Palm dilemma

abelloesqJuly 27, 2012

I just recently purchased this '68 home in Las Vegas. As you can see, the palms and garage dominate the exterior, with entry to the front door being a walk up the driveway and a couple of turns. How do I get any curb appeal from this!? I have thought about tearing out the palms but a lot of people think they add character and think I am crazy to even think of such a thing. It has been suggested in a sister forum (where I was asking about its architectural style and was told it is a ranch)that I should keep them and do something with the garage door to make it more interesting and maybe add some kind of arbor or structure at the opening between the garage and blockwall leading (eventually) to the front door and that I should check in with you folks in the landscaping forum. Landscape wise, I lean somewhat toward the English cottage feel and have a veggies, fruit and flowers growing in the back side yard. I love eclectic BUT a palms and cottage blend...possible ?? Any ideas as to what could help spruce things up here would be very much appreciated!!

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Somehow the whole English Cottage look, with billowy clumps of perennials and herbs, sprawling at the base of palm trees, just doesn't work for me.

Maybe just save that for the back yard. Why not work with what you have and go really tropical? Put in things at the base of the palms like some birds of paradise (Strelitzia), Agapanthus, some interesting cacti and succulents, whatever is climate-appropriate. Some kind of blooming vine on the structure you propose, such as a bouganvilla or a mandevilla.

I don't know is the palms would block enough sunlight to interfere with growth or not? I suspect not, since in that climate a lot of plants probably appreciate some shade.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 7:10AM
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A traditional english cottage garden would require a lot of water in Las Vegas to maintain.

If I were you, I would have some number of those palms removed. It appears that you have too many and probably 1/3 to 1/2 could go. Then use the space as a succulent cottage planting desert hardy plants to mimic a english cottage feel but not having to pay for all the water.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 2:49PM
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Which ones do you think I should take out? If I removed all 4 on the left this would open the majority of the area but this would leave a large expanse from the oleander bush against the house to the edge of the wall and it seems like a group of low plants there would look disproportionate sitting next to what would be the remaining palms to the right. If I put taller plants there it kind of defeats the purpose, as once again most of the house would be blocked from view. Would it be better in that case to thin out so that there are some to both the right and left with tall and short fillers? Maybe the 2 in the center of the 4 to the left?? Or take out the 3 farthest left leaving the 1 that looks somewhat centered with the oleander along with the other 6 farthest to the right? It is pretty costly to have any palm this size removed so maybe if I am going to take out any, I should just go all the way? Do you think I would gain more curb appeal by complete removal?

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 4:20PM
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I was thinking thin them out. Take out the one's you don't like or whatever criteria you set.

You've got what appears to be 10 trees in your front yard. I like trees and you've got some nice tall trees that would take forever to replace and I think you should have a few. But you've got 10 of them.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 8:11PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Your fuzzy photograph is not sufficient information for me to feel comfortable making a recommendation about such an expensive undertaking. They appear to be Washingtonia filifera -- are they all the same?

I love palms, but these are out of all proportion to your house. At least some of them should be removed. It might be worth having a landscape designer whose talents you like come do an evaluation, make suggestions about how best to retain some of them for a coherent design.

In general, I agree with tanowicki's comments. Precisely how to do it? Get some expert advice.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 8:15PM
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Ok thanks!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 8:44PM
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rosiew(8 GA)

You've gotten some very good food for thought already. Now take the time to find BAHIA in the search engine. He's a Landscape Architect in the San Francisco Bay area and does astounding work. I think he's the go-to-guy for further inspiration.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 10:04PM
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Study photos of "desert oasis" and see if palms being taller than buildings is really undesirable. Trees towering above structures give a sense of protection, shelter and shade. Trees above make a structure seem integrated to earth rather than pasted on top it it. What seems undesirable here is that there are no plants that rise above the house in the back or side yards. It makes the front yard palms seem isolated and their relationship to the house lop-sided. A major palm cluster across the back would do a great deal to balance the equation. Another factor that comes into play is that the brick perimeter wall represents the de facto container of the palm island. The left-most palm in it seems too close to the wall and gives an awkward "pot-bound" feel (to say nothing about its obstructing the view of the house entrance.) If it were removed, the palm next to it leans the wrong way... INTO the cluster rather than outward as it would grow in a naturally occurring group of plants. That could make a case for those two palms being removed. Those that remain seem like they would form a comfortably appearing island of palms. Working with what you have--if it could be made into something--seems better than throwing it all away and starting over. Keep in mind that your single photo offers little information relative to the whole picture. It's not possible to see how the palms relate to each other and to the other major property features from the side view. The photo is also not good enough to make comments about the other plantings at the front of the house which contribute to the "street appeal" aspect of the property. Be sure to post some better photos if you want more in-depth advice.

The most unappealing aspect of the property is the penal institutional feel of the drive area. The only thing it lacks to complete the picture is some chain link fence with razor-wire at the top. Were it there, it's easy to imagine that a white van marked "Sherrif's Dept." might look right at home entering the secure garage area. To my thinking, the wall bounding the drive is undesirable. And the wall at the front line seems to encroach too tightly as it approaches the drive. If it didn't exist and we were designing it from scratch, it would be better to widen the opening and "soften" its transition into the drive... even if only a little. If there is no desire to deal with the wall itself, then using plants strategically to soften its surface and add color might be something to look into. At any rate, solving the problems here would require more information than is available in the single photo.

"Landscape wise, I lean somewhat toward the English cottage feel..." That seems "at odds" with the surroundings and climate.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 11:50AM
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I suffer from the same malady you mentioned -- acute English garden envy.
But American weather isn't English, and some American regions have strong situational, cultural pulls of their own, an aspect of gardening sometimes referred to as genius locii. What this can mean for the average American gardener (which is what I am) is that when we try to pull off an "English cottage garden" it looks funny. Sometimes it's because we don't have the cottage. Mostly it's because we don't have the moderate weather and constant rain. Oh, wait a minute, the closest we come to English weather is in the Pacific northwest.
Las Vegas has its own strong cultural pull and a desert climate to boot.

So if your ultimate goal is curb appeal you'll need to keep in mind the strength of that influence.

You seem to really want to get rid of all the palms. That's cool. That's your decision. But it might be wise to take a hard look at the styles of gardens more suited to your climate, style of home, and geographic setting before you take that step. It might turn out that the palms, selecteively thinned, will turn out to be an asset.

If you are aiming for curb appeal, choosing an appropriate style may help the final composition.

OH, and just to confuse the issue, a recent thread started by a gardener in London features a front yard with a palm in it. Don't forget that the Victorians loved their exotics!

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 11:56AM
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Ditto on Yard's comments.
I think I was writing while you were posting, Yard.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 12:03PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

This house is not greatly dissimilar from yours. This is the home of an avid palm/plant collector. Note the variety of foliage shapes that break up the strong vertical elements. I think your garden is salvageable without to much amputation. The key is diversification.

I wouldn't necessarily take this photo as a literal design recommendation, but I wanted to show how you could improve your look by adding some different plants.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 5:28PM
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It looks like 2 groupings of palm trees. If you took out the first group on the left and added some low growing plants you could see some of the front door area. You need to do something that draws your eye to the front of the home, right side, and away from the very large presence of the garage door. I think if the big bush and left clump of palms were gone your curb appeal would improve drastically. But I am more of a minimalist and like things in balance.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 7:58PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

It looks like these palms were all planted as pairs on some sort of diagonal across the front yard from what this one photo angle shows, which seems to set up an odd dynamic for the entry. While I like Mexican Fan palms in the right context, these are already vastly out of scale to the single story house. The telephone pole look will only become more so as they mature to 60 to 80 feet tall. I'd also vote for removing all of them to improve your aesthetics, but it will be a loss for the neighborhood views, as these very tall skinny palms are much more elegant viewed from some distance. The bleak wall right at the driveway/sidewalk edge isn't very welcoming either. A quick solution might be to add an entry break/indent entry and gate seperate from the driveway. If you were to continue the palm oasis design, I'd suggest switching to palms of better mature scale relative to the house profile. Repeating vertical palms or trees as Yardvaark suggests would help the street view. Some vertical trees/palms appropriate to Vegas might include Phoenix dactylifera if you like larger canopy palms with high drama actor, Brahea Clara, Chamaerops humilis, Brahea edulis, Butia capitata or Brachychiton populneum. I'd also suggest checking out the water conservation demonstration gardens in town to get other climate appropriate planting ideas. A "cottage garden style" look with drought/desert appropriate plants can still give a lushly planted look full of color/texture contrast and long seasonal bloom, but obviously it won't have typical English garden plants.

I appreciate the recommendation to look at some of my past posts for ideas about potential Vegas suitability... I have actually designed a few commercial landscapes in Vegas some 20 years ago now, and would have enjoyed a commision to do resort/hotel work there, but it hasn't ever happened.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 8:57PM
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