Front yard

krycek1984(6a/Cleveland)July 13, 2010

Hey everyone. Usually I post in the cottage gardens forum, but I have a question and am open to comments about my front yard. This forum is more appropriate.

Below are pictures. I'm not quite sure what to do yet. I have some preliminary problems, but the main issue are the three spirea bushes that currently occupy the front beds.

I am going to be putting a dutchman's pipe vine to go up one of the columns/posts, and an alba rose to go up another column or post to soften the look of the porch its self. Also, I will be putting a smaller japanese maple specimen on the left side of the stairs in the middle of the bed to add interest and height.

That being said, what kind of shrubs would look good in place of the three spireas? There are two on the left side and one on the right side. The area is part sun/part shade. Any ideas?

We are eventually getting a wrought-iron fence, so ignore the chain link. also, we are still painting the porch, on the right you can see the bottom is a dark brown and the railing will be white to match the house. If you have any ideas about the color of the railing, let me know about that too.

I prefer a very informal, cottagey look. I look forward to everyone's comments. From 2010-07-13 From 2010-07-13 From 2010-07-13 From 2010-07-13

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    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 8:30PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Hi, krycek. Interesting house: is that a walk-out porch on the second floor? Wow!

I think the first floor porch will need softening much less once you finish painting the railings white. The current brown fades into the house color, rendering the railings almost invisible and leaving the columns' strong vertical unbroken. The columns should be less dominant once the paint job is completed and the railings interrupt the verticality of the columns.

That being the case, I wonder how it would look if the horizontal rail was heavier? Or perhaps with white planters hanging from the horizontal rail?

The porch ceiling does seem quite high, and the top rather empty. Have you considered some sort of decoration above the windows (not necessarily identical to that over the front door)? That might help fill in the empty space at the top of the porch.

Why are you unhappy with the spireas? That may give people some idea of what shrub you might prefer.

Apparently many people think Dutchman's Pipe has an objectionable smell when trimmed or when the leaves are crushed. I've never met one in RL, so I have no opinion. But I hope you've had some experience with their odor before deciding to plant one so close to your main entrance.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 10:07PM
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Thank you for your very thoughtful response! It is indeed a walk out porch from the master suite. The house was built in 1910, most of the houses in my neighborhood are old victorians, colonials, and "worker's cottages". They sure don't make houses like they used to!

Anyhow, your point about the railings is excellent and I didn't think about how that will take away a lot of the imposing height that the columns create. Thank you for pointing that out.

I, too, was thinking about getting a thicker/more substantial top to the railing. Unfortunately, it is Trex, which is why it is slightly dipping in the middle. I hate it, but we are not tackling new railing for a while. Your point about "window boxes" though is excellent! I was thinking about that but totally forgot about doing anything about it!

To make the height less imposing, I tried to put hanging baskets between all the posts. Well, old houses like to surprise you, don't they? The previous people put in a vinyl, hollow-core board for the top of the porch (the thing with the diamonds on it), so I am going to have to affix the hanging baskets to each post. I've only gotten around to one, I'm so lazy!!!

I am not sure why I don't like the spirea. Soemtimes I look at them and really like them, sometimes not. Maybe because they came with the house, that's why I don't sometimes like them. Looking at these pictures, the bushes seem to fit the scale of the house and look nice, now that you mentioned it. What do you think? The only other thing I'd put there would be "Sutherland Gold" elderberries.

Your comments made a lot of sense, and made me realize I need less softening than I thought.

The dutchman's pipe is going to go on the right side of the porch (the side, and the far right post), so taht won't be too visible from the front other than around the post.

I am not going to put a japanese maple in because, as you said, once the railing gets in, I won't need more height.

What would you suggest for adding a little softened height to the left side? I still love the idea of a climbing rose, but now that I look at the pictures, I'm afraid the climbing rose would block the view of the bay windows. I could always keep the climbing rose trained/trimmed so that it went laterally across the railing instead of up the post.

Sorry, I can be wordy!

I went to the nursery today and crushed the dutchman's pipe leave's and wasn't too bothered by it. It isn't our main entrance (we enter through the kitchen in the back), so stinky flowers wouldn't be an issue.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 10:47PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Hm. If the railings are sagging -- I hadn't noticed till you mentioned it -- maybe windowboxes aren't a good idea.

I agree that the left-hand corner needs something. You have my permission to plant the rose. 8-) [I imagine it covering the entire pillar -- but also, at nearly 2/3 of the way to the top, widening to curve to the right at about a 45 angle. However, I know nothing about growing climbing roses! I'm just seeing that shape in my mind.]

I have a single spirea, courtesy also of a previous owner. It's on the north side of the house, where I let it do its thing. It doesn't bother me -- but then again, it doesn't impress me, either. Inoffensive yet dowdy. Does its job, but no one would ever call it exciting. Seems to need a lot of finicky pruning, which I confess it doesn't always get.

It's certainly okay to remove something solely because you like something else better.

Unfortunately, I'm not knowledgeable enough about shrubs for your zone to tell you what to use to replace the spirea. If you don't get answers here, you might try the Shrubs forum or your local forum (perhaps Great Lakes?).

In my neck of the woods we also have picturesque "workers' cottages." They were built in the late 19th century to house the employees of the Vanderbilts at Biltmore near Asheville. Biltmore Village is now a collection of trendy shops and restaurants.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 12:35AM
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Exactly my experience with spirea! You hit the nail on the head. Not bad, not good, just kind of there. And they do require regular pruning to maintain good shape. I will eventually have to move the left two one day. The one on the right side needs removed soon, though..doesn't get enough light and is always smaller than the other two!

Your climbing rose thought is perfect - that would be most excellent. You have great ideas and I'm very thankful that you answered my plea for help.

Climbing roses are easy. You should try one! The folks over in the rose forum are helping me out with specific cultivars.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 1:05AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

This is quite interesting for me - this is more like my own house and yard than anything else that's been posted here in a long time. Right down to the big tree off to the right, except our big tree was in the neighbour's yard as we have a neighbour that close on the right, not on the left.

My sense is, although you don't show the whole yard, that the big tree in the yard has reached the point of the "stay or go" question. In our case, we got the neighbour to remove it (after a long battle (which we never won; they finally sold and the new owners took it down) and I feel like my gardening life started then. Not only could I finally actually get things to grow, but also, there was finally some point in landscaping the house because you could finally see it. In your case, aesthetically the tree so dominates the visual field that frankly, it doesn't matter too much what you do on the pillars or in the yard. You're the house with the big tree, period.

Now, you may have some reason for loving and needing the tree. We did too - the shade was like a cool drink on a hot day, and it also shielded us from the prevailing winter winds from the north, so no doubt cut down on both excess summer heat and winter cold. However, it posed a danger due to those winds as well that we could no longer ignore, not to mention the quality of life issues (eavestrough cleaning is dangerous and time consuming, and the wind brought all the tree's debris our way) and damage it was doing to our house - in your case the tree may not be close enough for the canopy to be making contact.

Maybe the tree also gives you privacy - it depends what's on the other side of the camera, and what you need privacy from, whether up high or low down. I didn't care about up high; but I wanted the yard to be a bit private from passers by. So once the tree was gone, I added a lot of shrubbery around the front of the yard, which is no bigger than yours and maybe smaller. I do have some foundation planting, not because I think these houses need it (I don't think yours does either) but because I like having lots of plants to look at off the porch and steps too.

But landscaping your yard without addressing the tree is like having a dinner party with the proverbial elephant in the room. For example, you have the problem with the right hand spirea not thriving. The truth is, nothing will thrive there due to shade, tree debris and associated soil quality and pest harbourage, and root competition from the tree - and that is only going to get worse. Establishing new plants will be impossible in a few years, and the failing spirea is having some temporary success only because it is already established as the tree roots move in. Speaking of roots, that will probably be the problem with your front sidewalk. Your foundation may be next, especially if you plant things there and nourish and water them, thus encouraging tree roots to grow there.

And you may find that it is way easier to make landscaping decisions once it is gone. Currently, as I say, it really doesn't matter what you do. Spirea, climbing rose, azalea; they are all just going to be a bit of fussy greenery by the tree.

If the tree doesn't need to go now, it will in a few years. My suggestion for making landscape decisions is to ask yourself what you would do if the tree were gone; where you would want other trees for shade, for example, or for screening. If you can, maybe even plant them already so your landscape doesn't look scalped once the tree is down - but that only works if it's away from the tree removal process. But at least you may be able to put in the garden you will want on the left side.

Funny, I went to a nearby open house a couple of weeks ago and was chatting with the agent about why I was looking and he asked where I lived. As I began to describe the location, he said... the orange house with the fabulous garden? I had to laugh, because it's so messy and unfinished past the curb impression, but I was also relieved... finally, (a) our house is actually visible, (b) my garden is vigorous enough to be noticed, and (c) we're no longer the house beside the big tree!


    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 12:17PM
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I live on a corner lot, so it is my tree. It is really, really old and probably at least 60 feet, if not more. It's funny: when we were looking at the house last year, we thought it would have to go. However, it has proven its self to be healthy and vigorous even at its old age. The overhang from the sweeping branches (it's a norway spruce) only come over the roof in a small spot and we have a local roofer that trims it for us yearly for cheap (and cleans the gutters).

So, that being said, it is a very established tree and I don't expect the roots to do much more than they already have. The roots seem to have a mind of their own - they go 30 feet down the side yard, and all the way across the front yard, but no where near the masonry on the porch or the gardens! Weird, right??????

I don't mind shade gardens. I already have bleeding hearts, ferns, and astilbe on the side of the porch. I was thinking of putting a sutherland gold elderberry where that bush is on the right - what do you think of that? Is it too lacey/"tropical" looking for that area? It would contrast nicely with the mocha brown of the porch masonry.

I'm not used to the scale of this house/neighborhood. Our old house was in the country so a large tree would make the house look puny. And the scale I had to consider was from the road. Here, the houses are so close to the street, you barely see the trees when walking or driving down the street, it's just one giant canopy. Below are a few pictures of the neighborhood, the street, and my side yard. It may inspire some ideas that you all may have that fit in nicely with the rest of the yard and neighborhood.

That being said, if it was a blue spruce, I would cut that sucker down in a second!!!!!! All you can see when walking by, really, are the graceful, arching/ drooping branches. They trimmed the bottom 10/15 feet to provide pedestrian clearance and some sun.

Giant norway spruce and sweetgums lining the street:
From Trees From Trees From Trees From Trees

My partner watering the sun garden in our side yard: From 2010-07-10

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 2:12PM
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You have an interesting foundation and no reason to hide it.

Remove the bushes - they've been pruned to death. Instead of thinking of the landscaping as something that starts and stops within 2 feet of the house, start your plan with the first glimpse of your house from half way down the block ... what will they see? Is there something that makes the character of the house apparent?

What greets them at the gate? What makes the transition from public front yard to more private front steps?

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 3:51PM
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A quick reminder if you have young children about your property. All parts of Dutchman's pipe are very poisonous. The pods it sets in the fall attract kids attention and the seeds within are tempting to little fingers.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 5:05PM
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Our front yard is fenced in and we have no children, so dutchman's pipe is fine. We also have foxgloves.

Thank you for those thoughts, lazygarden. I went outside today and really thought about what you said. I looked at our yard and what it looks like when walking by. That fence has to go. I think once that fence goes, it will look much better all on its own! I prefer to have no fence, but all the houses here have one so it would look odd without one. Plus, the neighborhood is so/so, we do not want people wandering onto our porch and yard.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 5:36PM
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tibs(5/6 OH)

Dutchman's Pipe is very appropriate for your house period. Spirea also was a very popular shrub for the era of your house. Especially Van Houten (sp) which would be way too big for your space. Most people trim spirea incorrectly, shaving it our cutting it from the top. It is suppose to be a vase shaped, trim bigger older branches at the base to maintain. Have you considered landscaping you house to the era when it was built? I think would be cool. There are historic garden design books availble. Or looked at old pictures of Cleveland neighborhoods for ideas? Check out this site: it is photos of American landscape architecture from late 18o0's to 1920's

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 7:33PM
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Oh, that's a lovely idea, tibs! I never thought of that! I have all kinds of older "cottage" flowers in the back like foxglove, hollyhock, roses, and lilacs so it would match well.

Maybe that's why I am having a hard time wanting to pull the shrubs out - because they "match" the time period of my house. I didn't know that they should be trimmed into a vase shape. The ones I have don't so much want to get tall as they want to get huge around. When we first moved here they were an inpenetrable mass going 5-7 feet out from the porch. I will go out there and prune them into a vase shape adn see how it looks. They are so vigorous that even if it looks bad they will grow back out soon enough.

I am goin to take a look at that webpage and research. Hopefully roses were popular back then, too! Coincidentally, the climbing roses I'm looking at for the porch are old fashioned ones from the 1800's!

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 10:32PM
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We are putting in a white picket fence/vinyl white picket fence (not sure on wood or vinyl yet) this autumn after the morning glories on the otherside of the fence are dead. We considered wrought-iron or something similar, but decided it didn't quite fit with the house or neighborhood. Hopefully that will help in and of itsself. Thoughts on the white picket fence?

    Bookmark   July 16, 2010 at 10:07PM
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sleepy33(5b KS)

Hey krycek, after your vinyl fence suggestion, I was looking at different styles of them online and ran across this:

It's shown in green, but comes in several other colors. I thought it was kinda cool, traditional but not the same old thing. Might look kind of neat as it sort of mimics your porch railing. Just an idea. :)

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 4:16PM
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Those are very nice. How much is it per section?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 5:37PM
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sleepy33(5b KS)

Here's a link to where I found it online. The prices aren't bad, but it looks like the shipping would be a killer, at least to my zip code. But maybe you could find something similar from a local supplier.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 6:43PM
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I have not read all the responses but I do love the house! If it was my house, I would:
*Keep the big tree. It gives the house character- shows that its it an old house with an old tree. Houses with young landscaping look odd- people pay for established trees.
*replace the chainlink with either no fence or white picket wood.
*replace the front door cuz the door looks way to modern for the house.
*Plant flowering plants- your house does not have any color right now. Just neutral/white/and some green from landscaping is all thats there now.
*hand some potted flowers or hanging ferns (my choice) from the porch between the pillers.
*and maybe grow the vines from pots on the 2nd floor balcony. It looks like the 2nd floor fence is metal? If its metal I would hide it with vines.
Those are my thoughts. I do like the established plants that you already have. I think a crepe myrtle would look great out front too- but I don't know if they grow in your area. I'm very new to gardening.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 8:10PM
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Sleepy, I love that design. I will look and see if Home Depot or Lowe's has something similar. I like that better than just regular pickets.

Thank you for the compliments on my house. When you live in a house day in and day out, you sometimes forget what's good about it and nitpick the bad!!!

I like your suggestions, gamecock. Replacing the front door is on the list of medium-term fixes.

I actually have 3 hanging baskets I have to put up, and address numbers. The hanging baskets will unfortunately be on the posts, though, not the inbetween sections; the border at top is vinyl and I can't attach it anyway in between the posts.

2nd floor balcony posts are vinyl. The dutchman's pipe I'm putting in on the right side will hopefully grow that tall to add some softness up there!

We are putting a clematis in between the two shrubs on the left, so hopefully that will help soften things up and put some colour in?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 10:17PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

"So, that being said, it is a very established tree and I don't expect the roots to do much more than they already have. The roots seem to have a mind of their own - they go 30 feet down the side yard, and all the way across the front yard, but no where near the masonry on the porch or the gardens! Weird, right??????"

I don't think its weird.

The tree itself and its roots will continue to grow. The roots will grow most wherever nutrients and water are - they have a job to do, and the bigger the tree gets, the more aggressively they need to do their job. I used to build a new raised bed every couple of years and put in plants that had grown vigorously elsewhere in the yard. Within two years they would have dwindled to nothing and when I dug them up I would find the raised bed full of tree roots.

You likely don't water as much at the foundation, or it doesn't rain as much there. So there's not as much water. And that said, one way that tree roots cause damage to foundations is that they suck the soil dry, causing the soil to recede from the foundation and thus leaving the foundation without support.

Again, even with a big tree, there is no "it hasn't done this yet so it won't do it in the future." It will keep growing. It's only in its teenage years.

Obviously, your house, your tree, your choice. But you asked for opinions :-)


    Bookmark   July 18, 2010 at 12:57PM
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How about matching your fence to your upper railing (love it), and then planting your spirea along the inside of the fence, or you could go with lowgrowing evergreens. That would open the great stones on your front foundation and then add a climbing rose, clematis, whatever, but do not cover all the foundation. Either change your door or you could paint it a favorite color. Better yet add a nice screen door, great ones on the market today and they can be painted if you don't want the white.


    Bookmark   July 27, 2010 at 9:54PM
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I would advise against the vinyl picket fence for a couple of reasons. 1) extreme temps make the vinyl brittle and it breaks off very easily, especially if your neighborhood has bratty kids like mine who tend to break the tops of the fence off. 2) they can be a pain to edge and weed-eat around, but that is with any fencing really. My suggestion, perhaps a living fence would be the way to go. a clipped hedge can give a nice border and transition from street to garden. Also, since your seasons actually change in your zone (my partner and I are very jealous of this fact) you could plant a hedge that would give different interest through the seasons,bloomwise, colorwise or berry/fruit wise. There are alot of great hedging shrubs on the market these days, and you could choose between a more clipped formal look, or a blousy informal look. If you were to choose this route, I would keep the foundation plantings more sparse, intermingled with low plants, and perhaps supplemented by some annuals for color. Your house is similar in style, front yard shape and period to mine (1900 victorian) and I am having to figure out alot of the same issues...although my front yard gets too MUCH sun and burns up anything I plant. Take a look though and perhaps it might inspire some thoughts, or maybe you could share some advice with me!

Best of luck,

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 4:46PM
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"I would advise against the vinyl picket fence for a couple of reasons. 1) extreme temps make the vinyl brittle and it breaks off very easily,"

I was going to suggest they take the fence off the balcony and use it in the yard for that very reason. I would just keep it raised enough to make weeding easier.

I really like the house but the front is too vertical and lacks the character of the side. I'd probably raise the garden in front of the porch starting about a foot in from the brownstone(?) border so that it doesn't exceed 30" and eliminate the rail altogether. Put some rectangular planters on the decking between the posts and some brackets and spindles above to "bring the ceiling down" , get rid of the gable vent over the door and try to take some of the details from the side of the house and bring them around to the front.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2010 at 12:58PM
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Your house is beautiful! I didn't know houses like that existed in Florida...I just always imagined a vast expanse of hip-roofed sub divisions. I was in St. Pete for a time so there were some older pieces of architecture there, though. Your yard looks nice - once you finish cleaning it up, and those plantings you did fill in and grow a little, it will look fantastic!!!!!!!! And once you extend the fence to the left side, it will look better. It just looks odd now because of the way it just kind of "ends" in the middle of your front yard.

I know in my neighborhood in the "inner city", everyone has fences around their front yard. Also, you probably aren't jealous of the change of seasons when it is zero degrees out and a blizzard is coming! LOL I don't mind it though. FL was too much for me when I was there, I Don't care for the heat.

We never even thought of a living fence/hedge in the front! What a wonderful idea! I will talk to my partner about it. I have to at least pretend to include him on decisions ;). Maybe some boxwoods.

Do consider wrought iron (steel nowadays usually), if it is customary in our area. We are considering wrought-iron instead of vinyl fence if we go the fence route.

I can't remove the vinyl fencing off the balcony for safety reasons, and plus I like it, it kind of makes it look like a romantic mini-castle LOL.

I did consider removing the railings from the bottom porch. Does anyone else have any thoughts on that?

We are going to try to remove that thing from above the door, but I Think they put it there because they ran out of siding. We will see if there is more siding in the basement.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2010 at 3:11PM
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Now that you mention it, what is that thing above the door?

I wouldn't remove the railings on the porch. The porch is high enough that it makes sense to keep them. Beefier supports would help though from a visual standpoint. The posts you have now look wimpy.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2010 at 4:51PM
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It is for safety reasons that it should be replaced. As Ken noted it doesn't take too much to break them and he apparently doesn't have the freezing winters which makes them worse. If that gives way and someone gets hurt your insurance co will fight tooth and nail to avoid paying the claim. Esthetically they work. For safety they really don't.

You don't have to toss it out just use it for the fence and consider the iron/steel for the balcony.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2010 at 11:59PM
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I'd do a dense yew along the front and the whole side, replacing the chainlink. The interior of the front yard I'd make a single courtyard with two raised beds on either side of the stairs for boxwood and a HUGE pot raised up so that they can be seen from inside with some incredible seasonal plantings, different every year, placed right in front of the bay window, plus railing boxes that include trailers that meet the boxwoods. The right side of the courtyard would be an outdoor dining area. That's the house's more formal face, and it would weather best, year round.

The entire side yard, I'd make THAT the cottage garden. With a yard that sized, I'd use careful scaling and repetition of color/shape, as well as doing a lot of concentration on form rather than just bloom (which is how many cottage gardens get looking so messy).

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 5:34AM
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Why hasn't anyone commented on the beautiful designs offered my 'ideasshare'?

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 2:04PM
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bobby1973:thank you for the attention.avoid some disturb,people often directly email me.I will obey this forum's rules carefully,but a police always order me,don't post any pics first.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 4:54PM
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