60's ranch - first plantings in almost 50 years

texdal23October 6, 2010

We moved into our current house early last year, a 60's ranch in original condition. We've been focused on the inside, and are now turning our attention outside.

The house is all brick - a brownish tan - and we're doing gutters and trim only. We were going to do the brick as well, but were talked out of it due to natural beauty. One comment everyone has made was how dated the landscaping is. I know that is true but I haven't yet decided how to handle the front beds, or what I can do with the planter boxes. We considered removing them, but since they're original, I'd like to try and keep them.

These aren't the best pictures for looking at landscape, and I'll try and snap some better ones this morning.

We just had the live oak trimmed, so all the planting underneath was waiting to see how much sun I have to work with.

The large bed under the live oak I have planted with purple wintercreeper and ferns. I'm thinking color up front, but I probably need to decide on new shrubbery first.

No irrigation, but a lot of hand watering. Grass is bermuda - natural and native I'm sure; I seeded some in the back but most everything in the front is basically improved and well watered prarie land. We bought the house from the original owners, and they didn't believe in pouring perfectly good water out ... Thus, mostly dirt and gravel. We're trying to improve but 50 years is a long time to make up for. The gravel on the left side of the house used to cover more of the yard, and I hope to eventually take it all out and sod over, but I guess we're overwhelmed!

The goal was exterior beautification, and what started as paint is now much more inclusive.

I definitely want to do something interesting in the front yard, and I think the photenia's block the house -- I'm wondering if there's something else I can use that's a bit less uniform. Almost all you can see from the street is the roofline.

We were thinking of planters framing the door to get our color that way, and keep the front door in a chocolate brown.

The issue is that we side up to a very busy street, and the bushes block the view from inside.

Thanks in advance! I'm lost!

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make the bushes block to five sphericity shape shrub...maybe you select some ideas:

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 12:51AM
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Thanks -- I like that idea, with the blocking on the left. Adds interest without sacrificing privacy, and I can find some colors to play with.

It's hard for me to imagine the house without the photenia's. Thank you for the photoshop. the house looks so much more interesting without the bushes - which just highlighted the unbroken low roofline and wide roof, with little color to stand out.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 2:00AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

There's a great-looking house hiding behind those shrubs!

Definitely remove the photinias to give the house more space. If you need something to block the street, then plant mixed shrubs along the street. Curve the bed so it's deeper where the driveway meets the street. You probably don't want tall shrubs immediately adjacent to the street (they would look too like a hedge or fence). So plant a few feet of groundcover at the curb, then the shrubs (I can't suggest specific plants because I don't know what works in your zone). Then flowers or another groundcover on the house side of the shrubs. The shrubs will be the backdrop for those plants when viewed from the house.

You don't have to have a solid hedge effect unless you want that. You can plant different varieties, different types and colors of foliage, different heights.... But not too many diffences, or it will look too busy and unrestful. You can plant in zig-zags or clusters (for some reason, odd numbers work better), or skip space between them. You can plant a small tree or two.

Be sure to keep the new shrubs low enough so they don't block sight lines for cars exiting the driveway.

A mixed bag of other thoughts:

If you did tear out the brick planters, I'm not sure you could remove the dirt stains from the lower bricks of the house. Of course that might not matter if you planted foundation shrubs.

I'd remove all those low shrubs in the planters (boxwood?). I can't see any reason to have shrubs that block the windows (YMMV). How much space is there between the top of the planters and the bottom of the windows? Not much. Consider something for under the windows that trails over the edge of the planter to soften the hard horizontal line. It's too stripey!

Between the two windows on the left, do plant some taller shrubs -- but not a solid wall of them. I think taller shrubs are less necessary in the other expanses of brick, but you may find that a few are needed elsewhere for balance.

Did you raise the soil level around the live oak? I'm hoping someone more knowledgeable than I am will comment on the root flare.

A chocolate door would look good with the brick, but consider the effect of dark windows and a dark door. Would white sheer curtains help? (The kind that have rods at top and bottom, so they don't blow when the door is opened.)

It would be helpful (for those who know your climate and can suggest particular plants) to know which direction the house faces.

I really wish I could steal your live oak.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 3:12AM
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The house faces West - so afternoon sun. I should have included that in my first email. The house faces west, and the busy street i'm concerned with borders my house on the north. There's a good sized side yard and a brick wall. So, it's angled, and we don't need the whole wall.

It's just hard to visualize without the Photenia's!

Thanks for the note on the Photenia's! That's exactly the kind of advice we need. Could you explain what you mean by curve the bed near the street, so it's deeper? I'm trying to visualize and having a hard time. With the photenia's gone, I'll have a semi-circle to work with. You're suggesting a more random smattering of bushes, with ground cover in front and back? If I'm in the street looking at the house, I see ground cover, then shrubs -- behind that is the drive way, and on the other side of that the tree on one side and crepe myrtle on the other.

God thought on the planter boxes. There are a lot of creeping/spreading plants that would go perfectly there. Do you think I need to build beds out in front of that, then That's where I really get confused, planning multiple levels/layers. The way the planter boxes are situated, they're nearly full sun with the roof extending completely over. I can have something that drapes over the front but doesn't get much height, so as not to cover the windows.

Thanks for the door comment - we do in fact have white sheets (no rod on the bottom), but we're still looking at curtain fabrics. So, there are white sheers with nothing in front of them - and you still wonder about dark windows. That says something about my shade situation! It's definitely brighter with the live oak.

How does the tree look otherwise? Your root flare question concerns me. I've raised the soil level perhaps 1-2" in aggregate. I lost a lot of soil over the summer during a series of rains between the house and the tree. My gutters weren't functioning properly, and I ended up with a small stangnant lake between the base of the tree and the house.

I had some guys move soil from the front to the back, which helped some, but with rusty gutters, there's only so much you can do.

I've been reading up on soil amendments and plantings, and have added compost and expanded shale and topsoil down 6", and mulched over. Net result is more soil around the tree, but every rain since then has taken more away. I was hoping that the wintercreeper would creep out and work to contain the soil. Alternately I've considered building a brick border around the 'bed', to act as a mini retaining wall.

the bed is big and I'm not sure I like seeing no break from house to driveway.

The circular driveway splitting my yard into thirds is really throwing me off!

Thanks for your great tips.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 10:16AM
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I like the photinias from inside the house side--dislike them from the street. I'd be tempted just to add a (mostly) perennial bed in front of them facing the street and keep them as the backdrop.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 11:56AM
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I had thought about doing something like that as an interim step, to see how we like it. I'm just lost on where to place the bed.

I'm thinking we can place it off center to the front left, not symmetrical.

Our last house was so much easier - built in the 80's and the beds were already there, so all I had to figure out was what to plant - not where.

Getting to redesign is fun---so many possibilities. Too many options, though, is overwhelming!

Thanks for the tips.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 3:59PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

I like the idea of a creeping something in the boxes. Just coming off of a heinous headache virus...my brain isn't working too well...but do those planters face west? What about rosemary officianalis prostrata? (Prostrate/weeping rosemary) and creeping thyme in the sunnier boxes?

Rest of the pictures finally loaded...you, too have the horrible white landscape rock from the sixties! I really can't abide that white quartz. I'm still trying to figure out what to do about it behind the house. In front of the house it became pavers and patio...out back I may end up doing some sort of cantilevered deck....not certain.

I know you are feeling overwhelmed...maybe you should make a bulleted demo-type plan to help you feel more "in control" of the project?

Something like:
Step One
a) Pull out shrubs in planter boxes.
b) Replant with (insert favorite crawly-plants here)

Step Two
(I don't know what you want to tackle next...but you'll know better once step one is finished.)

Don't discount the value of hiring an Landscape Designer to come advise you if you are REALLY feeling blocked and the folks here can't get you moving again. It may run you several hundred dollars, but it will save you major money in the long run. How do you find a competent LD who will be sympathetic to you and your home? I wish I had a magic answer...I'd suggest a google search with your zipcode in it...then look at everyone's portfolio. Down in your neck of the woods this is liable to be everyone's "busy time"...but I may be wrong. Better now than in the spring.

And I think you are going to find you have more inherent structure there than you think you do. Once you get the shrubs in the planters down, things will look VERY different. For instance, if you excavated the nasty white rock and put in decent soil...instant beds! If you can find bricks to match you home you could lay them flush with the grass to act as a mowing strip. (I'll link an article below.)

Someone on this forum once posted some awesome pictures of his/her mowing strips...wish I could remember who it was. Ah well.


Here is a link that might be useful: how to install mowing strip

    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 11:34AM
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Melanie -

THanks! And glad you're feeling better -- something like that going around down here.

I'm in a hurry to get to SW and the nursery before they close, but I wanted to say I like the advice on plantings first. Going to rip up the boxwoods, and get recommendations for creeping plans that work with partial sun.

And on the usn note - yes, West facing -- and now that we've trimmed the tree, I'm gertting a lot of filtered early afternoon sun and even full sun late afternoon.

Mowing strips are a great idea. So is getting rid of the gravel. I tried to give it away to a freind and he never showed up with the truck... They loved the stuff! But I agree that has to go.

And --- the nursery I use - a good locally owned place - does in store consultations where I bring pictures and they can make good suggestions, or even come up. So I'm taking that advice too...

Thanks again! I posted some follow on paint questions on the homesite side :)

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 4:20PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Keep up the good work! The white quartz landscape rock is the DEVIL. Evil! I swear every fall I'm going to get rid of mine...and here I am...13 years later...


    Bookmark   October 10, 2010 at 8:04PM
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Thanks Melanie! I couldn't find my other thread with new pictures, but you had requested some and here they are. I took pictures with better light, and also took out some of the boxwood's.

Let me know what you all think. I'm going to put something creeping in the planter boxes, and build beds in front. Debating whether or not to make the front semi-circle into a perninnial bed, but as you'll see from one of the street shots, since I side up to a busy street, I'm not interested in removing the photenia's just yet ...

Thanks for all the advice guys!

House is west facing, so afternoon sun and filtered during the day.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2010 at 6:59PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

texdal---busy few days. I need to think about the new pictures...I promise I'll get back to it!


    Bookmark   October 24, 2010 at 7:00PM
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Thanks Melanie! We haven't done anything yet - just looking at plants and checking out different lights. Interested in hearing your thoughts. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2010 at 2:17PM
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