Recommend to Fill Gap Behind Bushes

succeed(6a)September 28, 2013

I've attached a picture of my house with a view from the street. There is a row of junipers, then a row with a sand cherry and cedars, and then the porch railing.
There used to be a dogwood on either side of the sand cherry, but we moved those last weekend because everything was way too crowded.
Over the years, the dogwoods and sand cherry had all grown away from the house and started leaning forward, in search of sunlight (the cedars create shade).
So, the sand cherry is now leaning forward, and the 2 dogwoods are gone, and now there are 2 rather large empty gaps right in front of my porch railing. The gaps are not visible from the street, but they are an eyesore every time I come out my front door. And, already a weed has found it's way into this newly empty area.
What does one usually fill that type of gap with? A ground cover like periwinkle? Some perennials like hosta? A small shrub (that will stay small and not crowd out the sand cherry again)? I'm having a difficult time imagining what can go into these gaps.
I'll post a couple of pictures of the gaps, so hopefully you'll understand what I'm talking about.
Thanks for any advice you can provide.
P.S. Yes, I know the sand cherry looks pretty dismal now, but I'm hoping that with the dogwoods gone, the sand cherry can fill in next summer.

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Here's a view of one of the gaps.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2013 at 6:06PM
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. . . and a side view of one of the gaps. . .

    Bookmark   September 28, 2013 at 6:07PM
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You can fill in the gap with any plant that will take the light conditions and stay low. That's probably some type of groundcover or low perennial.

If you take a hard look at the landscaping as a whole, how do you perceive that it will look in about 5 or so years? I can't imagine that this is going to look better in time unless you get in there promptly and start turning these shrubs into rigid, tight architectural enhancements. (I'm not suggesting that is an ideal. It's about the only opportunity left.) They are almost overgrown monsters as it is, but will be past the point of hope in a relatively short time. (Maybe it already is and the photo is not explicit enough.) It would be better to begin a total renovation with something more attractive and practical. Everything -- including the beloved sand cherry -- is planted too close to the porch. Time will not help this. For such a small area, the cost of redoing would be minimal.

Sorry to be negative about it, but it's what I believe is the truth.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2013 at 9:27PM
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Find a list of shade loving plants. Plant it in the gap. I actually like the look of the gap. Is it your intention to completely block your house from being seen?

    Bookmark   September 28, 2013 at 10:38PM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

Wow! A fortress.

Is that the look you're going for?

    Bookmark   September 29, 2013 at 4:05PM
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The 800 pound gorilla is really the "living wall" and not so much the couple of square feet of bare ground below the porch.

But that isn't what your post asked.

A bothersome bare spot that only you can see might be a place for one/several of the smaller hostas - cheapest and probably a best bet - they can tolerate dense shade, but you'll have to water them if the shade is not only dense but dry as well.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2013 at 5:16PM
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"Overgrown monsters", "fortress", "800 pound gorilla" - it's obvious you all feel that the 2 gaps are the least of my worries.
And it should be obvious that I know nothing about gardening. I agree that the cedars are too close to the house - but I didn't put them there, and I really don't want to kill them.
Anyway, I'm not exactly sure what "tight architectural enhancements" are, but I trimmed the cedars and tried to "round" the Japanese yew (second from the left, between the cedars) (see this new picture). There are only 3 junipers - I can't imagine separating them would look right, but again, I don't know anything about gardening.
I don't know what else to do. Any suggestions as to what I need to do next?
Thanks for your help.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2013 at 6:31PM
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You could also put yard art in the gaps, since only you can see the gaps. I heard that Juniper was the only conifer that can be sheared. I know from experience that they will recover from being pruned all the way down.

This post was edited by emmarene on Wed, Oct 2, 13 at 15:54

    Bookmark   October 1, 2013 at 7:58PM
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"Architectural enhancements" means trim the arborvitae like 2' diameter (or square) columns of perfect shape, top their height at the eaves and don't let them escape 1/4" past that limit ... as though they're a piece of wood or concrete ... as an attempt to save them. But it would be a bit of a pain to maintain. There is no room for them (or anything else) to sprawl and still look good.

Where to go from here? If this landscape were a person, it would be a homeless person. As I mentioned, "It would be better to begin a total renovation with something more attractive and practical." Remove everything. Start over.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2013 at 8:02PM
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Thanks for your comments.
However, I'm really trying to learn something here. Otherwise I really won't get anywhere in the future.
Could someone please tell me specifically what the problems are. Cause I don't know anything about gardening, and I simply don't know what things are supposed to look like.
Is the biggest problem the junipers being spread out like that? Are they supposed to be little individual bushes? Or is the problem that they're too tall? Or are the cedars the biggest problem? I know you all hate this look, but you haven't told me what is actually wrong.
If you're saying that all the bushes should be sheared down so that the ugly 2ft high concrete porch behind them should be exposed, then I'm not understanding the advantage of that. And when you say it should all be demolished and done over, I have absolutely no idea what to replace it all with. Cause I do want something there (not just grass) so that the ugly concrete porch behind is not visible. And a do-over will likely end up looking just as bad (if not worse) seeing as I don't know gardening.
And yes, I do appreciate you taking the time to give me your input. Many thanks for that.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 5:35AM
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We cannot see the "ugly 2' height concrete porch." So we can't assess if there's a better way to handle its appearance. Many times, there is. As has been pointed out elsewhere recently, sometimes paint is part of the solution. Many times it is not necessary to completely cover a foundation in order to distract sufficiently from it, so that the overall scene (what you are concerned with) looks good. Is all of the front of your porch/home so ugly that you must smother every square inch of it in foliage? I don't think so, but it looks like the approach that's underway. Juniper is too tall and too wide. NO ... individual, separate bushes in a line is not the solution. Covering the supports for the roof with a big, fat sprawling arborvitae is counterproductive. You should enhance those supports, not obliterate them. Do you use the porch other than passing through. It might have influence on how you landscape it. Does the existing landscaping seem INVITING to anyone who arrives? ... or do passersby envision that it does? Not really! The shrubbery looks like a major obstruction to entering. Even if there's plenty of space behind it, the appearance from the street is that entering is going to be a claustrophobic experience.

Part of learning about what a good landscape might look like is getting help here. Keep in mind that landscaping is not just collecting and displaying a group of plants that one likes. ("Gardening" can be that.) It's about picking plants that perform functions (physical and visual) and using them to create an improved scene or space (your front yard.) To get help, you would need to provide a photo that is taken from farther back so we can see your whole front yard and some of the space flanking the left and right of it. Landscaping looks at whole spaces rather than pieces of them. If would be hard to maintain visual continuity around the yard, if one landscaped only small spaces without seeing how they fit together.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 9:40AM
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Just my non-designer opinion...

You have a nice house, but because the landscaping forms a wall and hides so much, it looks kind of unfriendly and overgrown. (Not horrible, but just like so many "older" landscapes that have gotten a little out of hand.) The shrubs may hide part of the porch that you don't care for, but they hide most of the front of the house too.

There's nothing warm or inviting about the landscaping, and no place to put something that is, like a nice pop of color. There's nothing to draw your eye to the door (you can hardly see it), and nothing to help me understand how the back row of shrubs are supposed to relate to each other. (They look haphazard.)

I'd at least take out the back row of shrubs, but Yardvaark is right...the area isn't that big and you could redo the whole area with something you'd love (and would add curb appeal/value) for not that much. This time of year there are great sales which is all the more reason to go for it.

If you're afraid to take out too much, take it out in steps, post pictures along the way, and stop when you're happy:

1) Remove sand cherry and Japanese yew
2) Trim arborvitaes as suggested
3) Remove arborvitaes
4) Remove junipers (unless junipers can be trimmed, in which case you could do that first)

This post was edited by ruth_mi on Wed, Oct 2, 13 at 17:08

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 4:34PM
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Succeed since you want to learn I will tell you what errors I see in your garden. The first mistake is that whoever planted it did not consider the mature size of the plants. It is better to measure your planting area and then choose plants that will not be overgrown in a year or two. It helps to draw it out on paper.
The second error would be planting too close to the porch. Only the juniper seem to have been planted at an appropriate distance. Again you will need to consider the mature size of the plant.
I'm not telling you what to do.

This post was edited by emmarene on Wed, Oct 2, 13 at 23:17

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 4:41PM
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Yardvaark, yep, you called it. I'm quite happy to hide the ugly concrete porch and the 1960's metal railing that is holding up the roof of my porch. But I can see your point that these shrubs are overgrown, and in need of serious trimming (or elimination). I've attached a broader picture of the house as you requested. Hopefully that will help with suggestions as to what would look better.
Ruth_Mi, your comments are amazingly helpful. I can totally see how the back row seems disjointed - thanks for making that clear. I will definitely do this one step at a time and post pictures along the way. The sand cherry and Japanese yew will be taken out as soon as I get a non-rainy day. And then I will continue from there.
Emmarene, I totally agree that the cedars should never have been planted there to begin with. But I don't quite understand about the gap between the junipers and the railing. If/when I remove the second row, there will be over 3ft between the back of the junipers and the railing. My original question was what to do with the 2 (relatively) little gaps I have now. So I'm definitely at a loss to understand why such a large gap would be needed across the back of the junipers.
Thanks to everyone for your help. I think that with all your continued feedback I can gradually make the necessary changes. I appreciate any further comments you might have. I'll post another picture as soon as I finish the next step.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 6:42PM
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The last picture you posted is very helpful for getting a feel for the landscaping in the context of the yard.

To clarify, I don't think you "need" a gap that's over 3' behind the junipers, which is one more reason that removing everything and starting over might be a great idea. My little list was mostly (from my perspective) removing things in the order where it might do the most good. If it were my house and I couldn't take everything out, the back row would be the first to go.

You might want to post a picture of the walk from the driveway to the porch before you start to get more input.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 8:41PM
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I am showing you a general idea of something that doesn't obliterate your house. The white trunks are so you can see them easier. Don't take the colors literally. It's so you can see shapes and arrangement.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 9:31PM
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Thank you Yardvaark for your sketch. I've been looking at the picture carefully - there are so many things to make note of - everything is different. It will take me a while to transition from the old to the new. Thanks for your help.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2013 at 10:33PM
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Succeed, you are welcome!

Clarifying a couple of things .... I'm not suggesting getting rid of the parkway tree. Not showing it made it easier to see other things in the drawing. I will suggest that you remove some of it lower limbs.

A flowering vine or climbing plant growing at the porch roof support structures could add interest and help provide a sense of semi-privacy without visually obliterating the face of the house ... even if it's just morning glories in the summertime. But there'd be lots of plants to choose from.

I think you might have mentioned earlier not liking the porch railing (?) I think the scrollwork looks dated. If that's what bothers you, too, I'll bet it could be easily detached from the house and transported to a welding shop where the scrollwork could be cut and ground out and it probably would not cost an arm and a leg. New square spindles, to match others, could be welded in place of the scroll work.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2013 at 2:13AM
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Thank you again Yardvaark.
Yes, the first thing that came to mind from your drawing was climbing roses, or perhaps some kind of vine for the roof supports. I'm sure the gardening center will have something appropriate.
I did notice you used color to add interest in several places - this makes the whole effect less "flat". I'm learning.
Speaking of which, I didn't know what "arborvitae" was, so I had to google it. Apparently these are/were considered somewhat sacred by the Native Americans. Rather than kill them, would I likely have any success trying to uproot my cedars and move them to my backyard? I'd LOVE to let them live their lives out in peace, without having to ever get trimmed again. Has anybody ever managed to transplant a cedar successfully?
I also picked up on how you didn't carry the same low plants across the entire front (which might be boring), but split it into 2/5 and 3/5 sections.
As for the new tree addition, I've attached a picture from another angle. The parkway tree stays (the city owns it). I want to get rid of the buckthorn (dead center of the new picture) and replace it with something low like flowers or hostas (there are periwinkles in half that bed now).
The neighbor's tree that is almost touching my porch on the right side is a lilac, and then they have 2 huge cedars to the right of that (my cedars look mini compared to theirs). Because that area is already so "dense", I'm wondering if you would still advise adding a tree or not? I have a boxwood and yet another cedar (just barely visible behind the right-most side of the buckthorn) there now - maybe one of those should be left, and allowed to get just a bit larger?
Thanks for your help.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2013 at 3:12PM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

I agree that the ratty-looking buckthorn is WAY past its prime and needs to be gone. Since there is so much going on very close by in your neighbor's yard, I'm not sure you even need anything there. No bed at all. I am not a fan of having beds "just because I can."

    Bookmark   October 4, 2013 at 5:14PM
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However, I'm really trying to learn something here. Otherwise I really won't get anywhere in the future.

The person who planted the bushes and trees was not paying attention to adult size, growth rates, light requirements, and proper spacing. As a result, you have the "Great Wall of Green" hiding your house.

The question is: do you like being behind the wall of greenery? If so, I'll go away quietly. (mumbling to myself a bit)

If you want to see the front of the house ... at this stage, with things overgrown, crowded and dying, it's a question of picking what lives and what gets removed. Pruning would be unlikely to work well, because to get it down to where you can see the porch and the front door you would be removing so much plant material you would probably kill it.

And you would have to keep pruning to keep it under control.

People freak out at the thought, but it's time for some removing and renovating.

Rather than kill them, would I likely have any success trying to uproot my cedars and move them to my backyard?

No. You can give it a mercifal, fast death or a slow lingering death: your choice.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2013 at 6:32PM
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"Has anybody ever managed to transplant a cedar successfully?" While you might have some positive feelings for them now, I doubt that after making an attempt to move them you would. It would be a lot of work. They would suffer much and would likely not "be happy" or survive. In general, I hold plants in high regard. But practically speaking, they don't have nerves, brains, feelings or desires. While they respond positively to good treatment, it isn't because of desire. It's just because of chemistry and biology. If you put importance on how much beauty a square foot of earth can produce, you might jump at the opportunity to slay those arborvitae. I'm not saying that because of the plants, but because of their result in this situation.

Seeing that your neighbors have already installed a small tree for you, there is no space remaining to add another right in its lap. (If I lived here, I'd be offering to clean up that lilac and make it into a tree form ... instead of half-baked shrub/tree that it is now.) You could extend the bed around it on your side of the lot line as they have on theirs. In the picture, I'm using the same plants they have, but in real life, you might want to simplify it to a single groundcover so it's easier to maintain. It would probably look better, too ... cleaner certainly.

I would replace the buckthorn with lawn. If you do everything else well, there not much room left, making the buckthorn bed seem pinched and out of place. Other than that, I would redo the foundation plantings completely, not being constrained by anything that's there now. It's not that large of a space. It won't cost a huge amount. It would be good to focus on how you can make this small space be the best that it can be. Making it the worst it can be will cost the same amount.

[I wrote the above before reading littlebug and lazygarden's comments. I see we're all basically in agreement ... without conspiring!]

    Bookmark   October 4, 2013 at 9:28PM
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Just a newbee here -- I'm looking for advice on my front as well and was reading this....

I don't mind the juniper one bit - but I would remove everything behind it.

Can you post a photo of the walkway to your house from your driveway? I'd like to see that view -- since that's what people see when coming up to your home.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2013 at 3:00PM
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I guess it's time for the "yes, but's".
1) first of all, thank you for explaining about opening up the view of the house. I took a walk around the neighborhood this morning, and (finally) could actually see the difference between those houses with "opened up" landscaping, and those houses looking "all boxed in".
2) I went to the gardening center this afternoon. Yes, perennials are on sale now, but shrubs are still expensive. I definitely have to do a lot of reading (I went to the library yesterday for some books) to see what plants I can consider. I want to plan carefully first.
3) We're going to move the sand cherry and Japanese yew to the backyard next weekend.
4) Reluctantly I will remove the arborvitaes - I'm guessing we'll just try to dig most of the roots out somehow after the trees are down. However, the ugly roof support columns (with the ugly 1960's metal swirls) will be visible until something manages to grow tall enough to cover them up - ugh.
5) I cannot bring myself to take a picture of the step up from the driveway - it is just too hideously ugly - old carpeting on the uneven concrete porch, ugly railing, ugly driveway, etc. When I can afford to change it, that porch and railing have got to go, but who knows when that will be.
6) I can demolish the buckthorn, but I have to leave a bed there. There is a gas pipe directly under that side of the house, and I can't dig down to get out the buckthorn roots, so we'll just lob it off as close to the ground as we can and put some plants there to hide any little bit of stump still left.
7) Here is a closer shot of that side of the house. The yellow lines show the arborvitaes of the neighbors - tall past the point of no return. The orange line shows their lilac almost touching my roof (which is fine with me, I like lilac). The white line shows my boxwood and the blue line shows yet another arborvitae. If we can get these 2 (the white and the blue) out without the gas pipe giving us a problem, we will do so. But a path has to stay clear on that side of the house so the guy can read the meter, so no, I can't extend the neighbor's flower bed. The green line shows the 3rd arborvitae. We were wondering, seeing as you've drawn in a tree for that side of the house, perhaps that arborvitae should be left in place to satisfy that requirement? Or should the blue, the white, and the green all go?
As always, thanks for your continuing help.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2013 at 6:52PM
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Good idea to take your time planning. No need to rush.

Move sand cherry when dormant (leaves have fallen.) It will make a big difference in its survivability.

Many times, new plants will not be planted as close to foundation as existing plants. You may be able to cut old ones as close to ground as possible and leave roots in place. New plants will eventually screen stumps.

Ah, those 1960's metal swirls ... gotta love 'em! Next Spring, an annual vine can engulf them quickly and buy you time to figure out the permanent solution. Some fresh paint on the railing may make a difference.

With the buckthorn, again, I'd dig down only a little (2" - 3") so a flush cut to the stump can be made and then there is no need to keep a bed there. It is not necessary to dig out the roots. Painting the stump with herbicide CONCENTRATE will likely prevent its resprouting, but it's not a huge deal as regular mowing will discourage it, too. If you put plants there to hide the stump, they will become the eyesore.

"We were wondering, seeing as you've drawn in a tree for that side of the house, perhaps that arborvitae should be left in place to satisfy that requirement?" The lilac could satisfy that requirement, but the arborvitae could not.

If access needs to be maintained through a place where a bed should be, stepping stones are a pretty good solution.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2013 at 11:36PM
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