Looking for some Plant Choice Help!

hrigsbyDecember 21, 2011

Good afternoon:

I'm a Landscape Architecture student at Clemson, and I'm currently redesigning a small part of our landscape for my mother for Christmas. My main trouble is with plant choice, as I haven't learned much about anything but woody landscape plants thus far in my studies.

Here are some pictures of the site:

As you can tell, the current plants have overgrown the space and I'm looking to correct this with my redesign.

Another angle showing the context on the other side of the space.

The site from the road side. I'm going to design up to the stairs leading up to the porch, since the rhododendrons on the lower side of the slope couldn't handle the site (assuming too wet) and were removed.

The entire context. One thing to note is that the tall evergreens (thuja occidentalis possibly?) were chosen to provide anchors to the house, and despite the sloped site, they are the same height in relation to the house. These might should be preserved for this attribute.

The area on the other side of the stairs for context in plant selection on the lower side.

A close up of the lower side of the stairs. Used to be identical to the upper side, but the plant material didn't make it.

The only aspect of this that is set in stone is that there will be a small tree form Lagerstroemia indica in the larger, overgrown area. I'm looking mainly for plants to go under and around this, as well as plants for the stairside hill.

I appreciate any and all help. Let me know if you need any more information.

- Hunter

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Sorry,I am so enjoy overgrow,they always give me horticulture space enough!your main problem is not select some plants.it only design your yard frame.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2011 at 3:39PM
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Anyone else, I could really use some inspiration!


    Bookmark   December 22, 2011 at 12:20PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Why don't you throw out some of your own ideas and see how people react to them? Your setting and plant materials are so far out of my zone that I wouldn't know where to begin with suggestions. It would appear to me that you've already got the bones, but there isn't much of interest at the smaller scale going on. Would you consider widening the foundation plant borders where possible to face it down with some perennials or bulbs? I don't know whether it would make any sense to limb up the tree at the far left corner of the house to lessen the feeling of heaviness there, or whether there are understory plantings for winter interest that would take the root and shade competition below that tree. Perhaps things like ferns and Brunnera macrophylla of Heucheras?

I'd have personal issues with that dull reddish foliage color in the existing borders, it wouldn't be my favorite with the existing evergreens. What are your typical winter lows in your part of western NC? I'd also suggest using the wisdom of plant choices at Plant Delights Nursery's catalog to get some ideas flowing, or pay them a visit on one of their open houses. Also some great planting schemes to be seen at some of your local botanic gardens; I remember the JC Raulston Garden the best, but there are so many in North Carolina.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2011 at 5:00PM
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I appreciate the response. My problem is I have very limited knowledge of herbaceous plants so I was just looking for some plants that would look nice with a red crape Myrtle.

I'll come up with some ideas tonight and come back here with them.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2011 at 5:43PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

When you go looking at plants, try to find some greater variety in the plant structure. The leaf textures seem, while not entirely uniform, awfully similar in the photos. Can you find something with spiky, strap leaves, or something with an airy, lacy effect, or a plant with platter-sized leaves? Add more contrast. Check out some of bahia's posts, click on his photo links, and you'll see what I'm trying to get at...

    Bookmark   December 22, 2011 at 6:47PM
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Okay, thanks. I think part of my problem is I'm trying to choose the plant material without actually going out and visiting some nurseries and greenhouses to see what is available.

I'm also worried that since I'm only familiar with woody plants that I'm choosing rashly due to a limited plant pallet, which is why I'm looking for herbacious ideas.

I appreciate the input. I'm going to brainstorm tonight and it would be great if y'all would stop back this thread and see if you have anymore input to enhance or correct my line of thought once I develop it.


    Bookmark   December 22, 2011 at 8:10PM
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I've put some time and effort into this tonight, and I have some ideas to throw at ya'll:

- First, I said I was going to implement a Lagerstroemia indica, in small tree form (not certain of cultivar yet) in the larger space towards the bottom of the slope.

I'd like to keep this in tree form, and then underplant with something fairly maintenance free to avoid harming the shallow root system on the tree. I was considering an evergreen ground cover that would allow bulbs to grow through for more differentiated visual interest. I feel like this would look nice, but may lack winter interest other than the exfoliating bark of the tree. Any ideas here?

I also thought that maybe using a grass-like groundcover (Ophiopogon, Loriope), and interspersing Muhlenbergia capillaris may be interesting underneath the Lagerstroemia.

- I've taken a lot of cues from this list on the site you linked me above: http://www.plantdelights.com/top25.asp. Some of these plants are just stunning, and I think the key for me here is to find a variety of textures and match colors correctly.

- From the photos of the incredible flowers and textures on that Top 25 list, I've noticed that the lower half of the front of the house (the skinnier space that is clear now) doesn't really need to mirror the upper side. Since the walkway only leads to the stairs, it creates a separate identity for the lower part. I think this should be a location that I really create details through texture variation and provide a wow factor with color. I think a lot of the plants on the Top 25 list would fit the bill in this case.

- In this space, I also need to consider winter interest. I don't want to use all herbacious material and then be stuck with a ton of maintenance and just an unsightly area in the winter. I'd like to layer the area since it only has one angle of sight, and anchor the house with some taller plantings towards the wall to break up the visual monotony of the brick.

- Essentially, I really want to go wild with this space, but since it is part of the approach to the front door, I need to consider interest in all seasons.

- I'd also like to tie at least one Tea Olive (Osmanthus) into the site. Since it is very frequented by visitors and owners alike, I think a tea olive would be great to involve the sense of smell when a lot of the visual "pop" of the Spring is fading.

And locational details. The home is right along the 7a and 7b border, but is located in 7a. I'm not exactly sure of the average low temperature...but I can look into that if the zone information isn't enough.

I think that is most of what I've been mulling over tonight, if I think of anything else I'll post it up. Some opinions and feedback would be much appreciated, as much of what I'm proposing here is purely conceptual, rather than actual pen to paper plant material lists.

Again, I really appreciate all the help ya'll can provide and thank you for your time.

- HT

Here is a link that might be useful: Plant List used for Inspiration

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 3:44AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I have a strict rule for my own participation on this site that I don't do specific plant recommendations, unless to try to illustrate a point, so I'm going to stick to that. I appreciate that you went shopping, even if electronically, because I have to say that shopping in nurseries has been pretty much the best source of learning about plants I've done (the other was buying them and killing them - this is how you learn their limits and preferences :-)). No, actually, magazines get the credit for much of the rest. So partly, my rule is to ensure I don't rob others of this learning experience, and then find that they are helpless when it comes to designing the next corner of their yard as well.

I like the direction you are going with your last post, and that is probably where I would have suggested you go. I am totally a foliage gardener and find the existing plantings in that yard remarkably unambitious in that regard. Whether you do shrubs, perennials, bulbs, or all of it, select for contrasting leaf shape, texture, even colour, as well as for plant form.

One thing you have not said is why you are fixated on the tree you have in mind, and why there. I am not a fan of deciduous, canopied trees next to walls, and also I think it might affect (in a bad way) the health of the Thujas (?) to have a canopy growing up against them.

As for keeping the Thujas, with a house of this size, mature plant mass is nothing to be sneezed at. They probably do have a few years left in them even though my preference might not lean to replacing them. But on the same note, and just for fun, I thought I would link to a pruning job that might allow you to keep the gold monstrosity for a while yet as well. You can ignore the later part of the thread, just the first part counts.

You use the word "design" to describe replanting this area, and that should include a functional assessment. It likely gets walked around - and what is the desired visibility? Is the blocking of the view to the garage a good thing, or do you want to create more of a see-through feel? And if one takes "design" to the max, one would maybe consider tweaking sidewalk shape - maybe with some pavers, since ripping up the old one is likely not on the agenda - and also figuring out a way to eliminate the need for that horrid plastic edging. My gut says some nice rocks, maybe? There are other reasons that rhodos might have failed, among them too dry due to being upslope, plus root competition from the evergreens. While you can't keep the roots out of there indefinitely, a bit of rock berming as you go down the slope might retain some moisture for the plants you want to put in. With that you might even be able to try Rhodos again. Big leaved, maybe with indumentum... would be fab with the brick.

Finally, think it through without the Thujas, because they will be good to go in just a few years.

Karin L

Here is a link that might be useful: Seussian pruning

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 2:14PM
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Oh the gold ones are gone for good I'd say. The ones im considering saving are the taller green ones that anchor both sides of the house.

Ill respond more to that when I get on a pc (on my phone now).

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 3:07PM
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Okay, as far as the plants that are staying, the only thing that I am really considering keeping is the tall green evergreen (not exactly sure on nomenclature). Everything else is currently getting chopped.

And about putting the Lagerstroemia down there...that's not really my preference either, but it's what my mother suggested a while back. If I got my way, I'd put two larger tree versions in the bed in the middle of the yard, one where the ugly oak is and one on the other side (used to be a tree there but it was cut down). I may still propose this...

Functionality of the site: It's not really meant to be an impenetrable screen, just something to draw the attention away from the driveway I'd say. If I do put a Lagerstroemia there, then I'll want it to have nice exfoliating bark so that even in the winter it will have some visual interest. Other suggestions for this space are still welcome.

The plastic edging will be gone for sure. I'm thinking of a form of attractive edging but I haven't come up with anything concrete yet.

The ideas about the rhodos are great...I'll look into it for sure. I've never really though about altering or berming the land on such a small area, but it does make sense in some regards, depending on what I'm really trying to achieve.

I'm going to go start sketching now and try to see if that gets some creativity flowing...

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 5:14PM
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Here's a few ideas. I'm good with the existing evergreens at corners (but you'll need to do something with their bottoms at some point in the future as L. side overgrows the walk.)

Liriope (or other) groundcover below crape.

Trim sprouts off of oak tree. Plant groundcover below.

Is the bed in the middle of the yard a good thing?

Hydrangea in front of the blank brick wall. You already have a lot of evergreen. Hydrangea has long season of interest...even into winter.

Where rhodies are on R side I don't care for other shrubs mixed in (in front) and would keep only rhodies. Then even them up (after bloom) to a uniform, level height and grow as a single mass.

If the grass were improved to a smooth and uniform surface, it would make a huge difference to the overall picture.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2011 at 10:14AM
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Thanks! Some great ideas there that I'll definitely consider.

How much bearing is there to the concept of doing a large crape or 2 in the middle bed and doing something different down in the current proposed location? It's been bugging me that it's a better concept...kind of a gut feeling.

And I like the bed in the middle. Not sure if it is a "good" thing, but it's a large yard and I think it divides the visual monotony of a large grass space. Its great in the spring too.

Any more ideas?

    Bookmark   December 24, 2011 at 4:23PM
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If by the "middle bed" you mean where I put the "closed" sign, I think adding a crape or two would be adding negative. Imagine sitting at a dining room table with someone sitting directly across from you. There is a large bouquet of flowers on the table between you two. You cannot see the persons eyes nose and mouth as they cannot see yours. It will be disconcerting even though you can hear one another and carry on a conversation. The face of a house has some similarities to the face of a person. From one's view to the front door--the destination--is one's likeliest path of travel. In general, placing objects in this path is not a message of invitation. It's a message of "stay away." Are you thinking more about the glory and beauty of the objects (crapes)... or are you thinking more about the space/room you are trying to create?

"...the visual monotony of a large grass space." I will use the analogy that the grass is similar to an expanse of wall-to-wall carpet. Visually, the lawn invites to be walked on (even though, in actuality, this is often impractical.) Nevertheless, a grass lawn is the element that visually and physically connects various places within the space and links everything together. In this picture of a bedroom, is there too much carpet? Do objects need to be placed between the viewer and the destinations (bed or couch)...? Does one view the carpet as large and monotonous any more than one would stand at the ocean and describe the "large and monotonous body of water"...?

Now imagine standing at the town dump. Before you is an endless sea of garbage. (Pretend that smell is not a factor.) Why is the ocean so pretty and the dump so ugly? I suggest that your "large, monotonous" grass space is less than attractive because of the quality of the plants it's comprised of. It's shaggy, spotty, interrupted and discolored. Were it a uniformly smooth green velvet, I think you would think differently about it.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2011 at 9:28AM
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I have played with the picture a little more to illustrate what I mean about using the path to the front door to create a visual "invitation." (Take the drawing generally, not literally for every detail; MS Paint has a lot of limitations.) I'm showing that a new bed (a visual "obstruction") on the R. side helps to focus one's attention toward the center of the picture, i.e., the steps and door... the destination. The lawn is also "smoothed out."

    Bookmark   December 25, 2011 at 10:27AM
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If I were going to add another crape, I think I'd do it on the L. side, forward of walk.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2011 at 11:07AM
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Wow, that makes a difference. Blunt way of putting it haha, but it does help and I appreciate it.

The one thing that I have manipulated more than you are is the bed where you put the hydrangeas. I have hydrangeas in there, but I've put a lot more focus on the details in that bed. I feel like since the path the front door is alongside this bed and visitors will come up close to it, the small details and variation in textures and colors will really make a difference.

I'm not in town, but I'll load up my plan tomorrow.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2011 at 4:42PM
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Okay, here is my first draft of the planting plan. The overall goal is to achieve a lot of variety in color as well as foliage textures, so I've taken a lot of risks when it comes to the perennials.

Number Correlations:

1. Lagerstroemia indica (canopy outlined, underplantings shown through).
2. Osmanthus fragrans (pruned to size)
3. Muhlenbergia capularis
4. Liriope muscari
Hatched area around liriope. Zantedeschia 'Flame'
5. Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' or 'Bergundy Lace'
6. Canna 'Phasion'
7. Raphidophylum hystrix
8. Iris x louisiana 'Red Velvet Elvis'
9. Alocasia 'Portodora'

  1. Gladiolus 'Purple Prince'
  2. Chameocyparis pisifera 'Filifera Mops'
  3. Spigelia marilandica
  4. Verbena 'Snowflury'
  5. Dianthus barbatus 'Heart Attack'
  6. Ophiopogon japonicum 'Nana'

I took most of these from this list: http://www.plantdelights.com/top25.asp. The nursery that sells these is a couple hours from my house...but I may search for similar plants at a more local place, we will see.

If you can't tell what the numbers are in a certain spot, please ask and I can let you know.

Like I said, it's a lot of different plants in a small area, but I think the siting can make it work. I'm not sold on the front part with the Mondo and the flowers in front of that, but I didn't really know where to go with that part of the space. I really attempted to layer from back to front, and provide a lot of different looks in the plant material.

Let me know what you think.

Here is a link that might be useful: Plant List

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 11:10AM
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Wow, hrigsby, that is mucho lot of variety and quantity for the space. Pardon me for being "blunt" again, but I think you are in for a rude awakening in, well, not too long. Many of these plants will quickly outgrow their space or be time-consuming to maintain so tightly. But the day they are installed will highlight another error. The intermixing that you are creating (for example Muhly grass and Liriope) will look busy and junky immediately. It would be better to create larger, simpler shapes out of the species you use.

I know there are many on this forum who would argue against me regarding my philosophy of landscaping (in a host of areas) but my thought is that the front yard (in most cases) should lean more toward landscaping, than gardening...the main objective being (usually) to enhance and show off the house: street appeal. Keep in mind that street appeal is most of the time perceived at about 25 mph. The average passerby rarely has more than a few seconds to perceive your lovely home, so keeping it simple is a plus, not a negative. (Forum readers, I am generalizing a great deal here so please don't hunt down every possible argument against me in combat readiness!) And if you accomplish street appeal, very few will be grumbling that your landscape design needs more varieties.

"The overall goal is to achieve a lot of variety in color as well as foliage textures." I believe your design achieves your goal. But I suggest that your goal might be at odds with what it should be. Pedestrians may swoon with floral and foliar delight at one small portion of the landscape. But it will be at the expense of the overall picture. Instead of trying to dazzle viewers with individual plants on their way to the front door, I would try to get them to focus on the front door. I am not at all saying that you should not have anything interesting going on. Using a highly decorative plant or plant mass in a way that accents or "punctuates" the pedestrian experience is great. But you might be in danger of overdoing it here.

A great way to start learning what plants prosper in your area and how they behave is to view them in the neighborhood. A walk about can reveal much plant variety and some of their habits and characteristics. Also, check out some of the commercial areas as there can be quite a bit of good plant material used there.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 12:57PM
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I'm definitely not arguing that there is a lot going on here. My attempt was mostly just to experiment with different textures and colors and see what works...because I'm sure not all of it will/would.

I think there is a happy medium between the two extremes (landscaping and gardening) that I'd like to reach...but I think what I was trying to avoid was just throwing in one species and letting it fill out the space.

I guess to me this is as much of an opportunity to put in practice what I'm learning in school as it is a gift. We learn about different species and textures and colors and how they go together, but we never really get to implement anything and see how the environment treats it.

And a little background on the area. The house is situated on a cul-de-sac at the top of a hill. The only things visible from the main road will have to be 5+ feet tall. Everything else will only be observed by people walking to the house, or possibly driving around the cul-de-sac, which would be 10 mpg or less.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 1:36PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Gardening in the front is appropriate when people view the space as such, and in your OP you did say that people come and go a lot and this space is what they walk past. And in any event, I see no point in landscaping any house as if it were a gas station.

My front yard is a garden because I have designed it primarily for me. One of my favourite plants in it is a perennial called Anemonopsis macrophylla, which takes all spring to develop fascinating round buds and then all summer to open them. It is planted right next to the front steps where I obviously pass a lot but where we also sit quite often in summer. On the other side is a fern that develops big spectacular fronds very slowly, and I watch each one develop in turn.

Out of my planting, three points. First, the up close view need not only be good on a glance, but over time. I am not a big fan of Heucheras, for example, because they fail on this front... pretty leaves, but as a plant it just sits there, and you can't really tell when a new leaf turns up. Second, the garden looks good year-round as a landscape installation no matter what the Anemonopsis is doing or if it even shows because it is in a rock garden composed of carefully selected pretty big rocks with lots of presence. If I were you I would design hardscape here first. And third, one Anemonopsis is enough. If you are viewing your plants up close, variety is key. To me there is absolutely no point in a close-up view of repeats of any plant unless they are different types of same.

Just one more rushed comment on your plan; hope you will get others and I'm sure something else will occur to me later. Plants crammed into back corners want out, and they lean for the light, except conifers, which will always grow upright as you've no doubt learned.

Karin L

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 2:20PM
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"I was trying to avoid was just throwing in one species and letting it fill out the space." You've definitely avoided it!

Even though I'm speaking in generalizations... the point is that "street appeal" is something that is readily perceived, not slowly examined in order to be perceived ...regardless of where you ultimately perceive it from.

"My attempt was mostly just to experiment with different textures and colors and see what works." OK... this is definitely gardening (even though your focus is on landscape issues.) Personally, I think that every student of landscape should be gardening with ornamental plants as much as they can. It will help one learn a lot. But I would discourage too much experimentation on a "client's" property. Do maybe just a little there. In the case of your mom's house, I'd lean toward using as little as three to as much as six different species/varieties in the space shown on your plan. I think that using more than 7 will take you ever closer to being "too busy."

I hope I'm not making you feel bad. It was no different for me when struggling through the landscape design learning process. I loved plants though I didn't know many landscape plants first-hand except perennials. When in college studying horticulture, I was taking a landscape design class and very eager about it. At a garden center where I worked during the summer, I was asked to design a small bed at the side of our store offices. I jumped at the opportunity and worked on it for quite a while before coming up with a plan that looked, more or less, like a highly detailed medieval coat-of-arms... or a jeweled Victorian brooch enlarged on a copy machine. I noticed that they weren't in a rush to install it during my little remaining time there. I'm sure it was never installed. Then, much later as I was moving on through the landscape architecture program at another school, I gradually became aware that my precious little garden center perennial design was, well, not very practical... or even good. I will admit now that even after graduating with an LA degree, in retrospect, I did not comprehend many things about what makes design good. It's very useful to be looking at landscape design that others have done. When you see a space that seems especially nice, notice the components and details that went into it.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 2:52PM
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No you're definitely not making me feel bad. I view all of this as a learning process.

I got started today, and here is the current progress:

After spending some time laboring over the site, I have to agree that what I've done so far in my preliminary planting plan is too extensive. I think, as students, and even some professionals, get into the habit of looking at the mature size of a plant in notes, scaling that into a circle, and then butting it up against something else in the design (like I have), not taking into account that nature isn't perfect, and it is organic.

So as far as revisions. I have my few favorite plants from what I used, but I also am open to adding others/subtracting some that I have. I need to take into account color and leaf textures when placing them though.

Any recommendations in this regard? Things that would complement what I have? Things that I have that go well together? Things that don't work?

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 5:03PM
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I don't think glads would be a good choice for this location. I like the idea of hydrangeas, but I'd lean toward macrophylla or arborescens varieties as opposed to paniculata. The Osmanthus wants to be a giant so I'd delete it here or plan on regular trimming... perhaps a hedge of it below the windows instead of hydrangea. The Muhly would be a nice accent somewhere if in the full sun. Cannas could get a little out of hand here if they have the conditions they like. Liked your crape and its location. Liriope great for below crape. I don't think the palm will look right. Will it stand winters? I'd evaluate the various "flowers" not on their floral ability, but the overall appearance of the plant in multi season and overall plant habit.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 5:54PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Hardscape. Now it's evident that the section has a slope and I would use that as the base of the hardscape for the whole area, a rising rock bed or timber arrangement. As I said in my note earlier today, if you have good hardscape, plant identity and season are less important and incidentally, since perennials come and go, a good structure is a feature with any plants that are there.

Is this a site where you could grow ferns? A fernery could look really good there.

Karin L

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 2:17AM
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As far as the palms, they are the most cold hardy palms that I know of. I've seen them thriving in Clemson, SC, and I've heard of them being fine as far up as PA. Whether or not they'll look right? I'm not sure...I was just looking for some evergreen material that will fit in to give some winter interest.

And on the note of winter interest, I'd love to add some hardscape, but I'm not really sure where to start. Any ideas Karin?

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 3:07AM
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Karinl, for hardscape, are you talking about terrace-like structures in the planting bed... rocks... or what? And why? I'm not sure I see the benefit for the added expense, effort and "busy-ness" of finished product. The area seems so small to me that plants alone could solve the problems. We're probably helping the OP from the exact opposite ends of the spectrum so, at least, hrigsby should be aware of that and sort out his/her goals and solutions accordingly.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 7:30AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Just a quick post - more later...

Here is a link that might be useful: Northwest Landscape Supply

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 10:16PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Regarding hardscape, the link above is suggested to convey a message of two words: "go shopping!" You know your space and your needs, now try going to some landscape supply yards and see what materials there are. Is this for your mother? Take her along. See what speaks to you both. It may make your design write itself.

Also go back and look at the later pictures in the thread I linked to above. Many have been removed but some good ones remain.

I would probably take up as much as a third of this area with rocks or other hardscape. My rock bed areas may even have more rock area than soil. Rocks in from the edge surrounded by a small scale ground cover such as Ophiopogon 'nigrescens' mixed with Ophiopogon nana to make the edge. Yeah, OK, I like rocks.

Yardvaark, we have different approaches not only to landscaping but also to how we work on the forum. I don't like to design for people at all, even to the point of making suggestions - my interest is in helping people get to their own solutions. So that's why I think we don't complement each other when we are both talking to an OP, even if each of us individually could be quite useful. But even in that, the OP can listen to both and choose :-)

Karin L

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 2:42AM
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Hi, I am kinda late joining this thread, but I have been following it quietly as it evolved. I just wanted to say that I agree with Karin about the hardscape. The link she posted illustrates well some of the possibilities to address the slope across the front of the house. A low retaining wall at the driveway end of the bed could lessen the slope, and I believe it would create a neater appearance - not busyness. Visually the eye falls off the end of this bed, landing on the pavement of the driveway.

The other suggestion I have is to consider changing the walkway. I think it really limits the property to being a foundation planting rather than a well landscaped property. It is also not wide enough to be welcoming.

Hrigsby, what made you choose landscape architecture at Clemson? What parts of the field interested you? Do you have any experience working in the field? Just curious.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 8:41AM
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Don't get me wrong. I love rock, pavers, structures and all manner of hardscape. But I think I'm picking up that this is probably not a high dollar project. ("Student"...?) Often, trying to add a hardscape feature but chintzing on materials or details will be worse than not adding the feature at all. If the suggestion of adding rock hardscape is primarily to create level terraces and lift the lower end of the space, I'm not saying that's bad, but it does add significantly to the cost. The lower end of the walk levels out so I'm not bothered by the idea of groundcover alone there. Rather than lifting the space with a low terrace and then add a low groundcover, I see as little, if any, better than using a slightly taller groundcover alone (such as Liriope instead of Ophiopogon.) Neither do I think it's necessary to accomplish the OP's goals. I see nowhere in this project that satisfactory--even very nice--landscape improvements can't be made with plants alone.

Karinl, I accept that we have radically different approaches to how we try to help the OP and that they can choose their direction. I try to make it as easy as possible by showing and telling. In your telling alone in this thread, I was unsure of the WHAT and WHY of the hardscape so asking for the thinking behind it. If drtygrl is correct in that it is for retaining wall, I don't disagree that it could be nice if the right materials, details and installation were used. (Neither do I disagree that the walk would be nicer widened... when is it ever NOT the case with a "builders" walk... ??) But the OP should know that the price of their project will increase significantly.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 10:43AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

My approach is usually first to see if just a suggestion will help the OP find their own direction. Hunter strikes me as having the skill and vision to do that, as he did with the plant scheme he came up with. Which has flaws, some of which have been pointed out and realized, but the major flaw of any perennial garden is its short period of peak appearance and the failure of many perennials to remain in synch with each other :-)

Also, there are the limitations of the "plants as circles on paper" approach which makes things look far more logical in on paper than they can be in real life. But somehow we are not discussing those weaknesses and helping Hunter overcome them, but rather rushing to an argument about what he should do in the end. The thing is, we are not part of that decision, but rather part of the process whereby he figures out what HE wants to do. So my approach does demand a bit more of him. He hasn't responded yet, so I'm not ready to talk about whether I was thinking of a retaining wall or anything else. I want to see what HE says. But I am really glad to have DrtyGrl weigh in to at least agree that hardscape has merit here. My feeling is that just plants could fairly quickly become an amorphous green blob, just a flatter one than was there before. Another weakness of the plan view on paper is that it does not convey profile from the perspective actually seen. Drawing plant shapes from the side does that better.

The other thing that is a bit difficult here is that if he does something really cool with this area, the rest of the property won't "go with it" and we don't know if he will eventually do those areas as well. But I get the sense he is prepared and permitted here to exercise his creative muscle, and I'd like to see him do that. And I don't really think we've heard what his goals are, and as we all know, articulating those is a first step. So Yardvaark I find that your recommendations are very premature, and thus by default reflect goals you assume he has, rather than goals he does have. That is aside from the fact that I think that what I note when you give people recommendations, especially via pictures, is that they often treat those recommendations as either the best option, or as the consensus of the forum, when they are NOT. Diagrams and pictures are very very tricky to use without them becoming prescriptive. That said, having a drawing to react to can often move discussions along, and on a more real than theoretical basis.

From the OP himself, the only goal I heard was that it should be nice to look at close up. And we also heard an awareness of how the foundation bed affects the appearance of the house on the basis of talking about the two columnar Thujas on either side. That will become more of an issue as he moves up the bed.

Gardening vs. landscaping is a topic we dealt with a long time ago on this forum and my own conclusion is that a garden alone is not a landscape but that a garden can be a landscape feature, and that is what I have a sense is being designed here. But generally, it has to have presence and overall clear form to function well as such. So, an attractive and defined shape with good edging (even if only the sidewalk edge, swept clean), some attention to plant structure, perhaps with woody plants as a base, and often hardscape.

Hunter, one of the most important things to remember when designing gardens is that nothing is permanent. Plants can be moved, and removed, and pruned. Even rocks can be moved. Especially as this is a place you have a long-term relationship with, you get to try, and then adjust. Plus, you have the leisure to plan a bit organically. If there are plants already you KNOW you want to incorporate, go and get them, and move the pots around a bit, stand back, and think about it. Later, when you know your plants better, you will be able to sketch it and know it will look great. This seems like a project where you gain that skill.

Karin L

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 11:49AM
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"...what I note when you give people recommendations, especially via pictures, is that they often treat those recommendations as either the best option, or as the consensus of the forum, when they are NOT." Karin, I appreciate your opinion, but it's hardly up to me to determine what or how people think or what they do with my advice. I give it and they either appreciate it or they don't. I make the best effort to explain the reasoning behind it, when asked.

"Diagrams and pictures are very very tricky to use without them becoming prescriptive." Again, I appreciate your opinion, but OPs must weigh applicability of anyone's advice here whether it be transmitted through pictures, words or telepathically.

"So Yardvaark I find that your recommendations are very premature, and thus by default reflect goals you assume he has, rather than goals he does have." Hmmmm....was hardscape...increasing the scope and cost of the project...ever mentioned as a goal by the OP? Seems like this comment could apply every bit as much to it. It's true; I am guilty of reading between the lines and making assumptions in an attempt to get the issues resolved as quickly and straightforwardly as possible. My experience has it that for front yards, the vast majority of clients almost always insist on two things: "street appeal" and "low maintenance" and often beyond that are at a loss for constraints to impose. The occasional exceptions are usually homes where gardeners already live and practice their skills. Based on the photos of this house, it does not look like the mom has yet brought her love of gardening to the front yard. So I am bringing up that as a designer creating a landscape for someone else, Hunter might not want to project too much of his personal desires into the scheme. If he knows already or finds that his client wants to be gardening in the front yard, then he'll be grateful for your advice.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 1:50PM
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Sorry for my absence. I'll start from the top and work my way down here:

karinl: That link is helpful, but I don't know if it is really within budgetary constraints of this site to implement an extensive amount of hardscape. I feel like a nice visual experience can be attained with a smaller amount, or no hardscape. While I like the concept...I can't see it's relevance to this site. Feel free to counter this.

drtygrl: Thanks for joining in. Better late than never! As far as your questions. I chose it because ultimately I want to get into golf course architecture. I love sports and design, and I wanted to tie the two together. The only other correlation I saw was stadium design, and golf course architecture seemed more of an art form and more practical, so I'm going after it. I really enjoy the program so far.

I like a lot about the field. I'm currently just getting into experimenting with actual applications (no prior experience, to answer your last question), and I like the freedom to design and the vast plant palette that exists. So many people limit what they use to 10 plants or so, and I really like the concept of doing things differently. Using different materials, plants, etc., to create something that is visually different, but yet attractive at the same time. I also like using design to increase functionality, although I'm not sure if that comes into play in this project.

The rest of the posts: Calm down guys/girls! I like where this is going, and I appreciate what everyone is adding to this. I'm sure it will result in a great product for my mother, but arguing isn't going to help me out very much. It's actually nice to see differing opinions so I can weigh them out against my own. It all helps shape the end result.

As far as some of the inferences contained within those posts: The plan is to do the entire yard with time. Kind of like an extended, piece by piece gift. So don't worry about this part not jiving with the rest. The big picture should be addressed though, and what I can do to this section to enhance and complement future changes/additions.

I've started working. Here is the progress so far:

This is a 'Catawba' crape. My mom fell in love with the color when I showed her the options (she narrowed it to Catawba and Tonto), but I could tell her heart was with this. Since it's a slower growing variety, I feel I can control it and keep it contained in the space. I'll be home to handle something like this (not the case with faster growing things).

I'm going to go hunting for Liriope tomorrow. The nursery had it, but only in 1 gallon pots for $5 each. I felt like on something like that I need to find some 4 inch pots for much less since it's so rapid growing the size doesn't matter and I need quite a few. Hopefully I can get that done tomorrow.

My father picked the dark mulch, and I just wanted to get it in place to hold the soil since it was beginning to rain (no need for a red clay flood on the driveway). I'll get more tomorrow and add that where it's thin or nonexistent.

The rocks around the edge were for containment purposes. I just threw them in to give the space a decent appearance until I can deal with it further. I'm heading back to school tomorrow, so I'm going to make it presentable, and then I'll have time to scheme up what I want to do to make it better when I come back and then I can implement those ideas then.

Again, sorry for my absence. I'll be sure to check back here more often and I look forward to more responses and help!



    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 12:01AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Thanks for the update, Hunter.

The conflict between advice-givers is something of an overflow from other threads where two styles of advice-giving conflict. Enough said. But what is important for you to know is that no one of us speaks for the forum or gives advice that reflects the collective opinion of the forum, even if our advice does have a cumulative effect, and as an advice-seeker it is up to you to sort out what works for you and not let yourself be talked into doing anything you don't want to do. If you read other threads here you might begin to recognize patterns in how different people participate - as you were obviously quick to do with the first response you got on this thread!

So I have no problem with you not wanting to do hardscape. Your job is to do what makes your mom happy, probably within the confines of good design. But insofar as you might learn a bit about options while you're here, I'll expand on how I might use hardscape if I were doing this (although I'm an amateur at this, not a pro).

I think I would begin thinking with the eventual model of either a millstone - imagine it sort of laid on top of the bottom round bed and disappearing into the hillside or something to do with a spiral (Fibonacci?) married to that image. I would vary the height - high at the house and at the bottom, tapering to nothing at the front of the bed going up the hill. The millstone shape, made up of separate rocks, would be set in from the edge of the bed by at least 8 inches - stones put right by the concrete create an awkward crack to weed. The stones would maybe be set apart somewhat so that plants can tumble down between them as well as grow above and below. And your tree would be placed within that circle, but not centred in it.

There are many qualifiers here - one is whether hardscape is a desired theme for the rest of the property, and the other is whether your mom likes rock, or whatever you might use. Another is cost - and also, if you go collecting stone from nature or craigslist, you have to work with what you get. There are also variants - you could make it quite high at the back with multiple levels so you get a mini-cliff-face look from the driveway, with ferns dripping down it. Depends how much room you need for car doors.

I think I would also angle off the sharp corner of the bed. If it's 90 degrees, a triangular paving stone in that corner would do it; if it's less than 90, you cold look for a piece of flagstone that fits.

Finally, nothing wrong with a $5 gallon pot of liriope - you can divide it into as many clumps as it will yield. You don't have to plant "by the pot."

I hope you'll keep us posted as you progress.

Karin L

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 12:27PM
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Another few hours of work done on it. It was dark when I took the pics but they aren't too bad. Pretty plain appearance now but once it grows I think it'll look nice.

The additions are the rocks (ran out of rocks for the night), and the attempt is to create a rough border with some pockets for some smaller plants (moss, bellflowers, etc.). I also added the ring of alternated Liriope Muscari 'Big Blue' and Bearded Iris.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 12:37AM
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We will be adding another ring of iris and liriope outside of this one, and then will be putting some Carpatian Bellflowers and Irish Moss in the crevices created by the rock border.

I'm going to attempt, at least this spring, to grow Cala Lillies in the remaining space (inside the rocks but outside of the liriope and iris rings. I'm not sure if they'll survive in the climate, but it's worth a shot.

I'll try and get some brighter photos today.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 1:54PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

This comment comes very late, but it's about plant #7 on your list, Raphidophylum hystrix. Maybe you selected this because of the eventual height not exceeding six feet, or its extreme hardiness, but it's a poor excuse for a palm. It suckers endlessly, creating a dense, messy looking thicket. My opinion, of course. I'd like to steer you toward the Trachycarpus group, wagnerianus or takil being my favorites, and I've seen many photos of them holding a beautiful blanket of snow on their rigid fans. Palms are VERY predictable as to size and habit, so there is no excuse for planting them in the "wrong spot". Cheers, Kim.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 1:21PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Again, my weeding experience: I would tumble all the rocks inward one rotation and plant a groundcover outside of them - a space a trowel can get into.

Good to see you are progressing and thank you for keeping us up to date!

Karin L

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 1:43PM
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Hydrangea729(6A Ohio)

First of all, great choice with the crape myrtle! It is too cold to grow them as trees here in OH but I grow some as shrubs (and am going to try one as a tree this year by doing the "pot in a pot" method). 'Catawba' is a beautiful tree and should look remarkable against the house! Liriope is an exceptional plant to use with tree- and shrub-form crapes. Smart choice. I personally wouldn't have used iris with the crape and liriope but it might look good; it definitely gives you an area with good seasonality.

I want to echo your sentiments about designing a front yard that is somewhere between a "garden" and a "landscape." That is the approach that I have used in my front yard for years (I am a college student as well) and it serves me well. I think your overall plan is good but I would simplify it a bit. From my perspective, the only two really important aspects of landscape design that play into curb appeal are color and structure. Forget the rest...it really doesn't matter. In fact, I think any landscape--viewed macroscale or microscale, which successfully uses color and structure will be a successful landscape. In a front yard, make sure to pay close attention to color, seasonality, repetition/rhythm, and plant form and you will be golden. I am not sure how "concrete" your plans are, but some of my favorite utilizations of crape myrtles have used Knock Out roses, liriope, and Russian sage, following a pink-white-purple scheme. For 'Catawba', consider Blushing Knock Out. That pinkish-white would be stellar in terms of providing just a subtle splash of color variation between the liriope, crape, and sage. I am a hydrangea gardener at the core so I appreciate your plans to use some paniculatas. 'Limelight' is an exceptional plant. I have grown it for years. 'Burgundy Lace' is good too. Here's my suggestion. I am worried about way too much white up against a house with a decent amount of white. Paniculatas are going to deliver a lot of white, especially the two you are thinking of. How about considering H.p. 'Tardiva'? I have grown 'Tardiva' for years as well and appreciate how its flowers are very loose and airy. Just some ideas....good luck, with your project!

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 2:55PM
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Thanks guys. The iris plantings weren't my idea, but were enforced upon me by my mother. Her brother has ALS, and he was an avid gardener before the disease paralyzed him. The iris bulbs were from his garden and were in the original planting (although they desperately needed to be divided).

So, I humbled my mom by keeping these in the plan. I'm just hoping they grow around the liriope like I plan for (rather than getting crowded out). I'm hoping the muscari will avoid being as invasive as I've seen spicata being around here. I have some day pictures that I'll post up soon.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 1:45AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I'm sure you mean "humoured" and not "humbled"!

Irises can be a pain in garden beds, but they are so lovely that one tries to have them somewhere! They do need guidance every few years when they are expected to share space, even with each other. I actually have an issue with plants like that (I think that makes me a bit of a control freak) and prefer plants that STAY IN ONE PLACE for garden beds. What I often do with plants that try to take over the neighbour's space is put them in a pot. Large containers can be a structural enhancement to a bed and a landscape overall, a focal point, and also a way of controlling pushy plants.

That said, your little garden there is quite contained, and it would almost be an ideal spot to put a single invasive type of plant that you like - say, irises, daylilies, houttuynia, what have you - and let it take over. Plants that travel usually do so downhill (following the water), so they would be unlikely to spread much up the slope. But I would bet on irises over liriope, by the way, plus I'd like it that way - the irises give the better floral reward and the foliage is also an asset.

Karin L

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 10:38AM
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I don't really have anything much to add except that it sounds like your mother has raised a very nice child in you. She should be proud!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 11:09AM
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Here are some updated photos, some in the light as well. I'm home on Spring Break now so I put in a bit more tonight. I've been mostly working on another project.

The tree is starting to leaf out, and the liriope is putting up new shoots, as well as the irises.

I put in some more plants in the crevices of the rocks, and also put the pink flowered plants (forgot the name) that will crawl down over the rock in the corner. I still need to finish the rock edge, then a few finishing touches and it's on to the upper part of the bed, which I still haven't made decisions on after that first plan.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 9:20PM
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