Need suggestions and advice for front yard

chisey(TN)August 2, 2011


I'm going to be renovating my front lawn in September but I plan to make some changes to the beds first. I'm not intending to make radical changes-- I just need some suggestions for what to do with the mailbox bed and some plant ideas if possible. I want to do 2 things:

1. Expand the mailbox bed. Right now it's very small and contains only annuals. I want to replace it with a perennial bed that is considerably bigger.

2. Possibly remove or replace a couple of plants from the foundation bed. The three barberry look a little weird as they exist now. I've considered removing the middle one and trimming the other two up from the bottom a bit, but I don't know exactly what I want to do. I also may remove or replace the green bushes (their name escapes me) entirely-- I could even move them to the mailbox area somehow.

I have access to a few plants already that I may consider transplanting: a bloodgood japanese maple baby from my dad's house, a white crape myrtle (natchez, I believe) about 8 feet tall from my back yard, and the aforementioned bushes currently in the foundation planting. If I can use or transplant any of those in the new design, that would be great. But I'm not married to that idea.

There are a couple of views below. The only thing that needs mentioning is that the view from the front is a couple months old. I have since removed the phlox from the driveway bed and in its place are three pink knockout rose bushes.

I'd appreciate any thoughts and suggestions you can give me. Thanks in advance.

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Did you ever consider thinking outside the box?

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 6:19PM
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I came here for ideas. We bought this house in April, so it is what it is. When I say I'm not intending to make radical changes it's not because I am attached to the way things are now . . . it's because I am not looking to spend a lot of money. I'm open to anything but design is not my forte, so I need help. Did I come to the wrong place for that, ink?

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 8:56PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I'm linking here to one old thread, and listing two others, that might help suggest some ways to think out of the box, not necessarily requiring more expense.

There is no reason for you to go outside the box if you are happy with the fairly conventional arrangement of beds you currently have. That would make it a plant selection question, rather than a design question. Plant selection is often best done at the local nursery to see what plants you have available.

But you might enjoy these threads.


Here is a link that might be useful: thread to think about

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 9:59PM
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I like the garden gnome!

Your neighbor 5 black mailboxes down (2nd photo) appears to have some shrub beds extedned away from the house. It might be worth a walk to see how that property compares to all the rest on the block.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 10:40PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I agree that the barberries are a bit odd. I wouldn't take more than a few inches off the bottoms, though: you don't want to turn them into trees. It's been a number of decades since I trimmed barberries, and I don't remember how much they can be pruned, so I'll just say that you want to keep them below the windows if at all possible.

About the crape myrtle and Japanese maple: please don't plant them (or anything tall) in front of the front door. If you enlarge the raised bed at the corner of the house, you have room for a shrub or small tree there. However, I don't know if you have room between the current left edge of that bed and the lot line to extend the bed, and if you did put a shrub or small tree there, it might interact oddly with the existing tree in the front yard. (IIRC, the Bloodgood would grow to be larger than you want there.)

We can't see the other side of the driveway, but I'll assume you could put the crape myrtle there. The Japanese maple could be a possibility, depending whether the neighbor has a tree on that side of his yard.

Have you thought about changing the outline of the mailbox bed so it's easier to mow around? Perhaps just enlarge it to a triangle, slightly deeper in the middle than it is currently.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 11:37PM
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Karin: Thanks for those links. I've scanned through them and will look in more detail later. If nothing else, I did get one idea: post the satellite photo from google. That'll help me and anyone who tries to help me as well. I'm not *happy* with the conventional plantings but I don't have the time or inclination for a complete overhaul. Ideas that can push me in a different direction *in stages* would be welcome.

Isabella: The gnome makes me laugh. He's a Tennessee gnome, complete with big orange cap and a Power T on his forehead. :-)

You're right about the neighbor 5 houses down. That bed floats on his property line, and I thought about doing something in the corresponding location in my yard. It would require expanding the mulch bed around the maple toward that utility box in the front corner, but I'm not sure what I would want to put in it.

missingtheobvious: Those barberries just aren't right. I'm not sure what do do with them but I think I'm going to have to remove at least one-- either the one in the middle or one of the other two to create a little asymmetry.

As far as the crape myrtle and japanese maple go, I didn't intend to put them by the door. There are two potential spots: (1) in the bed around the mailbox, if I expand it enough and it doesn't disagree with the existing maple, or (2) the left end of that foundation bed, which would probably involve expanding it toward the property line, but there's not a lot of room.

I'm glad you asked about the other side of the driveway because I was going to bring it up myself. I didn't have time to take a picture last night so I will post the satellite photo so you can see how it currently looks. There is a maple over there (on my side of the line), a small bush-shaped crape myrtle, and a bed in my neighbor's yard. I would like to put a bed there and not just the tree and separate myrtle, but I worry that the neighbor's bed and the location of my plants make that awkward. I'm okay with moving the myrtle but would like to keep the maple where it is.

What you see in the photo below is at least a year or two old. My house is in the middle. The maples in my yard are bigger, of course, and the mulch beds around them are now about a 4-foot radius. The property lines are straight and my fence is right on them, so you can get an idea of what I have to work with. What you don't see is that in the neighbor's house on the right, that tree is now in a large bed which pushes to within maybe 6 feet of the mulch around my maple.

My idea was to do the following:

(1) Expand the bed around the mailbox to be more interesting. Use perennials and shrubs instead of annuals.

(2) Build an asymmetrical bed around the maple on the left, expanding toward the property line and planting toward the utility box.

(3) Somehow balance out the beds on the left with a bed on the right of the driveway. I don't know how to do this with the current position of my plants and the neighbor's bed though.

Maybe I'll do a crude mockup of this on the sat photo to give you some idea of what my thoughts were. In the meantime further thoughts are more than welcome. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 8:27AM
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Okay. Please forgive my crude MS paint work, but I took the sat photo above and just quickly painted in what I initially thought about doing with the beds. My existing trees and crape myrtle are on there. They are currently only in circular mulch beds with no other plantings.

I noticed as I was working that the neighbor's bed IS in the photo-- it's just much closer to my property line than I was thinking and does not contain his tree. I decided to color it in so you can see where it is.


    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 9:41AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Some of the things I thought you might pick up from those threads included not planting "at" things like the mailbox, and putting beds somewhere other than at the perimeter of the lawn and the entrance to the driveway.

So I'm glad to see you are thinking of expanding your left front bed away from the driveway. That keeps your entrance nice and open, as suggested in the thread where Laag posted a drawing with a meet and greet (toward the end). People have a lamentable tendency to have their plantings hug their sidewalks and driveways, and end up hiding their front doors.

I also like the bed to the right of the driveway, but I would totally nix planting at the mailbox. You should put your beds where the plants will make sense based on sightlines, screening, background, shade, or something, but not because there is a mailbox. Besides, the mailbox should be visible and accessible.

Regarding foundation planting, I am just not a foundation planting person, so I have little to suggest besides taking a step back and asking yourself what it is that you hope to achieve. Is there actually a foundation there to hide? If so, those plants are doing a great job. But if there is none, they are blocking maybe an attractive wall.

In any event the whole process of front yard design is often about seeing things as others would see them, so it can be helpful to look at other peoples' places :-)


    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 1:09AM
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Thanks Karin.

What's funny is I showed my better half the plan above and she doesn't want to do the island bed OR the bed to the right of the driveway. Only the mailbox bed. I'll work on her.

About the mailbox . . . doesn't one need SOMETHING there? There are some houses on our street with mailboxes that look like they just grew out of the grass and I think it looks horrible. I always think that when I see trees without mulch too . . . even big trees. There's a painfully small bed there now (not more than 2 feet across) and I think it looks ridiculous. I was looking to do more, but you think I should do less?

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 10:48AM
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I suggest Googling The Renegade Gardener and click on his "Don't Do That" column.

To wit: "trees, forced to endure the indignity of wearing a circus clown's collar, a little girl's teeny tutu... used to be something... used to be grand, now look at me, look at me...

...If a mature tree(or mailbox or lantern) is growing from your lawn, let it grow straight out of the lawn. Grass looks great growing right up to the shoulder roots of a tree (or mailbox, etc)). If a newer planting, you'll want to circle it with shredded bark until a solid root system is established, then ditch the bark after five years. Best of all, make a tree a part of the landscape, the focal point of, well, a point, a swooping, jutting point of landscaping that starts at the house and extends out and around the tree...

...If you're going to circle something, circle a date on your calendar when you will go out into your yard, and set your trees (or mailboxes etc.) free."

My own lawn trees come right up out of the grass; it somehow looks right. But, nonetheless, The Renegade Gardener is a good read on a wide variety of landscaping topics - many of the accompanying pictures are well worth a thousand words. Sometimes helps to see when a perceived "good idea" doesn't quite measure up.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 2:29PM
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The main reason I have a problem with trees coming up from the turfgrass is that it's not healthy for the tree or the grass. I'm not talking about mulch volcanoes, I'm talking about proper mulching . . . I think all trees benefit from it whether you like the design aspect or not.

Also, I read the article and felt it applied more to decorative rings rather than mulch beds, but that's just my impression. He says ditch the mulch after 5 years, but I'm not a fan of the idea.

But what you latched on to there wasn't the thrust of my post. I do NOT want my mailbox growing up out of the grass, both because I think it looks ugly and because I don't want to weedeat around it every time I mow. I don't know exactly what to do around it yet but I know I want to do something.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 8:47PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Well, let me start by saying that I don't have a mailbox like that, so my opinions are exactly that - opinions - and no more. I think you have a point when you say they don't look great growing out of the grass. But they don't make really convincing flowers either :-) What a mailbox garden in an otherwise plain yard says to me is "I couldn't think of anywhere else to put a flowerbed." That said, if having a mailbox garden is important to your wife, it doesn't seem worth having a war over. They can be cute, and they are actually a bit of an American cultural icon :-)

An image search brings up lots of ideas for them by the way, including a charming row of mailboxes springing up out of the grass - but it seems to me that mailboxes have a function. I would think that function is best served if you have a brick pad around/beside it to stand on, which would also make mowing around it easier. Maybe a brick or paver pad, or even a 24" x 24" slab, with the flowers adjacent and good edging in a nicely shaped bed would be the best of all worlds. For my taste, a bed without hardscape always looks a bit accidental (unless it has really crisp edges).

I always say that landscape design is for people, and so what constitutes good design in each place depends on who lives there. We, and the renegade gardener, can only give some objective guidelines, which if followed slavishly in all cases would create their own kind of undesirable outcome. So your landscape should definitely reflect your preferences.

I'm also not a foundation planting guru - I prefer no foundation planting in the vast majority of cases - but let me take a stab at the problem with yours. I remember in an old thread, our guru Laag saying that a dark-foliaged plant reads in the landscape as a dark hole, or something to that effect, and gave as a solution something about backing it with something green. So one possibility is that the purple foliage is itself the problem. Only in this case, maybe if you put something bright green in front of it, using the barberries as a background, they might look better - deepening the bed to accommodate another layer of planting.

You could also consider extending the foundation planting as far to the left as an antidote. Maybe move a barberry beyond the house corner. It looks on the aerial view as if you have some space there. But if you do that I would actually shift the planting weight away from the front door. The other general idea I was hoping you might pick up from those threads I linked earlier was about creating space in front of a recessed doorway instead of shutting it in. You have a fair bit going on there - I don't like what's in the middle either.

But somehow what really bugs me here is that you have two uneven sections of your house, the garage one and the one to the left of the door. The one to the left of the door is smaller already, and your planting is hiding more of it; your tree will later do more of the same. That's why I would rather be able to see (or at least discern) the foundation of that section. And in contrast, the plantings on the garage side do such an inadequate job of hiding any of its mass that they look a bit... incongruous. They have no hope. They do not begin to address the blank mass over the garage door, which I think is what needs... screening, disguising, balancing... things that plants may not be able to do here (your tree on the right will maybe do it later). I don't know all the things that a person can do with that wall. Perhaps a little rooflet to match the one over the window on the right? A section of grey siding? Out of my realm there, but you get the idea.

But in pursuit of having plants help with it, I would draw the bed on the right up toward the house instead of down to the driveway entrance. That will also maintain better sightlines for driveway egress.


    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 5:40AM
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Stepping away from the design, I think you first need to ask yourself what's your style? Your gnome might suggest you like a bit of whimsy. Are you formal or more go with the flow? Do you like neat and clean or find beauty in the imperfect? A design might look good but if it doesn't reflect your personal tastes then it isn't right for you. Start collecting pictures of gardens that speak to you and you'll start to get an idea of where you want to go with it. Figure out the big picture first and then worry about the details.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 10:44PM
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Have you considered doing english-style pavers in a semi-circular pattern with the mailbox as the centre? You can select shades which complement the taupe, charcoal and black of your handsome house -just be sure that the size is large enough to be impactful. A substantial black urn or two filled with seasonal flowers or foliage could complete and soften the look.

I love barberries but feel they would look better here if the two closest to the front door were transplanted to the farthest corner of that same bed - to my eye, that would visually balance out the small downslope on that side of the yard. What a fun job that would be! Is there something similar in shape and colour on the other side of the garage?

My last suggestion would be to paint the blindingly white garage door so that it recedes from the foreground, either in the taupe of your brick or the charcoal of the shutters. Of course, then you'd have to brighten up your front door too - lots of choices there. If you're feeling funky, maybe a nice pumpkin colour...

Here is a link that might be useful: suggestion for mailbox

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 2:43AM
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IMHO I wouldn't landscape the mailbox just because it's there sticking out of the ground.

Mailbox's don't need foundation plantings any more than the numerous cable box's that you see in your neighbors yards but probably quit noticing, because other stuff was more interesting.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 10:05AM
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