Absolute conundrum....please help

dregaeDecember 8, 2012

We have been living at this house for the past 4 years and while we have had loads of fun landscaping the backyard, the frontyard is still....well, not sure what to call it other than ugly.

Just for laughs I am showing this first picture of when we first bought the house. Yes there is a house behind those yews. I kid you not they were 8 foot deep and taller than the gutters. You opened the curtains in the house and all you saw was bush. We enjoyed removing those things immediatly, but we havn't been able to figure out what to do since. I will explain more with the rest of the pictures.

grace e

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one more picture of these unreal hedges. We have since stripped the paint off of the porch and repainted the iron black.

grace e

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 1:16AM
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This picture shows the house best even though it is an older picture. we have since removed the last skeletons of the yews and the only thing remaining to the left of the porch is the cypress in the center.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 1:19AM
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This picture shows the only improvement that we have liked and that is three climbing roses on the porch. Zephrine drouhin in the name of them, and they are beautiful even if they are still babies. They bloomed this spring and were wonderfully fragrant.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 1:25AM
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View from the porch, now painted black.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 1:27AM
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And now that I have pulled back away from the house, you can see the source of our trials...SHADE. The house has enourmous eaves that shade the house. The house also sites somewhat crooked, the sun rises in the back right corner of the house and sets towards the corner of house to the left of the porch. And then to top it off a huge maple tree blocks nearly the entire house most of the afternoon(which I will never cut down, it is beautiful!!!). The only areas of usable sunlight are on the porch and the far left corner from about the middle of the window to the corner of the house. The rest of the area between that only gets sun for maybe 3 hours as the sun passes directly overhead.

I have no idea what to do here. Shade gardening to a native arizonian is pretty foreign, and our repeated attempts have failed. The house itself is an unusual shade of red-orange that we havn't seen much on the houses in our town, the eaves of the house and the gutters are getting changed to a very nice gray we stumbled on that looked wonderful with this weird brick color, but the landscaping is puzzling. I would appreciate...no appreciate isn't strong enough....I would be ecstatic for any suggestions, plans ideas etc.

I hope you all can help. Thanks for your time.

grace e

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 1:40AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Beautiful house! Obviously insired by Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House in Chicago. If that was my house, I'd keep the landscaping to a minimum. All FLW intended for Robie House was cascades of sweet popato vines from the terraces. This house doesn't have terraces - other then the little raised bed by the driveway - but I'd still let the house be the star. I'd probably plant that little raised bed with Iberis/Candytuft which is evergreen with white flowers in spring and cascades nicely over edges.

I suspect your rose will suffer from blackspots etc. as the situation doesn't look ideal for roses. And that color wouldn't be my first choice. If you wanted roses, I'd probably have gone for miniature shrub ones like Paprika or Peachy Cream OSO Easy roses, which have flower colors that would work well with the brick and very colorful hips for winter interest - Paprika flowers more continuously but Peachy Cream has bigger, showier orangish hips. If I planted any shrubs there I'd look for prostrate or very dwarf silvery-blue evergreens. Peachy-toned heucheras would probably work best for perennials as they can take both sun and shade and dryish conditions.

With the metal-work painted black and the strong lines and color of the house, it doesn't need much 'prettying up'.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 11:02AM
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It was an amazing hedge with some positive qualities ... but its location was not one of them. Too bad large plants can't be picked up and moved like furniture.

I'm making some suggestions via sketch and hoping that it's not interpreted literally. It's meant to convey general ideas. I'm pretty sure you're convinced that NOT barricading in the entrance area with foliage is a good idea. Instead it would be useful to frame the area with floral interest. You've got a start with the the roses. It could use some seasonal/perennial color at the corners and a LOW blooming groundcover (or something tidy looking) connecting elements and spanning the width of the porch.

Trees help the house look connected and nestled in and they give a sense of shelter and protection. Between the windows and next to the drive are two locations where small (12'-15' ht.) trees would work. For the sake of lower long term maintenance, plants that max out at these heights would be the best type to use.

It would be beneficial to partially screen the adjacent neighbor's house to give a sense of separation and semi-privacy between the properties. A tree would take care of the upper view and shrubs could handle the lower portion. The tree (or tight grouping of trees) could be any number of various flowering types ... or a grove-forming type such as lilac.

A sweeping bed line that is clean, simple and helps focus view to the entrance area would enhance the overall view of the house and make mowing easier.

I would appraise the ultimate relationship you expect to achieve between the large trees and the house. Tree foliage that hangs low and obscures the view of the house tends to look unkempt. Tree foliage that shelters the house from overhead tends to look "protective." This relationship is best viewed/appraised from afar.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 11:17PM
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Thank you both for the ideas
Woodyoak I actually really like flw's work. I looked up the house u mentioned it is really beautiful and gave us something to think about. My husband loves blue green junipers so he will like that suggestions. As far as the roses they have actually thrived, not one bit of blackspot. Fragrance was more important than the color.

Yardvaark I really liked your sketch . The house has never looked attached to the yard, it just sits there. Your sketch really showed some wonderful ideas for tying the yard and house together. I am curious the dark green areas along the ground, is that a groundcover? Any suggestions if it is.

Grace e

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 5:39AM
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Yes. The dark green areas would be groundcover. Exactly "what" depends on what grows well in your area and would be compatible with the specific site conditions and suits the height and finish you're after.

The sketch is not suggesting that subdividing the areas further into more than one groundcover/low growing perennial, etc. is impossible. How much you add depends on your goals. But be careful as adding too much, without care in incorporating compatible geometry, can take away from overall strength of design. Everything should flow harmoniously into a singular picture. Note that there is nothing providing a sense of "barricading" along the entire "entry experience." Plants are either low, overhead or provide a filtered view.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 9:36AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Because my vision for what I'd do is very different from Yard's I tried to mock it up - poorly! If was my house, I would actually do even less planting at the house than I've shown below, but I would keep any plantings in the peachy-rust tones with sagey-green/blue-green if possible. If I wanted to add more trees and shrubs, I'd put them back with the existing big trees that can be seen in the pictures, keeping the area near the house just grass, with a border of concrete-colored pavers along the house wall. One of the attractive things (to me at least) about the Robie house is how it looks like a ship sailing on a sea of green. Since you can't do the ornamental base at ground level that is there in the Robie House, I'd use the concrete pavers to set it off. I'd use charcoal colored eavestroughs/fascia to give that strong line at roof level as in the Robie house and to go with your shutters. When you next reshingle the roof, I'd use a darker gray on that. I noticed, while walking in our neighbourhood this afternoon, that red brick houses with darker roofs, facia/eavestrough look quite elegant and it tones down strong reds. So you'd end up with something that looks a bit like the picture below. I think it would make for a very striking house that plays to the strength of the lines and brick color while still being comfortably suburban.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 5:19PM
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Consider this:

1 - Change ironwork for square wood columns
2 - Remove railing
3 - Extend front porch towards the street, making an entry courtyard. Plant along the courtyard walls, inside and out.

Get a landscaping book for your area and look up "shade tolerant" plants. Use them.

Move the roses to where they can get some sun.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 3:24PM
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I'm a big believer in presentation of the house to the point of arrival and/or passers by. I agree with LazyG that this would benefit from more substantial columns (white round?).
I'd also ditch the rail to make it look more welcoming to the front door and not go too crazy trying to build privacy for the porch - you either want to sit in the front yard and relate with it, or you should go to the back yard. Don't force a conflict and then devote the bulk of the front landscape toward mitigating that (like the previous owner).
Perhaps bring a nice walkway that leads out from the front door (centered between the columns on the left) and curving over to the drive - you could still keep some kind of efficient walk from the porch to the drive if necessary, but work toward making the front door the heart of the front landscape. A low planting could go in front and between the two columns on the right reinforcing the entrance between the two columns on the right.
I like the concept of Yardvaarks planting to the left of the porch, but nothing tall in front of the porch.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 7:28AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

My point of perspective is coming from a landscape architectural and return on investment angle.
The visual 'lightness' of the filigree metal columns does not enhance the architecture nor relates to the heft of the architecture with a meaningful dialogue.
I think your greatest return on investment would be to have the columns redesigned and built.
A bulkier square tapered column set on a short brick plinth would enhance the architectual quality of the house.
From there you could realign the visual and functional axis of the front door between a pair of the columns thus strengthening the union of the house with the landscape .

I would spec low linear growing shrubs to pull off of the lines of the soffit/ facia/ roof line.
Perhaps boxwood, rhodos, daphne . .. ... strong architectural plants for a bold and modern look.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 3:33PM
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"... but nothing tall in front of the porch." I agree with you, laag, on this point. It was slightly out of the ordinary for me to add a border of low (6" max.) groundcover across the front of the porch, but was done due to the existence of the railing. (I dislike the idea of feeling penned in by shrubbery at the front entrance or on the way to it and would speculate that it is THE MOST COMMON front yard landscape error ... at least everywhere I've lived.) Otherwise, I would probably have lawn sweep to the entrance area. I agree, too, that if all options were on the table, I'd eliminate the front rail. While the wrought iron columns are not my favorite, I think they would be improved by being turned into rose-smothered trellises. After a couple of years of rose growth, I doubt they'd be much noticed as anything but leafy, green columns. But, if the OP came into some lottery winnings and was hot to dump some $ into the scene in order to make things look "uptown," I like the idea of round wood columns or beefy chamfered posts ... but no roses then. In that case, I'd ditch the center column and span the opening with a beam in order to open the front porch even more.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 7:37PM
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Wow! I wasn't expecting so much response or so many good ideas. We would really love to update the look of the house, but for now the iron will have to stay. The house has other repairs much more pressing than superficial improvements. The house was in a very bad state when we bought it and much of it had to be gutted, and while it is very livable now it is still very much in need of improvements, windows, gutters etc. The porch actually may have to be replaced/rebuilt but we won't know for sure until we start working on the roof, but we have to have the attic professionally cleaned and decontaminated before we can work on it, which has a hefty price tag attached.

I am anxious to show these ideas to my husband I know he is going to be excited. A big thank you to each of you who put forth their ideas!

grace e

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 12:17AM
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I couldn't resist playing around with some of the ideas. I sketched up in paint very roughly an idea that I think you all were discussing. i couldn't get rid of the existing stuff so just pretend the rail and iron posts are not there. I would like an opinion, do you think it suits the house? If so how would you landscape the altered house

grace e

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 12:52AM
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For me, I find that homes with darker colored bodies and lighter colored trims are more appealing than the reverse (lighter colored bodies with darker trim.) The darker trim themes can run along the lines of a Goth look in my mind. And incorporating a massive chunkiness into the architecture, here, seems too rustic and overpowering. I was thinking along the lines of something more refined and lighter toned. I don't think it precludes having seating. (Not really looking at planting in this exploration.)

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 11:48AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

I think your mock up looks great and shows how much more commanding the front facade of the house looks and feels.

When you have the time and finances to make this addition it would be wise to know what kind of wood the beam is ( different classes of wood have different spans and load holding capacities ).

Once that you are in the safety zone of spanning and loads you can possibly eliminate the middle post.

The posts themselves are not too expensive . I've worked on dozens of front facade remodels and depending on the material of the post , the conconstruction process is rather straight forward.

You might entertain the thought of using a high density resin column. They will not rot an paint up beautifully. These types of columns are slipped over or fitted together around a structural load bearing post.

There are also cast concrete columns but I think they would be too costly for this project and aesthetically wood would be a much nice marriage.

For a little bit of added architectural integrity a small brick plinth about 18 to 24 inches tall with a bluestone cap could add a very finished look.

Now you have a chance to create a nice wide path centered on the door with a supporting greenscape to enhance your sense of arrival.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 11:52AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Wow. Those hedges were like...furry caterpiller eyebrows!

To me you have a Ranch home. It's only vaguely reminiscent of the great Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie style with the deep overhang and brick. Closer to the Usonian style, the simpler "for the masses" design.

You can either "go with the flow", or try to turn it into a fluffy pig's ear. A Ranch has strong horizontal lines. Vertical materials (not the plants) have to be substantial and STRAIGHT-EDGED. It isn't a Craftsman, which is closer to Robert Adam than Frank Lloyd Wright.

I love FLW so I would continue his design ethos. The best distillation of Wright's design genius is applicable to your situation and can be found in this superb post from Architectoid, linked below. The misspellings are the author's fault, not mine, LOL - to begin with, it's USONIAN, not Unisonian style! Nonetheless, the 32 guidelines are precise, just as Wright's architecture is.

Also, in the West, shade is not an indicator of a low UV index. "Shade" in the East Coast is not "shade" in AZ, UT, NM, NV, and CA. We can often grow full-sun plants with a couple of hours of sun and bright shade the rest of the day.

Much as I love roses, they are antithetical to a ranch. The strong lines and beautiful xeric plantings that bahia (David Feix in San Jose, CA, who posts some amazing photos here) are much better suited to a horizontal architectural design. Think phormiums and senecio or kalanchoe (disclaimer: I don't know if these work in your zone) - e.g., structural instead of cottage-y.

I now apologize profusely to the owners of these photos, which came from Google Images:

This is FLW's Robie House:

This scale model of Robie House shows the overall proportions:

This FLW Prairie House shows the massive vertical elements needed to balance the horizontals he used:

Now for some landscaping. Note how the overall effect is low and away from the house. The thin redwood holding up this porch overhang is quite odd for a FLW. I'm wondering if that's original or was a replacement:

A really beautiful landscaping job, in proportion to the house:

Now...your house. Forgive my very bad pseudo-Photoshop skills. My drawing program is really old and couldn't duplicate your brick color/texture.

The biggest issue is your door and porch are off-balance to one another. Ideally your door would be substantially wider and centered with the porch entrance. But that means moving a window - which can be expensive!

In this, the new solid walls are similar brick to the house, capped with concrete (one of FLW's loves). The new porch columns are boxed to give a massive look and stained the color of redwood or a dark brown, whichever looks better. You now have a wide enclosed front patio that gives depth to the house (which it needs) and entertaining/lounging space for you.

A wider walkway of concrete squares gives a clear entrance and easy access. I don't have a plant design program so I'm envisioning the following low and medium-height plantings:
- low plants on the right between driveway and house
- plantings on the left start low near the path and go to medium-height as the sightline to the edge of the house starts to align on the diagonal.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wright's 32 design basics

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 2:27PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Sorry, boy did I have the OP's zone wrong! Somehow I thought dregae was in AZ but s/he is in zone 6 instead. So rather than phormiums and kalanchoe, grasses and plants like dwarf abelia and euonymus, would work.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 4:18PM
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@jkom51 you hit the nail on the head about what I have always disliked about the house, it is flat flat flat. No dimension to it at all! The roses were what u might call a compromise if I couldn't like the looks of the house I could at least like what I planted(roses are a bit of an obsession, but I will admit they don't suit the house to much. I probably should keep my roses in the backyard :-)I like your idea a lot time will tell if we get to change things....I sure hope so.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 6:32PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I agree that the basic house is a standard 1960s-era bungalow - there are ones near here that are almost identical, including the decorated iron trellis pillar. BUT the roof projection over the front area is not standard, and is what immediately made me think of Robie house. I had been looking at images of it shortly before this post appeared! Look at the proportions of the top roofline in the attached link. You can see those proportions in the front projection in the OP's house. The image of Robie House in the attached link also is what led me to realize how much more dramatic and striking the dark color for the eavestroughs and fascia would be, and was confirmed for me by noting how well that color combination worked on a couple of houses in our neighbourhood.

I agree also that the pillars would be better as solid, dark structures in a different arrangement relative to the door. Brick plinths, as D-D suggests, would be perfect too. I'd top them with concrete to, once again, make reference to a FLW influence.

As jkom51 shows, there is lots of potential to rework things to turn a basic dullish suburban cookie-cutter into something quite striking by following a theme that is hinted at in the front entrance area. Something to think about when time and money allow.... :-) If that sort of direction is something that interests you, just avoid doing shorterm plantings etc. that would add work down the road if you want to pursue the more unusual approach.

Here is a link that might be useful: Robie house

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 7:15PM
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