Need help with overall landscape/layout

NinjaPixie87(7)July 30, 2014

I could really use some help figuring out what to do with our landscaping. Mostly figuring out the big picture layout, then I can start focusing in on specific details in certain areas.

Most of the existing plants are about 15 years old (when the house was build). One area in particular (on the west side of the house) was planted as a memorial garden probably about 5 years ago, maybe a little more. We moved in about 3 years ago and neglected upkeep (clueless first-time homeowners), and have started getting things back on track starting last year with removing some bushes, and major pruning earlier this year. Still a long way to go, but we need a plan before we can do much more.

Things to consider:
- want fairly simple and low-maintenance
- need budget-friendly
- have 2 large dogs
- want something that we can do ourselves in stages
- house faces North (driveway on North side)

Here's an aerial view of our property. Will post more pictures with info. The dotted line is about where we have a hill with a row of junipers on the slope, with trees up on top of the hill. The hill separates what we consider the "backyard" from the "back backyard". Right now we're not concerned about the stuff past the dotted line (the "back backyard").

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Here's my attempt at sketching the area we are working with.
Basically square 2-story house. Back patio is about 10'x10'.
The right property line has tall conifers of some sort.
The left property line is the neighbor's fence.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:12PM
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This is my sketch of my basic plan for the front yard.
I want to remove 1 or 2 boxwoods right next to the driveway (1 is already edited out) and add a paver/pea gravel path along the driveway up to the door. The messy area out front by the road is getting removed. This area is pretty sunny since we removed the tree that used to be out front.

Maybe later line the path with something low?

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:17PM
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View of the back of the house.
Two crape myrtles kind of at the corners of the patio.
Lady Banks roses climbing where the chimney is (behind the crape on the right).
Butterfly bush off to the right side.
On the left, next to the house, are two bushes...I think they're heaven;y bamboo, or something similar. I don't care for these.
Also vinca minor along the edge on the left.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:24PM
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View of back right corner of the house (southeast) from the hill.
Here you can see another crape myrtle.
Some struggling bushes on the east side...some sort of boxwood and a gardenia I think?
A variegated privet around the middle of the house.
Not much sun gets to this side because of the tall trees on the right and the house to the left.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:29PM
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Another view of the back right side.
(Seen from the hill)

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:30PM
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Now for the West side of the house.
From left to right:
Some sort of boxwood at the corner, I think
Variegated privet
I don't know what kind of tree
Another unknown bush behind it...also some sort of boxwood?
Juniper under window
Azaleas (A/C unit behind)
ivy below the azaleas
lantana camera behind the azaleas

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:36PM
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The rest of the west side of the house. (pic from last year, actually)
Continuing to the right of azaleas:
another crape myrtle (placed out from the corner a bit)

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:41PM
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Now for the awkward part of the yard: the west side yard.
There used to be a play set and a sandbox out here, surrounded by dirt and mulch. We took them out, and it's been dirt ever since. Someone suggested limbing up the big trees to allow more light and air to the ground, and we "might" be able to grow some grass over there. I think it needs to be done anyway, but I'm really not sure what to do with this part of the yard. I can think of 3 options: try to grow grass, put in a pretty groundcover, or just mulch it.

view from north to south-ish:

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:46PM
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view from south to north-ish, standing in the grassy part of the yard (you can see the edges of the 2 big trees on either side)

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:48PM
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(I'm starting to think I should've just created an album somewhere and linked it)

View of west yard, standing southwest of patio, looking towards memorial garden bed

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:51PM
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Closer view of the memorial garden.
This definitely needs to be cleaned up and planned out a little better.
You can see the edge of a weeping tree to the left, stands ~6' tall.
There's also a magnola ("Ann", I think), an unidentified bush that blooms with tiny white flowers, a camellia?, a few hostas and bulb flowers, rosemary, and to the right is an unidentified tree with tiny pink blooms. I've tried to depict the general shape of this area in the layout sketch above.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 1:57PM
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I would like to put in a border around all the beds to contain the mulch. I'm thinking a loose stone border should be easy to do, and will work around uneven ground, roots, etc. without the need for digging and leveling.
Something kind of like this: (not my pic)

I just don't know where my edges should go, or how I should "group" some of the stuff in the yard.

This post was edited by NinjaPixie87 on Wed, Jul 30, 14 at 14:03

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 2:01PM
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While it IS a good idea to plan out the whole yard before doing much work, it's a bit overwhelming as a thread and as an Internet project ... especially when the yard is so much a jumble of foliage that it can't be seen or comprehended. Let's start with the front yard since it seems to be the exception.

It looks like a good idea to widen the driveway, but I'd seriously reconsider the pea gravel with stepping stones. (The pea gravel would be constantly getting onto the driveway.) Concrete would be a much more durable and serviceable material to use. Even in you're looking to do it cheaply as a DIY project, concrete is not that difficult to learn when the project is only a narrow walk. You can learn a lot just by watching. Follow a concrete truck some day and get a free lesson. Or watch some YouTube videos. If you use gravel it's likely that the next owner would view it as something merely to be replaced. Rather than adding value, it's neutral or subtracting, whereas concrete will be accepted as a permanent, desirable addition.

I think you might reconsider the plan you are proposing. To me, it looks smothering and oppressive at the entrance area. This should be an area prepared to receive people, not barricade them from entry. It would be better to incorporate a much expanded walkway space leading to the full width of the front stoop. Then back off on all the bushiness swallowing the house facade.

Without trees, the front yard seems "vacant" ... without a sense of sheltering and protection. A street tree would help a lot for that and to help frame the view of the house. A small flowering tree near the house would give the house a nestled in appearance than than looking like it is a big box just stuck on top of the ground.

On a separate note, I would reconsider the "loose rock edging" for beds. Instead of looking classy, it looks grannyish and usually a little messy. A genuine mowing strip would look a lot better and be easier to maintain. You could actually make one out of the same rocks ... or use brick or pavers.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 9:25AM
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I agree...the whole thing is kind of overwhelming. I should probably break it down to areas to make it more manageable.

I love your ideas for the front! It definitely looks better with the view of the front door opened up. Even just removing enough to expose the "column" to the right of the door would make a big difference. I'm reluctant to remove the pink "coral bell" azaleas because I love them so much, but some of those bushes have got to go. We could put in a dogwood or smaller variety of crape coming out from the corner where you show something. I think it would look better than the big, bushy mess of green that is there now. What would you recommend for around the base of the bushes and tree?

I would probably do a brick/stone paver walkway before pouring concrete, though. Something more like this:

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 10:39AM
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And as far as the edging goes, is this more like what you were talking about?

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 10:42AM
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Adding on to the drive & walk with pavers, brick or stone is even better.

Having two hedges, one in front of the other, both in front of the window is over the top no matter what plants they are. If you like the coral bells, keep them as the hedge below the window. But trim them to proper size and shape so that it looks good. Get rid of the rest to another location, or pitch them out. Coral bells are usually an inexpensive, easily obtainable plant so I wouldn't let them dictate too much.

As far as what plant could be the groundcover, there are many choices. One that didn't get too tall would be good. Explore what is growing locally that would fill the bill.

It is not necessary to raise the bed, or the edging so as to make the bed look raised. If one raises it, it must be quite perfect (level or of very smooth line and flawlessly constructed) in order to look good. It's much easier to install a flush laid strip at grade. Actually, WHY raise the bed? This is done usually to contain mulch. But the grade should have been lowered before the mulch was put in so that the finished mulch was not above the surroundings.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 11:09AM
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While we probably could do a flat (flush to the ground, not raised) mowing strip in some areas of the yard, I really don't think it would work overall. Some of the areas around the foundation slope away from the house (and slope in front of the tree in pic #7), and mulch and topsoil have been washing out without something to hold it in. It doesn't need a "raised bed" really, just a little bit of height (a couple of inches) to hold the mulch. We would also be going around some trees and over roots, which makes getting a flat, even border difficult. Perhaps more of a low "stacked stone" border would work, and give a more polished look than individual stones lined up.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 9:23AM
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"...mulch and topsoil have been washing out without something to hold it in." You don't yet understand how proper grading is the key, not a raised border. The taller you make the border, the more in danger it is of looking crappy. Neither can you just place border stone on top of grade. It must start below grade so there is no difference in installation difficulty over what I'm suggesting. One option is not having a hard border at all. Many people separate the bed from lawn with a "trench edge" or use their lawn mower and other mechanical means to keep it tidy. I'm just telling how to dress it up in an efficient way without making it look junky. There are many factors which come together to make things work out. One is the size and shape of the bed. Just because the bed line is as close as it is to the tree in pic 7, why would you continue to leave it that way? Landscaping is about improving things and solving problems. The tree might need it's own curb -- which you could do out of raised stone -- or by the time you give it more space, the grade may be manageable. But it's up to you to size and shape the bed so it works with the tree.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 2:21PM
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Here are some random thoughts.

You have a very nice home, congratulations.

I like the picture as you have shown it but I also like the one that was presented to you.

Sheared shrubs are not part of a low maintenance garden.

Stones are not mulch. They do not break down.

Identify the plants you do not know. There is a Name that Plant forum here on GW. It is amazing how fast they can do it.

Once you know the plants you can decide which ones you want to repeat.

That Memorial garden is anemic. It has no repetition as far as I can tell. Also, I can not tell it's location on your sketch. Please amend sketch to show the Memorial area.

Ivy can be a problem but since you have lived with it three years I think you can keep it.

Lady Banks rose could also be a problem. How big do they get in your area?

I don't know where everybody is, I just realized you have only one person interacting with you.

I am an unskilled person, these are just my thoughts.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 4:14PM
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Lordy, with a project this large, hire a local professional!! It is well worth the minimal investment for a garden designer to help you develop a master plan that you can follow in phases as time and budget allow. This is not anything that can be successfully addressed by just communicating online and with a few photos. This the reason there ARE such things as landscape designer - if it all could be solved by just remote discussion, there wouldn't be anyone in our profession.

Just as an aside, you will see very few professional landscape/garden designers offering much advise on this forum. The primary reason is the one noted above - the project or scope is typically far more complex or broad-reaching than most posters realize or that can be addressed to everyone's satisfaction by just an online dialogue. In most cases, this is not a quick and dirty process - it takes time to develop a quality landscape design. The second is that posters often do not provide anywhere near the amount of information and detail needed to be able to provide meaningful advice. Nor are they necessarily able to do so when takes experience to know what one is dealing with regarding specific site conditions. Finally, there is often very little ownership by the requesting is more "here is the problem - fix it for me". Ummm......professional designers do this to earn a living and while we are more than happy to make suggestions or give advice, that's a big difference from doing all the design work online for free. I often feel like a broken record in my thoughts when reading these posts, as a good 80% of my responses would begin "hire a professional". IOW, you get what you pay for.....if it is all abbreviated advice at best offered for free online, how much value do you really think it will have???

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 4:40PM
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I don't disagree with the points you make, Gardengal. No doubt this project, as a whole, is complex and cannot be designed here by others. However, as with all the projects that come, it is the responsibility of the owner to pull it together and make of it what they will. I'm pretty sure everyone is aware that professional landscape designers exist everywhere. And using them is frequently the best option as it alleviates responsibility for creating that which homeowners are ill-equipped or incompetent to accomplish. Nevertheless, people -- for whatever reason -- decide that they wish to tackle this themselves (... the same as I would not hire an interior designer ... unless I win the lottery and get an unmanageable house. And then I will hire a landscape architect, too, and be relieved of the burden of drawing, too much thinking and running about the countryside in search of the best plants!) Of course, they must be prepared for the outcome that they create. But let's face it, by far the vast majority of landscapes around the world -- anywhere -- are not designed by any professional. They're the result of average Joes cobbling together their idea of what works and fits the budget. Without a doubt, when looking at the totality of examples, many of the results are horrible! But how much better those would probably be if those same people inquired here first and got some advice (and sorted through it) before they undertook their project. One thing to note here is that the OP showed up with a SITE PLAN!!! OMG ... how significant is that?? And while the photographs are disjointed, it, at least, has not been like pulling teeth (as it is with so many OPs) trying to get them. I'm thinking that it is their intention to actually do the work of designing -- as in commit to "paper"! -- before they do the work of installing. Whatever they do, the onus of responsibility is on them. While my first reaction to the thread was "This is overwhelming," I think that if the OP wishes to work their way around the yard, though it will be a lengthy thread, it will be do-able ... so long as they understand that they must do the design work. Which they maybe don't understand now all what that entails. There are times when we all face things we don't fully grasp until we're at the end of them. Except for their not fully appreciating, quite yet, a normal mowing strip, :-) they are not doing too badly. I don't think they should be met with too much discouragement -- though the honest discussion of what's involved, is necessary and beneficial.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 2:49PM
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I greatly appreciate the input from everyone here. It was not my intent to be like "here, design my whole property for me!", but I suppose it kind of came off that way, and I apologize. I am realizing this can be an overwhelming project, but I enjoy doing things myself and I am enjoying getting into landscape design a little bit (if I can call what I am doing "landscape design").

I suppose they are three main issues that I am trying to figure out:
1. Where do I place my borders? How do I group areas together? This needs to be figured out before I install any sort of border/edging (which needs to be done soon). But this may involve removing some things that just don't make sense, as in Yardvaark's suggestions for the front.
2. How do I deal with the areas around the trees? There are exposed roots and some slope around the trees. Although I have some ideas, I'm really not sure how to deal with this yet. (Edit: I'll try to get some pictures later that better show the roots and the amount of slope we're dealing with.)
3. What type of border? This goes hand-in-hand with #2. Maybe this would be a better topic for the "stone" forum?

Here is another sketch, showing changes at the front of the house, and a proposed border drawn in.
- Border contains the areas close to the house, bounds a "garden" patch on the left, and circles around any trees not close enough the be included in another, larger area.
- The garden patch on the left will definitely be cleaned up and some stuff removed. This area can be revisited later, but the general shape/area is shown (current sketch includes one of the large trees bounded by the same border).
- There is an ornamental cherry tree in the middle of the yard on the left that could potentially be moved to the front of the house. (If it's not already too big to be practical.)
- The yard on the left is currently dirt, with little grass, but I've been told if I "limb up" the trees shading that area, and plant a cooler grass, that we might be able to get grass to grow there. I think I want to attempt that option before turning the side yard into a giant patch of mulch.

This post was edited by NinjaPixie87 on Wed, Aug 6, 14 at 11:06

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 10:59AM
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I don't have time to do it right now, but I want to offer some constructive criticism that I think will help make this thread more manageable. Hold off on pictures for a bit, if you can, and I'll give you some advice on how you might make it easier for us to understand the yard. (We can't offer much help until we can understand it.)

Also, it happens to be driving me nuts that the plan is upside down. It's a bit like wading with your head under water and feet in the air. It seems more intuitive for the average person (me too!) if the plan is oriented more like one would view your property from the street.

Also, while the plan is superior to most of the sketches that people submit, it is not accurate enough to really be a good planning tool. (I can tell this because of discrepancies from the Google picture and from the front-of-house picture.) You're going to need an accurately drawn, to-scale base plan to work from. This is going to be more important for the space close to the house, so if you get the house foot print (and driveway area) down accurately, you can catch up later on the lot lines.

If the end result is going to be any reflection on my advice, we're going to have to get those bed lines a lot less wiggly looking!

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 2:40PM
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Pictures: I can't give you precise instructions without standing right there with you. So try to understand the basic concepts that I'm trying to explain, and then I think you can take pictures that will help us understand the yard better. Let's acknowledge that you have a difficult yard to convey in pictures because there are so many large, obstructive bushes and low-branched trees. If you can get pictures that are "good enough," that will suffice for now. There's a lot of clean-up needed and it will probably include some plant removal. Therefore, this may be a piecemeal process. But it will get much better in the future.

The directions correlate to the illustration below. What I'm trying to get you do do is capture AN ENTIRE SECTION of the yard in "one" photo. Obviously, the camera can't do that in one shot, so we'll take several photos and put them together later. In order for that to be possible, it's critical that YOU STAND IN ONE PLACE FOR ALL PHOTOS. You'll simply pivot to take the subsequent photos. (I've asked many people before to stand in one spot for taking photos, but for some reason they insist on returning with photos taken from entirely different positions. I'm sure they think they're helping. But it doesn't help. It makes reassembly of the photos impossible.) Since we read from left to right, it works better to maintain that convention in the photo-taking sequence. Start with the left-most photo and work rightward.

The illustration is for working on capturing the RIGHT SIDE YARD. Now that the picture is right-side up, all right/left directions are based on as-viewed-from-the-street. I've placed a yellow oval on the drawing and this is approximately where you should be standing in order to capture the most of the side yard possible. I'm picking that area because it is slightly in front of the face of the house -- we want to capture the ENTIRE side -- and because it is some distance away from the house. It would be hard to reference the side yard space without the house in the background of the picture as the primary reference point. (If we were to stand with the house to our back, it would be much more difficult to figure out how the space relates to the house.) I placed a red dot within the yellow oval thinking this may be the optimum place ... it's even farther away from the house and farther in front of the face than some of the other choices within the yellow oval. BUT, since I'm not there, I wouldn't know if there happens to be a giant bush in that spot. You've got to take the photos from somewhat of a clearing so we can see more than just a bunch of leaves.

I'm suggesting, generally, a concept of taking a series of photos that overlap, beginning with the blue triangular area marked "1". The second photo is the brown colored area, the third is the green and the next is the purple. Since I can't actually see in your camera's viewfinder, I don't know how much "scene" you can squeeze into a single picture. If you have a wide-angle lens, maybe this section of the yard can be captured in 3 overlapping shots. With a longer focal length lens, maybe it will require 5 shots. But you can see by the illustration what needs to be captured. Even if one picture turns out to be little more than a mass of foliage, it still needs to be in its proper order in the sequence so that the pictures can be reassembled.

Now, since things are a heavily foliated jumble, it might be the case that the entire side of the house can't be seen in this series of shots. Therefore, you may need to move to the blue oval on the far side of the side yard and take the same series of shots from over there. If that's the case, then, you'd find a position over there that is somewhat open, stay in the same spot for all pictures, and snap them from left to right, showing the entire side of the house wall (as much as is able to show up.) Note that the blue oval is somewhat beyond the back house face (like the yellow oval was beyond the front house face.) This helps us see the totality of the side yard space.

That took a long time to read it and a longer time to write it, but the fact is that it will take almost no time at all to snap 4 pictures from the same location and 4 more from a different location. It will take you longer to walk there than it will take to take the pictures.

Please post those pictures here, preferably in order, and we will probably have a good section of yard that we will understand. Another use of the pictures may be to give you advice for plants to remove or limb up. Your yard is begging for some clean-up!

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 6:01PM
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