Front yard landscape on fairly small lot

civ_IV_fanOctober 17, 2011

Hi everyone. Moved into a new house last fall. As of yesterday, the 50 year old yew mustache on the front of the house is GONE. So as of today I'm obsessing about how to do my landscape design. Be nice, I've never done this before.

The challenges / opportunities I'm seeing:

- the house is perfectly symmetrical. i don't want my design to knock it off balance

- everything to the right of the sidewalk is under a maple, fairly heavy shade

- sidewalk runs quite close to house, creates forced square in front of half the porch.

- angular lot line

I really have no idea where to go with the shrubs. The porch is pretty high and lattice not so attractive so some degree of evergreen would be nice.

And, for better or worse, I got too excited with a recent order from an internet nursery. The following plants are in the mail:

3 Columbine (canadensis)

2 White baneberry

2 Oak fern

1 Interrupted fern

1 Running serviceberry

1 Downy serviceberry

I don't necessarily intend on using them all in the front, but I'll have them.

I also have available for division/transplant from my rear yard:

Joe Pye Weed

Button bush


A multitude of grasses, unknown types.

European snowball viburnum

Here is an album of a full size sketch plus pictures

Does anyone have any help, criticism, or random thoughts?

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oh yeah, on my little drawing "G" means grass, "Fe" means fern, and "Co" columbine.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 2:40PM
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First random thought - I laughed aloud when I read "yew mustache."

Second thought, re: symmetry: take a look at asymmetrical balance as a starting point to guide some of your future design thinking. One large item can offset several smaller items, or distances can be used the play up (or down) the visual "weight" of elements.

Third thought: look at what you really like, and why you like some things over others. Thinking critically about your preferences can help in the production in an end design that's tailored for you. Pictures can only tell a single story at a time - seek out gardens and landscapes in person as well in which you can be more fully immersed in the experience.

Fourth thought: talk to the nurserymen and nurserywomen in your area. Preferably those from smaller, independently-owned and operated nurseries who know their trade. They can be exceptional resources to know what will work best in your specific area and conditions.

- Audric

    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 8:53PM
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I suggest that you post a picture that shows the overall front at least. (To post a the picture-hosting site you use, find the html code for the picture and paste it directly into a message here.)

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 7:59AM
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there should be a link to an album at the bottom of my first post

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 8:25AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I posted a distance photo of my very similar house and yard on the trees forum in your thread there, but I know my "garden it up to the max" solution is not for everyone. In the case of a small yard like this, it is very important to ask the Joe Eck question: "what do you want to achieve?" I wanted to cram in as many plants as possible, and I did, so my landscape achieves my objectives.

An objective that is often a given on suburban lots is overcoming the effect of the house relative to the property. But in more crowded neighbourhoods, the postage-stamp-sized lots can only be jewelry; there is little room for the concept of grounding the house, balancing the house, framing the house, or what have you.

So to me, spaces like this need to be landscaped as much or more from the inside out than from the outside in. That is to say, what kind of a feel do you want to have when you sit on the porch, or what kind of space to you want to be in when you are in the yard? For me, needless to say, there is a lot of screening wanted, but my neighbour wants a much more open feel, and has it. Paradoxically, this may have to do with house placement: the closer you are to the public sidewalk, the more you might feel that you are on display when sitting on your porch, and wish to have screening or outright privacy.

One thing we often do without even thinking about it is we landscape for daylight, forgetting about the night, or evenings in winter. Hence a lot of my shrubbery is deciduous, as I like to be screened when it is daylight, but not be unable to see out when it is dark most of the day (OK, I'm not THAT far north, but still).

These are the kinds of questions to ask yourself before you make your design. Is a fence wanted, by the way?

I am a bit rushed at the moment but will post later with some details of what I did inside the yard in case they help.

Karin L

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 5:18PM
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Karin -- thanks so much for replying. I hadn't realized there were more replies to my other thread about trees, so I enjoyed going back there and seeing the pictures of your home. Talk about wooded seclusion on an urban-style lot. Looks great.

To some extent, I want to maintain a relationship with the street. If I want more privacy, I can go to my back porch. So privacy isn't necessarily a goal; more of a general coziness.

I have probably spent 12 hours obsessing and researching, trying to figure out what to do. I am in serious analysis paralysis mode right now. I may just repair the lattice work, repaint the foundation area to better match the house, and give myself the winter to figure out what I really want.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 12:10PM
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I have a few thoughts about your sweet house...

To me, the walkways look too narrow, crammed and overly straight. I would be tempted to improve the curb appeal by removing those concrete slabs completely and starting anew. Try experimenting with some staggered brick paver patterns or creating a subtle curve to add some movement to the front yard. You may also consider reducing the lawn to well-edged circles of grass on either side of the front walk.

I would also deepen the beds at the front of the house to equal or exceed the height from the ground to the top of the railing. At least that way you would be able to appreciate the flowers while sitting on the porch. I like the mix that you have before the sidewalk fence. Could you echo that in the new beds whilst incorporating your new purchases? A cottage style garden may be quite appropriate in your setting.

I'm not really familiar with serviceberrys as a front yard specimen tree. Or did you buy them to be used primarily as bushes, fruit crops or wildlife attractants? If it's the latter, there are a number of attractive bird baths and fountains that would suit your front yard. If that is not your goal, would you consider a more robust small tree to visually balance the heavy limbs of the maple trees overhanging your property on the right?

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 11:44PM
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I think that if you removed 6" width from either side of the walk you'd instantly recognize how inferior it just became. On the flip side, ADDING some width to each side would make it superior to what it is now. I would consider reconstructing it at some point, if possible. You could add a soldier course of brick to each side, flush, and greatly enhance its appearance. If I was going to rebuild it, I'd eliminate the step at the public sidewalk and one step at the house. It should be 3 or 4 feet wide.

The lattice is not unattractive in and of itself. Fix it and it will look good.

Your goal for a "cozy" look might be in contradiction with a goal for your house to look "welcoming." To me, the approach to the front door does not look all that friendly. I always think about this as If I were a small group (3 people) coming here for the first time. By the way, we're all wearing really nice expensive clothes and shoes. I notice that we have to walk through that narrow arbor and there are plants which encroach into the walk area. First, I am grateful that you don't have anything growing on the arbor, or it would be impossible. Next I know that even if plants and things look nice, they're actually dirty. We can't walk through there without getting something on our clothes. Then, we see that we must rearrange ourselves to walk to the house single-file...which is not as nice as if we can approach in pairs. One of our party has a limp so the step might be an issue. As we look at this and "group think," we come to the conclusion that it would be better if we walk up the drive and cut across the lawn. Now, we're grateful that there is no dew on the grass or that it hasn't freshly rained. If it had, we'd be in a tizzy.

I wouldn't have plants within 2' of walk that were higher than ankle height.

I'm not opposed to arbors, but that one is too narrow and too short.

The house is very cute. I would not be trying to cover up the view of it with foliage masses.
I'd move the Serviceberry to the left and as close to lot line as possible. Or on the side of your house/porch. One of its goals would be to "insulate" the view of your house from the house on left (as viewed from street.)

I'd hide the ends of the steps with a 3' ht. shrub. Then nothing but low groundcover in front of the rest of the lattice...possibly another shrub at the porch ends/corners.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 11:58PM
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thanks for the fantastic advice, adrienne and yardviser. i hadn't thought about the width of the walk or the arbor. but both are too small. just today i was leaving the house with an umbrella and had to collapse it just to get though that arbor. i've thought about building something wider and more substantial, but i may just move it to the side of the house as an entrance to future side gardens. money is tight so i'm not sure about adding width to the sidewalk right away, but i will avoid the temptation to plant ankle-grabbers right next to the walk.

lots to think about.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 7:56AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Looking again at your diagram, I'm hoping that on the right side, the triangle by the little sidewalk is meant to be paved. If that is your car, I would do quite a lot of paving area, a landing pad if you will, perhaps with a bench or table to help with unloading the car - really expanding on as you've shown, or fully replacing, your little sidewalk. Focus on the shape of the paved area, it should be nicer than you've drawn. Your plants can be around that, but which plants they are is irrelevant at the moment, all that can be certain is that they will die from being stepped on if the area is not big enough! Plants will come and go over the years anyway; just get the paving right. Even if that is not your car, I would be surprised if neighbours did not step there.

The left side can be your gardening extravaganza side since it doesn't have to be passage to anywhere. Just make paths of some sort through the planting areas. I would not worry about symmetry. The house is so symmetrical that nothing can "throw that off." And since the yard is already not symmetrical, I would simply ignore the issue. In a yard this size, the task is really what I call "microlandscaping" - meeting your needs at this spot, and that spot, with the outcome being the sum of the parts. My observation in my area of historic houses with tiny yards is that the overall effect is usually good. The house so overwhelms the space that the gardening can't alter the impact the house makes.

So, in a bid to win the award for "worst sketch ever posted on the LD forum" I hereby submit a diagram of my postage-stamp front yard abutting a house very similar to yours, with a full-width elevated porch and central door. Please be clear that I am not recommending this, but just showing it as a model (if you can't be an inspiring example, be a horrible warning...). My space is really reflective of ME, and as we slowly approach the idea of selling it someday, I know I will be changing it a lot in order to sell it.

When we bought the house, there was basically nothing, well, except for a flowering quince off to one side that was poised to consume most of my gardening time for the ensuing 5 years with first pruning and then removal.

The "design" process has been incremental, marked by what were sometimes good ideas that did not work for the existing constraints, for example, a diamond-shaped patio on the right that we removed because it quickly got buried in debris from the neighbour's giant-and-growing conifer (now removed). This layout evolved partly in response to existing constraints and opportunities (one bed, for example, is where it is to incorporate a large shrub that I was not ready to remove), and partly as an actual design as we gained experience living in this space and learned what our needs were.

To explain the diagram below, I've put in grey the lines of sidewalk as they originally were, and shaded in overtop in red what we did as paving instead. The green areas are the planting beds, and the white open space is simply mulched. The big circles denote the canopies of major trees and shrubs. There is a fence that I haven't shown. Also, out front is a public sidewalk, and a hellstrip before the street.

To say it's crowded would be an understatement. With most of the plantings being shrubby or tall, the white areas are quite enclosed - and I think the drawing makes them a bit too big; other than the red patio it is not quite to scale.

The small patio to the left makes an amazing difference for such a small adjustment. It gives me a space to "be" and to keep stuff in the front yard that is comparatively private, shielded by what I call the "isthmus" of plantings extending from the left property line. Converting that sidewalk to a patio also allowed me to enlarge the foundation bed on that side (yes, I do have foundation beds!) which I wanted to do because that seemed to be a place that my favourite plants thrived. The patio is just dry-laid 2'x2' slabs, some cut on the diagonal.

All the beds are actually raised beds enclosed by boulders; My porch foundation is fortunately masonry so I can pile dirt against it, and I am on a bit of a side slope so the beds are built up to even that out.

In real life, the whole composition is just a mass of canopy, but that is how I like it. My primary gardening interest is in foliage; the overlay of different leaves and the contrast among them, as well as in the up-close changes that plants go through, so being really immersed in the plants rather than seeing their shapes from a distance works for me.

The driveway is not ours, by the way.

Regarding your arch over the entryway, it might be relevant to mention that I have an arch "in effect" due to overhanging foliage that is actually an irritant. If I am standing on the porch, I can't make eye contact with someone standing on the sidewalk unless I bend down to look through the "arch." So when you have an elevated door, I would not recommend the arch, especially not with plants growing riotously over it. From the outside, the arch frames a view of the bottom half of the door or of your feet if you are there. We actually had to put our address on the top step (riser) because no one could see it above the door.

I hope that helps for starters. You will develop your own garden personality and way of "being in the space" that will drive later decisions and amendments to whatever you do now. And in that process of discovery, for me, is the fun of home landscaping. And this is very different from owning a larger lot, although perhaps your back yard is bigger. On a small lot, you do tend to spend time in or use every corner, so nothing is really just for looking at - it is all about how you experience it.

Karin L

    Bookmark   October 24, 2011 at 12:37PM
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Karin L -

Thanks for your post. Sorry it took so long to reply, life got really intense the last couple of days. This thread really has me looking at that arch. I'm going to take it out and probably not replace it at all. I'm of two minds about because my street has a lot of sidewalk and a fair amount of car traffic, but I think everything will tie together a lot better without the too-short arbor that frames the wrong part of the house.

Also, I like the idea of paving some of the yard next to the driveway. I hadn't intended that initially, but laying down pavers I think is a very good idea. I notice that I stand in the grass next the driveway all of the time - when i'm getting out the baby, putting in bags, whatever. Some type of landing area is critical.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 8:14AM
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Real LIfe Garden Solutions

Disclaimer: My first time even reading this forum, and I'm a total novice at all things "design". But would you consider removing the street entrance entirely and having the path to the front door coming creatively from the driveway?

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 6:57PM
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I definitely want to keep the street entrance, though I am going to get rid of the arbor. About 40% or more of the trips to and from the house are pedestrian, so I need to keep that relationship with the public sidewalk. I think it all depends on context, but I have definitely seen people have only a driveway sidewalk. I do need to also have a better path from the driveway, and to accomplish that I may end up laying pavers that cover quite a bit of the front yard next to the driveway....maybe next year.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2011 at 11:42AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

I enjoy the planting aspect of landscape design but to me there has to be good landscape architectural bones in order to enhance and support a good softscaping scheme. From

With that said, this is how I would approach your project.
1. remove arbor. it doesn't frame the house and constricts pedestrian traffic.
2. widen the central main path. Bluestone or a New England slate would work great with the colors of your house and the exisiting concrete sidewalk.
3. install a boot shaped secondary path from the driveway. wide enough at the point where it meets the driveway so that it is the length of two car doors.
This will allow for the every day need of getting in and out of the car without stepping on the lawn and will make it easier/ more stable when snow season comes.
4. Install a sense of entr about 3 to 4 feet in from the end of the main entry. Pick up the same details that are in your architecture. Emulate the posts on the front of the house down by the sidewalk. Make them gate height - about 36 to 38 inches tall with nice flange moldings. Install a very simple gate.
( walpole woodworkers has some nice ones to inspire ) :

  1. It's not absolutely necessary but a nice stacked ledgestone border to address the grade change would be nice. Start from the corner of the gate post and move across the width of the property.
    Bookmark   October 31, 2011 at 12:38PM
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deviant -

thanks so much for taking the time to sketch that and sharing. that is basically exactly what I want, and I didn't even realize it. the gate idea is awesome. it seems a little weird without a fence, but the front planting is dense enough that it is an effective fence. i love it.

my inclination would be to use the same material for the boot shaped secondary path / pad as what is used for widening the sidewalk. do you think that makes sense?

    Bookmark   November 2, 2011 at 11:54AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

my inclination would be to use the same material for the boot shaped secondary path / pad as what is used for widening the sidewalk. do you think that makes sense?
It would tie it all into one cohesive plan by repeating elements of the same hardscape / surface design.

The single gate without the fence is not my original idea. I've seen it done in New England many times at small Cape Cod cottages and also at small cottages in the Cotswolds of England.

I did a similar gate design for a small cottage in Marin county about 12 years ago and it was so well received in the neighborhood that the design was repeated by several of the neighbors. I'll try to dig up a photo of it from my archives.
I used a short clipped privet hedge on either side of the gate to create a sense of enclosure. I've seen others use boxwood or a lovely densely planted perennial border, much like your own.

Below is a photo lifed from google showing a stand alone gate that is painted the same color as the house
From October 31, 2011

I think it is a rather charming look.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2011 at 5:36PM
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