Seeking design ideas: converting cottage garden to contemporary g

karin_mt(4 MT)September 9, 2012

Over the course of the past year our house has undergone a very cool facelift. It once was a sweet, traditional ranch house. Now it is a sleek and contemporary house that suits our tastes very well.

I am keen to rearrange the landscaping adjacent to the house so that it matches the style of the house. The overstuffed, informal, billowy look of a cottage garden will not play with the contemporary cues of the new house.

Here are some 'before' photos.

These photos are in an inset area, named the nook garden.

In the past this area was planted in a theme of mostly white flowers (with a white cat to match, I am very specific about my matching (kidding)). This spot has gone through several iterations and had some good moments and some awkward phases. I definitely like the all-white theme though.

Here are some 'after' photos of the house.

The photos below show the same place that formerly contained the white garden. It needs a new path and new plantings. I am going for tidy rather than overflowing. I'm seeking ideas for both the path and the planting design.

For the area in front of the porch, a few things dictate the design. There used to be a railing on the porch and now there is no railing. Thus plants will want to be low, or if they are tall they need to be tall in a wispy way, like grasses or Siberian iris. No tall shrubs allowed. That said, I think the corner by the rain barrel (left side in these pictures) can have a nice shrub and I have a 'Summerwine' ninebark for that spot.

Note we have another matching cat who appreciates the grey and white trim. :)

I've already put in new stonework at the left side of the porch. This used to be a stepping stone path that was adorable but annoying. I walk this route all the time and I'm really loving the big cut stones for their look and the ease of walking. I've taken most of the plants out and will move or remove those that remain.

This spot faces east and we are in chilly zone 4, although I can squeak zone 5 plants through the winter up close to the house. I'm very interested in ideas or input from the fine folks here. Sorry this is such a long post, but at least there are some cats for added interest!

Thanks for reading!


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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

You appear to have a red theme going on there so I'd be inclined to use that as a starting point. Summerwine Ninebark looks great with reds (particularly rusty reds) and oranges and peachy shades. I have a Summerwine in my 'hot' bed along with things like dayliles, roses (Paprika and Peachy Cream Oso Easy roses work farticularly well with the dark ninebark foliage), bulb lilies, helenium etc. in red, peach, orange and some creamy shades (in the liles) and we love it.

The pale pink flowers on the ninebark are annoying though! It would be better if it didn't flower at all. Since there were existing pink roses at the far end of our 'hot' bed that have fabulous red hips in the fall, we wanted to keep them. The bed is set up to shade from pink to peach to orange to red so the pink flowers on the ninebark are somewhat tolerable - but just barely. I think you could work nicely with the drama of reds and related shades, dark foliage and perhaps red and silver in it's own separate area (the nook?)

Mind you, you'd need to add a calico cat to the pride! :-)

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 10:06PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Thanks for the input Woody, I like those ideas. Red would be a whole new frontier for me because I have almost zero red flowers in this entire yard. So that would take some serious thinking on my part to expand my vocabulary. I agree that the ninebark foliage plays well with other interesting colors. I have two dwarf spruces, 'Waldbrun,' which are halfway between green and blue, that I think will be interesting in here somewhere.

Other candidates for this area, plant-wise, are Siberian iris (love the structural foliage), Russian sage, more oat grasses, some good sedums, heuchera, and most likely some roses. I know that roses don't quite fit the contemporary theme but I just love them and they do very well here. But overall I want to be sure to keep a light, airy feeling and not pack stuff in there.

Oh, and a calico cat would be a darling addition to the family!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 10:36AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

I only got 'into' reds (and orange and peachy tones)in the last couple of years. I used cool reds elsewhere in the garden but the hotter tones are only a few years old in the garden. There are striking - and it's true that guys are drawn to red! DH takes more pictures of reds than anything else in the garden :-) I had to look up that spruce you mentioned - very nice. Interestingly, it appears to be almost a sage green - my 'hot' bed is also the herb bed, dominated by old culinary sage plants that are now woody shrubs in almost the color of that spruce. So I think that spruce would definitely find a happy home in a hot color scheme!

Do you have daylily 'Commissar' and Frans Hals'? Commissar is an extremely vivid red-orange and Frans Hals is an orange striped one. Together they are vivid, relatively long-blooming, beautiful and very striking companions to Summerwine. The cool sage-green is a perfect foil for the hot stuff.

I think you'd be happy in the red frontier :-) Include some things with red berries for the winter - viburnum berries look beautiful in the snow...

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 12:56PM
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Karin, I'm having trouble discerning what is the exact focus, scope and limits.

The first impression I get from the overall view of front yard is that there is lots of sun, but not a sense of outdoor shelter or being integrated into a protected setting. It's more like the house is sitting on top of the ground in open space. Maybe that's intentional. I would want a couple of smallish/medium flowering trees near the house and larger ones farther away. The house architecture seems crisp and clean. The flagstone paving does not ring in the same vein to me, but I think it could with a perimeter that was crisp. I would consider bordering it with a flush, smooth-troweled band of concrete about 8" wide but that connected to the shapes of the flagsone. As far as paving layout goes, I prefer where you have it arranged in rectilinear fashion as opposed to where it is either curving or angled (can't tell exactly, but in the last photo.)

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 2:16PM
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I forgot... what's the blue plant in your second photo?

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 2:18PM
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Looks to be a Rosanne Geranium.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 2:41PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

We are all entitled to our opinions right? I really liked the way the home looked prior. Kudos to you for taking a risk on the architecture.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 4:35PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

I know nothing of what grows in your zone, but for a quick example of a switch to contemporary, you could fill the front planters and nook with 3-5" size grey riverstones to match your window trim, then use some more structural plants in a formal way. Or, add more of your contemporary pots set into the stones at regular intervals, with the structural plants in the pots. Plants I would use in California might be Equisetum (horsetail), Anigozanthus (kangaroo paws), a red Phormium (New Zealand flax), or Xanthorrhea quadrangulata. Just a thought to get your own thoughts rolling...

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 7:46PM
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I think you need a large sitting rock. Perhaps some basalt columns to act as a seat and back.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 8:02PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Hi Karin,
I'm am struck by the similarites of your project and a project that I worked on 2 summers ago.
The clients wanted to transform their simple ranch style house into a contemporary farm house.
They have the same planting nook as you do and the same long entry porch.
We opened up the entry by installing a large curving 2/3 dia. rock wall with a seating height of 18 inches . The big open entry arc patio provides a very nice sense of arrival and entry. It also provides a nice tableau to place some interesting antiques, which the clients have done.
The nook ( zone 9 ) is planted with a mix of ornamental grasses and a low hedge of escallonia ( looks like boxwood but flowers a deep rose colored bloom )

I could see a small growing dark colored bronze foliaged shrub/ small tree in your nook. Something like a Cotinus purpurea surrounded by some bold upright ornamental grasses.
Or a small tree with very interesting contorted sculptural reddish bark - like a manzanita or madrone (zone 9ish) or for your zone a prunus serrula or acer grissuem. .. it's the deep dark reddish bronze color that I am trying to interject into the 'scape .

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 8:22PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

These are great ideas, thank you!
I am traveling this week so will only be able to chime in in the evenings, but I am enthusiastic about the input, so thanks for your thoughts!

Whaas, I respect your opinion, and it was a perfectly nice house before we took the plunge. And the gardens were really dialed. As I posted these photos I was cringing a bit at how nice it used to be. But we have no regrets and we are thoroughly enthused with the new design.

Yardvark - the scope of the project is open-ended. I don't object to the front sidewalk or entry area so I'd need a compelling reason to change it. So mostly I am looking for themes that are in keeping with the new architecture and colors. The nook garden is the blankest slate since it needs new stonework anyway, it can be just about anything.

I agree with you about the existing stonework in the last photo that you referred to. The angular stone is the edge of the former stonework, and the rectangular slabs mark the beginning of the new work. I was sorely tempted to take it all out, but it's a rather large area that wraps around our greenhouse and it wouldn't have been wise to regress that far. Anyway, a concrete edge sounds nice and sleek. Is that something a DIYer could do? We will likely add some poured concrete elsewhere in the yard, but not for a couple of years.

So, that nook - Deviant, I agree with the thought of a sculptural tree. In fact I have tried that several times and never got it to work. I am not one to kill plants but I killed an impressive number in that spot! I'm not sure why, but it's pretty hot in there with heat radiating off the walls. It's also only 15 feet wide, which further limits the choices. I could try a Black Lace elderberry but I don't think it would be happy there.

One thought is a low hedge in an L-shape following the walls. Boxwood is not hardy here so I have been pondering green mound currant. That would be tidy but also boring. In front of that I'd have about 2 feet for color or texture.

I could get the burgundy color in a low hedge with barberry... if I didn't hate barberry. :)
I could use a hedge of roses like Winnipeg Parks which has green to burgundy foliage and magenta flowers. But would red and magenta fight with each other? I suppose I could do a hedge of red roses but I don't know of them offhand being a fan of the pink colorways. But that idea could work.

That entry area sounds lovely. Do you have a photo of it?

Catkim, yes - I love the look of regularly-spaced structural plants, particularly when they are in containers. Deviant posted a photo like that awhile back and it was really nice. So those are good thoughts indeed.

And lastly to Tanowicki, I am definitely a fan of rocks and columnar basalt! But this spot just doesn't call to be sat in. Which is too bad because that would be a neat way to use the nook. I have no formal design training so all I can say is that some spots beg to be sat in and others just fall flat in this regard.

Oh, and the red daylilies are a must. I was going to use Hyperion (yellow) because I already have it and it's a champ. But the red is a much better idea.

Sorry to be so long-winded. That's my enthusiasm kicking in. :) I really enjoy the whole process of building a garden. Thanks again for the thoughtful replies.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 11:57PM
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Karin, nothing wrong with an open-ended project, but I've noticed that as a forum subject, they can become somewhat disorganized as the pile of information grows to extended proportions... which is their nature because there's so much that needs to be covered. I think it's better to break them into bite size chunks that progress in logical manner. For example, if there's hardscape, to deal with it first. A large area--like a front yard--might include smaller areas--like a nook--but it should be looked at as a front yard, overall, first, without concern for other areas that can't be seen in the same view. Your property seems to extend a bit which makes it hard to know exactly where the limits of the focus are. If you had a plan sketch of the portion under consideration, it would be useful. It's my LACK of knowledge about the physical extent of the project that has me asking the question.

I think that placing a concrete edge around the perimeter of flagstone would be easily within the reach of DIY. While it would be easiest as new construction, it would still be possible to retrofit as long as there is working space outside of the walk. It would require installation of 2 x 4 form-work to contain the perimeter of concrete (which would be fairly simple... excavation, pounding some wood stakes into the ground and screwing them to the back of the board) and the use of basic tools: trowel, edger & jointer. Of course, you'd need to make sure the form-work was pitched correctly so that the walk drains, but none of the skills required is difficult. It's the kind of a project that can be done as one has time. It's not like a driveway pour where it all needs to happen at once and requires a team of pros. If a person has never worked with concrete before it can seem like a daunting proposition, but in actually, many of the small projects are not only easy, the're fun and because they result in a nice project, can be very rewarding. It's easier to work with concrete than it is to hear the rules and principles explained. Starting small and learning the basics helps. (A YouTube video could explain those.) And it's like cooking... overworking the food does not make it better. One must proceed at the rate dictated by the concrete curing process. In other words, don't rush things that require waiting. Just wait and they become easy.

I noticed you didn't respond to my question about the openness vs. trees. Not sure if you missed it or are willing the question away. ...?

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 12:46PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Hi Yardvaark,

Thanks for your response.

No, I am certainly not willing away the question of planting trees near the house. I missed it. :)

On the old landscaping we had exactly such a tree, a neat little dwarf crabapple planted at the left front corner of the porch. It turned out to be an unsuccessful planting. The tree itself was not vigorous and the location was not quite right either. In general I really like the look of a small flowering tree planted at/near the corner of a house, but perhaps the bed was too small for it to work gracefully.

So we cleared it out along with its neighbor shrubs when we took down the porch railing. With the long/low front porch, I'm very hesitant to plant anything too tall in that vicinity. I like the openness.

The rest of the front yard is done, and contains trees and a huge garden and informal fieldstone wall along the roadside. So it's only the area along the front of the house that I'm looking at here. (The side yard project is in another thread about the stone wall, and if a photo of the whole front yard would be useful I can add that here.)

I agree that working with concrete sounds daunting because I've never done it, but your description really helps. I can imagine that it wold be fun and satisfying. It would make a nice edge to the stonework. FYI, the new path in the nook garden will be with cut, square stones, so it won't have the random look of the current stone path. I think that will help smooth things out, visually speaking.

Anyway, I have a scale drawing of the nook area, but not with me so I can add that when I get home if that would be helpful.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 10:06PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

front entry of the renovated ranch house to a modern farmhouse

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 12:58PM
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Not quite sure how to read your comments about liking the look of a tree planted near the corner of the house and liking the openness, too. So I'll just toss out the idea of having a tree near--but not too near--both corners. It looks like there is a tree in front of the house now. It seems to me that it would be better moved toward the side. Don't know what it is, but I could see something like Sorbus aucuparia or one of the new hybrids based on that "model." They put on quite a show every year and there are many new and beautiful fruit colors. To my thinking, one component of having trees there is to keep them limbed up sufficiently that they don't block views from and to house. I also think multi-trunk versions would have greater impact.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 10:13AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

One advantage I see with the tree Yard has put on the right is that it would, as it gets tall, help blend the (to me) discordant rooflines by screening out the dropped roofline in the middle. (I'd shift that tree a bit to the left of where Yard shows it...)

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 3:54PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Replacing the tree in the front yard is on the next-year list. Your guess of Sorbus acucuparia was spot on; that's what this one is. It began as a multistem tree and is losing one trunk per year. I think voles may be eating the bark just below the soil surface. Now it has only one trunk that is leaning at an odd angle. So that will be replaced for certain, and perhaps the bed that contains it will be moved or reconsidered.

No other trees are on the table for now. We have glorious mountain views and we have been very careful to frame them deliberately. In this case I'm much more concerned with the view from the house than the view of the house. The tree on the right in Yardvaark's photo would block a spectacular view. Of course, you had no way of knowing that. :) But rest assured, the front yard has generous clumps of aspen trees that do soften the overall look of the front yard.

Also Yardvaark, it's pretty easy to reconcile liking the idea of a tree yet not actually wanting one. In the abstract, small trees look nice anchoring house corners. Yet in specific, in this particular case with the long and lean layout of the front porch, I prefer that to be left open. Make sense? That said, if I could find the perfect, small, well-behaved, interesting tree to put in the left corner of the foundation, I would consider it. I've always wondered about Hawthorne trees because they stay narrow.

Deviant, I just love the look of that entryway patio and porch. That creates a very welcoming face on the house and is probably a lovely place to linger and socialize with the UPS guy. Thanks for sharing the photo.

Thanks for the ideas and input, I am benefiting from the collective wisdom here. I am home from my trip now and will have a look at my space with fresh eyes.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 10:35AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I like the idea you're concerned about the view from the house instead of the house. That's the way I think also. I spend more time in the house and yard than I do sitting on the curb. Privacy, and maintaining good views, trump the highly over rated curb appeal in my opinion.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 12:48PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

I agree that the views out are very important - but rooflines are one of those things that bug me, particularly in renovated houses. If this was my house, the dropped roofline in the center portion would bother me everytime I arrived home :-) I think a unified roofline like this:

would make the house look more whole. A tree planted such that the trunk was kept limbed up high enough not to impair the view, but whose canopy would visually fill that void in the middle would be a lot chaper than another renovation project :-) (I'm a bit obsessive about rooflines but it's not an obsession for most people I think, so feel free to ignore me....:-)

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 3:53PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Yes, I see your point. The roofline was like that before the remodel and had it bothered us we could have easily fixed it when we re-roofed. But it's never bothered us and, sigh, now that you have pointed this out, I'll try not to let it bother me from here on out. :) It might be one of those things that looks more natural in person, or yes, it might be something that bothers certain people and not others. Actually I think it adds some variety to what is otherwise an overly plain roofline.

Regardless, I appreciate the input. And yet, there will still be no such tree obscuring the mountains from the kitchen window. :)

That said, I am giving due consideration to a tree in that left corner. I hope to start planting this weekend so I had better hurry up and decide.

And in other news, the crabapple trees in the back yard are yielding a massive harvest so I just took the first round of applesauce out of the canner. Yay for fruit trees that are both a pleasure to look at and to eat from. :)

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 4:22PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

ooh - you have edible crabapples?! Have you ever tried stewing them whole (with the stems on) in water, sugar, a couple of cloves and a pinch of nutmeg? Cook them until the flesh starts falling off and then eat them by picking them up by the stems and sucking off the skins and flesh. Kids love it :-) It's the way grandma cooked them for us way back when :-) Most edible crabapples these days are rather wimpy-tasting but if your tree is a robust old variety, you could be eating one of my favorite desserts...

Back to design... The roofline is not plain because of the new rooflines of the addition. Simplifying the old roof highlights the new one IMO.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 5:08PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

I love edible crabapples. We have two 'Dolgo' trees and they are intensely flavorful, tart and very "appley."

Your recipe sounds delicious and I will try it. My normal process is to stew them whole then run them through a food mill. So I could stop one step short of that and eat them as-is. That sounds like fun, thanks for the idea.

Photo is a portion of today's canning with my new Weck jars, which I am in love with.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 8:39PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

Looks yummy...!

Your house came to mind while we were walking the dog this morning :-) There is a house down the street very much like yours in that a two story addition was put on an older bungalow in much the same orientation as yours. Looking at that one made me realize that what is also 'missing' from yours is that entrance transition space (like in the lemonade from lemons thread). So, for my own amusement, I tried mocking up putting a dormer over the front door in the style of the one over your balcony. The angles aren't quite right and it's shifted a bit too far to the left, but I quite like the look :-) OK, I'll stop bugging you now....

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 10:45AM
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Just for adding 2 my centavos, the roof line neither bothers me as shown by Woody or in it's existing configuration. I think both follow good rules of architecture so don't offend. As far as preference, I might like the existing a little better for its added interest. The reason I put the tree in the vicinity was not to obscure the roof line, but to "knit" the house better to earth. (I think some people call this "anchoring" but I don't think that term is a good one.) Houses without trees around them look a little naked and exposed to me. I don't know where the kitchen window is, but I'm certain that a tree could be configured in such a way so as not to block a view. That said, if the owner does not wish it, no one will show up and plant it anyway.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 11:34AM
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