Design help needed for really huge driveway bed & front yard

trillium7(Zone 4)July 26, 2011

I've read threads in this forum for a few weeks now but this is my first post. Sorry it is so long!

We are unsure how to proceed with a landscaping revision of our front/side yards. In particular, we are hoping to significantly revise the very long bed that borders our driveway. We are also looking for ideas and suggestions about how to possibly improve the landscaping of our front and side yards, with the goal of improving the "street appeal" and also trying to emphasize our front entry, which is on the left front of the house and is set back, so it's difficult to see from the street.

Our house was built 17 years ago in an established older neighborhood. It sits across a busy street from a very large public golf course and park. The long bed along the driveway is huge - approximately 11' wide and 100' long. When we first planted it, we started with the arborvitae because the neighbor to the northeast of us had (and continues to have) a "yard" that amounts to a junk car lot and weed breeding ground. It was so unsightly that we wanted to screen it out immediately. After the arborvitae were planted, my sister (the architect for our house) drew up a complicated grid of planting for us to follow for the long driveway bed. Her vision was a succession of plants coming up at various times of the year, beginning with snowdrops and crocuses, continuing into daffodils and tulips, then irises and daylilies. It was a nightmare to plant and in the end, after a huge amount of trouble and a great deal of expense, it really didn't look too great. Over the next five - seven years, we added more daylilies (we have a fondness for daylilies, as you'll see from the photos), mostly as a way to "fill in" the areas that were becoming very weed-ridden.

Further attempts to landscape this area haven't been too great, either. We had a local landscaping business take out some of the daylilies and other plants along the arborvitae and plant dogwood shrubs (their suggestion, to help mitigate the height of the arborvitae). It worked for the purpose but wasn't too appealing, with just a row of plain green dogwood shrubs. They also revised other areas of the bed, with a long row of lambs' ear, some kind of short grass, some flowering low plants, etc., along the edge of the driveway. None of those plants did well (possibly from the snow plowing?), and again, it looked very much "lined up" in rows, which didn't appeal to us.

As of now, we have a smattering of crocuses in the spring, followed by some spaced-out clumps of daffodils, followed by some even more spaced-out clumps of irises, and then the daylilies. The daylilies are spectacular for about 3 - 4 weeks, and we get a lot of compliments. But the rest of the time, this very large bed is rather ho-hum (just green daylily and iris foliage, mostly). It's also a weed nightmare, partly due to the spreading of weeds from our neighbor to the northeast, and partly because it's huge and difficult to maintain. We'd like to change it to be both prettier for longer periods of time, and much easier to maintain.

The small bed near the house (between the long steps across the front, and the steps on the side) is a mess right now, too. We aren't opposed to making it somewhat larger, if needed. Right now we intend to make this a memorial garden for our daughter. The bench that is currently there will go (but we aren't opposed to using another bench that we like better) and the birdbath will go. We are thinking of commissioning an armillary sphere dedicated to our daughter and that will be placed in that garden, on a plinth of some sort, and toward the edge nearest the street so it gets the most sun. We intend to remove the hydrangeas. We will be leaving the Japanese maple where it is, and probably will keep the weigelia (possibly moving them). Other than that, the daylilies can stay, move, or go, and of course the annuals will be gone.

We also wonder what (if anything) we should do on the southwest side of the house. We have the three birch trees only.

We�re very open to suggestions and would be interested in hearing both your "first impressions" and any thoughts about how to change things. I�m attaching a lot of photos ---- and thank you in advance for any help.

Front of house, straight on, taken from sidewalk

Another view of front of house

Another view of front of house

Front of house from left

Front of house, taken from park across the street

Front of house, taken from further into park, showing houses to the southwest

Front of house, taken from further into park

Straight-on distance view of house, taken from park

Another view from sidewalk

View of southwest side, showing neighbor's driveway pillars and our veranda (the walled brick area on right side of house as you're facing it)

View of our house as approaching it from the southwest

Front of house showing daylilies and small garden




Small garden by steps

Small garden by steps

Side steps

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trillium7(Zone 4)

Forgot to add: We're changing all the pots in the front to be like the grey ones that are shown next to our front door (empty in photo, now planted). That will happen next year (they haven't arrived yet) and will include the pots on the driveway and across the wide front steps.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 1:32PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I wonder if you might be looking already at the right solution for your driveway bed. If you like daylilies, and in your zone it may be a good thing you do, this strikes me as an excellent application for them as they cannot encroach out of their allocated space, and you can really enjoy their big-picture and close-up appeal. It may not serve well at all times of the year, but really, every option will have its compromises, and you may just have the best possible solution right there.

What you haven't told us,and what strikes me, is that I wonder what your long term tree-scape strategy is, and also, what is your relationship with that lawn? If the lawn is important to you, it is certainly a good example of a lawn being used as a garden feature. But if you want something more flattering to the house, I would be inclined to put in something somewhere to reduce the visual impact of your veranda box. It doesn't have to be right in front of it, especially as the birches are there, but from the street it could visually screen it or give the eye something else to rest on - just one or two specimen shrubs would do it; it doesn't actually have to be a whole bed. Ideally those shrubs might be where the birches are, though, which brings me back to trees.

The trees are lovely, but oddly close the house given the size of the lot. You haven't told us why they are there, and what your preference might be with respect to views in and out of your windows, but those would be the factors I would consider, and perhaps plant new trees closer to the street now anticipating the eventual removal of one or more of the birches.


    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 2:54PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

First of all I'd like to say I'd hire your sister as my architect any day:-) I love the house - the proportions feel just right!

Like Karen, I think the daylilies probably have a permanent place in the picture because they suit your zone and the scene so well. They can be a PITA though re deadheading, although I can live with the look of daylilies in need of deadheading better than most perennials in need of deadheading :-) Especially when they're planten en masse like those ones - and I think that's the best way to plant daylilies. One way to add some variety to the bed might be to add some dark-leafed shrubs to it. I have Summer Wine ninebark with red,orange and peachy daylilies and they look great together. The Ninebark has pink flowers before the daylilies bloom. I'd really rather it didn't flower at all as I really only want the leaf color in the bed! A purple smokebush would be an alternative for me - but not hardy for you I think. The dark-leafed weigelas would work as long as they flowered at a different time than the daylilies for you. Alternatively, you could focus on golden and orangy foliage plants to pick up on the yellows/peach/orange colors. There's a wide variety of evergreens, deciduous shrubs, perennials and bulbs that would fit that theme and provide a continuity through all the seasons.

I'd be inclined to make a shade bed around/under those birches so they don't rise so starkly from the lawn.

The other thing that juumps out at me is that there must be a walkway along the foot of those front steps but the steps look like they rise directly from the lawn, making you sort of wonder how you get to them from the driveway... Maybe some pots or some plantings along the edge would mark the path when seen from the street...?

You've got a fabulous house and setting to play with! Have fun with it...

    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 6:15PM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

KarinL and woodyoak, thank you to both of you for your responses.

KarinL, we don't have a long-term tree-scape strategy. They are there because my sister (the architect) suggested three birch trees for that location and she was actually there the day they were planted and showed them the locations with her foot :-). I have no idea if she just thought they would look nice there. I will take a photo from the daylily side so it's more apparent how close they are to the veranda wall. As for our relationship with the lawn, we really don't use it much for anything other than to look at. We built a pool in our back yard about seven years ago, and also an addition that included a large screened porch, and we spend most of the decent weather days there. I completely agree about reducing the visual impact of the veranda box. I remember asking my sister about planting around it and she frowned and said, "No foundation planting! I want the house to look like it rises right out of the ground." Of course, that was 17 years ago and though she probably still feels the same, we have other thoughts now.

woodyoak, thank you for the kind compliments on the house. My sister would be very pleased. One of our goals was to make it look like it had been here as long as the houses around it but still have a bit of a modern edge. We frequently get asked when we "renovated" by people thinking it is a much older home, so I think we succeeded in the goal of making it fit within an old, established neighborhood. We have been talking about the possibility of a bed around the birch trees, both for the reason you said and also wondering if it might help balance the large driveway bed (visually). You are correct about the walkway in front of the wide steps. It's a bluestone paver walkway (I'll take a photo and post it). However, because those steps serve the porch and we have the other steps (on the side) that lead to our front door, the walkway doesn't go anywhere - it is literally just in front of the steps. The fact that the front door is recessed, not centered, and that the two French doors are at the front of the house can be confusing. We are trying to find ways to emphasize the front door a little more but since it's in deep shadow most of the day, it may be a losing battle. We are thinking of painting it and also hanging a light fixture, along with changing the sconces on either side of the door to match whatever hanging fixture we choose.

I like the "wall of flowers" effect we have with the daylilies, but wish it would look good more of the year. Plus it really is a maintenance nightmare; I'm not sure how to rectify that if we keep it as is.

We have been throwing out ideas as we think of them and would love feedback from anyone who is interested (I didn't want to lead with these because we really wanted input without any influence from us but ...).

First idea: A segment of grass (perhaps 3 - 4' in width) in the long bed along the driveway to make it "match" a little better with the other side, with the balance of the bed in plantings. It feels a little unbalanced to me with the 11' wide bed on one side and no grass, and grass and no bed on the other side.

Second idea: Again to address the visual imbalance, a planting bed along the lawn side. Not 11' in width but not just a strip either, and joined to the bed that is between the wide steps and the side steps.

Third idea: Using both the first and second ideas.

Fourth idea: Dividing the long bed into repetitive areas - in a sense, reflecting the repetition of the columns at the front of the house. Each area might be anchored by the same or similarly sized shrub(s) or small trees, and may or may not vary in the other plantings in each of the corresponding areas. I do think this would be very tricky to do well, but maybe I'm wrong about that (I am no landscape designer and not even good at gardening, but I do enjoy well-designed and well-kept gardens).

Fifth idea: An allee of small trees or upright shrubs on both sides of the drive, one in the long planting bed and the other in the grass - again, to reflect the repetition of the columns and correspond to the somewhat formal nature of the house. For this idea, I don't know what we would do for the rest of the planting bed but my sense is that it would be similar to the fourth idea, with each small tree or shrub becoming an "anchor" for a planting area.

All further thoughts are much appreciated!

    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 7:57PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

A quick thought on the front door issue... I think the pots by each pillar sort of confuse the issue. If the pots were, say, limited to one by the brick wall on the left side and one by the second pillar over from that, I think the colorful plantings in the pots would draw peoples' eyes to focus on where the door is.

I wouldn't be inclined to put a grass strip in front of the daylilies in large part because it would mean more work! You'd have to keep the grass mowed and edged and I just don't see the need to add that work.

I'm not clear on how the path in front of the steps works - it sounds rather disconnected to anything. I think it would improve matters to have the path clearly connect to the driveway with a bed nestled in the L where the path and driveway meet. I think a small bed on that side that picks up some of the same plantings - or colors - from the big bed would help make the big bed feel more connected to the house side of the property.

And I definitely think some planting around the birches and the big brick wall would help blend those things together. I'd keep the plantings there very subtle and green rather than be something vivid that would call excessive attention to itself.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 10:00PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Such a stunning and unusual house, trillium7. It really does look like it's been there forever.

I agree that the front door should be painted -- a very light color, perhaps the cream of the panel above the first floor window on the far right. Photoshop it first, or hang a length of cloth in front of the door and see how it looks from various distances and angles. [If there's a window in the door, consider pale sheers (held by narrow rods at the top and bottom of the window) so the entire door shows up as light-colored.]

Like woodyoak, I thought about the pots in front of the pillars. However, I would keep the four on the right but remove the one in front of the front door, to draw attention there.

Rather than putting plants in front of the slate at the bottom of the stairs, to make the walkway more noticeable I'd double the width of the slate ... but does it matter? Visitors can reach the front door either way (side stairs or slate walkway to the front stairs). The really important issue is making certain they recognize the front door.

I don't think adding a bed on the other side of the driveway would alleviate the unbalanced effect of the daylily bed: the weight would still be mostly on the left side of the property.


Where is the property line on the right: at the neighbor's driveway? No, he's got a pillar on each side of his driveway.

What do people think about a bed that would include at least part of the space in front of the veranda, then curve to run along that side of the property, including the birches and ending at the sidewalk? This would seem to be the obvious way to balance the daylily bed -- but would it look odd, being not as formally rectangular as the daylily bed?

I can see two problems with placing a bed on that side of the yard. First, I imagine the neighbor would prefer that side of your yard remain lawn, merging with his lawn ... though it is your yard. Second is the matter of the lawn adjacent to the house in the side yard: how much space do you have there, and how would you access it if that side of the front yard becomes a bed?

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 12:58AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I can't articulate the needed design principles here, not being trained in landscape design, but I think any thought of dividing the long bed into cross-wise sections would be misguided. its signature characteristic is its linear nature, so I would work with that instead of fighting it. And its width is the thing that I think enables this planting to not look too stringy.

Understanding just what the problem is that you want to solve is key to finding the right solution, and if all you want is floral interest for more of the year, then don't mess with periodic trees and patches and alterations and displaced lawn strips. I don't think any of your ideas actually solves the comparatively simple problem you've got - a border that you're a bit bored with (it would have been helpful to post photos of the times it doesn't look its best, by the way).

You also don't have the airspace in front of the arbs and above them for trees there. And if you think the daylilies alone are a maintenance nightmare, every planting area you add will exacerbate that, especially if you introduce an edging issue with the lawn.

Just find one or two other plants that will extend your season, and interplant with the daylilies. Perhaps irises, the showy bearded kind. Delphiniums. Peonies. Bulbs for earlier in spring. You could put the irises and delphiniums at the back, and interplant peonies more seamlessly with the daylilies. You would lose the integrity of the foliage sweep, but that may or may not matter. Plus, realize that daylilies may not share space well, and if the irises take, they too like to claim territory. Mixing means maintenance!

Also, any herbaceous or deciduous material you plant in front of the arbs will lean away from them toward the light. With the daylilies, and with peonies, this is a feature and has the desirable outcome that the flowers face you. With taller flowers, this may mean staking work. And this is why deciduous shrubs may not look good.

As for the rest of the property, again I'm not a designer but I think you are barking up the wrong tree thinking that a flowerbed will balance the driveway. The only thing that balances open space is open space, and as such I feel that the lawn currently balances the driveway nicely. A bed will reduce the apparent size of the lawn and thus increase the apparent size of the driveway relative to the lawn. For what it's worth, the driveway does not look as huge as you think it does, because of the big lawn.

I think I agree with your sister about no foundation planting - and by the way, what an interesting landscaping challenge, to have to maintain an ongoing relationship with your architect!! And if you have the talent or interest in maintaining the lawn in that condition, I would keep it, in essence, or at least the integrity of the overall form. I like the look of trees rising directly from lawn, it is a clean feeling that suits your house and allows it to shine; also, it allows your containers to shine. Only a fairly simple landscape allows such small containers to make such a big impact.

At best, as I said, I would put in some new trees to eventually replace the birches, or a specimen shrub. I could envision a giant Viburnum or something similar closer to the road that would offer, from one angle, a screened view of the deck - as the birches become too big/too close. But trees might always be better.

As for the house, the design dictates that there will be a design trade-off to anything you do to emphasize the front door. My suggestion would otherwise be some sort of railing to block off the french doors, but that leaves only one too-narrow opening between pillars (you'd have to move a pillar), and those pillars don't really suit a railing. Plus they would make the super-wide stairs look off. An alternative would be to block off that area of the stairs with a more elaborate array of pots to funnel traffic to the front door. The only other option is a VISIBLE walkway to the front door, not right at the foot of the house, but extending will into the lawn, terminating either somewhere along the driveway or right at the street, but that would be way too linear. Maybe a huge S sidewalk hitting the public sidewalk in front of your veranda... but how much work and alteration is it really worth to you? My guess is that most visitors do find your front door because they come up your driveway.

You have said one thing about your own preferences that I think is really important: "not even good at gardening, but I do enjoy well-designed and well-kept gardens." Any plant material you add to the lawn will reduce, at least at some point in the year, how well-kept your garden looks. What you have right now is all the plant mess confined to your one long bed and the side of the house. Really, that's brilliant. I wouldn't mess much with that, and I would keep that long bed looking as simple and clean - as uniform - as possible.

Sorry to say so much!


    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 11:38AM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

woodyoak, thank you for your further comments - very much appreciated! I'll be attaching some more photos in a bit that will more clearly show the "path" in front of the wide steps.

It's rare for someone to come up the wide steps and go to our front door. Most people do drive up the driveway and see the smaller steps to the right, and use those. So the "path" isn't quite as important as it might be if we didn't have the other steps, I think. Our desire to have the front entry be more visible is more of an aesthetic issue, I think, than a practical one. We do occasionally get a package or a phone book or something placed in front of the French doors, but it's not too big of a deal in terms of practicality.

In looking at the photos here (and others in iPhoto), I have already nixed the thoughts we had (or rather, the garden person from the landscape company had) about trees on either side of the driveway. I'm not skilled with Photoshop but even without, I can imagine how that would look and it's not a look we want. I feel the same way about the grass "strip" (another idea from the garden person); I just don't think it will look right.

One of the problems with living somewhere for a long while with the landscape much the same is it is very difficult to envision something else. Your eyes, and the eyes of others here who have looked at the photos, thought about things, and commented, are already proving helpful. Thank you for taking the time to help us - and hopefully help us avoid costly and potentially unsatisfactory changes.

I'll be posting more photos soon.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 3:12PM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

missingtheobvious, thank you so much for your comments! We too had thought about trying to pick up the color of the limestone panel above the window for the front door - and your idea of sheer window covering is not something we'd thought of but I understand why you are suggesting it. The other color we're currently considering for the door is shown in a photo below. It's just a fabric swatch I shut in the door so it's not very big. I have a bench on order (from Restoration Hardware) and we were thinking of placing it on the front porch, to the left of the front door (I've attached another photo below showing the area). We originally thought about a bench to the right of the front door on the wall but have less room there, and trying to find a bench that works with our furniture on the veranda has been tricky, so for the moment, this is the choice. Please let me know what you (or anyone else) think about the color of the swatch as a potential choice. Cream/ivory would be "safer", of course, but also not as lively. I haven't ordered the cushion for the bench yet (and have other swatches in the cream family) and the bench itself is backordered so it can be canceled, if we decide it's superfluous and/or won't do much to help define the front entry better.

You are correct about the path in front of the steps not mattering much (please see my reply to woodyoak, above).

I too have been bothered by the fact that a bed encompassing the birches would likely be curvilinear (and large, to adequately attempt to "balance" the impact of the daylily bed) and that it wouldn't work with the formality of the rectangular bed all along the driveway. It would also mean a lot more maintenance, and then as you pointed out, we have the situation with the neighbor's lot line. I'll attach some photos I took this morning showing the side yard and try to point out the lot line (it's pretty easy to understand by looking at the photos). As far as access, well duh! I hadn't thought of that and thank you for pointing it out. We have a door off the kitchen that enters the side yard, so we could go that way, or through the back yard & gate in the fence on that side. But if I'm in the front and want to walk to the side or back, it would seem more than a little odd to walk down to the sidewalk, or through our own planting bed, I think.

If you'd like to comment further on the potential of a bed in that area after seeing the photos I'll post, it would be greatly appreciated. I'm starting to think it might be a not so great idea, especially after thinking about your comments and KarinL's comments.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 3:34PM
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I think your house is gorgeous. I like the idea of the wide expanse of lawn in that it makes me think you play croquet there every Sunday in your summer whites.

For me, the sticking point is the levels in your driveway bed. You go from the tall arborvitae down to the short daylilies with nothing in between. I think Woody's suggestion of some shrubbery could help mitigate that. Another suggestion would be to change some of the arborvitae to something less uniform.

As for the trees and to bed or not to bed, maybe something as simple as adding a bench or other colored object would work. It wouldn't be more maintenance for you but I think if you got the scale, placement and color right, it could really work.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 4:00PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I can see the appeal of the trees simply rising from the lawn - I think what bothers/distracts me in the picture labelled as SW view (where you can see the trees and the brick wall in the closest view), is that the pillars with the lights on top are a redder brick that the house. I think that spoils the simplicity. I assume the light pillars were a later addition and you couldn't match the brick...? Would it be possible to paint or stucco those pillars to match the house color better? I tried it on Photoshop (rather messily!) and it did make the scene look better I think. I think if those pillars matched the house then it would feel less like something was missing or needed there; the simply geometry of the horizontal plane of the lawn with the vertical notes of the tree trunks would be sufficient (any probably meet with your sister's approval :-)

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 4:51PM
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I think the pillars are the neighbors and will need to be dealt with as is.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 5:12PM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

Bluestone paver path in front of wide steps (2 photos)

Neighboring property line is the driveway edge on this end of the property line

Neighboring property line is the edge of the driveway, and begins to veer over where the orange tape measure is sitting. It ends up just to the right of their brick driveway post. It forms a very narrow triangular area (wish we'd known about that before we purchased the lot; we might have been able to negotiate something).

View of the side yard along veranda - approximately 9.5' wide (foggy from very high humidity)

Potential area for bench from Restoration Hardware (narrower steps are to the right and front door is to right of the steps)

Swatch from Restoration Hardware - potential color for front door & bench cushion

Side yard further up, along kitchen wall and porch (crabapple trees are ours)

Side yard even further up, back and side of porch

Photo showing distance birch trees are from veranda wall. It's approximately 19 feet from the wall to the trunk of the birch closest to the wall.

Photo of front yard taken from back in the daylily bed

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 5:49PM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

You all are great to continue to read and comment - and I intend to respond to Karin & the other newer posts tonight or tomorrow (must prepare dinner now). But for the moment: The pillars are the neighbor's and are on both sides of their circular drive. It appears that one is on our property because the person from whom we purchased the lot did a really awful job of dividing up his property (he sold the lots on both sides of the big red brick house he owned; the house on the other side was also an in-fill build). Anyway, we are stuck with their driveway being the property line until it veers over a bit (see the photos above).

The swatch looks much pinker than it is, rather than reddish orange, on my monitor. It actually picks up the colors in the croton leaves (in the pots across the front porch).

I moved the pots with the croton/sweet potato vine to the sides of the stairs to see how it looks. So far, my husband doesn't like it and my sister doesn't like it. I snapped a quick photo but haven't had a chance to upload it - will do later, maybe it will help in some way.

P.S. I am having trouble posting a follow-up; they keep getting rejected. Anyone know why this is happening?

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 6:04PM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

That last photo posted incorrectly. Here is the photo of the front yard taken from the back of the daylily bed.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 6:39PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Re follow-up postings - yeah, GW doesn't like two posts from the same person one right after another... When it gets rejected, just go to the subject line and add a word or two (e.g. continued... or something like that...) and try posting again. That usually works.

Too bad re the pillars being the neighbours...

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 8:58PM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

KarinL, Thank you for your comments! We have tried to work with the linear aspects before, by planting a row of dogwood shrubs at the back of the bed and low plants at the front; while it didn't look terrible, it didn't look great, either. But that may also have been choice of plants. That revision was done to try to "layer" the bed somewhat, to have some plant material that was between the height of the arborvitae and the height of the daylilies and irises, and then smaller plant material in front. It was a good enough concept; it just ended up looking very much like it was planted in rows (because it was, ha ha). That being said, I think we have hesitated for so long to do any further revision attempts because as you said, we wonder if horizontal divisions would look right, and we aren't sure we want to return to the "row concept".

I wish we had photos to post of the bed in the less-attractive times of the year, but I didn't take any, unfortunately. I described it a little somewhere above: widely scattered crocuses start things out (probably no more than a dozen), followed by clumps of daffodils (maybe 2 dozen clumps), followed by some irises (maybe 18? not huge clumps), and by then of course the daylilies have their leaves up, and so it remains until the full-force daylily bloom period in late June & July. That's it as far as plants, now that the dogwood shrubs have been removed and the small plantings are no more (for various reasons; mostly they just didn't survive).

You are so right about both daylilies and irises spreading somewhat. We need to do some serious dividing and thinning of the "herd", so to speak. That was actually what we started out talking about doing with that bed, and then during a discussion with a potential garden designer affiliated with a landscaping company, these other ideas (the rows of trees, sub-dividing the long bed, another bed around the birches) came up. A few years ago we did do some of what you have suggested with the interplanting, using coneflowers and more iris. The daylilies are so numerous that they shaded and/or crowded out the new plants pretty rapidly. Now that we know better, before any new planting happens, the daylilies and iris will be thinned out.

Your comment that a flowerbed will not balance the size of the driveway is a valid observation, but made me realize I must not have communicated very well. We were contemplating another bed around the birches (or on the other side of the drive, or both) as a way to balance the large rectangular bed (the daylily bed) along the driveway, not the driveway itself. But either way, I think we are in agreement with you. I sense that we would not be happy with our attempts to balance the daylily bed, for a variety of reasons, not least of which are the property line/side yard access complications brought up by missingtheobvious.

We hadn�t given a thought to the lifespan of the birches and what we might do if we want and/or need to replace one or more of them. We'll have to give the idea of more trees and possibly a specimen shrub some more thought. Thank you again for your insights and input; we truly appreciate it!

tanowicki, thank you for your compliment and comments! Croquet, you say? I do have a (very dusty) set in the basement. :-) I know this is a long thread so you may have missed reading that we tried to mitigate the towering nature of the arborvitae a number of years ago. Giving that another try is what started the discussion with the garden designer, and eventually led me here as I was searching the internet for ideas and photos of long and wide gardens with multiple layers. I think you (and everyone else) is right and that our first inclination (to work with what we have, rather than drastically modifying things) is the way we will begin. It will be a lot less expensive and also less risky.

Funny you should mention a bench under the birch trees as I too thought that could look nice and mentioned it to the garden designer. I know from looking for a bench for the front entry porch that we will have trouble finding a colorful bench that works with the style of our outdoor furniture in the front (on the veranda) and also works with the house style � and can sit outside all year long. I think it�s a great idea though, and I will start to look. Thank you again for your input!

I�m attaching a photo of the wide front steps with the current pots moved to the sides (with only five pots, I couldn�t make it symmetrical, obviously). Any thoughts on if that improves the look of the house or not? (And please excuse the fact that those steps desperately need to be power washed!)

Thanks again to everyone who has advised and commented so far. We truly appreciate your help.

Woodyoak - thank you for explaining why I couldn't post multiple times back-to-back. Seems a strange little glitch but I'm glad there's a way to work around it.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 10:54AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Aarrgh!! I just lost my post!

I find the stepping stone path at the base of those stairs out of scale and a disconcerting contrast with the dignity and gravitas of the stairs. The stairs look like they should descend to a broad, elegant stone path or plaza!

I'm not sure if all the pots on the left is the right way to go to draw attention to the door location or not, but I do prefer that look to the spotty one-pot-per-pillar look.

I like the wall of green behind the daylilies - a green hedge backing a wide border is a classic look, but I do think it would be improved with the addition of shrubs and other plantings to break it up a bit. I agree that planting in rows is not the way to go when adding things to the bed. It would be worth experimenting drawing on graph paper and/or sketching ideas on photos of the area to give a feel for alternatives, playing with both the plan (bird's eye) view and the vertical view until you get a layout that looks good to you. I find it useful at times to print a photo of the area in black and white and then draw ideas on that.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 4:24PM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

woodyoak, thank you again for your comments & suggestions. I can't remember why my sister suggested the stones at the foot of the steps. I hardly notice them any more. I'm not sure why I continue to be surprised by how accustomed we become to things over the years, but seeing them through the view of someone else is always interesting.

I don't think I'd want pots just on the left side of the steps (in the photo I have 2 on the right also, best I could do with a total of 5 pots at the moment). I have six new pots on order; 5 can go in front of the columns (as they were); or 6 can go between the columns on the porch floor, as opposed to the steps (we haven't tried that to see how it looks); or 6 can go on the steps (3 on each side). Or ....? So far, you and I are the only ones who've seen the pots this way who like it better. I feel it opens up the house more, regardless of whether it does anything to emphasize the entry.

I like your ideas of sketching out ideas and I'll give that a try. But I fear that I lack the confidence and experience to figure out how to change this bed. It's so big - and that is daunting to me. I've searched and searched on the internet for photos and ideas and haven't come across anything applicable to a bed this large (that I liked, anyway).

    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 4:44PM
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I'd be cutting a planting bed in front of the fortress-like structure on the right that would sweep from about 1/3 the way across those steps, out in front of the fortress, and wrapping around to include the birches. The pots would get re-arranged asymetrically so that they indicated a way to the front door and balance out with the landscape.

I'd go vertical with a columnar tree at the left side of the steps. That might have a bed sweeping from the driveway to lead the lawn to the middle third of the steps. There is no problem aesthetically with a sweping lawn walk, but 18"x36" bluestone steppers three across with big grass joints carefully laid out to curve to the middle of those steps would be a knockout.

I'd tone down the jazz on the left side of the driveway OR try to compete with it throughout or on the right side of the property.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 7:18AM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

laag, thank you for your suggestions and input. As you may have read above, we have been thinking of a bed on the right side of the property to try to balance the yard to a degree, but we have concerns over it being curvy (and therefore not "working with" the rectangular driveway bed). Missingtheobvious also asked about the property line on that side and access to the side yard, which are also concerns with a bed on that side. Given that the long driveway bed is essentially a huge rectangle, with very straight edges, would you try to reflect that in the bed on the right? Would you just stay far enough up in the yard that the property line issue isn't an issue? Would you put a stepping stone path through the bed to gain access to the side yard? And would you extend the bed around the corner of the veranda wall, into the side yard?

You are the first person who has ever suggested planting areas in front of the steps and it has never occurred to us either. I wish I was better at visualizing something without actually seeing it because I am really having trouble imagining what that would look like. Are you suggesting that only the middle third of the steps be left accessible (unless someone wanted to walk through the planting beds)? I'm sorry if I'm not understanding correctly!

How would you tone done the left side of the driveway? Fewer plants, less color? Most of the year it's a rather dull space; the photos here of the daylilies in full bloom are how it looks for July only.

I really like the idea of a columnar tree on the left side of the steps, as I feel some height there would be good. I'm not sure how that would integrate with the existing bed that contains the Japanese maple?

Sorry for all the questions; we appreciate your comments!

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 10:45AM
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I do mean to only access the middle third of the steps. The bed to the right would be curved out and around joining to the garden with the j maple. The bed to the right would curveout, over, and then around the birches. Right now your house looks like a converted school house or municipal building (maybe that is explained above, I did not read the whole thread).

I like to lead the attention to the front door. The wide steps erode that, but they also look great. The row of pots also is more blocking than inviting to or framing of the door.

You have enough straight lines on the house and driveway. Curved beds in front would look great in my opinion.

Also, some interuption of the long straight bed along the left of the driveway will tone down the way the garage is calling. Right now the landscape almost has a bunch of signs with arrows pointing to the garage. I'd like to see a lawn start 10 or 15 feet down the driveway by curving off of the driveway edge line and gently sweeping to the left all the way back to the arbs and then curve bak to the drive so that the edge line brings you back across the driveway toward the house. Bigger shrubs could be in that area to reinforce that directional change. This would go a long way toward reducing the attraction of the garage.

Re-center the weight of the landscape so that the front door area is the heart of it.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 1:10PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

If you truly want a modern edge to the house design and garden, resist the urge to clutter the garden.

Pots -- I would remove all pots except those by the real front door and one at the bottom of the side steps.

The ramparts -- what's inside? Is there a floor at the same height as the top of the stairs? If so, repurpose your pots inside the walls with something green that can sparingly trail over the edge of the fortress walls to soften the look.

The expanse of lawn is luxurious. I would concentrate my efforts on seeking a very significant abstract metal scupture to install there. I like the concept of the birch trees, but for some reason, those disappoint. What might have more slender white trunks and a more vertical, almost weepy crown? (I don't know trees, especially where you are.)

I very much like the bold contrast of the very high and vertical arborvitae with the low daylilies. But if the daylilies are too much work, find some sort of low, horizontal spreading evergreen. Maybe use a weed barrier cloth and fill in between the low evergreens with fist-size grey river stones. If you still feel a need for balance, run a "river" of the fist-sized grey stones through the grass. Do not line the driveway on the other side unless you want all the focus to be on the driveway.

I would shy away from English garden inspiration and tilt toward Asian garden style with this house, but utterly ban little curved bridges and japanese lanterns. Keep it spare and dignified. That's my shot in the dark.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 2:48PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

That close-up shot does confirm my suspicion that one pillar is awkwardly placed vis-a-vis the front door. I actually drafted this up before Laag chimed in with a designer's eye to make the rest of sound like clunky amateurs BUT ANYWAY :-)
I'm glad he did, including with that idea about having garden in front of part of the steps. That could help, depending on whether you decide to expand the amount of garden- Catkim's advice is echoing my original reaction on seeing your yard. But if you really do want to create a more apparent public access route, pillar or no pillar, a sidewalk would help - perhaps an extension that flares off of the bluestone - that makes a short curve to the driveway. That, and paint/light the door as you've suggested.

With respect to the bed, I really can see that rows of anything wouldn't look good; you need that 11 foot wide swath. And that may simply mean that it will by definition have a limited season of interest, unless you mix plants in a different pattern other than rows. One alternative I can think of is is sort of curved waves, for lack of a better word - sort of scythe-shaped, of certain plants, each of which would bloom in its turn, so each wave uses the full width of the bed at some point. This approach could compliment (maybe?) Laag's idea of a crescent of lawn, which I think is brilliant, and putting shrubbery at the back would mitigate the linearity anyway.

But that means controlling the plants, keeping each to its area. It's interesting to hear that plants fighting it out has been an issue. You know, large low containers or raised bed sections IN the bed, hidden by the daylilies, might help with that. But daylilies would get into just a raised section; if you want to include them/keep them out it would have to be pretty solid pots, ideally set on pieces of flagstone or something similar so the daylilies can't get in from top or bottom. A curving path through the bed made of maybe 12" square slabs would also function as a boundary as well as to enable access for maintenance.

But honestly, for a mixed bed, I'm just not sure I would use a lot of daylilies - they're kind of all or nothing. Maybe you could put other plants in the ground and the daylilies in pots on slabs - that's where mine live, and they're never getting out!


PS, I kept thinking that your "really huge" title referred to your driveway, but regardless, I think we are ending up on the same page.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 8:19PM
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I just recycled other plants that I have used in the past in other conceptual mockups. Watever they are doesn't matter in this concept. It is just to show basic abstract visual massing influencing the building.

The building is the strongest element in most residential landscapes. You have to overcome the building (any building, not just this one) in order for the landscape to look right because if you don't, the building will overcome your landscape and make all the nice things about it insignificant. Once you lower that dominance, the rest of it can be appreciated.

Note the stone steppers in the lawn and the addition of the lawn and shrubs to the left of the driveway. I'mnot a big fan of these pots, but I don't have time to make mock ups - I just tried to show how they can influence creating an entrance. It would be nicer to do it with various sized bots in groupings on either side of the area that would be walkup up.

This would not be a final landscape, but just a very quick slammed mockup using three plants distorted to make the point. The idea is to draw the attention into the front entrance of the house - everything else should support that or not detract from that.

The tree to the left of the house stops the roof line from teaming up with the two edges of the diveway and hedgeline from acting as perspective lines pulling you to the garage. The sweeping bed line introduced by the lawn on the left of the driveway mitigates the edge of the driveway line.The shrubs on the lft mitigate the hedge line. Because of that, the roofline now works to direct you up to the roof peak conveniently located over the entry area of the house. The perspective lines that pulled you down into the garage are now working in reverse pushing you out in front of the house.

Who is not drawn to that porch?

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 9:50PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

laag - interesting... I can see it all working nicely - except the bulge of lawn on the left. That doesn't feel right to me. I like the shrubs and the tree and the end of that bed minimizing the garage. But, from your verbal description, I envisioned the lawn addition being at the street end of the bed, running up towards where the stone path would meet it if that line crossed the driveway. I thought there would be shrubs at the street end of the bed too, so the daylilies would be sort of recessed between shrubs top and bottom in the bed.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 10:31PM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

karinL, thank you again for another thoughtful response. I agree with you that rows are not the way to go again. I'm not quite sure what you mean by the scythe idea, if you might be up to explaining it a little more. Now that you've seen laag's ideas and mockup, would that still be something you would suggest?

Laag, thank you so much for taking the time to do the mockup. It is very helpful to be able to see what you were talking about.

I am really surprised by how appealing the grass on the left of the driveway is to me! When you mentioned it, I had a lot of trouble envisioning that, but it really does seem to work. I also like the way the plantings in front of the veranda wall help to balance the yard (along with the changes in the bed along the driveway).

I understand your points about emphasizing the front entry, and de-emphasizing the garage, and your additions to the landscaping do that quite well, by centering the focus on the path to the front steps and porch.

I wasn't able to respond to you after you clarified that you were trying to emphasize the middle third of the steps with plantings and the path, before you did the mock-up. You may have missed the brief discussion that the way visitors arrive at the front door is to pull up the driveway. If they know us, they pull up close to the garage and then use the side door (not shown in photos but it is directly to the right of the right hand garage stall). If they don't know us, they either pull up and park by the side steps and go up those steps to the front door, or they pull up farther toward the garage and walk back to the side steps to the front door. Any visitors to the house really never use the wide front steps. My sister (the architect) intended the steps to give onto the lawn as a way of accessing the lawn from the porch. I suspect that is also why there is a column (as Karin and others have noted) in the sight line of the front door from the driveway/yard/street; she probably wanted to make it clear that the wide steps were not the way into the house. (And symmetry of the columns may have been another reason; knowing her as I do, I can understand why she wouldn't like a gap there.) Of course, as the homeowners we use the steps all the time to go into the front/side yards, and vice versa (doing watering chores, etc.), but visitors really do not.

I also may have inadvertently confused you and others with my statement that we wanted to not only improve the landscaping but also draw more attention to the front entry. I should have been clearer; what I meant was to draw more attention to the door visually, so that the front door is more visible. Right now because it is recessed in darkness due to the porch, it isn't as visible as we'd like. I mentioned possibly painting the door (a creamy ivory or possibly a reddish color are the current contenders for color), and also hanging a light fixture and possibly placing a bench near the front door.

I would be very appreciative of more input if you (or anyone else) is willing! Is there a way to make the new swath of grass on the left of the driveway work well with the right side, without the wide stone path leading to the center of the steps, and without the side beds (birch bed and the existing bed, however modified) extending in front of the wide steps? Also, I'm wondering if we inadvertently caused the side steps (and therefore the way to the front door) to be LESS visible with where we planted the Japanese maple? In looking at the photos, the maple does block the view of the angled brick there that indicates the steps, making It difficult to see that there are steps there until you're essentially right on top of them as you come up the drive. Also, what about replacing the lilac just beyond the side steps with something tall and thin and pairing a corresponding tree across the driveway, to act as a sort of visual stopping point? Might that also be effective in breaking up the perspective lines you talked about and deemphasizing the garage?

For the first time I am feeling some excitement about the improvements we might make to the landscape, so thank you again, and to everyone else for your continued comments and suggestions. You all are so helpful.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 1:16PM
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Trillium (the name of my old company 20 years ago, by the way),

I slammed this together very quickly, so it is a bit of a hack job and not meant to call out details. I did not read your post about calling out the doorway - that is coincidental. Emphasizing the front door is a standard obsession of mine. I do it whether or not anyone uses the front door and has more to do with making the heart of the house the focal point of the landscape than telling someone where to entter.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 10:07PM
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I love the wide steps at the front and feel no need to make them look like they should be used. I like the way they come down to the grass and emphasize the front of the house. I would totally nix the pots on the stairs; I find them distracting. It may just be my eye, but when they are in front of the pillars, they appear to be some sort of thing wrapped around the pillars, like a bow. I would put them on the veranda wall, to break up the straight and rather imposing look of that. I think that if you didn't have the pots on the stairs or in front of the pillars, you would eliminate any thought that the front door was behind them. So far as the day lilies go, I love them, but I think I love more that mock up showing the sweep of lawn. I'm not so sure about the planting in the middle of the yard. It doesn't go with my love of the stairs, unadorned, rising from the grass. Perhaps the sweep of lawn doesn't go with that, either.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 10:39AM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

laag, trilliums were one of my dad's favorite flowers. We have a few and would love to have more. I understand why you wanted to emphasize the front of the house and making it more attractive is one of our goals, too. Thank you again for taking the time to do the mock-up for us. Otherwise, I never would have believed that a swath of grass on the left side of the driveway could look so good!

kayandallie, thank you for your comments & suggestions. It is so great to continue to hear from everyone; we really appreciate it. The front steps never had pots until 4 years ago, when we placed those same pots (with white hydrangeas in them) there for my daughter's wedding. Everyone complimented us on how nice it looked and so we have kept the pots each subsequent year and have planted different things each time (this is the first year for croton and sweet potato vine - I like the croton but am not loving the vine). I do like them better on the sides of the stairs than I do in front of the columns. I think our original goal with the pots was to soften the huge expanse of concrete, but maybe we should try it again with no pots on the steps. We've thought about pots on top of the veranda wall but didn't want it too look "spotty" so we've never done anything about trying it. I think those particular pots are too tall to work well on top of the veranda wall, though - a good wind would topple them over, especially since their bases are narrower.

I've also wondered about a trellis at the front of the veranda wall with some sort of vine. It's fairly shaded because of the birch trees though, so not sure if it would work. And it would be a summer only thing, of course, so any softening of the veranda wall would be limited to that season.

All further thoughts are very welcome! We hoped to try to get this work done in the fall and that is approaching quickly.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 12:44PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Well we did expend a lot of words on how to manage that flower bed, and yet indeed it is much smarter to take a step back and say, "but does it have to be a flower bed?" It does solve a lot of problems to regard it as part of the lawn and shape beds the way they will best flatter the property, and not the way the driveway happens to create them.

It really is much better as Laag has depicted it. What I was trying to describe were sweeps of different plants that might also be crescents, or arcs, that, like the grass section, use the whole width of the bed.

There is just one issue that I have with that approach, and it is that you will suddenly have quite a lot of edging to deal with. The division between lawn and bed is a constant headache, one you are currently quite free of.

The long section is so much improved with the addition of lawn, and that change so frees you up in terms of selecting and mixing plant material, that I would consider it worth the headache. Whether you want to also add beds to the existing lawn is a separate decision.

It is an interesting point that the little bed by the stairs blocks the stairs. Meanwhile, you have too little "blocking" by the veranda box. Seems obvious that reducing the bed by the stairs, and instead doing some planting by the veranda, would be good. You could put a columnar tree by the stairs as Laag has suggested, with just a simple ground cover or grass. Vines trailing over the veranda wall is not a bad idea. You could actually put pots inside the veranda box and have the vines trail onto the ground. Would be a stunning clematis show. and much easier than trying to keep them on a trellis - their instinct will be to grow away from the wall.

I think an actual bed in that area is somewhat precluded by the birches. I agree with Catkim, they disappoint. They may be the wrong variety; the B. jacquemontii are I think the ones with the really white trunks. Or these need their lateral branches cut off. Or these are in the wrong place, if they are to co-exist with a bed. You might leave bed-making there until you are ready to get rid of those trees.

In the meantime, you also have two bluestone slabs there, and you could try putting pots on them... might look a bit small (maybe they should be big pots), but it might also integrate with the pots on the steps. Have you tried pots between the pillars, leaving just one space open for walking? I don't like them crammed up against the sides at all!


    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 1:32PM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

I realized I didn't respond to Catkim's comments and suggestions. Thank you for taking the time to respond, Catkim! You are right, the porch floor level is the same as the veranda floor. I will have to have someone move a pot over there to see what height we'd need to reach to have something growing up and over the wall.

Even though our house might indicate otherwise, I am not much of a fan of really spare landscaping. I also don't love most modern architecture. We wanted our house to feel somewhat traditional but also not be modeled after a type (e.g., colonial, victorian). I don't think it "fits" into any particular style. Inside, it's pretty traditional, with wide painted wood moldings, wood floors, high ceilings, and tiled bathrooms (if you look at the last photo I posted of the front of the house, the porch ceiling is a reflection of the ceiling in the living room). Our furnishings have a bit more modern slant to them.

I like the English garden look but agree it is not right for our house. I don't know what to think about the birch trees, reading your comment and also KarinL's. We've had them for over 15 years now; it would be tough to remove them unless we were certain it was the right thing to do. Last year they were much more "weepy" but the neighbor wanted the branches cut from overhanging her driveway, and the tree trimming guy cut them up a fair amount. We need to think more about the trees, for certain.

KarinL, I understand better what you meant about the scythe idea now - thanks for clarifying. It is such a departure for us to think of that bed as anything other than flowers - and admittedly, we love having lots of flowers - but we agree that the bed does flatter the property better. We have the edging issue in the back yard now and it is a headache. Our current lawn mower is really good at edging so he's doing a good job keeping the beds in the back pretty free of grass, but of course we can't say we'll have him forever.

Adding a bed around the birches seems like it really balances things out. We probably wouldn't make it as big as Laag shows it, as we don't really want it to obstruct the steps (either practically or visually). I'm not sure how it would look as a narrower bed. But the reason(s) you commented about the birch trees being in the wrong place if they're to co-exist with a bed is not clear to me. I don't know much about planting around trees - is it to do with the tree roots? Or the overall look of the bed with the birch trees in it?

The small bed near the side steps is the one we want to make a memorial garden for our daughter. I think removing the hydrangeas will help open it up. I hate to think of removing the J. maple as it's doing well there, sheltered by the walls (and they're tricky to grow in zone 4, apparently). Plus, I think it looks pretty there and its colors work well with the brick.

Moving back over to the veranda wall, I do like the idea of vines trailing over the wall, keeping in mind it would help alleviate the mass of the veranda wall for summer only, though. We'd never considered putting pots on the bluestone slabs there but if I can get someone to move the pots, that's worth a try. The only potential problems I can see are that those slabs are to deflect water from the scuppers above (the scuppers drain the veranda floor) and I wonder if a potential "avalanche" of water (which can happen with heavy rains) would be too much for whatever plants are in there.

The new pots I have on order from Restoration Hardware (they match the grey pots by the front door, but are taller) were originally ordered to place between the columns. Then we started thinking that might close off the front of the house too much. We'll have to try it and see. I ordered the medium size, 30" tall, because the tallest size (38") would stand above the height of the veranda wall when placed on the porch floor. Obviously we wouldn't have that problem if the pots are on the steps.

Thank you for all your great ideas and suggestions! It's so helpful to hear what others think of our house/yard because we have become so accustomed to how everything looks that we just don't really see it. Hearing perspectives from others has allowed us to see things more objectively.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2011 at 11:00AM
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What a lovely home you have! I have some more suggestions that you may wish to consider -

1) It seems that, knowingly or not, you are using burnished copper as an accent colour to great effect (the daylilies, the flowers in the pots, even the Japanese maple). I would carry that further by painting the front door in the same tone, and accessorizing the new bench and light fixtures similarily as well. Perhaps a copper memorial plaque or commissioned sculpture personal to your daughter's memory would be appropriate in the little tribute garden.

2) I would further emphasize the front entrance itself by adding a clean and simple pergola over the side steps - the uprights should match the columns already there, and the lattice on top could be in cedar, laid formally to mimic the tray ceiling pattern that you have on the porch. My preference would be to reconfigure the street-side stair wall to match that of the one closer to the garage.

3) I am very partial to the daylilies, either in flower or just as foliage. After a good weeding, I find that a thick layer of natural cedar mulch really cuts down on future maintenance. I would however break it up by placing three or five single architectural birch trees spaced equidistant from each other - at the base of each, a large 5' x 5' mat of cedar-toned rubber mulch would define them within the larger bed itself (and hopefully not look too naff from the drive). I would further echo the birches in the flower bed and by the veranda by creating an "island" closer to the bottom of the driveway on the opposite side with a clump of 3 - 5 birch trees and lower growing evergreens.
As you can tell, I am not overly concerned with the shorter than average life span of any existing birch trees. They are beautiful and appropriate to your home today and can be replaced as need be tomorrow.

4) Centred actually on the brick wall of the veranda behind the birches, I would recommend a simple but significantly sized water wall cascading over a flat face of copper sheeting into a straight rill leading down towards the road. The base of the rill could be raised by matching the capstone you have already used on the porch, and lining it again with copper. The height could be stepped down 3 or 5 times for visual interest, maybe echoing what is going on in the daylily bed. Behind the rill, towards your neighbour, I would add a background of not-too-tall-nor-thick columnar evergreens. This would help to define your own property on that side as well as conceal the harsh pillars next door. More importantly, the new hardscape would reference what is happening on the other side, thus providing more balance.

5) Finally, I too appreciate the aesthetic of the front facing stairs rising organically from the ground and would do nothing more than what you have there now. However, I would simplify your tribute garden (and the little garden on the other side of the steps) by removing everything but the Japanese maple and reintroducing only what you have elsewhere in the front garden or your flower pots. I would also extend it the end of the entire length of the back wall there, rather than stopping short. Except for suggesting "coppertina" nine-bark shrubs for the 3 little gardens, I have no specific plant recommendations for you. The local nurseries would be of the greatest help to you in your location.

Cheers and good luck...

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 12:35AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I thought those were maybe lights on the veranda wall, but if they're scuppers, you're right, nix the pots. Probably too small anyway.

You could put a bed under the birches... I think I am dithering because a bed is not always as clean-looking as one thinks it will be, and the one thing you do have now is a very clean look. A flower bed, as you know(!) looks messy much of the time. A more formal bed, as Laag has shown, or at least a well-kept one, would be the direction I would go.

My comments about reducing the bed by the steps were made primarily because you had said in your first post, I think, that you were taking out some plants there and probably simplifying it, and putting in an armillary sphere there. This made me think that you could fill the memorial function in that spot without the plant mass. I had not forgotten that this garden was important to you, and should have qualified my remarks. I feel great sympathy for your loss, as I suspect all of us here do, but didn't want to let that override the landscaping issues that you came here to discuss.

All your decisions are really about what you are willing to compromise for what outcomes, and all we can really do is put those choices before you based on, as you say, a perspective on your house that is not as tightly engaged with it as your own!

PS before you use any rubber mulch, search this forum for a discussion of its properties!

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 7:17PM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

adriennemb, thank you very much for taking the time to comment and make suggestions. We read them with great interest; it has been educational (and fun!) to read what others might do with our yard/house. I think I understand that your recommendations are directed by a desire to unify the plantings? We too think that is a great idea, to the extent it can be done. I'm not sure about a pergola; do those attach to the roof? If that's the case, I don't think it could be done there (but I know absolutely nothing about construction). We do have that long bed mulched, though it wasn't refreshed this spring - we did put down Preen, and still got a large number of weeds (Canadian thistle being one of the most persistent and worst). We put down a few inches of mulch last summer, and held off this year because we weren't sure when/if we were going to revise the bed. We always use wood mulch as we like the way it looks and that it decomposes, so we put up with the expense and the annoyance of having to replace it.

Your idea about the water wall is interesting - and one we have not thought of before. I am not sure how that would work with the catch basin area, with the roots of the birch trees? I had never heard of nine-bark shrubs until someone in this thread also mentioned them; from what I've read so far, I think they could be a good choice. Thank you again for your input!

KarinL, I didn't interpret your remarks at all to mean that you were being insensitive to our loss. I understood what you meant and was too hasty in my own reply; later, when I reread it I thought it sounded like I had taken offense, and I truly didn't. I think removing the hydrangeas, bench, and bird bath will go a long way toward simplifying that bed - and after that, I completely agree with you that very careful planning is in order. I want it to be peaceful and beautiful, not chaotic and jumbled (as it appears to me now).

How do you think the front might appear if we modify the driveway bed as Laag suggested to include an area of grass, but forgo doing a bed under the birches (at least for now)? My concern about not doing a bed there was that it will still appear unbalanced. But thinking more about it, it certainly won't be any more unbalanced in appearance than it appears to me now! Maybe the way to start is to work on the driveway bed and the small bed first, then to evaluate again. We have a tendency to get ahead of ourselves and want it all done, right now.

I want to take another photo with the pots between the columns and would love your opinion (and that of others) but I need someone to move them first (they're too heavy for me). I'm also hoping to paint the front door soon (as a test) because if I'm going to keep the bench on order, I need to decide what color of cushion to use. And further input about the front yard, the major issue here, is more than welcome. Thank you all again for your continued interest. We talk about the day's comments on this thread every night at dinner. :-)

I thought you all might like to see a few photos of our back yard to see what hardscape and flowers, etc. we currently have there - in case it makes a difference for any further recommendations. The flowers are past their peak, unfortunately, and we have some unsightly areas (from our dogs) in our grass which the lawn guy has been promising to fix but he didn't, and then it got too hot, too quickly. We'll be working on the back yard at some point too. Maybe not this fall, though! The neighbor removed a large walnut tree that hung over the southwest side has really changed what we can do there (and the poor hosta there are really suffering). The fence needs repair and painting, and we have other work to do, as you'll see.

View of back yard, taken from above

Right side of back yard

Left side bed, in front of retaining wall

Left corner bed, behind retaining wall

Hydrangeas in center of back yard, against fence

Left corner of back yard (there is a huge rock under that little mound that the contractors couldn't remove)

Porch and view of right side yard

Small bed with air conditioners - needs a lot of work!

Most of back yard, taken from patio

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 5:01PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Very interesting to see your back yard, because it helps me to pinpoint something I have been sensing about your decision-making in the front yard. Based on the conversation so far I am counting on you not to take this as a personal criticism; so far you've been stellar in terms of how you process input! What I sense is that your landscaping lacks purpose.

This may come from having, as you have said, been in your house so long that you don't see it anymore, but regardless, I think you need to have a purpose for any change you make.

Laag assumed some purposes in developing his design. He wanted to reduce the viewline to the garage, balance the mass of the house, and disguise the veranda box, as well as emphasizing the front door. Other have concurred on the veranda and door, and have also made suggestions geared toward more floral interest and easier maintenance. You have been agreeable with all those objectives, but I'm not sure they are all, or any or them, really your objectives.

Your back yard landscaping is done like most people's front yard landscaping - masses of plant repeats that are attractive from a distance, but lacking up close visual interest and contrast, whether from flower, foliage, or form. This I find curious - it suggests to me that you have no strong feelings about the plants or the plantings. On the other hand, it may make maintenance easier, especially if you hire maintenance as you do for the lawn.

I may be tapping into this issue with you because at the moment I am redoing my hellstrip and am having to ask myself exactly that question. I come up with an idea, but then I have to ask myself, but WHY would I be doing that? And why would I do that instead of this? What I need is an overall sense of what I really want to achieve.

You can do all, some, or none of what has been suggested here, but it doesn't have to pass muster with any of us! If we are to venture an opinion, it would have to be on whether it meets your objectives, and for us to do that, you have to articulate them to us. Sometimes people do that unconsciously as the dialogue unfolds, and some things have become clear - front entrance emphasis, for example, is not so important to you.

For each decision you make - a bed under the birches, getting rid of the birches, or grass in the border - ask yourself "why?" You can answer that far better than anyone else can :-)


PS Am I right in thinking you have more privacy in the front, with the park across the street, than in the back? Maybe that is a hint why your sister did the front stairs as if to host those cricket gatherings, to provide the option of spending time out there.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2011 at 1:33PM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

Karin, it's interesting and enlightening to read what others think of our house and landscape, even if we may not agree or take up some suggestions. We live in an area where we don't have a large number of options for landscape/garden design, unfortunately! So no worries about me being offended by criticism/suggestions, etc. We appreciate the help and we will work to think about each decision in terms of its purpose.

We originally had purposes in mind for each bed in our backyard, though it may not look like it now - with the exception of the hydrangeas along the back fence. They were originally planted behind our garage (where the pool equipment enclosure is now). When we put in the pool, we moved them to the side bed (which didn't exist before the pool) along the fence, but the neighbor's black walnut tree hampered their growth. So rather than throw them away, we made a new bed along the back, sort of a temporary spot until we figure out what to do with the rest of the beds. I won't bore you or anyone else by enumerating the purposes of the other beds in the back, but just want to add that we also did have more visual interest and contrast in flower, foliage, and form - but many of those plants didn't survive. We've been in a sort of holding pattern back there for a couple years - and I'm looking forward to improving that landscape.

But back to the front yard/landscape. One of our goals for changes remains to revise the long bed along the drive for the dual purposes of easier maintenance and including more variety in its plants to provide more interest in months other than July.

Another goal is to revise the small bed near the side steps to make it better looking (instead of a hodgepodge of plants, as it is now) and as a memorial garden for our daughter, with beautiful plantings.

We also still want to improve the visual impact/visibility of the front door. To me, that is a separate goal from emphasizing the front entrance, if by entrance one means the wide front steps (which aren't truly the entrance to the house, but visually they do give that impression). We understand the goals of Laag's ideas about beds in front of the steps and a wide path from the driveway to the steps/porch. But in terms of practicality, we don't want people to stop midway up our driveway and walk up the path, because then they block the entire driveway. Also, the steps are covered with snow for the entire winter (it's too expensive to pay to have them cleared each time it snows), and a walkway would also be covered in snow, so the practical function of a walkway beginning partway up the driveway wouldn't apply during those months.

I've been bothered for a while by the sense of imbalance between the long driveway bed and the expanse of grass on the other side of the drive, so another purpose of making changes is to see if we can balance that. Laag's suggestion about a grassed area in the long bed was so helpful - I just don't know whether that is enough to achieve balance, or if we will need a bed under the birches.

A new purpose resulted from a number of comments here, and that is to soften the impact of the veranda wall. I think we are just so used to how our house looks that we don't see it for how it really appears. You all have opened our eyes to this issue!

I haven't been in the back yards of the houses above us (in the back) to see what they can see of our back yard. It "feels" private in our back yard most of the time, probably due to the fence, but I still don't do any skinny-dipping. ;-) The front feels very public to me (it's a busy street and in the spring/summer/fall, a very busy golf course), with the exception of the veranda. On the rare occasions when we are seated there (it's usually too hot/buggy/raining/cold), we have at least the illusion of privacy behind that fortress wall - though with close neighbors, we have to watch how loudly we talk. My sister mused aloud a few years ago about the idea of putting a hedge across the front of the yard (on the lawn on the house side of the sidewalk, if you're facing away from the house) to screen the street and provide more of a sense of privacy. A neighbor a couple of houses down has a partial bridal wreath hedge in the yard and she was noting that at the time.

I'll update as we get further along in this process; meanwhile, if anyone has more comments/suggestions, we're very happy to have them.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 1:06PM
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When I first saw the pictures of your lovely home, it immediately reminded me of a Canadian TV series (on HGTV and DIY networks) called "Dirty Business" based on a Toronto landscape design team. The type of house, the overall aesthetics and the zone challenges in which they work are very similar to your own. Each show features a different project, focusing on the entire process, from consultation to completion. What appeals to me personally is that there is primary emphasis placed on function (such as privacy) and hard-scaping (structures, stone, water) over plant selection (although trees are always integral to the designs). Let me hasten to add that I am just a fan, not affiliated with them in any way...but I think you may find it very worthwhile to check out.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 4:36PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Hedging is an interesting option I think. I can see it solving a few issues. By restricting the view towards those front stairs, it would minimize the feel that they should be the location of acces to the front entrance. The daylily bed would become a clearly separate area and a good part of the balance issue would disappear I think. The fortress wall and the to-bed-or-not-to-bed the birches issue would also be minimized because they would be less in-your-face when you look at the house.

I'd be inclined to make the hedge of shorter cedars so it picks up on the hedge behind the daylilies but without being such a high wall. I'd leave a gap at the end of the hedge near the stairs so that a future owner could easily make a path to those stairs if they wanted that to be the entrance route. You could put a large urn/flowerpot in the gap to block the entrance since you don't want to use it.

I would still be inclined to add some shrubs and small trees to the daylily bed to make it less of a bowling alley heading to the garage :-) The daylilies then would be recessed into the background a bit. I'd add other things to them to extend the color season. You'd probably have to remove some of the daylilies to make space.

I think you mentioned tall bearded irises in there...? I gave up growing those years ago - too much of a PITA because they need dividing too often, need too much deadheading, and are plagued with iris borer here. I do like the Siberian ones though - much less trouble all round :-) Ask around at good local nurseries to see if heptacodium can be grown there - it's normally listed as only hardy to zone 5 but some people say it is hardier that that. You'd certainly not get the post-flowering colorful calyxes (I don't here - growing season too short...) but a small tree with late summer flowers and attractive winter bark is a big plus for the garden. Bees and Monarch butterflies go nuts over it too. I grow mine against an old white cedar and the tan bark against the dark green in winter is very showy.

I tried my scribble-on-a-photo approach on one of your pictures above. I'm not sure if this will show up well, but this is what it looks like:

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 4:43PM
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Trillium, it's such great fun to play "dress-up"with your inspiring home. You're right about me trying to tie things together. I don't like matchy-matchy but I also don't like when everything is separate and discongruent. It makes me think of seeing five different colour floorings leading off the communal hallway upstairs, lol.

I found a few pictures to illustrate some of what I was trying to convey earlier. I had misspoken when I spoke of rubber mulch mats - I was actually picturing artificial turf in my mind...but ONLY because it's low maintenance.

As to hedging, I think that, without closing you in entirely, an "island" near the base of the driveway would help to give you more front yard privacy by interrupting the passerby's eye.

And with that, I have no more suggestions. Please keep us posted as to what you finally do. Cheers and thanks for supplying the entertainment!

Here is a link that might be useful: Suggestions for trillium

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 11:22PM
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trillium7(Zone 4)

woodyoak, thank you for taking the time to do your scibble-on-a-photo approach to show us what a hedge might look like, and how the long bed and yard might look with more trees and shrubs added! I am amazed at how much easier it is to envision something doing that, as opposed to just looking at a flat plan.

I had the landscape company take out all the bearded iris a few years ago. I don't think we had any problems with them; it's just that I prefer Siberian iris. We have only a few Siberian iris plants now (maybe 15 in that huge space, though we planted more one year - who knows why they didn't take).

I haven't heard of heptacodium before but I looked at it online and I will ask around about it locally. Thank you for suggesting it. I like the idea of attractive winter bark, especially, since we have nothing but the birches for that.

adriennemb, I am really glad you have enjoyed playing "dress-up", and truly appreciate that you find our home inspiring! Thank you for taking the time and trouble to find those photos and posting them. That was very helpful to us to better envision what you were talking about. I really didn't quite understand about the rill and the pergola, and now it's much more clear.

I haven't asked her, but I suspect my sister designed the approach to the side steps with one side flat (planter side) and the other side essentially a "rail" to match the front steps, but regardless, I too would prefer both sides to be flat. I wonder how much trouble (and expense) that would be. I think it would look a lot better.

Brief update: We met with the garden designer yesterday. A month had passed since our initial meeting and he presented some ideas for our landscape. It just wasn't very inspiring or exciting - or creative, to be blunt. The same ideas, executed by the same company, can be seen in numerous commercial applications around town (same drifts of the same plants - sedum, coreopsis, veronica, grasses, etc.) It's not that the commercial applications similar to what he is suggesting for our yard aren't attractive; it's more that we want something more personalized and unique to us.

We do feel that we have a much better idea of how things might look, thanks in great part to the thoughtful and creative suggestions and discussions from those who graciously gave their time in this thread. But we know enough to realize that we lack the knowledge to feel really confident going forward completely on our own. In essence, I think we feel like we've messed things up enough on our own already, and that the time has arrived that we may benefit from some on-site professional guidance. So we are going to try to find a landscape architect to help us.

Meanwhile, we have moved the pots to between the columns to see how that looks. That wss our original idea when we placed the new pots on order. (As an aside, I pulled out the sweet potato vines, something I've been itching to do most of the summer, and I think it is an improvement.)

We have also tried two colors of red on the front door. I had to forgo painting the trim around the door because it was too windy and the paint was drying very quickly but it gives an idea, anyway. We have other painting work scheduled for the end of August so the "real" painter will do the door and trim correctly at that time - we just wanted to get an idea of the color. I'll post photos in a day or so, and any input is welcome!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 12:00AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I'm glad you found my scribbles useful :-) When I was doing that it occurred to me that the long bed would be a great place for the memorial garden for your daughter - if any of the windows looking in that direction are in frequently used rooms...? I could 'see' a good sized armillary sphere on a classic plinth, sitting on a nice stone paved area. With a stone path leading from the driveway to the plinth, a nice bench against the trees behind, and ornamental trees and shrubs at either end of the bed making it feel enclosed and protected, I think it would make a nice area both to see from a distance and to sit in. It would be easier to edit the daylilies and add more variety into what would become a smaller and more structured/organized/intimate area. Something to think about...?

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 10:59AM
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