Didn't know I was landscaping-handicapped until the DW told me so

carduus(5 - NE OH)September 27, 2010

I've been planning out four beds that frame my backyard for months now, and decided to run them by DW before I started. Never would have guessed in a million years she would have had such a negative reaction to the placement of elements, and I came to realize that all my calculations on three season blooming really doesn't amount to much if the plants themselves are just symmetrical things with the tall thing in the middle and sloping down from there. I'm just thinking about keeping tall things from shadowing short stuff, not the subtleties of flow and design.

As my DW is more of a 'I know what I don't like' than a 'here's how you fix it' kind of person, I need your help. I'll submit my beds to you, and I'd be eternally grateful if you could give me ideas on how to arrange them, better color groupings (or choices), or even plant alternatives if you feel I've made a big mistake. Thanks so much!

Bed 1. 7x25, northern edge of the neighbor's garage and under a 50 foot oak tree. Around 1-2 hours of direct sun a day, plus plenty of dappled light. There's already a forsythia I want to keep taking up a 4x4 space on the western edge. What I'm proposing is to put a Calycanthus floridus/sweetshrub towards the eastern edge to balance out the forsythia, and replace the English ivy with corydalis lutea.

Bed 2. Just northwest of bed 1, it's a 15x4 shade bed under the same 50 foot oak, and on the east side of my house. Gets more sun than bed 1 just by virtue of not being on the north face of a building, but not much more. Centered in the bed is my A/C unit, and my kitchen looks down on this bed. I was going to use Virginia Bluebells, Hardy Plumbago, Lily of the Valley, Johnson Blue Geranium, Hosta, Dark purple columbine, and a couple purple tricyrtis to create a purple/blue theme surrounding the A/C in the following order:

H=Hosta, C=Columbine, T-Tricyrtis, x= A/C unit, X= blank space, B=Bluebells, G=Geranium, P= Plumbago, and L= Lily of the Valley.











Bed 3. 4x25 bed on the south side of my garage. Gets a tiny bit of shade from the 50 foot oak and my house to the west, but probably gets 5+ hours of sun a day. I was going to mix yellows and blues in this bed, as I already have a couple Stella d' oros and a yarrow in need of splitting. I wanted to add a viburnum juddii as a central element, but was vetoed, as DW doesn't like the idea of a single central bush, and it would block the view of the rest of the bed from the kitchen window. I was planning to use Stella d' Oro, balloonflower, yarrow, baptisia, some yellow dwarf Gaillardias, iris cristatas, daffodils, Muscari, yellow crocuses, and maybe scilla to create a long season of flowering, with high-scent plants when I could. S=Stella d'Oro, B=Balloonflower, Y=Yarrow, b=Baptisia, I=Iris, G=Gaillardia, D=Daffodil, M=Muscari, s=Scilla, and C=Crocus.







Bed 4. Last but not least, this bed is on the far east side of my lot under 4 100+ foot trees, and most of it is full shade, save for an 8x5' fence on the southern end that is part shade. It's large, like 8x35, but because it's shade, little other than hostas will grow there. I was planning on just dropping in a couple of clethra, Virginia bluebells, forget-me-nots, trout lily, hardy Plumbago, and lilies of the valley and see what survived down there. For the part shade fence, I thought that a Clematis terniflora (paniculata) and a Silver Lace vine might look good twined together, and could colonize the tree that the fence leans against.

Any thoughts on how I can add landscape design elements to this or make it otherwise look/act better?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I don't think writing on paper is the best way to design a flower bed.It may look good on paper but be awful in execution. Your lining up of plants doesn't work in real time execution.

The best flower beds include shrubs or small trees, tall, medium and short plants. They should not be symmetrical like your design is, but should include repeats of flowers planted in clumps. Your design does not include shrubs or trees. You should also find a way to disguise your airconditioner so plant matter will not grow next to it and obstruct air flow. A lattice box around it will accomplish that and look good too.

The best way is to do a bed is to start with the large items.
some shrubs for shade or part shade are

Dogwood. It comes in variagated with many combinations of colors and green and will grow in almost total shade and grows about 5 feet tall at maturity. flowers in the spring with white flowers and has interesting red bark. hardy to zone 2

summersweet-- part shade--5 feet-oval shaped shrub with spikes of white or pink flowers in august and Sept.--hardy to zone4

Anabelle Hydrenga--Lovely big clusters of white flowers july to Sept. It does well with a little more sun but still a shade shrub-4 feet--hardy to zone 2b.

These are just a few--a visit to your nursery will probably get you more. I or 2 per bed should suffice. Now take your shrubs home and try them out in the space--pot and all. Get your wife's opinion and no symmetry--one at each end etc. Plant them and then go back and buy tall hostas and other tall plants and try them out pot and all.

You see where I'm going and it need not all be done in one year or every bed at once. You can always fill in with annuals until you decide what's going where.

A suggestion--give daylilies a try. If you get the everblooming ones they will have a big flush of bloom and then bloom again later. Also pay attention to bloom times of plants you buy so you have something in bloom all the time. Spend a bit of time at the greenhouse--one where they grow their own plants-- looking at plants and talking to the people there. You'd be surprized just how many selections they will advise you to get.

One thing I would discourage you from getting is Lily of the valley. It spreads by rhisomes under the ground and it's the devil to get rid of. It took me 5 years to rid my flower bed of them. One little piece of root and wham there ir goes again

    Bookmark   September 27, 2010 at 6:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If your OCD like me you may want a more formal symetrical garden. It is your garden and you have to live with the results. A modern twist on a knot garden might be fun to consider. And definitely evergreen shrubery will give you a start on a 4 season garden that you can enjoy all year around plus it can be less labor intensive over time.

One design technique is to use triangles of like colors or textures. For example you might have a clump of an everygreen ground cover that is slow growing, a 3 to 4 foot everygreen shrub, and an upright slender everygreen tree in the same bed. Or you might choose a color and then look for say a hybiscus, pansies, and a clump of irises in the same color.

Hostas can be used as a growing season boarder for a knot garden with a tree at the center with a water feature so that there is winter interest. The areas can have annuals or perennials as you choose. Boxwoods are also good and work all year round for a boarder but they are much more expensive for the same amount of coverage.

And it certainly doesn't need to be done in one year. I usually attack one bed per year for design. And then twic it from then on lol.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 8:50AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
karinl(BC Z8)

You may want to rethink your beds entirely, from the sound of it. They seem to be situated along whatever boundaries there are, and we call that "perimeteritis" around here.

I know it's not quite the advice you were seeking, if all you wanted was to hear whether baptisia would look good next to yarrow (will probably shade it out, for what it's worth), but one thing about growing plants next to buildings and fences, especially if light is not adequate, is that they all lean out desperately seeking the sun. So you have all these plants growing at an angle and you will have to tuck and tie and stake religiously to keep them upright.

You clearly have a challenging site with all those trees. The trees may actually make it additionally difficult to grow a lot of perennials (anywhere you water or mulch or enrich, the tree roots might invade, depending on the kind of tree).

I would suggest you draw a plan view of your property or take a photo, or both, and post it here for some general guidelines - or just use them yourself to think about whether your beds are in the right place. Those are also big beds to maintain - be sure you want to do that. Weedy, leaning, anemic plants covered in tree debris don't really add much to a yard - trust me on this!

That's design - the rest is just plant selection and placement, which, as mentioned above, can be tweaked later. Plants die and get replaced, they go winter dormant, etc.... design is putting them in the right place to begin with.

And with respect to plant placement, going from tall and sloping down is not ideal; I'd stagger heights from one extreme to the other. It shows all the plants off better.


    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 7:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carduus(5 - NE OH)

No, I need to hear this kind of stuff eventually. Better now than when we try to sell the house. You guys are right, I have a lot to learn. I'll try to post a picture up here soon so you can get a better idea of my situation.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 9:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I guess I'm a little more visually oriented than capable of applying a string of letters into garden beds.

Can only offer that the minor bulbs - crocus, scilla, muscari will not stay in a row; they travel a bit (a lot in the case of scilla) as they multiply. Same for lily of the valley; an absolutely wonderful plant but a true disrespecter of boundaries. Plant it for sure because it's such an old fashioned charmer, but someplace where it's got free rein.

I used to quietly chuckle at the hosta forum people out watering their beloved plants twice a day. I was never a believer in that and had nice hosta nonetheless. However, with all the regular rains this season, my hostas took on proportions I didn't think possible... I guess giving credence to the benefits of a watering regimen. So if you plant hostas, be aware of the potential size of the specimens - some of them are capable of really covering some ground.

Seems to me also that your patterns would have more of a checkerboarding effect than a drift and blend.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 9:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carduus(5 - NE OH)

Okay, here we go.

Gray is driveway, red are buildings, dark blue are my raised vegetable beds, bright green is a 30 degree slope, whereas the eastern half is 5 feet lower than the western half. Yellow circles are the extent of the overhead trees, and light blue are the beds in question. The lines on the eastern side are 5 foot fences.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 11:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
karinl(BC Z8)

Lovely, that helps a lot. What I would now add to the drawing are your pathways and the steps that I presume you have (or that you probably should have) for navigating that slope. Is there a chance of using the slope as a feature to put a rock garden on, with rock steps through it, rather than lining your plants up against the buildings as if for a firing squad? :-)

What are your destinations? Where, if anywhere, do you spend time in the yard - is there a seating area, or a workbench? What are your views (from inside and out), your privacy corridors? (OK, with all those trees, privacy may not be an issue).

The message I'm trying to send here is that you've drawn the site without any reference at all to the people element. Putting in the people element may tell you where you want your decorative plants to be.

I would tend toward a couple of big sweeping curved beds somewhere, maybe based around a couple of new trees in the open area. I always hate to see a site with all trees of a certain age in it, as they usually have to go sometime and when they do, it is nice to already have some new canopy in place. Where might you like shade, or to block cold winter winds?


    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 2:24AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carduus(5 - NE OH)

The steps are directly south of the dark blue raised bed on the slope. I'll talk to my wife about using the hill, but I'm not sure she'd want to break the space up into two parts.

Destinations are hard. Most gatherings take place in the square of land between the first three beds. I'd like to add a point of interest via a bench or maybe picnic table around where the number 4 is, but that hasn't happened yet. I personally spend a lot of time going between bed 2+3 and directly east down the hill to my raised beds.

The views of the yard are via the three kitchen windows, sitting about 4-5 feet above bed 2, and a bedroom window on that northern nub of my house, overlooking the garage and a bit of beds 1+3. Privacy isn't much of a concern between the first three beds, but at the bottom of the hill, the north is open to neighbors via chain-link, and the south is just open for several houses. The east side is quite private, via the multiple trees and wood fence.

As for wanting shade, I'll have to think about that. I've spent the last three years fighting shade tooth and nail to get a vegetable crop, so it's difficult to get into the mindset of wanting it. There are a couple 15 foot trees by the eastern fence, so it won't be entirely bare if all the 50 year old trees die tomorrow. If I do plant trees, I'd likely want a fruit or otherwise useful one.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 7:42AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

What will it look like in winter?

Not much. :-)

Remember that in zone 5, you'll have Oct, Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar, and Apr--some 7 months of the year--where what you've planned will look bad. Start with evergreens, large and small. Then put in other shrubs. THEN you should work in your perennials, underplanting with bulbs for spring. I personally don't really leave spaces for annuals but work them into blank spots--I don't do the kind of fertilization that annuals want to go truly bonkers because I want to keep my bulbs happy, and if I don't have time to plant at a particular season, my beds don't go to rot that way.

Connecting beds 1 and 2 in a swoop with a stepping stone pathway to get to the back corner would create a really nice effect. If you don't already have a utility area, the back corner could be it, or it could become an enchanted secret shade garden--and SO many things grow there beside hosta! Start with Aucuba for shrubs in the shade, and yew and azalea/rhodies, and boxwood. There are dozens and dozens of perennials, too.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 11:27AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carduus(5 - NE OH)

I don't quite understand about your swooping idea, reyesuela. Are you saying to connect beds 1, 2, and the slope in a big U? Otherwise, I'm not sure what the pathway would connect to.

Also, while the Aucuba looks really neat, it doesn't look like it can survive Zone 5 winters. Are there any other neat evergreens like that to prevent me from having to fall back on juniper and arborvitae?

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 12:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

In your picture, you have an area in the lower left that's open. If that's not your property, you need no stepping stones, and just connect that across with a curved be. If it is, then connect it but put in steps for access.

Juniper and arbs won't do in shade at all. Even in part shade, they're ratty.

Again, for full, deep shade, there are also yews, boxwood, and some azaelas/rhodos for the deepest shade and there are tons more options for lighter full shade. Clethra anifolia is one of my faves that grows where you are. I have holly growing in deep shade, but you have to accept that it'll have a looser habit. Kalmia latifolia and some camellias work, too.

This site is pretty decent, though you'll have to filter the results by zone and whether they are deciduous:


For sunnier areas, there's nothing in the world wrong with arbs. They have a great shape and habit, and make a lovely backdrop to a busy perennial bed. There are other options for a small space, though. Picea pungens 'Iseli Fastigiate', Cham. pisifera ("Golden Mops" and others), Cham. obtusa Hinoki, (these three are okay for part shade--most conifers are NOT) Bird's nest spruce, dwarf Alberta spruce, and hundreds of other dwarf conifers are great options. There are also non-conifer options like Sky Pencil holly and other Ilex crenata cultivars, many other hollies, and hordes of others. Some of the new camellia hybrids are safe, especially against a building, and a fer pyracantha, too. All these broadleaved evergreens are suited to part shade, too. (In fact, in warmer areas, camellias prefer shade.)

Ornamental small trees have their place, too, like the hardiest of the Japanese magnolias, dogwood, and redbud.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 11:14AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carduus(5 - NE OH)

The southwest corner leads to a 6x30 strip of land that I own between my house and my neighbor's driveway that I also am not sure what to do with, given all the shade. It currently has a couple large pricker bushes, a bit of weedy grass, then my Crown Princess Margareta rose in a particularly sunny spot.

Does anyone know of any good websites with pictures of Zone 5 shady gardens that I can glean format from?

    Bookmark   October 3, 2010 at 9:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

How about a book? Making the Most of Shade. The author is, I think, in Z5.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2010 at 3:10AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Correct me if I'm wrong, but to me it looks like the gap between beds 2 and 3 is too narrow for people to walk through? Is this where you step into the garden?
I would replace bed 3 with a paved walkway that becomes a staircase where it meets the slope, and continues on the lower level, maybe wrapping around the veggie beds or going to some yet-not-existing destination - bench? shed? fruit tree? hammock?
And I'd make all of the slope a terraced planting bed.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 5:38AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carduus(5 - NE OH)

The more I'm measuring, the more I'm finding that that picture is off, Timbu. That line where the gray meets the white is actually 9 feet. Does anyone know of free software to plot this sort of stuff out? I just took a blurry satellite photo of our house and put boxes on top of stuff.

The paved walkway is certainly an interesting idea. What factors go into a decision on the material for such a walkway?

    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 7:09AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carduus(5 - NE OH)

The DW is now suggesting that we terrace the vertical blue bed northeast of bed 3 into a 7x15 flat spot where we can put some shade bushes/trees right against the east face of the garage and have an area to just sit with chairs, maybe overlooking a sloped bed and removing one of my terraced beds to make a path to it. Any thoughts on whether this would either be feasible or attractive? It seems like cramming stuff against the garage might lead to the same perimeteritis.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 7:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Choosing a pathway material (something I recently did) is usually a compromise between personal tastes, financial possibilities, and practicality, and of course it also needs to harmonize with existing materials and colors, and survive in your climate. I'm lucky to have cheap local limestone at hand, so I'm using that on some paved areas. Since the total paved area is rather large, I needed a second material to visually break it up, and since granite was too expensive, and tinted concrete was expected to fade over time, and wood becomes slippery when wet, I chose brick (the weatherproof kind). Sounds easy, but I really had quite a hard time making up my mind - did a lot of sketching in Photoshop, ran around stores with paint samples, bored my family to death etc.
Hard to say anything about the new flat spot, if the drawing is out of scale - it looks like a very steep hill, and lack of privacy seems to be an issue in that spot.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2010 at 2:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dsb22(z7 VA)

Everyone else is so much better at visualizing how things will look. My .02 on just a couple of items: 4' wide for a bed may end up being only able to accommodate a couple of types of mature perennials or shrubs...almost everything in my experience spreads 2-3' at least. So if you can go wider, I would. Definitely plant in drifts. A really helpful book on garden design is "The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer" by Cohen and Ondra.

Also, like someone else said, planting up against your ac unit is not be good for it and the plants may not be happy either. We have a couple of feet and lattice between our ac unit and my perennials, but I still had to relocate a brunnera and a Japanese maple that were shriveling from the heat that was pouring out of it midsummer. A hosta in the line of fire did better, but still didn't thrive until lately when temps have gotten lower and the ac doesn't run as much. You might try boxwoods--my supervisor says that they're thriving in front of his ac unit.


    Bookmark   October 6, 2010 at 1:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Use the free version of Sketchup.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 12:04PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Help! My new front yard is UGLY! Any ideas appreciated!
Do I keep the stone flower bed edge? I was told it...
quick screen
I'm zone 7 and the spot is full sun. I had a 12' photinia...
Mary Bright
light green leaf tree
Looking for a bright green leaf small/medium sized...
scary house help
Trying to help someone with this- yipes. I'm thinking...
Need landscaping ideas for new home please
Hello everyone. We moved into our new build in November....
Sponsored Products
Memory Cloud Supreme Side Sleeper Pillow
Grandin Road
SoHo Pumpkin Rectangle: 5.5 Ft. x 8.5 Rug
$499.00 | Bellacor
IBENA Pure Cotton King-size Blanket
Farm Animals on Wheels
The City Farm
Princeton Fireplace Mantel
Signature Hardware
5010 Series Bath Bar by George Kovacs
$170.00 | Lumens
Marsala Outdoor Coffee Table Cover
$54.50 | FRONTGATE
Shoe Lovers Rack
$24.99 | Dot & Bo
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™