What would you do to landscape this mess: privacy vs pretty?

bcjen(2b)July 7, 2010

Hello gardeners,

I am hoping you all can help me out with my front yard, as I am at a loss.

We moved into a cottage-like house on the lake, and I want to maintain that feel. We've got a lot of trees in front, which we like because of the privacy and the shade. HOWEVER, I have no idea what to do landscape-wise to make it look inviting, and like someone actually lives there Lol.

What we have:



A driveway that stretches across the entire front (gravel with railroad ties as a semi-retaining wall)

A path down the left-hand side that leads to the house

A path/driveway on the right-hand side that leads to the attached guest house.

What we want:

To keep the English-garden cottage feel.

An area to put a house number.

A distinguished bed/beds for flowers, shrubs, etc.

To maintain the privacy.

I'm in Zone 3, and I would be open to creating some beds, planting perennials, shrubs or even vegetables, anything, really, as it gets a lot of sun. At the moment, you can't really see the house for the trees and bushes, and it looks like no one lives here! I don't mind sacrificing a little privacy, but my significant other wants to keep it entirely private, so some compromising may be in order ;) And ideas would be appreciated more than you could possibly know!

Here is the link to my photos on Flickr, as I'm not sure how to post pics here just yet. http://www.flickr.com/photos/92079300@N00/sets/72157624444583982/ Thanks in advance and cheers!!!

Here is a link that might be useful: Flickr Photo Set

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linda_schreiber(z5/6 MI)

I am so jealous..... You have a wonderful property there, and a lot of potential!

'English-garden cottage feel' is probably the wrong terminology. That's really different. Sounds like you want to keep the lovely 'lake cottage' feel, but also want to have more than just a brush-line.... Plantings and gardens that fit with the semi-rustic lake cabin feel, but you want to make it look a bit less like a 'guy's hunting cabin in the woods' (grins). Am I close?

After looking at the pictures, I'm not clear on why the pile, and the railroad ties are there. Finding a way to deal with this would be #1 on my list. From the pictures, the only possible relevancy is the graveled slope near the footbridge. There have to be better and natural-looking cut more attractive ways of dealing with all of this stuff, and much of it could probably just go away.

After that.... For the place to put the house number, I would sink a treated 4x4 near the road, and put the numbers there vertically. And maybe put the mailbox on top.

Then, start easing out the edges of the wild line, one plant at a time, and plant shrubs and perennials that are good in your area. Forget the way-overused stuff that you see planted in every strip mall. Keep it loose in structure, and choose different textures and shapes and sizes and so forth. Look for native plants, too, especially in zone 3.

Keep the lines of the bed irregular, following the line that exists, at least at first. The idea is that you are developing a *wonderful*, natural-looking extension of your 'wild land'.... The way your woodland would be if it could be the way it was in your dreams (grin). But still a woodland. Take your time.

It will take a little time. In the meantime, you can look at more standard
garden beds for flowers and veggies in other areas around the house.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2010 at 8:10PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

bcjen, I don't see the "path down the left-hand side." I see some lawn, with the house beyond it: is that the path?

If the path isn't the lawn, then you need to make the path easier to find. So connect it in some manner with the house number: locate the house number next to the path, or if the house number needs to be in a separate location for visibility, connect the two with a bed of shrubs and flowers. Or if the path is hardscape, extend the same material to the location of the house number.

If the lawn is the path, you need to make it easier to recognize as a path. I endorse linda_schreiber's ideas for edging the wild areas with flowers and shrubs in a low-key, natural-looking way. I'm sure that would help the lawn look more like an entrance (a line of plantings visibly connecting the parking area to the house). I don't know if it would be enough (it might depend on the season). It the plantings alone aren't enough, you could always add an unmistakeable walkway of gravel, mulch, slices of tree trunk, pavers, or whatever.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2010 at 8:55PM
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regarding the shade/privacy issue:
I would choose 3 (or maybe just 1) of the healthiest looking trees from the group between path and driveway, probably those located closer to the driveway. Take the rest out, step back and examine the view. Imagine how it would be when the trees grow taller. Then, if you feel the house is too exposed, a little to the left and in front of trees, plant shrubs or conifers that grow to 10ft or less, and wider than their height. Mugo pine would be my choice, but I don't know your natural conditions well enough. Then, see if you need to add smaller plants, or big rocks. (Small rocks will do nothing here).
Is the grass "path" your main entryway to the house? Then you probably need to make it more visible.
Hope this helps, and I'd welcome if the pros here argued either for or against these proposals.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2010 at 4:18AM
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This pro urges you to do nothing until living through a Zone 3 winter on the lake. Study the prevailing wind direction, how the present trees may or may not prevent drifting snow against driveway/house. How much privacy do you feel when decidious trees have dropped their leaves? Don't let head in the clouds ideas of cottage gardens destroy what you have now that is so hard to achieve, privacy and shade.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2010 at 8:07AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Ah, Nandina hits the nail on the head. There are seasons, especially where you live; I had to retrieve my eyebrows from somewhere on the ceiling when I read Zone 3. Those are deciduous trees.

I wouldn't think "cottage." I would think, instead, "structure", especially given the need to respect your other half's privacy preference.

Another pro on the board (Laag) has said that people need to be able to picture themselves in the landscape. In your case, you want people to be able to picture you in the landscape even if you are not there. As such, what Missingtheobvious has suggested regarding pathways is an excellent start. A pathway that is built and kept clear says "we walk here". (A weed covered one will send a message of "we used to!")

Other things that you build will also send the message, and can meet your needs for flowers too. You can put an edge on the woodland if you like, or build some raised bed flowerbeds... (by the way: deer? or is it too cold? if so, a fence or netted raised beds will also send your message).

Yet another of our regular posters, QBC, has pointed out that landscaping is about differentiating "our territory" from wilderness. In this case, you want to actually leave that patch of wilderness in front of your house, so it strikes me that the obvious answer is to add to it: shape it, edge it, decorate it, label it (address post or plate at the path entrance), build by it, fence it, what have you. Or, as per Linda, above: plant by it.

Always thinking about winter, I suppose. For example, that much cold must make it seriously difficult to make a pathway that won't be badly heaved within 2 years... or? And unlike flowers, things you build will still be there in winter... if they show above the snow!

There is, of course, a place where this concept can be irretrievably tacky and kitschy, and jarring that close to the woodland. I hope it's clear that that isn't what I have in mind. If you use relatively local or at least natural materials, it can all integrate very graciously.


    Bookmark   July 8, 2010 at 12:03PM
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Hi Jen, I'm also in zone 3 in BC so I know some of the challenges. I don't think you need to choose between privacy and pretty as you can definitely have both. I wonder if you are new to zone 3 or if you understand this zone.

You must have lots of deer, as we do, so you might research deer resistant plants. I'll post a link in case you haven't yet seen Freda's blog. She posts on the Cottage forum here at GW and is in a much warmer zone altho it will give you some ideas. Trying to fence out deer is costly and not always attractive so we live with them by using plants they seldom like. Deer usually don't like aromatic plants so if you use lots of that type you might be able to use some others without the deer noticing. Anyhow Freda has lots of good ideas for deer proofing on her site.

When I first moved to this cold climate I joined the local gardening club and received a lot of good information about plants that grow well here. There are actually a lot of very hardy perennial plants that will do well for you and many can be grown from seed at low cost.

You might use local stone as edging and for low walls and should be able to find this free in your area. This info is likely known at the garden club or just ask around, many people know where rocks are available. We're planning a day trip to find volcanic chunks to use in landscaping and already have some nice big flat stones we use in a path. For paths that need snow removal in winter you might think about using something other than grass as it won't survive long-term such treatment. We used concrete and a mold from Lee Valley and there has been almost no frost heaving over many years. For our long (500') driveway we use gravel (and refresh yearly) as it's in an area grazed by livestock so paving is not an option. Take into consideration where your water lines are as you don't want to drive over them excessively in the winter.

I recommend you take a lot of pictures, measure your land and locations of natural features and buildings and make a sketch of your land, also just sit and look at various areas, look at lots of inspirational pictures so you begin to have a vision of how you want it to look and please don't cut down any trees immediately. Doesn't make any sense to cut down trees then have to plant more as they are really expensive. The trees you have are hardy and so are a very valuable part of your landscaping. Try to work with what you have and you will eventually have a very natural but enhanced landscape. Of course you will eventually remove trees but make sure you look carefully to remove the right ones. Some of the smaller trees you have would cost $100. each at the nursery so value them as such. Keep in mind that some of those large aspens (alder?) may need to be removed eventually as they tend to rot from within when they get as large as that. My DH removed one this year before it fell on our house. It probably would have lasted another couple of years but who wants to take that chance? When the woodpeckers take a great interest in that type of tree it's a sign there may be insect infestations in the rotting wood.

Most of all I hope you will enjoy the process of designing your property. Take your time and it will be very worthwhile.

Here is a link that might be useful: deer garden inspiration

    Bookmark   July 10, 2010 at 12:23AM
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Yes, definitely live there for one full year, taking NOTES on what you like and don't like, and lots of pictures.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2010 at 11:49AM
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