I'm at a complete loss for my new flowerbeds

msroseAugust 7, 2010

I just moved into my new house 4 weeks ago. I don't like what's currently planted in the flowerbeds, but I can't figure out what to do with them. I have someone coming this week to take all the plants out of this one:

The front door is actually on the side of the house and I'm standing near the front yard in this picture looking back towards the door:

Looking towards the front of the house:

I'm not looking for specifice plant suggestions since we're all in different zones, but more of an idea of what you would do as far as short plants, tall plants, alternating two different plants, etc. Of course, if you do have plant suggestions, I'd love to hear them. I love daylilies and thought of just planting those, but didn't know if that was a good idea. I also thought of variegated liriope, but didn't know if that was too boring. Someone mentioned that it needs some height, but I can't find anything I like. I don't want anything that I'm going to have to keep trimmed like the current shrubs.

I'm not taking the plants out of this bed yet, but I'm already thinking about what I want to do here. I don't know what the tree is, but it's definitely coming out. It has growth popping up all over the bed and I'm constantly pulling it out.

Do you think this flowerbed look better with a tree or would it look just as good without one? I'm really leaning towards not putting another one in. Do you think I need to keep some type of shrub in it because of the way it outlines the sidewalk? I'd love to plant a few daylilies and other perennials in this bed, but I feel like I also need some evergreens. Any ideas on the placement of evergreens and perennials, so that it still looks okay in the winter?


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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Could you please post a picture from maybe across the street so we can see what the house looks like for someone arriving to visit? I'm having difficuty visualizing a house with the garage facing the street and the front door around the corner and down a long, relatively invisible path! It seems to me the real problem is how to let people know where to go to find the door...

    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 11:58AM
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Here you go!

I said I'd never buy a house with the door on the side, but I love the neighborhood and the house and 95% of the house in this neighborhood have the door on the side. This is a picture I saved from the realtor's website when the house was for sale, so let me know if you need a better one and I'll go out there and take it.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 12:23PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Thanks for adding the photo; the front view may not be "the issue" but it helps to contextualize the question.

Landscaping author Joe Eck begins with the question of "intent" as Woody does above, and that may require a few more moments of thought, not just with respect to what to put in these beds but going back a step to whether these beds are in the places where it is logical for this property to have plantings. Do you wish to hide your entrance or frame it in a welcoming way? Do you wish to discourage visitors or make it easy for them to get to you?

This is another way of asking, why were these beds put where they are, and is there a better place on the property for beds? I think so.

The bed with the tree in it functions mostly to hide your walkway and entrance, while the bed beside it simply creates unnecessary work to keep the walkway clear - if the bed were not there, the work would not need to be done. As long as you keep that bed, you have only a choice of various types of irritation; there is no option that is both attractive and easy. It is hard to grow plants in a narrow bed against a wall without dealing with constant attempts by the plants to grow toward the light and across the path, and your predecessors likely chose the shrubs as the least of all evils. But I don't like them either, and if I were you I would delete that bed or just grow grass there, and do something nice on the other side. To alleviate the blank wall, there is a lot to be said for wall art of various sorts.

Next question is whether that approach interests you, or do you prefer to work just with the beds that you have.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 12:49PM
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KarinL - Thank you for taking the time to respond. I really do want to keep the beds. The other side of the sidewalk has a french drain running underground, so it's not really an option to put a bed there. Even though the side bed doesn't show from the front of the house, I want it to make me smile when I walk out my door or when someone comes around that corner. If I did plant something like liriope, then that wouldn't require any extra work would it?

I was thinking the same thing about the tree..it hides the entrance, which I don't like. I love plants and flowers and I want to create a welcoming space. So, do you think I should use low growing plants in the front bed to open the space up more?


    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 1:16PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I must say -that's the strangest house I've ever seen! :-)

I'm not sure if that tree would survive if you removed the raised bed structure and the shrubs to leave it as a free-standing tree... I'd be inclined to try to make the house look wider on the right side to help balance the mass of the house on the left of the garage. I'd try something like making and arbour with perhaps some supporting trellis work to make it wider. I'd paint it white or a light color so it draws your eyes. If the walkway to the main door then goes through the arbour, the color would lead your eyes to the way to go to get to the door. If the tree survived the removal of the raised bed, it would give a bit more mature bulk to the right side. Hopefully it's a kind of tree that could be trimmed a bit if needed to shape it to acommadate the arbour.

I have no idea what grows in your zone so have no idea what to replace the shrubs with. I do agree that removing them is likely sensible. I'd be inclined to replace them with something simple and use Karin's idea of wall art to add the interesting touches.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 3:55PM
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Trellis work is another suggestion for the long wall. I'd be inclined to keep the tree and work with redesigning the bed so that you don't disturb the tree roots.

Dwarf nandina should grow well in your area and you could use it along with your perennials.

Here is a link that might be useful: trellis ideas

    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 4:44PM
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I don't see a lamppost - to my mind the little solar lights do gornisht. I do like the tree in the bed close to the drive but the shrubs should be changed out to maybe accommodate a lamp and some lower growing perennials; someone might actually be able see the start of the sidewalk going around the side. I would think it difficult for someone not familiar with the quirks of the house plan and really being in a quandry not finding a big arrow painted on the garage door. :-)

    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 6:00PM
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Gosh, everyone seems to like the tree, but I've already decided it's definitely going. It's a nightmare trying to keep the twigs it sprouts all over the flowerbed pulled. So, would you put another tree in it's place or just go with low growing plants?


    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 6:35PM
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Are the twigs from seed sprouts or is the tree suckering? If you're not finding sprouts in the grass I don't see a problem.
You should snip off a cutting and take it to a nursery so you can learn more about the tree before removing it. Better to do some research first and avoid regret later.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 7:55PM
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It's suckering.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 8:04PM
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Well if it goes, it goes. Too bad though, the trunks have a drama you probably won't be able to duplicate. Wonder what it is that it sprouts or suckers all over...

My eye would want something tall there - a small deciduous ornamental tree or dwarf upright conifer - but I couldn't really say it was because I was used to seeing something tall there or because that's actually what the space needs. I do know that if I took out the tree, I'd have all the clipped shrubs around it removed too. A small blank space may afford more creative solutions than a huge space.

I do like daylilies and really enjoy the ones I have, but like many/most perennials they're one trick ponies. They bloom at their time then you've got foliage. Took me a few years to figure out what would give me the best succession of blooming so the garden was always coming and going from spring to frost.

For the long narrow bed along the house, maybe a trial year of annuals for "plant and forget" color. They're cheap, easy, and cheerful - and it gives you some breathing room to investigate perennials if you want to eventually go that route. Plant a few daylilies and some liriope, fill in with annuals; build on what you like.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 8:18PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

With respect to the front bed, I'm on side with removing the tree. The trunks really only look good from one angle, and from the other angles it's not a real beauty. And when it comes to suckers, I have very low tolerance! But what really bugs me in that bed is the shrubs, and I would totally rip them out as well and use that space to create a lower profile flowering garden. My urge is to open the space visually. If you want a tree, I don't see that it has to be in the bed; it could be closer to the front of the property.

With the long narrow bed, if liriope will make you smile, you're a pretty happy person :-) it takes more to get a smile out of me, I'm afraid! But in these long narrow beds against a wall, it is often about what will grow the way you want, rather than about what we like, and I admit I've got a long and troubled history with trying to grow more interesting things in a bed like this, because almost anything tall (anything deciduous in particular) will always be snaking away from the wall toward the light. As a general rule, evergreen material will grow much more reliably upright even when the light is one-sided.

So from a maintenance and looking tidy perspective, you could do a lot worse than a row of liriope, daylilies, or annuals. So much depends on what kind of a gardener you are; how much effort you want to go to to choose and source plants and so on, and then what kind of maintenance you want to do. For example, what would look quite spectacular along this wall, and go with the somewhat manicured impression that the house itself makes, would be an assortment of specialty conifers and evergreens, the type that are narrow and slow growing, either upright or weeping or just narrow by nature (or even spiralled or otherwise topiaried), either just mulched or dressed up with colourful lower-growing plants. But those plants you have to go hunting for, and it takes some work to arrange them.

And then there's the option of containers (on gravel or mulch) and/or wall art. Or vines on trellises, that would require you to tuck them all the time and then clear them in winter. It all depends on what kind of work you want to do initially and ongoing.

But what about the area along the fence? You might be able to create a more generous bed there. You can certainly borrow light from across the fence, and if you can also borrow airspace above the fence, then some small trees might even work.


    Bookmark   August 8, 2010 at 2:31PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Actually I just thought of something that might work: a bed of liriope punctuated with something repeating, maybe large containers of annuals, or something like fuschia standards planted in the ground... to your taste.


    Bookmark   August 9, 2010 at 6:37PM
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Thanks, KarinL. I was actually thinking the same thing, but I couldn't figure out what to put in between the liriope.


    Bookmark   August 9, 2010 at 10:58PM
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My favorite plant in those skinny beds is concrete or brick pavers. Seriously, anything besides a short, non-aggressive pansy plant needs too much work to keep it from blocking the walkway. And I like wide, welcoming walkways.

Widen the walk to match the width of the entry, filling in the skinny gap between walk and wall and between walk and fence/gate. Widen the walk at the entry area to make a "landing pad" at the entry with a bench and some tallish shrubs on the outer edge of walk. Make some place to park the packages while you look for your keys.

Prune up that small tree if you want to leave it, so you walk under it instead of bump against it.

Do your landscaping on the outer edge of the sidewalk, with a mix of upright and spreading stuff (whatever grows well in your area) with an eye to things that won't cause problems for using the sidewalk. Rampant growth, thorns, fruit drop ... bad idea.

The corner bed just hides the entry, which is unsafe and inhospitable. It's nice to mark the corner, but with something rounded, lower and a bit further away from the sidewalk. It looks like a bunker entrance now.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2010 at 10:54AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

If you are taking out the tree, I'd take everything there out - i.e. all the shrubs too. Then I'd make a wide patio/courtyard abutting the driveway, with the path to the front door leading off from that. I'd take the shrubs out along the house too and, as lazygardens suggests, fill in all or part of the area from the sidewalk to the house with paving stones - use the same ones to build the 'courtyard/patio' at the driveway end. I'd still plant a nice tree at the side of the courtyard area to add balance. I'd also put a nice large, colorful container planting there to draw attention to where arriving visitors are meant to go.

How much light does the area between the walk and the house wall get? If there's enough light, something like hens 'n' chicks would be neat along there - low growing, tolerant of dry, lousy soil... It would be interesting to randomly take out a few paving stones and fill the gaps with the hens 'n' chicks. The other thing I'd do is plant a tree inside the fence on the right by the front door (I assume that's the backyard?) that will eventually grow tall enouh to fill the void on the right side of the garage roof - look at the front view picture you posted and imagine a round-headed tree appearing from behind the house on the right side... it would help balance the house more since all the 'weight' is currently on the left side.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2010 at 5:34PM
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I love all woodyoak's ideas!

I was thinking the same thing about having a tree or large shrub to draw the eye back and mark the entrance to your house. I do think that a first-time visitor might have a hard time figuring out where they're supposed to go. My aunt had a house with this same situation, btw.

I also liked the idea of monkey grass punctuated with containers. It might also be a possibility to grow a large climbing rose on that wall, to give you some vertical interest. You'd have to attach wires or some kind of support, but climbing roses can be beautiful solutions to narrow spaces.

I think I'd do some gardens on the opposite side of the sidewalk, and I might incorporate gentle curves into the edges of those beds to offset the hard lines of the current sidewalk.

It will be a lot of fun trying to work this out and playing with different things!

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 3:14PM
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