Design Advice

gary48048September 17, 2011

I have no clue on what or where to plant and this looks like the best forum that I have seen on the net.

I like a lot of color, ground cover, low maintenance, and want to do this right the first time.

Thanks for any advice,


Here is a link that might be useful: landscaping

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What colors do you like and where do you like them?

You already have a ground cover- grass... actually looks like it's in decent condition (except that RR tie? may be killing some of it).

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 6:54PM
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Not too particular about color but would like to have enough varieties that it is colorful all year long. I also like something low to the ground like lyceum or something like that so there is less mulch and hopefuly choke's out the weeds.

I also think that I would like to only plant flower pot's each year and have the landscaping more permanent with as little maintanence as possible.

Thanks for your help,


    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 7:42PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

gary48048, if the 48048 is the your zip code, you're in the USDA's hardiness zone 5b. This is useful for us to know so that we can recommend plants that you can find in your area -- and will survive your winters.

What direction does the house face?

Do you need trees to provide shade?

How low or high do you want the plantings in the bed in front of the porch to be? How deep are the beds in front of the porch (I mean the distance from the porch to the brick edging)?

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 8:18PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I'm not sure it's fair to suggest to Gary that he will get plant or design suggestions... what many of us tend to do is help you to solve your own problems as opposed to solving them for you. Sometimes someone is inspired to sketch up something specific, but mostly we give general advice.

One thing I'm going to start by saying is that low maintenance is what you have now. Nothing is lower maintenance than grass. Any flowerbed you add, and you have to tell us if you are wanting to add them or just change up the ones you have, is going to add work in terms of: edging issues, weeding and mulching, and sometimes deadheading, trimming and pruning, and eventually dividing, moving, and replacing.

"Right first time" also never happens, at least not to me.

I would also suggest you consider your plans to adapt for snow, and specifically, snow clearing. Lots of colour is only going to happen for part of the year; I anticipate that the primary colour the rest of the time will be white!

One of the best ways to learn about plants is to visit your local garden centres regularly through the season; they will always have in stock what looks best at that particular time.

Have you considered starting with trees? Is there anywhere you might want shade or screening of the house?

Karin L

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 9:14PM
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Thanks for advice so far. The house faces East. The beds are about six feet out from the Porch which is about four feet wide. The house is very boxy, has a short narrow walkway, and not symetrical so I am not sure how to handle this.

I was thinking about putting flower pots on the porch placed symetrically and planted each spring for extra color. I am just not sure what or where to plant the other stuff in the beds.

Here is a link that might be useful: landscaping

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 11:27AM
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Don't worry about the asymetry (based on front door location?) as the row of columns and windows make up make a strong symetrical statement. I would be more concerned about the scale of plantings, because of the height of the house (vertical and horizontal).

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 2:14PM
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Gary, as I look at the pictures of your house, I see, more or less, an empty yard. To me this house is screaming "TREES!" As you look at my sketches keep a few things in mind: I'm not trying to be literal. Color in the sketches is 100% meaningless. It's just to show mass, shape, size, etc. and differentiate one object from the next. I'm just trying to be suggestive so don't pay too much attention to detail. And, I start out working limited within the confines of your photo....I'm showing street trees that look like they're 14' apart. You wouldn't really put them that close together but I'm using artistic license just to convey the idea that you need street trees to bring your house to the point of looking like it's established. I can't tell how wide the parkway is. Maybe they'd be better off along your lawn.

I would widen the front walk to 6' wide...bringing it more or less to the center of the house, not centering it on the door. I'd push seasonal color/interest outward toward the corners of house, not pinch it up on the walk/door area. From the front view I'd keep tree at side of house matched.

At the side view, there are 2 sizeable blank spaces on the house (without windows or other architectural features.) While that doesn't bother some people, it does me and that's where I'd plan for some tree canopy to fill in. I like my house plantings to be 3-dimensional, not flat against the house. So I see that as as opportunity for tree form shrubs (limbed up so that you see below the canopy) and small trees in another instance. (I'm not trying to hide your upstairs window; it's partially the camera angle and...I don't want to take the time to go back a fiddle with it.) For example: Lilacs would work well as a limbed up shrub. Redbud would work well as a "grove" of small flowering trees...maybe 5 planted in a fairly tight cluster. It looks like you have a crabapple. It needs to be allowed to grow taller and create walking space below by removing bottom branches.

One groundcover that you could use where you have sun is Dianthus 'Firewitch'...very low, handsome, smooth lawn-like foliage and it's a magenta color blitz when it blooms. Of course, you need more things, but much of that would be better to work out in plan. It doesn't show up well in your pictures.

I'm intentionally ignoring your raised planter bed. For planting trees of most kinds it's pinched up too tightly against the house. It will work for some other things. Or you might want to reconfigure some of it. (Work out the details in a plan.)

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 5:28PM
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The house looms. I think it screams trees, too, but not on the hellstrip (looks like there's a collection of pot holes - any influx of infrastructure monies that get you more than a shovel full of fill, real road resurfacing equipment, digging trenches for buried pipes, etc. will do a number on anything planted there).

I know there are more imaginative trees than maples, but I can see a matched pair slightly off middle of each front yard section. Raking at the end of October to be sure, but plenty of free material for a compost bin. Seems you might want something that brings the house down to scale rather than framing it as Yardviser's mock-ups suggest.

Your house is so vertical, small stuff in the front will get lost and only be seen by standing on the porch looking down at it. Symmetically placed planters on the porch will have the same impact as the two ineffectual urns at the sidewalk. But if you've got a 6 foot depth of planting area outside the porch, that's space enough for some nice shrubs. I'm not trying to think outside the box here, but there are some nice shrubs that can almost "go natural" with very minimal pruning or having to be fussed over. I'm thinking any of the cold climate developed Northern Lights azaleas, ninebarks (Dart's Gold foliage is a chartreuse color), common Snowball Viburnum, Vanhoutt Bridal Wreath spirea.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 6:38PM
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Thank you soo much, that really gives me a better idea or at least a place to start. I like the idea of moving and widening the walkway that looks so much better. I also like to Lilac idea's they grow well here and bloom early spring. The pic's both of you did also look incredible. Thanks again, when it is finished I will post the before and after pic's incase anyone is interested.


    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 6:59PM
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Thank you soo much, that really gives me a better idea or at least a place to start. I like the idea of moving and widening the walkway that looks so much better. I also like to Lilac idea's they grow well here and bloom early spring. The pic's both of you did also look incredible. Thanks again, when it is finished I will post the before and after pic's incase anyone is interested.


    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 7:00PM
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Is it screaming trees because the we want to hide this house? Let's be honest. It is an empty piece of land with a very unattractive hulk of a house. There is very little you can do with color and low maintenance ground cover that can affect that house enough to overcome it.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 9:54PM
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I agree, that's why I am asking for advice, I know nothing about landscaping design but am aware of some planting potentials.

I agree that tree's would deffinately make it look less tall and so boxy not to mention the front of the house is not symetrical. The problem is getting tree's tall enough to scale the size down. I think it is going to take several years for even good size tree's to help it look right. I have heard that Wheeping Willows grow very quickly?

I removed the original shrub's as they were so overgrown it looked like the Adam's Family House not to mention big square Rail Road Timber's around the Porch that were painted white which made it look even more square and boxy. That is why I changed them to the more round retaining wall.

I know that I could plant the usual shrubs just like everyother house in the neighborhood but am wanting to do something more modern. I like the idea of tree's, tree's and more tree's, but also want to do something with the area between the porch and retaining wall in the raised bed's. Also think the sketch for the tree's looks great and the Lilac's are very colorful and also thought about Japenese Maple's although they grow slowly.

Thanks for your advice as I need any that I can get in order to help reduce any bad decisions.


    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 10:25PM
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Gary, don't use a weeping willow on your property or you will be sorry after the first year. They're great on a farm where you have the room to let them grow and not look below. They drop so much crap you could build another house out of it. (Except it would be not a good house.)
As I look at the front more, I might consider wrapping the lilac-size shrubs right around in front of the outer columns just a little...not so far that any trunks were in front of any windows. You really need to explore some ideas about how things fit together in plan view.

A street tree suggestion: 'Greenspire' Linden. They're adorable. I like the idea of a pair of patented red maples for blazing fall color, too.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 11:44PM
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Thanks for the advisement including the willow tree's. I was only considering them as I know they grow very quickly and the other advice I have received is about the house being very vertical, boxy, and needing Tree's.

How do I look at thing's in Plan view. Is there a program that I can purchase that does this. I have researched a couple of local nurseries but they want Two thousand up front to design something but at that point, I would be locked into there plan or give up the deposit.

That is why I am looking for the best advice I can get before I go to one of them. I have looked at as many Colonial Landscaping Idea's and picture's that I could find on Google but did not see anything that matches this big old boxy house.

Maybe I am overthinking the whole process and should just keep it simple but simple to me is not knowing what or where to plant to make thing's right the first time. If I had twenty thousand, I am sure there are many reputable landscaping companies that could make this place look like a palace, unfortunately, I am on a budget for only do it yourself!

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 12:04AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Have you given any thought of putting your landscaping budget into architectural facade remodeling ?
I see more return on your dollar investment in architecture remolding than landscaping.

A few well placed trees and some understory planting will help some but it isn't going to erase the elephant in the room.

Instead of talking to the local nursery I'd suggest that you interview a couple of respected architects and or landscape architects that have a proven track record in addressing integrated architectural / landscape architectural renovation.

Start with the heart of the problem and work your way outwards.
best of luck.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 1:16AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Like DD, I had given some thought to amending the building, for example that you drop the canopy above the porch to be above the porch and below the upstairs windows. If front is east, it must be quite gloomy in those upper rooms a lot of the time.

But I wonder if the "right" landscaping would be the same either way? The house would be considerably more grounded-looking if it had tree canopy around it, and I notice actually that this effect does not require trees to be in front of the house; any chance you can or would want to put some tall-growing trees in the back? That being west, perhaps you could use shade there.

In the front and at the side, as a general rule, I would suggest that the taller the plant material is, the further it should be from the house. There is just something odd about putting really tall plants near the house when there is a broad swath of empty space available next to them.

As for what to put in your bed in front of the porch, I would tend actually to concentrate on plants that make a big impression but stay low. I think I can see hostas used there - there is a tremendous variety of leaf shape and colour, and east is a wonderful exposure for growing hostas well, as well as other large-leaved perennials, or maybe big ferns. If you go that route you could augment them with annuals, perhaps, if flower colour is important.

I would get into shrubs and trees only as you get further from the house. And I would plant those as far away from it as possible, sideways, to the front, or wherever your needs for shade, light, privacy, or view corridors dictate.

When you go tree shopping, pay attention to some that grow more upright than wide, have good big leaves, and give you some fall colour perhaps. I just don't see plants with fussy little leaves and flowers fitting in with this house. Architecturally amended or not, it's a big house on a small lot, and I feel like the plant material needs to convey mass. Are magnolias hardy for you? Rhododendrons?

Finally, you can draw a plan view easily with a pencil on grid paper - draw it well once, make a number of photocopies, and then sketch in some options for where to put trees and shrubs, noting sun direction, considering snow piling, and whatever variables are important. One thing you can scribble around with is pathway options - broad sweeps of pathway can really help to define a property, and they don't always have to go straight from point a-b. Is there a need for a path that sweeps around from driveway to front, maybe branching off to the street? That would be kind of cool. I like your rounded bed, by the way, and am thinking of a similar line. (for a good path, find a concurrent thread by Priscilla7, and note the pathway in the pictures posted in the thread by Deviant Deziner).

Karin L

PS just to clarify previous posts, both the mock-ups are from Yardvisor - Duluth gave some different info only in words.
By the way, do you have any photos of before you removed the shrubbery?

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 4:18AM
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Some imposing architectural styles are made that way precisely with the intention of having them stand out from the surroundings. The Paladio or Paladian style is one, and if you Google it you will see that although on a much grander scale than yours none of these houses have trees or shrubs anywhere near them: the house is the jewel in the crown. Unfortunately yours is not an attractive house and is more like a sore thumb than a jewel.

The fix is going to be expensive and a few scallops near the path and a raised bed close to the house will not do the job. The wider walkway is a big improvement and I would think about a large paved area at the foot of the house with this area surrounded by a formal planting of an evergreen. I think this area will help to root the house to the ground visually as well as provide a place for the kids to play away from the street. In the grass outside this area you can plant ornamental trees but asymmetrically rather than one in each half.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 8:10AM
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Hello! Re-designing your New York back yard can be a daunting task. So, if you need help and are looking for a landscaper in the New York area I suggest you check out Jay Archer of John Jay Landscaping Development - an established landscaper with over 20 years experience.
Check those landscaping designs:

Here is a link that might be useful: Landscaping Designs

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 9:01AM
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Some combination of re-painting the sidiing and columns and figuring out what to do with the window treatments, plus some grounding/softening trees. The trees don't have to be unusual cultivars, so not expensive. Of course the trees will start small, hence the attempt at facade rejuvenation. But it still seems worthwhile to discuss options for the types of heights and forms (mature or maturing) of trees that would improve the landscape for the future, unless gary is moving in a year. Otherwise it seems we can never talk about trees unless we can suggest an instant tree.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 12:48PM
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Gary, plan view is like a map...or a bird's-eye view. You're looking straight down on your property from above. Using this view is how a designer places plants (& whatever else) and knows how much space everything has relative to what's around it. Of course, while designing on a plan, one must think of how things would be as if they're walking on the property and seeing the plants in real life.

To add on to advice about creating a plan, you'd draw a rectangle to represent your lot. A scale of 1/8" representing 1' would probably work for you. Place another rectangle inside the first to represent your house. As you measure the dimensions of things in real life, transfer their measurements into the drawing using your chosen scale. Google images for "landscape plan" and you will see some examples. Remember, it can be very simple with outlines representing most existing elements.

Almost any home can use some architectural enhancement (inside and out) the day that construction is finished. That's what keeps Home Depot alive! However, I disagree with others who say that landscaping won't help you that much. I think it would help you a lot. Plants are miracle workers. You just need some big ones.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 2:46PM
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Yes, it's too bad some builder's plan for Tara didn't come off as envisioned. But sometimes you have to take the OP at their word - if the budget only allows for DIY landscaping projects, I'm going out on a limb and speculate the budget isn't there for a roofline change, dropping the porch canopy, moving the front door to the middle, changing out the second floor windows, and a partridge in a pear tree.

And the way to eventually get big trees is to spend the fast approaching winter (we're already getting nighttime temps in the low 30's here) doing some research on suitable trees - deciduous or even conifers - drawing up some plans and planting whatever size you can afford in the spring. Take a look at Menard's when their outdoor garden centers open again. If you can dig a hole, tease out the rootball of a 4' tree, spend the time to water until well established, you too can have great success with an inexpensive specimen of many nice, but not too exotic trees.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 3:39PM
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Gary, I was poking around and discovered this little "online garden design" tool (see link below.) It's basic, but seems pretty intuitive to use. Change the default settings first to reflect your lot size. & change grid to 1' (instead of 1.5'). Looks like you could quickly draw your existing property features, print out several copies and then start doodling with pencil to explore where to put plants.

If your gardenweb settings were set to accept messages from other members I would make one other comment off of the forum.

Here is a link that might be useful: garden planner online

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 4:19PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Spammer Matthew, go away!

Inkognito, that's a nice approach, well explained. I hope it won't give you apoplexy to suggest, from a practical standpoint, that with the raised bed being newly built it would, and actually should, from a design standpoint, be incorporated, else it would be a bit stark at the front. The curved bed is quite attractive compared to what Gary describes as having been there before. Also, you say paved area, but it seems to me that even if the inside "courtyard" were left as grass (given the cost and work of paving), the plantings positioned as you describe would have the mitigating effect intended, though to a lesser extent perhaps.

Gary, evergreens tend to make their statement through form and density, although they have small leaves, to amend my earlier remarks.

Yardviser, I seem to recall someone saying that you can't get email through the site until you've posted a few times, even if you've set it up. I don't think that applies to getting thread replies though.... and I see Gary isn't getting them - I wonder if he's still reading.

Duluth, quite right, and we also hadn't been asked.

Karin L

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 10:10AM
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