School/kids landscaping

forensicmomAugust 27, 2010

This is one area at my kids elem school. I'm the Chairperson for the Gardening Committee and this spot needs a total make-over, from the large shrub on the brick wall down to the corner of the sidewalk. The lilac is barely alive and the yucca are NOT a good choice for the sidewalk at a school. There's also a half dead Knockout rose that someone (don't know who) planted last year but forgot to water.

The layout can't change but I am looking for some good plant choices that are STURDY enough to withstand the kids, need LOW maintenance (after establishment), and doesn't have sharp thorns or stickers.

I'm in Zone 7 and this spot gets full sun to part shade. Also, I want to add a few evergreens in there for year round interest. I am also looking for spring and fall blooming things (no one is here during the summer to enjoy summer blooming ones).

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I select some plant for you,maybe you like...

Here is a link that might be useful: if you need other pic designing

    Bookmark   August 27, 2010 at 10:05AM
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How about a school vegetable garden in raised beds?

Where (what city) is this school in?

    Bookmark   August 27, 2010 at 6:42PM
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One thing I would check on is how toxic plants are, too, especially around the younger children. There are some good choices...violets over lily of the valley and spirea rather than daphne. Stay away from rhododendrons/azaleas, oleander and yews.

There are many lists on the Internet of non-toxic plants, which should help you narrow down your choices :)

    Bookmark   August 27, 2010 at 6:50PM
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I agree with the raised vegetable garden beds. Just make sure to involve the kids. They will love it. I recently started a garden club at my son's elementary school. I have been constantly amazed at the enthusiasm kids have for this sort of thing.

BTW...the raised beds would protect the plants.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2010 at 12:48AM
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Thanks Bob - That's a great idea about the vegtables gardens but most vegtables are hervested in the summer and the kids aren't there. They do have native gardens in the back of the school near the playgrounds. I was looking for something more formal and almost no maintenance to fill in the empty gap.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2010 at 7:39AM
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What city is this?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2010 at 9:27AM
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True, most vegetables are harvested in the summer. We are planning on growing winter crops this fall (lettuce, peas, beets, carrots, etc.) We may get into cover crops. In the spring we are going to plant things like corn, pumpkins, and winter squash. Their will be weeding to do while things are sprouting, but once school's out they should outcompete the weeds. If all goes well, the kids will return in the fall (First of August around here) to find the corn almost ready to harvest, and the squash and pumpkins not too far behind.

All that being said, if you find that just won't work, then I would probably use junipers. They are drought tolerant, evergreen and come in any shape, size and color. Maybe use something like 'Wichita Blue' or 'Spartan' as a center focal point, and surround with varieties like 'Tam' and 'Buffalo' for border/foreground.

Also I think the existing grasses should be left where they are they would work well with low growing junipers.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2010 at 11:18AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

For god's sake, Ideasshare, WILL YOU PLEASE GO AWAY???
Make pictures for your own entertainment, don't burden the rest of the world with them.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2010 at 1:24PM
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Off topic, but thank you, thank you Karinl! You said exactly what's been on my mind, but I've been holding my tongue (fingers?).

    Bookmark   August 28, 2010 at 2:04PM
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Aside from NOT importing the Chinese Peoples Park System to your little plot, I'd remove the yucca and replace with three potentilla fruticosa wrapping around the corner. Deciduous but they bloom from spring until a hard frost. Remove the lilac and put in a forsythia - will bloom long before school's out. Simple shrub but it takes care of itself; easy to prune and keep in bounds.

Yank out the rose and what appears to be trampled iris; simply trim whatever that shrubbery is against the brick.

Winter interest is a facet of gardening/landscaping I can't appreciate to the fullest - by the time the last leaf drops we usually have measurable snow cover. But you can't beat juniper; the Birdsnest Spruce is also good for taking up a little ground.

However, is this all likely to get walked over by the kids? If so, I'd scale my expenditures and expectations accordingly.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2010 at 2:13PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

More on topic (and I'm glad I'm not the only one feeling this way!), why can't the layout change?

I say this as someone who has an urge to plant up almost any blank space, but what is the function of this area? Is it a meet and greet area, do kids congregate here or try to sit on the grass, is it a door by which kids or teachers might leave the building in the months when it gets dark early after an after-school activity or parent-teacher night? In short, would open space actually serve the needs of the people in the area best? If so, I'd consider some hardscape to prevent the lawn from being trampled or eroded, some shrubbery right up against the building but away from the door, and otherwise leave well enough alone.

I've been very involved at my kids' schools, even started a garden at the elementary one, but I can't say that I've come away convinced that a lot of plantings enhance the function of the building.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2010 at 2:45PM
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Oh dear, I can't help with a real suggestion right now, but if you want to laugh a bit, click on the link below. It is one of the funnier threads I have ever seen in Gardenweb.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to get rid of yucca FOREVER!

    Bookmark   August 28, 2010 at 4:52PM
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>yucca are NOT a good choice for the sidewalk at a school

At least they can defend themselves! :-)

    Bookmark   August 28, 2010 at 6:32PM
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For winter interest don't overlook deciduous plants that have interesting stems or bark. I don't know what your soil and water conditions are, so you'll have to take that into consideration, but a few suggestions:

- red osier dogwood (there are a few varieties with different coloration)
- river birch (interesting exfoliating bark, 'Heritage' is probably one of the hardiest of them all, but they do need water)
- colored or curly willows
... and now I'm drawing a blank, but there are lots more.

Redbud (cercis canadensis) is native to the US, low-maintenance, and is covered with tiny dark pink flowers in spring before the heart-shaped leaves appear.

I find threadleaf coreopsis very hardy in my zone 7 garden, blooming through the summer until frost as long as I keep the dead flowers sheared. False aster 'Genghis Khan' will do the same. Montauk daisy blooms about October here, and just needs to be cut back heavily around June 1 and December 1 to keep it full. Of course, none of these appreciate being stepped on or otherwise abused.

Heaths and heathers are low maintenance, can take poor soil and like full sun (though some heaths are more forgiving - I have some quite happy in about 1/2 day sun). Check varieties for their bloom time/color and to see if new foliage is of an interesting color. (Mine are usually in bloom from late December well into daffodil season, undaunted by ice and snow and frigid temperatures.)

Perennial candytuft has long been one of my favorite ground-hugging plants. Evergreen, spring blooming, pest and disease free, undemanding, can even take being stepped on from time to time.

From what I have seen in local school projects, if the children could be involved some way in planning, planting and/or maintaining the garden they would most likely show a great deal more care around it.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2010 at 7:21PM
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Thanks so much for the wonderful suggestions and questions.

This area is the front sidewalk from a side parking lot to the front doors. The kids rarely walk in the flower beds but will occasionally gather in the small patch of grass.

There are "learning" gardens in the back that teach native plants, rain gardens and other things so I just want something that will be pleasing to the eyes.

I agree with the junipers. They are one of my favorite plants b/c of the beautiful bluish color. I also like some evergreens for winter interest and, as I call it, "umph".

After reading a lot of views and playing with my landscape program (no it's not oriental style!), I came up with an idea. I added the plant names on the first picture, which shows a fall view. The second picture shows spring bulbs filling the entire area where the sedum's will just start growing up. That will be an easy way to have spring color since there really isn't a lot of room to add too many plants.

Please offer suggestions on this plan.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2010 at 10:08PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Right now, kids aren't cutting the corner because of the yucca. Pulling it out and replacing it with something less, um, worthy of respect, is going to change that. If the whole thing was grass, where would the short cuts be? Is that OK, or do they need to be blocked with something solid?

Tulips aren't reliably perennial here, and I expect them to be questionable there. Research which types of daffodils perennialize the best and use those. It will save you a lot of time and money.

Autumn Joy sedum is one of the best bee attractors known to temperate man. When it's in bloom, you will get kids who will not go anywhere near that door. The yucca at least doesn't fly.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2010 at 12:54PM
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Hyacinths aren't all that reliable either - by the second season they've either disappeared altogether or struggle to throw up a scraggly bloom stalk with maybe a half dozen little florets - not even faintly resembling the glorious bulb catalog photos.

The good old King Alfred - the big yellow trumpet daffs are good for naturalizing; maybe among the best. They're inexpensive too; likely because most bulb fanciers would rather shell out for the froo froo types.

What are the clumps of varigated leaf with blue - Liriope?

You're going to need help removing that yucca and don't be surprised to find that it keeps coming back.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2010 at 2:02PM
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THanks for the tip on the yucca. I'm waiting a few weeks before we start on this b/c it was 98 degrees here today and it's expected for a few more days.

Yes, the variegated clumps are liriope. They stay in nice clumps but the green kind spreads like crazy.

I've had wonderful luck with tulips, daffs and hyacinths but I might just look for all daffs. I will wait and see.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2010 at 4:06PM
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If they're going to be so hard to get out anyway, why not consider leaving the yucca? Yes they're not kid-friendly, but they're already there and I doubt there have been any casualties thus far.

To elaborate on the juniper theme I mentioned earlier in this thread... they come in more than just blues and I can't stress enough their durability in high traffic areas. Use 'Wichita Blue' for the upright tree you already have in your plan, and maybe 'Buffalo' for the green spreader in the foreground and 'Blue Rug' for the blue spreader. Also, you may want to consider sedums for a groundcover (ie 'Dragon's Blood' for awesome fall/winter color) and additional grasses to compliment the existing clump.

I like the idea of the bulbs for spring color, but I would just tuck them in and let them naturalize where they may. But, consider that if you want them to rebloom every year it is imperative that they are allowed to brown out after blooming on their own before cutting dead foliage. Bulbs look terrible during this time, and may not be appropriate here.

The Nandinas will work great with junipers as well as other evergreen shrubs like Indian Hawthorne (raphiolepis indica, Box-Leaf Eunoymous (or any other euonymous for that mattter) and even Photinia. All of these would offer up lots of color without increasing your maintenance requirement by adding flowering plants. Just my opinion.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 10:10AM
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What's the budget? Who is going to do the maintainance and regular watering while new plantings establish - the entire garden committee?

I used to enjoy being on committees of many different kinds until I noticed we always had lots of planners but very few who were ever available when it came time to do any of the actual work.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 11:00AM
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Forensicmom, I like your corners with the sedum and the flowering bulbs, there you have fall and spring.I would say start this fall by letting the students plant the bulbs and they will see the results of their work in the spring and have a better appreciation for them.

I was also thinking you could make it park-like and add a few nice concrete benches, or such for your area, crushed stone instead of grass = low maintenance.

I wouldn't put a tall tree at the corner because it blocks the existence of the door (or anyone exiting) to anyone on the right side of the sidewalk. The sidewalk also does not seem very wide and carrying bookbags, laptops and such you need room to see someone coming toward you.

Also do not plant overhanging trees by the sidewalk, leaf cleanup in the fall is no fun, especially for yard caretakers also young ones may tend to pull down the branches and they could get broken.

Just go for low maintenance. Good Luck


    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 2:48PM
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Thanks for the replies and ideas.

The Gardening Committee only has a few members and I am a co-chairperson. I am planning to do all of the installation myself, if needed. I might be able to get some help with the removal of the old things. The maintenance will also be done by, you guessed it, ME. That's why I don't want to enlarge the bed any or add anything else to the other beds around it. The existing bed is in really bad shape, which is the ONLY reason I want to re-do the area.

Betty - I was actually thinking of getting a bench or two in there in the future. The budget for this project is only $500. I have priced out the shrubs I listed, including the sedum, liriope and 10 bags of mulch or so and I would still have approx $100 left. I might be able to find once bench for that. I REALLY REALLY like the idea of getting some of the kids to plant the bulbs. The girl scouts did it last year in another area and they might be willing to plant again.

One problem might be the crushed stone instead of grass. I'm afraid to put any type of rocks big enough for the kids to pick up b/c they will more then likely be thrown at some point.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 3:16PM
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I have a hyacinth in my yard that must have been there for 20 years. (I can guarantee it was planted before 1996, at least, though we've only been here 4 years.) One scraggly tulip that comes up every year, too!

I think I should score that hyacinth for division in most are unreliable. :-)

    Bookmark   September 2, 2010 at 11:38AM
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