It's easy when it's somebody else's

littlebug5(z5 MO)November 3, 2012

It's easy to see what needs to be done to someone else's, but not my own! I can't see the forest for the trees, I guess.

We bought this house this summer. I haven't done anything to the front beds yet, but I know they need work. They don't look finished or cohesive.

The house faces east and I'm in zone 5. The sawdust pile in the front left is where we had a great big stump ground up - the previous owners just left the stump. The yard is sparse because of the drought :(. The bushes to the left of the front door are boxwoods. In the planting area to the right of the front door, there is about 5 feet between the steps/sidewalk (which lead downhill to the north and connect to our driveway) and the front of the house.

There are 2 Bradford pear trees in the front yard, one on each side just out of the sight-line of this picture. The beds get pretty much full sun till 2 p.m.

I like easy care and foliage/flower colors of white, blue, yellow (and green, of course). What should I do? Tear out stuff and start over?

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littlebug5(z5 MO)

Here's another view, standing in my driveway and looking south along the front of the house. (We will be erecting some small retaining walls as a part of a driveway-widening project next spring - you can see the dirt drifting into the driveway.)

This shows the planting area to the right of the front door better.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 10:25PM
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It would help to see the whole front yard. I recommend that you return to the spot where you took the first picture and take another couple of photos that pan to catch the left and right sides of the yard.

The lack of a any small trees in front of the house help to make it seem not yet well integrated into the landscape. Adding at least one would help.

You might double check the distance from face of house to walk as it shows wider than the garage door. It must be more than 5'.

Whenever a lawn is in the picture, it doesn't matter how great everything else looks if the lawn has acne. It would be good to start improving it even before you resolve other plantings.

Regarding the existing shrubs, you might have some things re-usable (I can't ID them from the picture) but using them successfully would depend on how good your plant moving skills are. The pampas grass doesn't seem nice enough or well suited to fit in with a foundation planting. Maybe the back yard or a location away from the central view would work better.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 10:08PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

So much potential! Your garden has a split personality: buzz cut on the left, and long flowing locks on the right. Choose which style you prefer, and keep to that styel throughout the garden. Drought or not, the lawn wants attention. That single factor will be your most cost-effective and easy-care solution to a more attractive home.

The front bed appears to have plenty of room for layering some more plants and a groundcover. I don't know about your location, but in California the pampas grass is extremely invasive and had to be eradicated from coastal areas. I love the form, but the razor-edged whips are not so much fun. Wish I could name some plants for you, but your conditions are unfamiliar to me.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 4:12PM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

Thanks for your comments.

Yes, we have yard acne in the Midwest this year. Sadly, we conceded our lawns to Mother Nature this summer. (I didn�t realize how bad it was till I saw my picture!) We worked on it a little last month and will really get after it next spring.

Here�s some more pictures, both taken while standing in the street. You can see the Bradford pears on each side. I forgot to mention I planted a small hydrangea shrub at the far left corner last month, which you can barely see. How very true about formal on one side, not on the other. I hadn�t thought about it like that. I favor the informal and am thinking of digging out the boxwoods, especially since they are not evenly planted. If I do that, what should I put there?

From the front door to the right, you can see some dead rudbeckia stems, lambs� ear, daylily, a big unidentified shrub, pampas grass (you�re right � it�s got to go), a purple barberry, 2 small shrubs ???, and a yellow barberry. There are spots where I can see there used to be something growing but apparently died and was dug up. Bed depth correction: 11 feet.

I have no interest in digging and moving shrubs. I�ll just dig and toss, and replace with things more suited, if I could figure out what that is! That�s an interesting idea about a small ornamental tree in the yard � tell me more. Where? I�d hate to block my picture window on the left side.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 6:57PM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

Well I cant figure out how to put more than one picture in a message. Here is the other picture.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 6:59PM
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You can only upload one picture at a time with the GardenWeb upload system. But pasting html share code from photo hosting sights allows multiple pictures in one post.

Don't know how much you know about Bradford pears, but they are generally a problem prone tree, their worst trait being splitting out huge portions (40%) in storms once they reach mature size. It would be best if you find out about their habits and decide quickly whether, or not, you want them to be a part of your long term plan. There are things you can do to improve their durability, but you should consider if replacing them is more practical in the long run ... as well as being an opportunity to incorporate outstanding trees into your yard. The branching form that occurs on the left tree I find unattractive so I'd have to get rid of it on that count. (Had some of the limbs been removed in their youth, a much better form could have been developed.) Then, I suppose I'd have to get rid of the other one ... because they were a pair. It's not too hard to think of a reason to get rid of them. Then again, if you like them, you can add to their toughness over time with some heavy duty pruning.

Often, for many people, tossing shrubs is better than trying to relocate them. While I think a couple of your shrubs looks decent, I can't find any that I think are placed well, so I'd start with a clean slate since you seem open to that idea.

When I say small "tree" I mean form. And for the sake of low maintenance and controlling size, what people think of as "shrubs" make trees of the size I'm talking about. The actual plant selected is what determines it's specific personality and form. A burning bush could be a perfect dome. A lilac would be more like a bunched foliage cluster supported by an expanding grove of trunks. Potential places for such a tree would be as centered in front of the blank wall spaces on the right half of the house and beyond its right corner (basically, outside of windows ... not covering them.) Such trees might/should hide some roof, but not much wall. The multiple trunk (bouquet) form always seems to have more imposing presence to me than does a single trunk standard. In most cases, it's what the plant itself prefers to be.

I'd be inclined to get rid of all grass between house and walk. Seems like it would be better in the long term as a groundcover area instead.

Because of the slope that runs across the right face of the house, you might try to create a more stabile appearance to the house by keeping shrub groups relatively level within their respective types. "Funneling vision toward the front door calls for using taller height foliage masses at the lower end of the slope and lower height masses closer to the door.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 12:16AM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

I appreciate your insightful comments. I know the drawbacks of Bradford pears, but I do kind of like them. And, though I have no problem with digging and tossing shrubs, removing large healthy (at the moment, anyway)trees is something else entirely. Plus, at my age, I probably wont be around to see new trees mature. :)

I am in the process of removing the rest of the grass between the walk and the bed. Why was my yard/bed like that? And why are my shrubs planted so close to the house? Some people are even more clueless than me!

I really hate to hear the comment BLANK SLATE. Its paralyzing to me - too many choices and I dont know what to do.

I believe I will try to keep the barberries for now and build around them. And if I keep the two I have, maybe add some new ones on the left of the front door where the boxwoods are now. You suggest a large *something* at the far right corner - how about a bridal wreath spirea?

The small tree-form you talked about for the front yard I will have to think about. A Japanese maple? A dogwood? A flowering cherry? Perhaps just to the left of my sawdust pile, which would not completely block the view from my picture window?

Also, should there be 2 matching somethings on either side of the front door? There's probably lots of reasons to do this as well as NOT to do this . . . .

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 9:26PM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

More thoughts, as I study the pictures of my house (actually, looking at pictures makes it much easier to be objective!) -

Should I use the bottoms of the windows as a guide in planning? Looking at my first picture, I can see the large shrub to the right of the front door is too tall and the yellow barberry on the far right should be encouraged to grow taller. Then I should add an even taller something to the right of the yellow barberry? I guess I don't want an all-even-across-the-top row, but maybe a higher-on-the-corners-then-slanted-down-toward-the-front-door row? I don't mean that quite literally, but as a loose guide.

On the left of the front door, smaller-rounder-growing shrubs should be selected to replace the boxwoods. Then if the new hydrangea I planted at the far left grows, it would be taller and highlight that corner.

Am I on the right track here?

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 10:16PM
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Ha! To me the words "blank slate" are glorious and divine! They mean not having to deal with someone else's mistakes!

Windows are generally not to be covered so bottoms of them are something to pay attention to.

I cannot give you general suggestions right now via drawing. Sorry. But may be able to later on if you can wait.

I think the yellow barberry is tall enough, but it should not be undercut during pruning. A mound taller than it could go to its right, off the corner of the house. Ditto on the left corner which is probably where you have the Hydrangea ready to do that. I would be inclined to plant nothing tall where you have the boxwoods. It looks like there's a stoop there. If you plant something 12" or so it could give a feeling of protection, but not confinement. If it had wispy flowers that grew taller, no problem (I'm thinking something along the lines of Gaura; don't know if that grows where you are, but something LIKE that... foliage with wispy flowers above.

I'm not saying not to keep the Bradfords, but just to know their limits ... which it sounds like you do. To keep them I would plan a Spring pruning (some Spring not too distant ... before they split) that heads them back so as to thicken/strengthen the trunk/limb proportions relative to the overall tree size. I'd also limb up the bottom some.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 12:39PM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

Again, I am very thankful you have spent some time to help me. It is apparent that you are an expert.

Yes, of course I can wait. A drawing would be super! I had thought of doing that, but I don't know how or how to post it. Obviously, since I am in Zone 5, there's not going to be any planting done for a few months. That's why I posted now, so I have the winter to think about it. The weatherman has predicted snow flurries for the first of next week. :(

Wispy mounds with flowers above along the front of the porch? Hmmmmm . . . . I am fond of rudbeckia, which I already have. Or a fairly short clumpy ornamental grass?

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 3:00PM
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If that is pampas grass on the right, kill it now before it's so big you need a backhoe to get the roots. There are ornamental grasses native to your area that are better.

The boxwoods can go - they can recover from being turned into cubes, but it's a long process.

Reduce or eliminate the lawn area by planting beds with suitable ornamental grasses and perennials. It's a lot less work and water. Check with the local water company about what plants do well with minimal water in your area.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 9:07AM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

Yes, I think it's pampas grass, and yes, I plan to kill it. Should I do it now, as opposed to waiting till spring? What is the weapon of choice? (Round-up is my friend - I have no trouble using it)

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 3:31PM
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The sketch is not meant to be realism, but to illustrate some of the general concepts I spoke of previously. (I already see a couple of places I would tweak it. But it'll have to do as is.) In spite of the fact that it will likely be followed by some form of berating condescension from one of the forum's self-important contingents, you can probably glean some thoughts and ideas from it.

I don't think of Rudbeckia as "wispy" as it has a more solid mass. But you'll be the best judge of what appeals to you. There is ALWAYS room for Rudbeckia somewhere! I'm just saying I'd prefer not to feel "hemmed in" on a fairly narrow porch.

I have never had to kill pampas, but Roundup sounds like a good place to start. It might be a process as opposed to a one-time hit.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 9:18AM
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P.S., Littlebug5, if you want to draw on pictures, MS Paint is, I think, the easiest (and most available) program for doing it. It's fairly simple as the tools are succinctly explained in its "Help" section.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 9:26AM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

Thank you. This visual does help me think about my options. (P.S. My yard looks really good with that sawdust pile gone! We finally got a good rain yesterday - the best rain we've had for six months - which will go a long way toward sinking that stump sawdust into the ground so I can topdress with soil.)

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 12:18PM
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just a quick thought. i would love to see some landscaping on the other side of the walk way up to the door as well. something to echo what is going on in the other bed but still airy and flowing. i think it would make you feel like you are entering the space more than just skirting the edge of it. plus it eliminates some grass, :)

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 4:33PM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

I think I agree with you, northwestplanter. I want the left side to echo at least some of the plantings that either already exist or that I add new on the right side. So they look like they belong together. Now they don't resemble each other AT ALL.

And I'm not worried about a penned-in feeling - I'd rather have a bit of privacy on that side cause I like to sit out there and read the evening paper - slightly shielded from view from all those who walk our street (walking their dogs, etc.) It's a good neighborhood for that. :)

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 8:23PM
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I like the pear trees! I also like all the plantings on the right (north) side of the house...except the grass. That seems out of place and I'd put in another shrub, maybe a forsythia?

On the other side (where you have the boxwoods) I think you'd rather have some of your yellow and blue. Maybe some pretty annuals and/or perennials to enjoy, while you're sitting on the porch? If you need some privacy, I'd like to see a bed where you have that dead spot/where you have all the bark. Maybe some shrubs to repeat what you have on the right/north side of the house?

For spring color, you could add some bulbs around the shrubs in the new bed...and maybe a few in the porch garden. Hope that gives you some helpful ideas :)

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 11:39AM
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rosiew(8 GA)

Cut the grass to the ground now. Then use the strongest shovels/mattocks you have. The roots are a tangled mess, hard, fibrous. You have more room to work than I - mine was in a narrow hell strip bordered with concrete on two sides. Mine also laughed at Roundup and igniting it with gasoline. And yours is dormant now so Roundup wouldn't work anyway. HIGHLY recommend you do it ASAP. The soil being really moist now will make it easier. If you have a mattock and a grinder to keep it sharpened, use that. My huge son broke a good quality fiberglass shovel getting mine out.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 6:24PM
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minflick(9b/7, Boulder Creek, CA)

I successfully annihilated a 5'-6' tall pampas grass with one massive application of RU. I had one of their smaller hand pump spray bottle, and I think I was spraying with my toes by the time I killed the bottle... But that one application DID kill it (don't remember what time of year it was, but I'm in coastal California so no freezing winter). It took a while to show that it was dying, as it's such fibrous nasty stuff, but over a week or so, it bit the dust! It didn't curl up and die like more watery plants do, it dessicated in place and looked more awful than it did when green, but I didn't care because I hate them with a fiery passion. Dead was great!

Heh. Then a stray cat put some beautiful babies in there, which I caught, and got them all adopted!

    Bookmark   December 31, 2012 at 6:24PM
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