Please forgive this layperson for perhaps misunderstanding the topic in what looks to be a most interesting discussion.
I just saw some confusion (if only in my mind) and want to clarify if all plantings done around a house qualify as foundation plantings (no lawn or hardscape between the beds and the house) or only those done improperly (a row of boxwoods crammed up against the foundation).

The term itself seems to be sort of a hot topic that divides ranks, as I see it anyway.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 7:37AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Foundation planting isn't necessarily a given across the country, and has always had regional and cultural exceptions to this "suburban" default style. Obviously foundation shrubs have never been common in urban big city townhome neighborhoods, where landscaping may only include window boxes and street trees. As well, hispanic house styles in California and the Southwest never featured this style of landscaping, where landscape design more often features a covered veranda with tile or concrete paving opening onto lawn or low plantings. This design feature has also carried over to many ranch style homes and mid century modern home styles such as California's Eichler homes, which often feature paving or courtyards over shrubs at perimeter walls.

There are also solid reasons why perimeter shrubs against the house don't make sense; fire safety is much greater if paving rather than shrubs are adjacent the house.

Personally, I prefer landscape designs for front yards that reverse the common paradigm of foundation shrubs. It can make just as much sense to move screening shrubs out towards the street, cteating a more interesting view from the house interiors, recapturing semi-private space for homeowner use, and restricting shrubs at the house to more limited sculptural placement.

European manor homes and Rennaisance period style homes would also more commonly have paving or other non-planted areas adjacent walls, and similar non-plantings can be seen in regions as diverse as China, Japan, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, all of which have influenced housing styles here in the USA at various times and across different regions.

So there are many varied reasons both historical and practical for why foundation shrub plantings are inappropriate or even undesireable in some situations. Even where they are the default landscape treatment, they aren't always the better design treatment.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 8:16AM
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Esthetically, the "foundation" plantings are what connect the house to the rest of the landscape, instead of leaving it sitting there like an alien cube. They are the base - the foundation - of the landscaping near the house, not just a way to cover up the supports under the house.

It's the equivalent of the accessories to your clothing.

They can also be used to identify things like the front door and the walkway. It's a visual clue that there is something important going on at that spot.

And they can be used to control views into and out of the house.


From a practical standpoint, having a clear space between the house and the nearest plants is an excellent idea:

1 - Fewer bugs/snakes/rodents getting into the house because they hate to cross open areas.

2 - Easier to rake around the plants closest to the house

3 - Better for house walls and foundations because you aren't watering plants.

4 - Easier to paint.

I also like the idea of starting the "foundation landscaping" at the street and carrying it all the way to the house instead of having a cluster of bushes and trees huddled next to the house.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 9:54AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

As far as anchoring the box, we had an interesting thread not too long ago where an OP posted a house that was basically sitting in a big field and was pondering the best foundation plantings. It was shown by a couple of the designers who post, including Yardvaark, that the house could be made to look "cozy" far better by adding shrubbery beside it to block the view out into the back 40, than in front of it.

The other thing that makes a house look nestled is having some taller trees behind it - not plants in front.

But on the whole, I find we are oddly obsessed with how a house looks from the street. Me, I experience my house far more often and more intensely FROM THE HOUSE. It seems much more important to me to create a pleasant space for people to be IN the front yard or looking out of the house. And foundation plants often being evergreen and overgrown and spidery and having no up close interest, being close to them is unpleasant. That is, of course, an urban house perspective - my whole property is small, so we tend to "be" in all of it. Having a yard so big that most of it is for show is somewhat alien to me.

As it happens I DO have foundation plantings in my front yard, but mainly because the house faces north and I love my shade plants, so it is prime growing area for me. Also, I like plants up close, and so I like to see them as I come and go, or when I sit on the porch or steps. But they are the third or fourth layer of planting as one comes from street to house.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 1:49PM
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Over here, historic farmhouses often have flower beds under the windows, while the rest of the space is lawn and trees. I can think of 3 reasons for this placement: a) a warm, sheltered spot was best for growing tender plants, b) you could see and smell the flowers from inside the house, and c) likely it was also the only place where the plants wouldn't get trampled by kids and animals. So, are ornamental plantings that fill the whole yard something of a modern luxury?

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 4:16AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Timbu, I'd have to say that they are, as we have become more urbanized and less agrarian. In summer dry climates such as the Mediterranean basin and much of California, ornamental plantings require precious irrigation which was more important for food crops than beauty, so the Spanish/Mexican period of our state's history pretty much limited ornamental gardening to the mission gardens and the occasional container plants by the front door.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 9:33AM
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"Foundation" plantings would be those in close proximity to a building. Search the term in Google Images to see innumerable typical examples. To my thinking, the term "foundation" planting is a misnomer as such plantings called that are used more for other purposes. The term "structure" planting(s) seems more accurate. I believe that all plantings can be divided between those that are freestanding and those at a structure... intended to be viewed primarily from one side with the structure serving as a backdrop. This would include plantings at fences or other wall-like elements.

Bahia, does preference for "...moving screening shrubs out toward the street..." imply or require that so called "foundation" plants are absent from the design? Acknowledging that there are many instances where "foundation" plantings are not typical or desirable, this thread is really asking if they are NEVER desirable... as it sometimes seems claimed?

In the example you cited, Karin, of "anchoring the box," while there were plants OTHER than "foundation" plants being used, there were also "foundation" plants being used. So that example does not seem to support an argument against the use of "foundation" plants.

It seems that a desire to display status is built into human nature. Is it surprising that people are any less interested in showing their home--the front face especially--or any extension of themselves--in the best light... to the best of their ability? It seems as commonplace as human existence.

I know of no quibble that's arisen regarding the various other categories of plantings with the exception of what I call "lawn brooches," aka "lawn medallions"... "lawn doilies"... which are generally purposeless horticultural ornaments which serve primarily as distractions from the remainder of the landscape. But are there logical reasons that dictate the absence of "foundation" plantings? Or is such an admonition simply arbitrary or personal whim?

So far, I'm on the side that there are often benefits to be gained by using plants in close proximity to structures and using the structures as backdrops for the plantings. (Here, I'm making no claim whatsoever as to HOW this is best accomplished.) I'm also on the side that the term, "foundation" planting is vague and for the most part useless and should die a sudden death.

Timbu, where is "over here"?

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 9:57AM
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For me, a lot of the negative feelings about foundation plants has to do with their unthinking use. There's a house and to landscape it and give it more curb appeal, people plant some amount of popular plants within 2 to 3 feet along the front of the house and consider it good. And that becomes the default and what defines a good landscaping job in neighborhoods around the country. So, if you're looking to make your house more attractive, you think - I just need some foundation plants that are in bloom right now and bam, I'm done.

When incorporated into the whole yard, foundation plants serve a purpose and provide additional planting space that can be protected from various elements (wind, sun, frost).

So, if someone states, I need some foundation planting to give my house curb appeal, the answer from me would be, do you really? And try to get them to think about what they really want from the yard.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 12:03PM
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"So, if someone states, I need some foundation planting to give my house curb appeal, the answer from me would be, do you really? And try to get them to think about what they really want from the yard."

Speaking as a homeowner, I want my home to appear inviting.
I want to feel a sense of welcome and relaxation when I pull into my own driveway and I want visitors to feel the same way.
I want my home to appear loved, well cared for, and ... homey. I do not want it to look like a rental that no one wants to spend an extra dime on or bother fussing over. I want my home to look nestled into its space and not as if it is a box type dwelling randomly plopped there by aliens. I want it to look as if it belongs where it is.
This is to me what plantings in the front accomplish.
Plants connect structures to the earth and the desire for that connection persists even though most of us have long since left our hunter/gatherer nature behind.

It's much like clothing- why do we dress in more than pragmatic grey garments that cover our bodies?
It is self expression.

Our homes reflect on us and we (most of us anyway) want to present ourselves in the best light possible. It may be a facade or it may be genuine, but we want it either way.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 12:25PM
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In my opinion, well thought out foundation planting is absolutely fine when it are part of an overall balanced landscape.
My personal rules of thumb are that it can not be so tight against the home that the structure looks strangled, and that
the mass along the foundation looks best when it is less than half of all the other plantings in the yard.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 1:45PM
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'Foundation Planting' is the answer to a specific question and not The Answer to every question regarding 'landscaping a yard'. If one were to see the word 'foundation' like women use the word when making up or dressing (in the olden days eh?) then the connotation is totally different. In this sense 'foundation planting' would be the underpinning of thr whole design and this is indeed a 'good thing'. When those two words enter into the vocabulary as no house is complete without it, then we are in trouble.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 6:53PM
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I'll add a picture (not a farmhouse) with what could be called foundation planting. Can you think of ways you'd landscape this differently?

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 6:13AM
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Again, the question of the thread is not HOW a "foundation" planting is best done, but 'should it be done at all?' (..."foundation plants being those that are adjacent to the building conceived originally to hide the foundation. The above photo by Timbu illustrates that the "foundation" plants are NOT hiding any foundation, which is why I think the term is incorrect and would be better supplanted with another.)

That sometimes foundation plants are done badly or because they are the only part of the landscape... is that sufficient justification for doing away with their use at all times? I can't think of another situation involving artistic principles where a similar claim, and banishment as the solution, would be invoked. (...Except for maybe a bald man's comb-over... where no hair at all is superior!)

I hear it said here that foundation plants should neither be required or be part of a landscape...or some iteration of their being wholly undesirable. That it goes unchallenged as if people accept it is why I ask the question.

Timbu, and where are the farmhouses you mention? Bulgaria?

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 8:23AM
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I don't think they should be required but that's not the same thing as saying they should never be done.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 10:16AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

timbu - I love that house! I assume it's in Estonia...?
I'd be inclined to take out that tall stuff that is obscuring the pallars on the left. The hedging on the left doesn't appeal to me either. I'd be inclined to keep the stuff by the house fairly low so it shows off the house and trim better. The grouncover along the path and across to the other door, the ferns, and hosta all look good. I'd keep anything near the house in that scale of height and put the taller stuff out at the street side where it would give a sense of privacy but, kept low enough, also allow the house to be featured like the jewel it is!

I have plantings against the house on all sides here. They are not to hide the foundation particularly (although the base of the house is not exactly interesting on its own!) In one place there is a tall shrub growing up a particularly blank stretch of wall so it can cascade down from roof level, but - for the most part - the plantings are there because there are part of a larger 'picture' in the nearby part of the garden. In this example, for instance, the hydrangeas are aganst the garage but serve as a backdrop for the veronicastrum (and other things) - about 5' away in the main front bed - when viewed from the road or the N-S oriented paths in the front garden.

So I don't automatically think foundation plantings are wrong - but they are often old/overgrown/neglected things that are 'orphaned' from the rest of the garden. I think a lot of the comments here that come across as ' don't do foundation plantings' really are meant to make the person think about why they want them/what their purpose will be/ etc. in the same way that OPs are asked those general sorts of questions about other areas of their garden.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 10:17AM
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"I hear it said here that foundation plants should neither be required or be part of a landscape...or some iteration of their being wholly undesirable. That it goes unchallenged as if people accept it is why I ask the question. "

I would like to hear one person suggest that the home below does not need "foundation planting."
It is a particularly unattractive house for sale near me and one that has remained for sale for quite some time.
IMO the facade as currently presented can only be described as unfortunate and could be improved greatly by a bit of distraction.

And FWIW the teeny dot-dot-dash plants seemingly stuck in as an afterthough are what often pass for "foundation plantings" around here.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 11:06AM
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I'm of mixed mind primarily because I admit to having foundation plantings and have never lived in a house without them. It almost seems "natural" - like taking down the stopgap bedsheets and installing drapes.

Cearbhaill's example has the desireable backdrop of trees, but the house doesn't "nestle". The foundation isn't bad save for the slash of red mulch and the ineffectual plant scattering. I'd have to do something there to cover that inept facade. A tree in the middle of the lawn simply wouldn't do it.

The link I'm attaching is a thread that went by largely unnoticed save for the dreaded 60 second cut & paste. This charming house really could stand on its own. I confess I'd hang a large fern from the right side arch and resist much else in the way of hedges or meatballs or blooming perennials.

Here is a link that might be useful: way less could be more

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 11:31AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Plantings are not what that house needs! It needs architectural inprovements! Those windows...?! Is it in an area where there are lots of renovations going on and is it priced suitably and on a property suitably sized to attract a renovator? I really don't think plantings would do much to help it sell.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 11:33AM
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Sticking with the way a house and its 'foundation planting' are presented on this forum the typical seemingly two dimensional representation of the little white house above is partly to blame. Anything added to the front of the house might just as well be stuck on the wall or like those wooden cut outs you see a lot in Nova Scotia. The effect is like ducks lined up at a fairground shooting gallery and misses the sense of anything resembling a 'place' by a mile. Its no wonder "the dreaded 60 second cut & paste" gets so much traction.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 12:11PM
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I think this is typical architecture in many areas. There were endless tracts of this type put up after WWII - though I'm sure this is of much later vintage.

I'd be much surprised if anyone here has Architectural Digest calling... and any large scale improvements might price this out of the neighborhood. A bigger shrub or two or several might help - something more than a trellis plastered somewhere and a colorful pot on the porch. (I just noticed the hanging basket!)

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 12:20PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

What would be the difference in effect on that house that Cearbhaill posted if, instead of planting right at the foundation, an area of lawn or paving of perhaps 8-10 feet were left right at the house with a varied planting at its perimeter?

In other words, you might have the same plants you'd normally put at the foundation, but they are about 10-15 feet in front of the house.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 1:56PM
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Woody, you assumed the location correctly, and same goes for farmhouses which I don't (yet) have a picture of. The taller stuff at the pillars is likely roses and clematis. See how nothing but grass is growing at the fence? This landscape certainly was meant to be looked at from the street!
I do have a short strip of "foundation planting" next to basement stairs - just because it was sort of a leftover space, so it got filled with perennials. I'm looking to replace some of them with evergreens, since this foundation could use some hiding.
About the white house that's on sale, I think I'd hide the left side behind big round shrubs, planted at least 6ft from the wall; perhaps put a patio in front of the door and right side and surround that with colorful annuals. With the other house (linked by Duluth) I actually have trouble coming up with a good idea... that column in the middle is bothering me!

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 2:19PM
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Brad Edwards

Love the post yardvark.

Karin, I would have to agree 100%, so many people forget to think about inside views. We see it all the time, that arborvitae against a window.

Bahia, I think evergreens moved out are a really great way to create privacy as well.

SO I don't think they are needed to the least, but honestly do prefer the esthetics of at least beds and ground cover/flowers, though they can be practical to me as well helping to insulate a house.

I agree as usual with Karin. I think a picket fence to the entry with path, with evergreen shrubs on the backside of it would do more than shrubs thrown right up against the house. Then you could get a climbing vine or rose to go up along the left by the house to create depth/color.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 3:33PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I am a small time landlord and property manager, and dislike foundation plantings and generally remove woody plants or prune them back away from dwellings and structures. I've planted mostly perennials and bulbs in the foundation beds at this house, with a few dwarf shrubs (i.e. Viburnum carlesii 'Compactum').

Vegetation near buildings, including overhanging tree branches, holds moisture and blocks airflow, which encourages rot and mildew. It can provide access to the structure and harbor insects and rodents. Shrubbery becomes a nuisance when large maintenance projects need to be performed, like painting or roofing, or even when you just want to wind up the hose. Also, I have walkways that run along parts of the house. Removing the shrubbery made it much easier to shovel snow because there was more room to throw the snow.

After 2 or 3 decades even slow growing plants like Yews become huge, and the homeowner is locked in a battle with the shrubbery to keep it from engulfing the siding or windows. I've watched the next-door neighbor pruning the Yews that are blocking his front windows with his chain saw! Ridiculous.

My gardens (AWAY from the house) are what draw attention, not the house. When I look at that little white house in the pic above, I don't think "it needs foundation plants" I think "what a boring yard, nothing but grass."

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 3:55AM
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"I think a lot of the comments here that come across as 'don't do foundation plantings' really are meant to make the person think about...[objectives, purpose, etc.]" It seems counterproductive and somewhat backwards for anyone to say it that way... as though denying a part will somehow help create a whole.

Cearbhaill, the white "for sale" house you posted is a good example of one having no appreciable foundation to hide, but an extensive amount of uninteresting blank wall space that needs artistic attention. Its foundation is NOT the reason anyone would place plants in front of it. The blank wall is the reason. To my thinking, the wall is screaming and begging to have plantings added to its face... not as a horticultural showcase, but as if one was adding on to the architecture... with plants instead of boards and paint.

@duluthib"The link I'm attaching is a thread that went by largely unnoticed... " I think that's because you made the excellent suggestion of the OP doing a clean-up and then come back with better photo(s). I think people are waiting for that.

"What would be the difference in effect on that house that Cearbhaill posted if, instead of planting right at the foundation... [the plants were set out] ...about 10-15 feet in front of the house.[?]"

What would this approach achieve, and why? It seems to me it would be a guaranty of NOT using plants in a way that would extend the architecture to address the house's expressionless face. The other issue that jumps out is the parallax factor: a hedge that's supposed to underscore a window, or a tree that's supposed to be centered between windows would no longer do so unless the viewer was in one precise viewing position for each item viewed. Setting plants far away like that might be OK if one were only concerned about showcasing horticulture instead of addressing architectural deficiencies.

So far, I have not heard anyone cough forth any principle backed up by a sound argument that mandates against plantings at a structure. "Liking" or "not liking" is not a principle. I've only heard that some people have other interests and for their personal reasons (such as art taking a back seat to maintenance) give plantings at the faces of buildings little or no priority. In several posts I'm hearing what seems to be a lack of awareness that plantings can be used to extend architecture and compensate for architectural deficiencies... which exist in an endless supply! (To be clear, I think that art must take maintenance into account, but not be 'done away with' because of it. In many cases where horticultural maintenance is dreaded, it's because those doing it are mismanaging the work... such as when it's ignored until it becomes a burden. Or using incorrect and inefficient maintenance methods... a very common problem.)

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 9:14AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Another case where one hears only what they want to hear. Reread the responses with a more open mind and you might see it differently. Like flogging a dead horse with the objection to the term "foundation planting" for houses with no exposed foundations. Lay persons are quite clear on what is meant, and nitpicking the semantics doesn't seem to advance the topic or clarify any doubts.

Karinl's response to pulling plantings away from that boring house facade could be a perfect design solution that might also create a semblance of foundation planting as seen from the street, and is the approach I'd propose for the house. Again, the advantage might be one of creating a useful space to enjoy the garden, even if only in passage to the front door. In my mind of higher utility than correcting the "crime" of an unplanted/unadorned blank wall for the benefit of passers by. I think philosophically I'm in opposition to Yaardvark's compulsion to plant up any blank wall; they don't always need this as the preferred solution.

Some very nice garden/home photos from the Baltics, looking quite sophisticated and elegant. Not a part of the garden/landscape world that gets much press in english speaking press. I'd like to see more!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 10:36AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

timbu - are you listening...? I agree with Bahia - show us more!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 11:14AM
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It's starting to smell like professional insults are coming, but I'm sure Bahia means that my design efforts are the result of a "compulsion," in the nicest possible way. In his complaints and griping he offers only his personal preference, but no principle or reasoning guiding one away from planting at a structure. If we keep on track we'll remember that the thread is not about HOW to do something, but should it be done at all. So offering notions of alternatives--as though favoring planting in one area absolves one of needing planting elsewhere--is amiss the point of the thread. Also, I duly note that he is AGAINST the idea of replacing the lay term "foundation" planting with a more technically accurate one ... so one vote is in and the tally marked accordingly. Apparently others have no opinion on the subject... or hopefully, no one will be intimidated by knowing what Bahia wishes not to be discussed here on the discussion forum.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 8:19AM
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What smells yardvaark is your inability to appreciate anothers' point of view without seeing it as a personal attack. Several people have given intelligent observations on the topic of foundation planting yet your summary glosses over this with its suggestion that we can't keep on your track.

David and others say "creating a useful space to enjoy the garden" that may include some planting near the house is the way to go. It is the ubiquity of plants lined up along a house foundation (whether the foundation needs hiding or not) being the only vegetation other than grass that gives 'foundation planting' its name and its reputation. The principle that this type of arrangement abuses is connected with movement, the notion David is presenting has movement a stand alone 'foundation planting' is static.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 8:45AM
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I'm here Woody and Bahia, just in a different timezone... I kind of hesitate before photographing someone's private home, so I don't have many pictures (but when someone makes a showy display like the photo I posted here, they probably like to be seen). - but while I'm struggling with my dilemma, you might find something on Google Street View, the old parts of Kuressaare and Haapsalu are a good start.
Please don't go fighting again guys!

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 8:46AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I don't see this as a fight, as the first reply I gave directly responded to Yaardvark's question with what I thought were valid historical, cultural and geographical safety issues as specific reasons why foundation planting is not appropriate in many situations. My response was not the only one that directly responded with specifics, and it is obvious to me at least that what Yaardvark wants is simple agreement or ultimate acknowledgement that his views are correct. There is no implied snub of his professional design abilities; only pointing out his reading comprehension seems clouded by his preference to be agreed with in his conclusions. This is all I have to say in response, because there's no point to further discussions when others aren't actually listening to other points of view.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 10:17AM
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If there's any "compulsion" displayed here, it's that someone can't participate in a conversation without lobbing insults or making disparaging comments. It's a form of aggression that appears habitual. No crying here because someone want to leave in a huff.

The question posed in this thread does not seek to learn about historical, cultural and geographical EFFECTS. It's interested in principles and reasoning that warrant CAUSE. The point about fire safety seems valid, but alone not significant enough to justify a TOTAL or extensive absence of plants adjacent to a building.

Insofar as getting "agreement" is concerned, the thread is looking for valid reasons and arguments about practicality and principles of art ... not personal preferences.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 11:44AM
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The question that came out of your OP was How does one justify having no foundation plants as a routine treatment? Do you feel this question has not been answered Yardvaark? Perhaps the question could have been worded differently because I have never 'heard' anyone on this forum state that they would routinely omit foundation planting. Note that this is not the same as saying that they would avoid routinely installing a foundation planting. I think this might be where your frustration comes from.

If a house seen from the street is to be seen as the two dimensional centre piece of a design that purports to be art I think this may be a different art form from the practice of landscape design. If one views the house as a canvas on which to trace shapes and textures as if they were part of the house then I think a different discussion would ensue.

I sincerely hope you don't see any of this as disparaging or insulting in any way because that is not my intention.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 12:08PM
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"If a house seen from the street is to be seen as the two dimensional centre piece of a design that purports to be art I think this may be a different art form from the practice of landscape design."

There's no way to accept a premise based on a false conclusion. A photograph, while being 2-D, displays PERSPECTIVE and REPRESENTS 3 dimensions. If a person is incapable of perceiving and understanding the 3 dimensions, then the value of graphics is lost on no one but them. If a person cannot perceive 3 dimensions unless varying views of the same scene are generated, they will probably always be dissatisfied here as no one will ever take the time to produce multiple views for a free forum. Economy dictates it be that way.

I have heard from time to time over the course of a year on this forum that "foundation" planting is a bad idea. I'm just trying to get to the bottom of it, even clarifying the language of it, as to why such might be true... if indeed it is. And so far, that question has NOT been answered. Some people have merely stated their "preference" for other solutions. If some accept that AS an answer, that's their choice. But it's an answer to a question not asked in this thread.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 12:54PM
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Confucius he say

"Of all the stratagems, to know when to quit is the best"

INKognito over and out.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 1:10PM
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it feels like we are going in this direction again:
'my pics is 3ds than 2ds.eye is sphere.close broccoli it is giant.'

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 8:34PM
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IMO foundation planting are neither good or bad, they just are. Depending on house and property sometimes they seem very appropriate and other times, it seems overgrown, stiff and out of place.

Backyards are often easier since often they are only viewed by the homeowner. It's the front yards that are seen as you and others pull up to the home, visitors walk to the front door and become more intimate with the landscaping, while the homeowner answers the door and looks out. The inside isn't always the most important for the homeowner (especially since many keep their front window coverings shut for privacy).

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 9:12PM
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@aloha... The question could be translated to: "Are foundation plantings always undesirable?" I interpret your answer to be "no." No one including myself has tried to claim that foundation plantings are ALWAYS desirable.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 8:02AM
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I'm gathering from some of the comments that have been made that some people are making an absurd assumption: that if one argues FOR something, they are, by default, arguing AGAINST something else... as if being FOR salt would make one AGAINST pepper and paprika! My questioning if "foundation" plantings are always a bad thing, is seeming to generate a reaction as if I'm claiming that foundation plantings are the ONLY SUITABLE solution! This is ultimate absurd conclusion and hard to believe that anyone would make it!

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 6:44AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Nice to see that you seem to be feeling better, Yardvaark!

I've been meaning to thank you again for recommending those affordable driveway monitor gadgets. Very handy.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 2:38PM
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Thank you. You're welcome. And those are the handiest gadgets for an incredible price. I don't know if I mentioned back when, but my mother discovered she had her car stolen (and returned... for joy-riding) in the middle of the night. We suspected strongly what had happened, how, and had an excellent idea of who did it. We set up two driveway alarms and she disabled her car every night. The following weekend she was able to catch--AND IDENTIFY--a neighborhood teen @ 1:30 am, Sunday morning trying for it again. Long story shortened: cops, court and he got 1 year probation and miscellaneous other penalties. Well worth the price. Impossible without the driveway alarm.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 4:01PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Nice work. Can also have as benign a use as alerting you to visitors at the front door when you're working in the back...

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 9:41PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

It is a bit disingenuous to be claiming you are being misunderstood... At other times you've made it very clear you abhor a blank wall, and feel that it needs plantings to soften them. Just as you dislike low hanging tree foliage obscuring a home's elevation or blocking direct sight lines to front doors. Your typical comments to posters reflect these sorts of views. Others are making the case that these design "do's and "don'ts" can be rather simplistic and are not in fact "one size fits all". Pointing out situations, circumstances, building styles and safety situatioms where foundation plantings are in fact inappropriate both answers your original question and gives reasons why this is so. Your response is then to see these as attacks against you and your professionalism. Maybe you should ask yourself what it is about your interactions on this forum that makes you such a lightening rod. I would suggest it is the stubborn dogmatic approach and lack of awareness how "tone" sets others off.

In a discussion forum about landscape design issues, replies that take the form of playing the devil's advocate and point out countervailing thoughts are a perfectly legitimate logic/response, and needn't be taken as personal attacks but simply pointing out opposing views. How anyone else here feels about the issues raised is their perogative, and it doesn't personally threaten my dignity if they don't agree with me.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 1:34AM
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@ Karin... 10-4 on that.

@ Bahia...The question posed in the thread translates roughly to: are foundation plantings always a bad idea, and why? A second question was, is the terminology valid? When Ink states "'Foundation Planting' is the answer to a specific question and not The Answer to every question regarding 'landscaping a yard'." he is introducing subjects OTHER than the one proffered as the subject of the thread. Nevertheless, his statement is the beginning of my thread being hi-jacked and becomes the subject and question that people begin answering. Then he makes a separate thread vaguely connected to the subject of foundation planting, that even though his purpose is not exactly clear, it begins to generate snobbish, derogatory remarks about me and this thread! (I'm sure you saw Deviant's remark that is nothing but a clear cut attempt to smear, which she seems ever gleefully persistent in doing.) Attempting to re-focus this thread to the questions originally asked brings comments such as 'I hear only what I want to hear.' But it seems to me to be the other way around. No one is answering the questions originally posed! But the TONE of the thread does not degenerate until you yourself, Bahia, make comments that could easily be seen as insulting: saying I am deaf to the words of others (even though they are ignoring the questions of the thread)... suggestion that my second question not be talked at all...that I'm looking ONLY for simple agreement... (when actually, I'm looking for VALID opposition)... that my thinking isn't thinking at all, but "compulsion"! These are all derogatory statements. My dignity is not threatened at all that you (or anyone) disagree with me... but that you can't disagree without habitually including a range of insults. Now you're claiming that I'm being disingenuous simply because I've tried to get the thread back to the original question... which I can see is hopeless. The answers that are coming here are not answers to questions of the thread but about anything and everything that is recognized as characteristic of design ideas I support--as if the title of the thread was, "Why Yardvaark's ideas are crap"--none of which I mind addressing, but they're not germane to this thread.

This thread is essentially saying, give me VALID ideas of why foundation plantings should NOT be considered and I'll adjust my thinking accordingly. But I'm hardly likely to adjust my thinking based on comments about others perceptions of my personality... or that because some people have previously rejected foundation plantings, that such plantings lack validity in other places and times... or that 'we prefer other plantings instead'... and so on. While a few VALID ideas have been put forth: fire safety, critters, maintenance, water vs. structure issues, I don't know if they alone don't rise to the level of justifying a complete ban on foundation plantings. Presuming a reason of such magnitude isn't added to justify a total ban under any and all circumstances, the ideas put forth would logically invite the creation of another thread as to HOW these ideas might best be incorporated into actual work. But it doesn't look like we'd ever be able to get to that point because, as a rule, people do not stick to the subject.

Bahia, you might not believe this, but the truth is that what I know about your design and your philosophy of design, certain aspects of it I find undesirable. I could call some of the things you do "obsessions." You're obsessed with a certain level of clutter. In some instances your work produces a sense of claustrophobia and chaos. Some of your work seems to allow horticultural elements to rampage over design considerations. But in all cases except here and now, I prefer to say nothing about it and allow you to be you, knowing that there are those people who appreciate that style of work. I don't see my role here to be one of making sure you get some help. On the other hand there are aspects of your work that I appreciate and would even consider emulating (to a small degree.) So the ongoing negative comments about "foundation" plantings--as if the concept of it belongs exclusively to me--I find utterly pointless. There is a world of people who like, want and see purpose in using them. Unless you could justify--by valid argument... that's what I'm asking for... a REAL reason to never have them--it's pointless to harangue about various personal preferences and argue on about unrelated subjects.

Insofar as the question regarding the term, 'foundation' planting, the thread is inquiring if it is accurate. That no one thinks it's worth discussing I can accept (but wonder about.) But that the first response to the subject I introduce refers to my "beating a dead horse" because I make several attempts to invite discussion is nothing other than an attempt to inject a hostile tone into the discussion. If you or anyone doesn't want to discuss an issue, why would you involve yourself in that part of the discussion when you're free to abstain? Coming here to gripe about the SUBJECT OF THE THREAD itself--just because you disagree with it--seems perverse.

If one were to review the entire thread (or the entire forum) they would be hard-pressed to cite a quote of mine that belittles or insults anyone. But between this and the errant, quasi-related other thread, there are quite a few comments that make a concerted effort to denigrate or mischaracterize not my ideas, but me. So let's not try to create a new truth that I am the CAUSE of the negative tone in the discussion. There is no more blatant example than that of drtygrl; she's proud of her ability to make a cutting remark that is for no purpose OTHER than to be nasty. Neither has any bystander objected to it which inclines a tone for them. So be truthful about what initiates the negative tone in any of the discussions.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 1:27PM
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Yard, it would seem your original question: "are foundation plantings always a bad idea, and why?" requires a yes or no answer for you to consider it properly addressed. A lot of people have said this isn't a black or white issue and this is why. That you consider those responses to not acknowledge your yes/no desire and thus not satisfy your rhetorical needs does not mean that other modes of discussion are invalid or that the question was being ignored. A discussion board is not the same thing as a professor putting a question on the board and expecting everyone to address it in a way to meet the professor's grading standard.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 1:49PM
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I think it's been answered in many ways. Any badness in foundation planting is probably in its execution. The fact that I want it, makes at least the idea of it good - to me anyway. There must be something to it. Thinking back over all the threads where the OP has included landscaping plans, professional and otherwise, foundation planting was something you could pretty much count on. Perhaps we're just conditioned to think a house and its very immediate environs can't be left alone.

If I lived in some fine example of high Elizabethan architecture - little drips and drabs along the facade wouldn't add much. But I don't. I LIKE my oh so common technys flanking the front entry, the yews, the mugos I'm struggling to keep in bounds. But it's all reaching the end of its useful life span. It'll be ripped out next year and I'll get to reassess. What will I WANT then? My guess is some kind of foundation planting.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 2:41PM
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Wow, I'll play along for one brief moment. I posted about 10 days ago asking about shade tolerant, low shrubs for foundation plantings. I had only one response to my question, which, to me basically said "why would you want to plant something against your house. Rip it out and have grass." I didn't pursue the thread because I didn't like that answer.

IMHO, NOT planting up against the house is 1) boring, 2) a waste of valuable gardening real estate, and 3) lazy. I could see in a few very limited circumstances why someone might want to plain box sitting naked in a sea of turf or some other ground covering, those being for someone who needs an absolute bare minimum of upkeep, such as perhaps an elderly or handicapped person, or in areas of extreme fire risk or where NOTHING grows, such has a few desert regions of the world.

I reworked the plantings I had asked about yesterday, ripping out most of what was there, trimming up the rest, reworking the soil and amending it further, and finally replanting. It looks beautiful, I went with a mixture of dwarf blooming shrubs, dwarf broadleaved evergreens, and dwarf conifers. I have some perennials to plant tonight, mainly various Heucheras and Geraniums. It went from ugly to beautiful in a day, and to me it says "someone cares enough to do something with this space."

I also don't get the line of thought that says it has to be either/or -- either foundation plantings or something out further. Why not both unless you are limited by code or HOA agreement?

On our family property, there are two houses with attached single car garages, three large outbuildings, three small (from kits purchased at hardware stores) sheds, two greenhouses. Nowhere around ANY of those buildings does turfgrass contact the foundation. Most are surrounded by planted beds. My house has poured concrete patio/walk on three sides, and I use that to display well over 100 containers of various types of plants in the summer.

Foundation plantings? Absolutely.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 4:14PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Where have I ever made the case for never using foundation plantings? I do think they are often overused and too often designed because they are customary rather than a good solution. I can well understand why Yardvaark would tend to find my designs cluttered and obsessive, probably to the same degree I would tend to judge his simplistic and formulaic, but they may also be exactly what his clientel prefers and has asked for. I design for the local conditions and tastes of my clientel, in very tight lots where screening for privacy and plant diversity are considered desireable design characteristics. I also think it would take more familiarity with the plant palette choices and knowledge of maintenance
required to actually fully judge the "fit" of my designs to the client'S expectations and ease of maintenance. Something that is difficult to assess long distance via the internet, and also a major reason I don't generally comment with my opinions on Yardvaark's few posts that have ever shown his completed designs. It really isn't a useful criticism to critique designs without knowing the full circumstances of client program, budget and the designer's objectives in solving particular problems. It is obvious to me that Yardvaark's planting design proposals tend towards simpler, less complex planting schemes that utilize more common readily available plant species. I like exploring design solutions utilizing uncommon plant species in a less "static" placement, striving for planting compositions that stand out as art forms. From the client feedback I get, as well as unsolicited neighbor's feedback, it is successful locally. As I don't specifically have one style, any garden design starts with the client's desires as well as their initial attraction to my work, most often a referral from a previous client.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 4:18AM
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@ Tanowicki... knowing that this isn't a professor/student situation, the original question was put in a form that did not preclude or discourage peripheral discussion. Neither did it invite discussion at the complete expense of the question. Over the course of the thread I've incrementally distilled the phrasing of the question to its simplest, unequivocal form in order to more easily solicit an answer(s.) Several people said in so many words that foundation planting is OK or even desirable, and even though that is not what the question is soliciting, I haven't complained that those people offered that information. I voiced my opinion and offered it, too. The question is soliciting this: IF one believes that foundation plantings are CATEGORICALLY undesirable... Why? Why does one believe that? If there is a legitimate reason, offer it and by doing so,impel all persons performing design work--amateur and professional alike--to join with you and let's forevermore avoid foundation plantings. Then I, too, would willingly be on the 'anti-foundation planting' band-wagon. I'm not there yet because, as I stated earlier, the few legitimate reasons that have come forth do not seem to rise to the level that compels under all circumstances and conditions. They seem to be reasons to 'adjust' foundation plantings, not exclude them.

If a person can say that SOMETIMES a foundation planting is acceptable, then implicitly, they're stating that it's NOT ALWAYS a bad thing and I can glean from that, that we're in reasonable agreement. Since I already agree with them, I have no argument to make against them. But I'm waiting for others who DISAGREE to make their case and put forth the reasons that actually ARE COMPELLING and cannot be denied. When I see what those reasons turn out to be, I'm either going to agree that they are compelling (which will indicate that THE QUESTION HAS BEEN ANSWERED)... or if not, argue against them because their case is weak. ['Argue' does not mean with-hostility-as-in-a-trailer-park-brawl kind of way; it means as in a civilized manner where one backs up their points with reason.]

The original question has been put forth in such a way that there really can't be a grey area. A grey area would read thus: SOMETIMES foundation plantings are ALWAYS undesirable. There's no logic; the premise contradicts itself. I think that some people think they are clinging to grey by saying that "it depends"... IF a foundation planting is well done, it's a good thing and if it's poorly done, it's not. But rather than answering the question, it evades it as the question is implicitly and most importantly asking: when foundation plantings are well done, are they still undesirable? From the onset it's a foregone conclusion that when something is poorly done, it's undesirable! (What exactly constitutes "well done" or "poorly done" would be a subject for a different thread; not this one.)

As I've already said, I believe that there are instances where foundation plantings are unnecessary or at most, barely needed. But I seriously doubt that even those wishing to play devil's advocate truly believe that, across the board, foundation plantings should be ruled out as an acceptable design solution. I think most people see them as PART of an acceptable solution, as do I.

@ denninmi and other advocates of foundation planting... while your agreement is not the 'compelling opposition' I'm seeking, I nevertheless appreciate your comments in favor of what seems like a reasonable and practical idea.

@ Bahia... "Where have I ever made the case for never using foundation plantings?" Read your June 18 submission and see if it doesn't look as if you're building an argument against foundation plants. All the statements are reasons for NOT using and never is it said, "But sometimes foundation plantings are justified" or anything along those lines. Since your subsequent submission becomes contentious and you never say otherwise (until most recently) I'm led to believe we're in opposition about the main point/question of the thread. I didn't bring up your landscape style to make a serious negative comment about it. I brought it up as an example to show that in spite of the fact that we have significant differences between us in the way we approach design, I don't harp about what you do.

Aside from the fact that the drawings I submit have nothing to do with the specific academic question posed by this thread, there are good reasons that the vast majority of those pictures are about foundation plantings: It's frequently what the OP is looking for and often what would make the most difference, especially if resources are limited. I'm usually showing only ONE view. If in real life the project would warrant additional plantings , I likely wouldn't be interested in showing them if doing so would partially hide and therefore, make foundation plantings less well understood. Some things might need to be left out for clarity of others. Adding more takes more time and I'm not an unlimited resource; I can show a general concept but not every picyune detail of a complete landscape plan. If others believe that additional plantings are needed, there's nothing to stop them from making the case. It's rarely an "either/or" situation.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 9:42AM
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"@ denninmi and other advocates of foundation planting... while your agreement is not the 'compelling opposition' I'm seeking, I nevertheless appreciate your comments in favor of what seems like a reasonable and practical idea."

Well, what is that saying they have in Texas, "this dog don't hunt" or something like that. I don't "have a dog in this hunt" -- I'm NOT a landscape designer in ANY way, I have absolutely NO training in it, and frankly not even that much interest per se beyond my own yard. I do have a hort degree from Michigan State, although I no longer am employed in that field at all. So, I am more or less just an uninformed amateur.

I just know what I like and find attractive. Your mileage may vary.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 12:59PM
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Brad Edwards


I think foundation plants can be practical. In "MOST" gardening there isn't always a total black and white, one shoe fits all so your original question of yes or no to foundation plantings isn't spot on. One of my favorite home designs is the tradition southern, with dual wrap around porches and minimal to zeraux foundation plantings. There is something to be said for simplicity :)

I'd love to answer your question yes or no, without getting into the grey, but unfortunately there is a lot of grey.

From a practical standpoint foundation plantings can be used to hold foundation soil in place, cool or heat the home, be used as edibles, "think herbs", all of which you already know.

Sense this is design and not practical I have to agree with you a lot. You see designs come and go, think how much has changed sense homes of the 1950's.

Personally to me I like things that look good and are practical, think night blooming jasmine by a window, or fresh lavender, rosemary, and basil :).

Foundation plantings might also help with bee populations if blooming varieties are planted, something that seems to be really needed right now.

I drove through a new neighborhood "less than 5" and it made me want to just about get on your bandwagon, there were zero beds in the yard, every home had evergreen shrubs all over the front perfectly trimmed many around windows that will grow too large if left untrimmed, and while the homes looked "Nice" and there was continuity between them, there is undoubtedly a ton of upkeep via trimming, a serious lack of color, and made the homes feel boxed in. The neighborhood doesn't have a HOA that does the lawns, they were just massed produced. To me this poses a huge problem because people that are new to homes are more likely to take care of them, but what about down the road? Most people don't think about others when designing a landscape for resale unless they are immanently selling. I personally think places like Socal and South Florida are notorious for doing exactly this. If I had to look at homes like that everyday, I would probably say the same thing.

Here in east texas its the idiots that plant Maples, Live oaks, sweetgums, and pine trees 5 feet from the house or directly under power lines.

From another practical standpoint, I am just guessing that foundation plantings of our home now save 200-400 a year easily on AC bills "its 100 out right now".

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 2:41PM
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