A makeover and privacy

sleepy33(5b KS)July 5, 2010

Hello all! I'm a newbie to this forum, but have spent a fair bit of time over on the Growing from Seed forum. I'm hoping you all can offer some advice. We are moving next month to a new house; the owner has recently gutted and remodeled it, and then decided she wanted to go live abroad for awhile. So, lucky us, a beautiful rental house. She hasn't done anything with the yard, nor has any desire to do so/preference about what's done, and has given me carte blanche to do what I want. I have a fairly good plan for the backyard, but the front and side yards I'm still up in the air about. Here are the two photos I have for now; I will try to run by and get some more soon.

Front Yard:

Side yard:

So it's an older home, but she's remodeled it with some cool, modern touches. For example, she's put shiny, unfinished galvanized siding on the dormer windows. Inside, she has cork floors and stainless steel countertops. I want to try to pull off some interesting, outside-the-box landscaping to coordinate. In the backyard, I'm planning some raised beds made from galvanized siding, and an old stock tank with the bottom cut out.

For the front yard (first photo), I've been toying with the idea of ditching the lawn entirely, and filling the area with ferns, hostas, native grasses and the like. It's pretty heavily shaded by two mature trees in the median between the curb and sidewalk. Faces south, but really the yard proper doesn't ever get any direct light, just filtered through the trees. I have toyed with the idea of doing 4ft horizontal fence panels along the front of the yard with built-in planter boxes, staggered in a checkerboard fashion. Inspired by this:

My main thoughts on the front yard are that the lawn struggles there in the shade, and also I'd like to block some of the street noise. But I've never ripped out an entire yard before, and I'm a bit...overwhelmed with the idea.

For the side yard (second photo), imperative #1 is to provide some privacy/screening of the neighbor's house, which you can't see, but is very...eclectic. Every side of the house is painted a different color. The side facing us is electric blue; one side is shocking purple, another side is chocolate brown. Don't ask me, but it's a college town filled with a lot of hippies and artists, so nothing surprises me anymore. :) It's a somewhat shaded area, but not overly so. What you can see from the photo is all of our side yard; it flows directly into the neighbors yard at present, so just a wide swath of ground with nothing but the property line to separate it. Ideas I've been kicking around include bamboo, ostrich fern, even roses. I'd prefer something other than arborvitae. Also, any suggestions on ways to avoid the look of a single row of plants down the line, but still providing screening/privacy?

So I guess what I'm looking for are opinions on my ideas, as well as any other suggestions as far as type of plants and layout. Oh, and I should add, just in case it matters from a design standpoint, she tore out and replaced the front porch, but she does plan to put a railing back up (though I almost like it as it is, quite open and clean looking to me). Thanks!!

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 9:53AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

How wide is the side yard? Could you post a photo, perhaps from the opposite side of the street, which would show the entire width of the front yard?

That's an odd off-center door. There was a similar situation some time ago, and the owner was going to put something next to the door to give it more balance: I think perhaps it was a wall-hanging the same color as the door.

I used to know someone on a totally-unrelated, non-gardening forum; I later saw her post here at GW. She'd bought a house and had given it a psychedelic paint job like your neighbor's. (Different state, though.) Planted a forest around it. She was enjoying herself; the trees attracted a lot of wildlife. The neighbors were bemused.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 11:46AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sleepy33(5b KS)

Yes, I need to drive by and take a pic showing a wide view of the whole front yard. The side yard is roughly 20' wide; if you look at the first photo, you can just see where our backyard fence ends, marking the property line. Very interesting, I hadn't even noticed that the front door was off-center. How curious! I wonder how that happened. Maybe I could balance it with a small accent table, or even a chair. I do want to replace the mailbox, and move the house numbers to the right-hand pillar.

I wouldn't mind the house next door if there seemed to be some purpose, rhyme or reason to it. They don't have any landscaping to speak of. Honestly, it looks more than anything like they found a bunch of odd lots of paint on clearance, and just bought enough of whatever color to cover the house. They seem nice enough, and at least their place appears clean and well-cared for. We have a lot of houses around here where the people have yards filled with junk, trash, all kinds of mess. So it definitely could be worse. Whatever I end up planting, I'd like it if it didn't appear too obvious that I'm trying to screen their house. I'd prefer maybe some clumps of things vs. a straight row of 'keep out' plants. If that makes any sense.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 2:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think you're ideas for the front yard are great. There's not much to the front yard and you can always do it in halves. You can also see what plants work in the shade you have.

I like the idea you're trying to do with the side yard. I think if you cleared out all the plants along the foundation, it would look better. There may be some good things in there but it's overgrown and at the minimum a good cutting back would help. I think the walk from the front to the back should be made wider too.

I like the idea of a type of "green wall" along the side yard as a screen, something like your inspiration photo. It look like there's a bit of a dip between the yards and I'm guessing that's the property line. I think the screen feature should go close to that.

Another inspiration could be the Finnish embassy in DC. They have a metal grate set off the front of the building that they grew vines up. It's obviously a different scale but here's an image - http://theanarchist.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/0809gsedit_7.jpg Several houses in my neighborhood have put up fences with large mesh (like 6 inch squares). That could be a good base for vines.

If you do go with more planter boxes, I would try and incorporate some of the sheet metal that's used on the dormer.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 2:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It's a bungalow with craftsman touches, so stick to the whole bungalow feel in front.

Widen the sidewalk to be as wide as the front steps. It just looks better.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 5:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sleepy33(5b KS)

Ok, went by while I was out today and took a few more pics.

tanowicki, thanks for the input. I agree on ripping out whatever's lurking along the side of the house, which I suspect is mostly weeds and your typical daylillies, etc. I was actually thinking of doing the planter box panels in the front yard, just along the very front edge of the yard, a foot or so back from the city sidewalk, and then filling in with the ferns, etc behind that. Thinking to screen a bit from the street noise. I would consider doing it for the side yard, but our city restricts side and front yard fences to 4 ft tall, and it doesn't do much screening of a tall house if it's that short. Unless I put something tall in the planter boxes, but I can't think what that would be. I had thought, if I did the panels in the front, I would put my tuberous begonias in them, during the warm months.

Lazygardens, good suggestion on widening the front walk. I will add that to the list. I'm afraid I'm not sure exactly what you mean with 'sticking with the whole bungalow feel' in front. Sorry if I'm dense. :)

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 5:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sleepy33(5b KS)

Also, as I was looking at the house today, I realized that the brick path along the side yard doesn't connect around to the brick path in the front yard. Instead, it goes straight out through the yard to the city sidewalk. I don't like that. I would like to make it so it follows the corner of the house and connects directly to the front walk. Of course, that ugly tree is sort of in the way... I've been itching to take a chainsaw to it anyhow... :)

I think I'm also struggling because the front yard is so short, and then a lot more of the front yard space is actually in the easement. Which I don't know if the whole thing is actually city easement or what, but I know I'm not going to spend a lot of time or effort planting much in the easement, and certainly not going to try to build anything there.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 5:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

20' gives you a lot of possibilities for the side yard.

I like the fact that there's already a bed on your side of the property line. That means you won't be so obviously planting a hedge to screen out the neighbor's house. It'll be more a case of replacing the plants in the bed with other varieties you prefer! Plan the bed on paper ahead of time, but buy a few plants at a time so you're not erecting the entire barrier at once.

You'd be planting a sort of mixed border of different shrubs, with taller ones in the back and shorter ones in front. The front "row" doesn't have to be solid. Neither "row" should be only one type of shrub or only one height: however, you want to use enough of the same plants that it doesn't look completely random. Plant in small groups rather than singly. Plant the shorter row of shrubs in clumps rather than a straight line. Don't alternate the same two plants: that looks artificial. Curve the border of the bed on your side, adding lower plants in front where the bed is deeper. The idea is that all this variation keeps it from looking like a Hedge-with-a-capital-H.

I went looking for past threads I half-remembered which talk about layering shrubs to provide a buffer along a property line or hide an ugly fence. These threads all have some posts which may give you some ideas, even though your situation is quite different:

Be sure to click on spazzycat_1's link: of course it's much taller and deeper than you have room for.

This one is also completely different from your situation -- particularly climate-wise! -- but there are many interesting suggestions on how to keep a buffer from looking like a Hedge.

On this thread, take a look at the photos in the next-to-last post. You don't have that much room, but it's inspiring.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 7:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

You said this is a rental property...? How long do you plant to be there? Presumably you don't want to invest a lot of $ in landscaping a house you don't own so that would, I assume, be a factor in what you decide to do. Do you have a source of inexpensive plants if you are thinking of a shrubs privacy screen between this house and the colorful neighbour - things can add up fast...

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 9:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sleepy33(5b KS)

Missingtheobvious- thanks very much for the suggestions and the old threads. I absolutely love the pics in that last thread; just amazing. I will be looking at those again and again!

Woodyoak- it is a rental. We plan to be there for the next few years while my husband finishes school. I would like to keep things on the cheaper side, which is why I was thinking of large ostrich ferns for the side yard as the main filler for privacy. Cheap, and they spread quickly. And now is a great time to find lots of shrubs and perennials on clearance for the season. And I know lots of folks who'll give me divisions of hosta and things out of their gardens. If I did the fence panels in the front, I could pretty much use scrap materials; there's a Habitat for Humanity ReStore around the corner. This is my hobby and my relaxation, and I love it. I raise all my annuals and perennials from seed, so I shouldn't have to spend too much on shrubs and things, I can fill in a lot of space with those.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 10:40PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I've been toying with the idea of ditching the lawn entirely, and filling the area with ferns, hostas, native grasses and the like. It's pretty heavily shaded by two mature trees in the median between the curb and sidewalk.

I am totally in agreement with this! Find local shade-tolerant plants and stop trying to grow grass.

I've never ripped out an entire yard before, and I'm a bit...overwhelmed with the idea. Don't "rip" it out all at once. Make your master plan real soon, and as time and materials come available, do one section. Instead of ripping out, cover the grass with layers of newspaper and some sort of compost or wheat-straw mulch (you got wheat in Kansas?).

Dig holes through the layers to plant. The grass will die under there and you have a clean yard, section by section.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2010 at 6:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sleepy33(5b KS)

Thanks for the vote of confidence, lazygardens. :) I'm sick of buying grass seed and fertilizer every year, watering constantly, begging the grass to grow, only to have it struggle along until August and croak. It'll save me money, water and gas for the mower.

We do have wheat here, though it won't be time to harvest for a little while yet I think. I'll check around and see what I can come up with. Some parts of the lawn that aren't too patchy, I was thinking of taking 'sod' (such as it is) from the front and using it in the back yard where there are bare spots. But most of it is so shabby, I think your idea of covering it will be best.

One other general question for all: any ideas/suggestions on what to use to finish off the gap at the bottom of the porch, besides that same old white vinyl lattice panel stuff that is everywhere?

    Bookmark   July 6, 2010 at 7:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

If you're doing away with the lawn and filling that area with things that can't be stepped on, that's another reason to widen the front walk.

Also, would you want to add a walk to connect the front door (or maybe the left side of the porch) with the driveway?

    Bookmark   July 6, 2010 at 9:40PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sleepy33(5b KS)

Well, I would...but that's not my driveway. :) Heheheh. I wish it were. Gotta love these old houses, right on top of one another. But I was thinking today that it might be best to make it so the front walk sort of resembles a "T". Have the main walk straight up from the city sidewalk as it is now (but wider), and then run along the front of the porch to the left and right. On the left, I think I'll just have it stop at the end of the porch; it'll mainly just be there for symmetry and to have access to that side of the house in case I want to go over there for some reason, I won't have to pick my way through plants or walk down and around. On the right, it will just follow the porch around and run down the length of the side yard as it does now. I haven't looked too closely, but I fear that those are yucca plants in my future-sidewalk-area; I am none too thrilled about trying to yank those bad boys out. Maybe I'll wrap a chain around them and hook it to my bumper.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2010 at 12:02AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Not your garage: well, that explains why your other side yard is so wide: it's gotta be large enough for the garage you don't have!

I made a large winding bed in the front lawn; there was nowhere else in the front yard that got any sun. Most of it is about 10' across, but one end is a lot wider, and next year I'll curve out a 25' middle section that's currently straight. I use gray-brown 6x9" pavers on 24" centers as stepping stones for an unobtrusive maintenance path that snakes through the middle of the bed. That way I know where it's safe to step, and theoretically when everything's planted and grown to mature size, the path won't be too noticeable.

The pavers are currently $1.12 each at Lowe's, which is seriously cheaper than the 12" stepping stones my parents use.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2010 at 1:04AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sleepy33(5b KS)

Yes, the wider yard on the other side does help make up for it. There actually is a detached garage for this house, it's directly behind it and adjacent to the neighbor's silver garage you can see in the pic. At one point, I think that was really a shared driveway for the two houses. But all the houses back onto an alley, so we park around back. Which is another area that needs work... :)

I have seen a lot of places around here are starting to put their pavers on clearance; the ones who set up plants and landscape supplies in their parking lots and want to be rid of their inventory before summer's over. I will have to stock up. I think I'll just try for something that coordinates with the existing brick, as it would cost a fortune to replace all of that.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2010 at 11:06AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

what to use to finish off the gap at the bottom of the porch?

There is a lot to be said for that lattice work - it lets air circulate under the porch and keeps stray cats and possums out.

The short picket fence material sold as flower bed edgers might also be suitable.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2010 at 10:01PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
On Site Calculations - Area
If you do construction as well as design, sooner or...
Help with small retaining wall
I am starting to landscape my yard and am having trouble...
scary house help
Trying to help someone with this- yipes. I'm thinking...
Rock landscape dilema
Hello, So I'm taking on a big project within the next...
Please need help 100% blank slate both front and back
Hi guys glad I found this forum been reading alot of...
Sponsored Products
Parisian Greeting Pillow Cover
$29.99 | Dot & Bo
Muuto Unfold Pendant Lamp
$189.00 | Viesso
Waynesborough Queen-size Bed
Loloi Rugs Leyda 2'6 X 7'6 Ivory & Beige Runner Rug
$189.00 | LuxeDecor
Finley Curved Arch Twin Size Headboard
Contemporary Indoor/Outdoor Area Rug: LA Rugs Shag Plus Light Brown 39 in. x 58
Home Depot
Outdoor Chaise Cushion with Knife Edge Welts - P
Ballard Designs
Fast Dry Outdoor Seat & Back Deep Seat Cushion with Box Edge Welts - O
Ballard Designs
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™