1950 red brick ranch with dead dirt yard--please help!

organic_mishmishJune 2, 2011

After 4 years totally gutting and expanding the interior, we have scraped together a bit of money and energy for the exterior. But after buying half a dozen landscaping books, consulting with 2 designers, and logging in hours online and with magazines, I am stumped.

The house clearly needs curb appeal, as well as hard- and land-scaping. The current design I have is quite costly and while it would be a vast improvement, it doesn't scream out at me. We have 2 small kids and 2 f/t jobs so our DIY abilities are limited. Also, we kill houseplants so we need sturdy plantings.

These are my wants:

- I would love for the feel of the house/yard to be more craftsman-y/Sunset magazine-y.

- I would love to have some features that would encourage actually using the front yard -- we're pretty far set back into the property line, but possibly thinking of low hedges for a courtyard type thing?

- some kind of feature to de-emphasize the low long architecture--possibly an arbor? but that takes us into more cottage territory than craftsman.

This is what I've decided:

- I'm planning on painting the brick a warm neutral color (sorry brick purists but there are 3 colors of brick around the house and they're all ugly), with a pop of color in the front door -- aubergine, maybe!

- widen the sidewalk with pavers

- gravel the curved driveway (there are tree roots that would be compromised with concrete)

- possibly add wood shutters and window box at the left gable -- but this also goes in the cottage direction

- I've removed azaleas, which I detest, and will remove these camellias. I love Japanese maples and saw a Sunset ranch with a row of them that teased the eye upward, but I think they are pricey?

- We would like to have some veg. planting beds in the backyard, but since the front is south facing I am open to seeing ideas of front-yard edible gardens.

- Fruit trees would be nice--we love Mediterranean gardens and fruits like avocado, lemons, fig, etc., but what would be pretty hardy and quick to bear fruit?

If you have *any* suggestions, even for other sites to peruse, I would be so grateful! Thank you!

(I can't figure out how to post a picture here, but imagine a long, low red brick ranch with gables at both ends, dirt yard, scrawny camellias :))

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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Consulting with 2 different designers didn't get ANY results? I notice you made no mention of whether you did decide to incorporate some/any of their suggestions into a design. You seem quite clear on your likes/dislikes, so it shouldn't be that hard to get designer input that takes all of what you said and combines it into a design that works. I wonder if your reaction is more to the projected costs rather than the designs? An affordable landscape budget may mean doing things over time in phases, or admitting that there will be certain compromises necessary to do it all at one time.

I'd also focus on what it was about the previous designs that didn't grab you. Posting pictures will certainly help, and maybe also talk about what you found lacking in the previous design consultations.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 7:47PM
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thanks for your reply -- I should clarify that the designs were for the front and back yards, and while the back yard was closer to what I want, the front was pretty uninspired (grass since we have young kids, though I did not say I wanted grass; also no taking into account the architectural issues). We will have to do things in stages given the cost factor, but I want curb appeal sooner rather than later (though of course the rear should be done first).

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 8:02PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

open an account on a free photohosting site - photobucket, flickr, what have you. In the body of your message here, paste in the HTML tag from the photo on photobucket (or something equivalent on flickr). When you hit preview, your photo should show up; if it doesn't, try again before you submit.


    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 9:29PM
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The "dead dirt yard" caught my eye. Did either designer test for and explain the Florida root-knot nematode problem to you? Southern soil which does not grow grass usually is infested with this microscopic worm and its presence greatly influences planting choices and designs. May I suggest you begin your planning by sending a soil sample to your local extension service asking for a soil profile and root-knot nematode report plus asking for suggestions on growing a healthy yard based on its findings.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2011 at 8:33AM
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Does this work?

I haven't heard about this Florida worm, and no one mentioned anything other than the soil being quite sandy and needing lots of topsoil. I'll inquire, thanks!

    Bookmark   June 3, 2011 at 4:45PM
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I should also add that yes, the second designer/landscaper is great, really like his ideas on the backyard, and he's the one who suggested the wide walkway and has planned for some fig trees in the front side yard. But also lots of grass, and overall nothing private and nothing that would necessarily entice us to spend time out front (though we certainly wouldn't be embarrassed to drive home like we are now!).

I really like John Gidding from the HGTV Curb Appeal The Block show -- his designs are always amazing in that they take architectural elements into account and also make the front into living/socializing space. Buuuuutttt, they're not shooting in Florida and he costs a bundle privately. ;)

I guess I am looking for that missing piece that we haven't yet found, to make it both attractive and functional and maybe help transform how we use our house a bit too. (We're in a university town and the neighborhood is very close to campus, mixed faculty, families (empty-nesters and young families), and some student renters in the un-renovated homes. It's a biking/walking neighborhood.)

If you've made it this far, thank you!

    Bookmark   June 3, 2011 at 5:00PM
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If you plan to plant the fruiting kind of fig trees/bushes, a soil test is advisable, as Nandina suggests. Here is a link to some information from the University of Georgia about growing fig trees in (south) Georgia, which is probably applicable to northern Florida as well:

UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences - Home Garden Figs
Fig Diseases

Root-knot nematodes are the leading killer of fig trees in South Georgia. Root-knot shares this honor with cold damage in North Georgia. An on-the-spot diagnosis of root-knot infection is possible. Dig up a few roots and look for the characteristic galling caused by the nematode (Figure 2). There is NO other similar problem in figs.

Root-knot nematode infected fig trees CANNOT be cured with chemical treatment. Pruning the tops to balance with the weakened root system and attentive watering and fertilization may prolong the life of root-knot infected fig trees. Usually, however, they will die sooner or later regardless of the care they receive.

In planting a new fig tree, select a site as far as possible from any old garden sites. Take a nematode sample in this site. If root-knot nematodes are present, do not plant figs.

I don't know if root-knot nematodes affect the other types of ficus.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2011 at 5:47PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Identify how you want to use the yard. Some examples for a front yard include: somewhere to put stuff you are loading/unloading from car, a meet-and-greet, a place for the kids to bounce balls while you can see them/are washing the car. A place to watch your plants growing.

I'd caution you against rebelling against grass for the sake of rebelling against grass. Think of it as negative, open space that happens to be green, and you can always change it in your head to decking or paving/flagstone.

The beauty of being a homeowner/DIYer is that you don't always need to have the master plan finished in your head in order to get started. You sound sure of a number of things. Do those. Or at least draw them out. Sometimes step two is more clear from after step one. Experienced people have implemented enough plans to be able to see step 7 from before step 1, but DIYers may need to take it one step at a time.

One way to design is to mock up in person. Say, you want to do a low barrier and a courtyard. OK. Put a row or garbage cans where you think the hedge could be, and drag some chairs into the area and sit there. How does it feel? What's missing? Should the hedge move? Do you need shade? Etc.

You might have analysis paralysis too. Taking the first step, even if you just go out and plant a tree where you want some shade, can help get you past that too. You can always move it for a year or two if you got the placement wrong.


    Bookmark   June 4, 2011 at 3:28PM
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OK ... it's possible that your problem with the designers is because you haven't clarified what you NEED, and/or the designers haven;t been asking the right questions.

Read the link. It might help.

Looking at your picture ... you need to pull the landscaping towards the drive, with plants and white fencing and a white arbor (cottage and craftsman are not that far apart).

The courtyard idea is great .. make a nice entry arbor and hedges of whatever will grow well there, pave a large portion of the front with gravel or something and start the party at the curb :)

Get some good references on what will grow well in your area ... drive around and see what they look like, visit botanic gardens, etc.

Think of the function instead of the species: I doubt Japanese maples will thrive, but there may be a "small decorative tree with seasonal interest" available. I can't grow aspen or blue spruce in Phoenix, but if you want a glade of white-trunked trees or a blue-green conifer, I can do it. (Ghost gum and blue Atlas cedar)

Here is a link that might be useful: Landscape design

    Bookmark   June 5, 2011 at 6:47PM
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