Seeking color/style advice for landscape blocks

DPJDSeptember 21, 2013

Here's my dilemma...

I've done some landscaping in the past, but it has always been on standard color homes/buildings where it was easy to pick block color(s). With this current project, I'm having a hard time picking a style/color of block because the house is red with brown trim and a tan roof. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

After re-grading the dirt a bit, I'm planning to start just to the right of the basement window and radius out from the house, run along the house (roughly 3' out), radius around the corner, and continue (with that rough 3' measurement) 'til it butts up and stops against the side of the entry way; the top of the wall will stop right under the bottom of the siding and this whole planter will be filled with river rock (and plants/shrubs in the spring). I've attached a pic to help visualize.

I've attached a link to a block I've considered, but in the 9" wide version (due to limited area and limited height of wall). In real life, it looks to be similar in color to the tan/brown roof color. Should that even be an option, or should I look at something completely different like a flagstone style of wall? The inside of the house is more of a cabin feel and I'd like to stick with more of a rough type of look rather than a sleek/modern look if possible.

Here is a link that might be useful: Link to block being considered.

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The color of stone -- which the referenced block is -- would probably work fine, but it's best to buy a sample, bring it home and analyze compatibility.

One presumes your overall goal is to enhance the scene. I've noticed a lot of people create raised beds that, in the end, are a visual detriment. One must be careful about using a material that is raised up above the surrounding grade. If not well designed and impeccably constructed, the result is usually more harm than good. The wall cannot by wavy -- even slightly -- in any dimension. And it should be dead level, not built on a slope. This means making a nice, tamped "footing" so parts of the wall don't settle over time. IMO a foundation bed, sans the wall, would be as much or more effective, less risky and a lot less work.

I think your bed size needs expanding. 3' depth of bed is insufficient to grow most any plants that are meaningful to a structure. 6' depth is more realistic. Adding river rock (as a mulch, I guess?) seems like another potential to add a junky quality to the picture. Plants alone -- and completely covering the bed -- seems like a cleaner, more powerful statement. (If I'm misunderstanding, maybe you have a picture of the look you're after.)

What happens on the other side of the vestibule? Will this look balanced when viewed from the front?

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 10:36AM
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Thanks for the reply. This is mainly to enhance curb appeal and add something around the house so it isn't so bland. Last weekend I removed a bunch of overgrown lilacs and other random shrubs/trees, in this same area, that the previous owner didn't maintain. I did buy a few blocks to get an onsite visual; they seem to look decent, but it's not the "smoking gun" fit that I aim for when doing a project like this (after that, I started this thread).

If anything, I am too anal (is there such a thing when landscaping?) when it comes to a good base and everything being level/straight/etc. I've got raised beds and retaining walls, that I've done for other people, that are still perfect after 10+ years.

The river rock will be in place of traditional mulch. It's not that I don't like mulch; I just don't like the ongoing maintenance that it requires. I don't have enough of a green thumb to cover the whole surface with vegetation. You're definitely right when you say 3' is not enough. I've decided to go 4' to allow room for a simple stagger of plants/shrubs from front to back; anything deeper than that and you would have to stand in the bed for maintenance.

The big wall, that's the left part of the picture, is the part that actually faces the road. This is a country setting and the house sits ~150' from the road. I'm planning to do a similar bed, except smaller, on the other side of the main entry door that's on the right side of the picture.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 7:16PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I'm not sure why you feel the need for a raised bed. If the exposed bit of foundation is what bothers you, the simpliest place to start is to paint it with masonry paint in the same color as the house. It's quite surprising how big of an improvement that can be. I did a rough paint job with Paint (see picture below) and I think that, with the addition of plants in a wide bed, nothing more would be needed to take away the raw look of the exposed foundation.

River rock is a curse when it comes to weeding and maintenance IMO! I actually don't mulch at all - I plant very densely and the plants themselves become the mulch... :-)

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 11:13AM
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dpjd, it's good to hear that you build landscape walls straight and level. Many don't, so I had to bring it up.

I'm with Woodyoak on not seeing the need, and therefore the great advantage of a raised bed, but to each his own. It seems like plants alone could make an excellent artistic spatial statement and object of view. I've seen painted foundations -- matching and contrasting -- that looked fine. Here, there's so little foundation showing I think it would be covered up by plants, or in the shade of plants, without any effort. I don't think 4' bed depth is adequate. I would be going for the 6' to 8' range. The plantings in the forefront of the bed could be very low, barely higher than lawn.

"It's not that I don't like mulch; I just don't like the ongoing maintenance that it requires. I don't have enough of a green thumb to cover the whole surface with vegetation." If you can grow ANY plants (which you're setting out to do) than you can grow MANY plants. Since this is a relatively small area, I can't see that it would be much difficulty to cover completely. Then, there is no need for adding more mulch later. It's Nature's plan to cover earth solid with plants wherever there is exposed soil. Man refines this by picking and choosing plants that look and work best. It's not difficult to do, but requires some basic understanding of how to go about it. Using river rock is much more expensive and difficult to implement (as opposed to using decomposable mulches.) If one wishes a change be made to it later, it's a "B" to undo. And it's not going to look as nice --as a mulch -- as plants alone will look. It's more likely to appear as a distraction to the building than a serene extension of it. I would not say this if it were being used as a carefully choreographed paving or faux river bed.

Bottom line: planting bed cheapest, easiest and best looking. Raised bed & stone mulch more expensive, difficult and less good looking.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 3:02PM
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Thanks for the idea on painting the basement walls. I've seen that done before, but it was with the trim color (the route I would likely take) or contrasting color of some kind.

I'm not necessarily all about it being cheap and easy; if anything, I've learned that it isn't always the best route to take. I take pride in doing sweat equity jobs.

Regarding the river rock, I may abandon that idea if I can find some good green cover; as mentioned, it would probably be better to let nature cover like it's going to try to do no matter what I put there. River rock is not an expense issue, though; the quarry up the road sells it for $10 per ton and I have equipment to haul/move it efficiently.

Overall, I prefer the look of a properly done raised bed compared to a ground level approach; nothing more than a personal preference. As far as making the bed deeper, I think 8' would be a bit excessive; I'm trying to clean things up and have a cleaner look; the previous owner preferred the jungle look and had things growing all over, essentially snuffing out any open grass space (the exact opposite of what I'm after).

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 12:49PM
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By having depth of bed I don't mean to imply that one must plant and maintain it with a "jungly" appearance. It's just that any shrubs one might plant along the foundation are bound to easily eat up 4' of depth, even when maintained to modest proportions. Then, one would probably have something low -- perennial or groundcover -- growing in front of the shrub and it, too, could easily take up an equivalent amount of depth. start adding up the numbers and it becomes apparent that 4' seems stingy. Of course, if one plans only on a single row of shrubs, then 4' is workable. (But this seems like a less pretty solution than shrubs plus groundcover, perennial or some such thing.) It is not depth of bed that makes a difference between a "clean" look and a disheveled one.

If you want a raised bed merely because you want it, then no more need be said. I get the impression you will, at least, do its construction justice.

"... it would probably be better to let nature cover like it's going to try to do no matter what I put there." I'm certainly not suggesting that you allow weeds to take over. That is the death knell to any landscape. There are attractive groundcovers and perennials that can be maintained in a weed-free state for a clean, attractive and interesting appearance. Keeping the design simple leads toward a "cleaner" look. If there were weeds in the area previously, it requires diligence in maintenance until the ground-covering plants become fully established (then they become the "mulch.") In most cases, one mulches fairly heavily at the beginning, which helps keep weeds down. Pre-emergent herbicide can be very useful, too, but follow directions carefully, as you wouldn't want to also kill plants you bought and installed. One must put out the most anti-weed effort during the first year. (The main objective is NEVER let a weed flower and produce seed within the bed area -- which some will try to do within twenty-something days after sprouting by seed --as it will prolong the weeding process by another year, at least.) If one keeps up with it right along, weeding is less trouble the second year and after that, minor to nearly non-existent.

What plants you use to cover the ground of the planting bed would depend on where you live and what grows well there, and what the design requirements are calling for in terms of height, interest and personality.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 2:41PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Just a quick comment re painting foundation walls.... If you want them to 'disappear' paint them to match the largest volume - usually the main house color. If you want to draw attention to them, paint them in a contrasting color. It's not usual to draw attention to the foundation, so the best approach is to use the house color. We did that at our previous house - it was a caramel-colored brick with gray-painted foundation. There was a large concrete patio across the back running up to the base of the house and exposing about 2' of gray wall with nowhere to plant anything to hide the gray wall. The house seemed to float in midair! It finally dawned on me that the solution was to paint the gray a caramel color instead - a huge, immediate improvement that placed the house firmly on the ground again! It's a lesson I've never forgotten and whenever I see a strongly-colored house 'floating' above the ground (as your seems to do) I always think of how much a fast, easy paint job would improve things.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 3:38PM
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