My hopeless front yard

kittens(Zone 5)February 4, 2012

Does anyone have any suggestions for my front yard? I have extremely limited experience with shrubs. (Ideally, I'd like to have the whole front yard looking like one of those full, lush shrub gardens I see from time to time but I'd settle for some help just getting the area in front of the deck fixed). My perennial gardens (throughout the rest of the yard) have been successful because I have backdrops for the taller things and companion planting them wasn't an issue because they're easy to transplant around...

This yard runs about 34' across, 48' deep. Just the area in front of the deck (up to the oak tree) is 23' across and 6' deep. There are two cement pads going up to either door and our deck is level with the pads. The sun comes up from behind the left side of house. The house shades a small part of the corner of the yard. I put a garden hose (hard to see) up by the left door area to show where it's always shady. From there it's almost all day sun up to the end of the yellowing boxwood. The rest of the yard is full sun. I have no idea what that scrub tree is in the front and would be easy to cut down. It blossoms in white. There was a row of those ugly boxwood along the deck - 3 are remaining right now.

If you need to know, on the other side of the left driveway sits a crabapple which I love. It's a narrow area until the property line so I just have a hosta bed planted. I have hardly any planting room on the right side of the driveway. There's just a small patch by that trash can (sorry that's in the pic) that I have a few peony in,a variegated euonymus with purple winter creeper for ground cover. It cliffs down there and I have a crushed stone path next to it.

I'm in the process of converting my perennial gardens over to shrubs so I have a variety of inventory already I might be able to use to reduce my budget? (listed on "my trade list"). I don't want anything too tall in front of the deck so we have some street view while sitting. If I was going to put some taller items in the yard, any suggestions on where to place them? I'm liking my dogwoods because of the interesting foliage, along with my small dappled willow. And I've propagated quite a few hydrangea because they flower for long periods. I prefer a more casual style and enjoy some yard maintenance.

Anything coming to mind from you shrub lovers? Spring is almost here and I'm ready to take on a project!

Thank you!

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

is this a duplex.. with the 2 garages.. are we talking about designing half the lot.. or all of it..

whats the big close tree ... maple might be a problem..

looks like another of the boxwood is already dead ... too much shade.. and the large tree sucking the life out of them???

get an ID on the road tree ... native dogwood maybe... WAG, fer sure ...

where are you.. z5 is pretty variable ... in a normal winter.. do we need to keep 4 or 6 feet along the drive grass.. for snow removal????

try digging a hole about 10 feet out from the tree ... and see if the soil is actually workable ... if its a maple.. it might not be ...

i think kerria can handle a lot of shade ...

really.. the sky is the limit.. i am trying to figure out where you want to go.. including what level of care you are willing to deal with ... do you want to be out there a few hours per week.. playing in your garden.. or do you want something carefree, but for getting things established the first year or two ????


    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 3:34PM
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kittens(Zone 5)

Hi Ken -

Yes, this is my duplex so I want to do the whole yard. I think the big tree is an oak tree. The boxwood is yellow b/c I moved it over a bit when I was taking out the others and then neglected it. I didn't take them all out b/c I realized I didn't know what I was going to put in! They were all in that location living happily for years. They started as little 1-2 gallon shrubs.

I don't have a leaved photo of the tree by the road to reference. It's about 10-12', doesn't shade much. It's got small leaves and tiny white blooms in the Spring. I'll keep searching on the net to see if I can find one. I googled native dogwood but they all are coming up single stemmed. What's WAG?

I'm in Upstate NY. No snow clearing this year :) but yes, the snow from the driveway goes into the yard. It also goes into the yard from off the deck now that I think about it.

Oh, and I also didn't think about the gas line. There's a gas line that runs about 2' left of the light post, across the yard to the right, about 1/2 way up. (They come out and mark it when you need to dig).

The ground if frozen to dig right now but yes, I believe it's workable near the tree. I didn't have any problems putting in the boxwood which are about 6 feet from it. I plunked a 'hosta ring' around it so I didn't bang it with the mower with no problem. I have a sandy soil (think beach) which makes digging easy. I amend with mainly composted leaves, leaf mold and homemade mulch.

I love my Kerria, it has such a carefree form.

I like to be out working in the yard. I'm not a fan of watering but I have a faucet right there and it's a small area so it's do-able if I put in some water lovers.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 5:24PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

What's WAG? = wild ass guess .. lol

only thing i could think of with white flowers in spring ..

here we go again.. flowering shrubs tend to mature and turn into what looks like tree ... so googling pix can be tricky ...


    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 10:21AM
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kittens(Zone 5)

The only other thing I could find that resembled it was a Juneberry but I don't recall ever seeing those berries. I bet your WAG :) is correct. It used to be a completed wooded area and it was one of the things that was never cut down. It should be at its maturity in height; I haven't seen it grown any taller.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 8:35PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

one thing you will want to do.. have miss dig .. or whatever they call it.. mark the whole area ... take many pix after its marked ... for reference ...

and do not plant any long term plants directly over utilities ... nothing like spending 5 years growing a gorgeous shrub.. only to have some utility problem make them come with a big backhoe and destroy it ...

i cant go much further with design ... in my world.. define/build the bed.. and start planting whatever you have.. dealing with some symmetry .. and thinking about height as well as width ... you surely have enough stock ... i say wing it.. and go for it ... and stay away from planting anything of height where you back out fo the drive ...

and since your duplex is a mirror image on each end. . i guess i would tend to not make the bed design the same ... i would strive to make the garden a bit more eclectic ... rather than halves of a mirror image ....

i still dont understand if you are the landlord of the duplex .. renter .. whatever ... i wouldnt invest too much.. myself ... in someone elses property ... unless it just makes you happy to do it.. and if so.. go for it ..

as to the porch ... if i were you.. i would get away from planting something within 2 or 3 feet of the porch ... if you want a sight block.. move out 5 to 8 to 10 feet.. and plant something out there.. and grow it to size ... it will make the porch more airy and relaxing .. rather than growing a 6 foot shrub 3 feet from it... and feeling like you are sitting in a small closet ...

good luck ...


    Bookmark   February 6, 2012 at 9:00AM
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kittens(Zone 5)

Thank you very much for your input, Ken! I own the duplex; we don't have renters, it's just for my family. You are really correct about the porch in feeling like you're sitting in a small closet. When those boxwood started growing, that's exactly the feeling they gave off. I hadn't thought about planting out further, that's a terrific suggestion. So, it's looking like I'll be okay with not having to do to one side the same on the other. I was getting stumped on that part because part is shade. I'm going to have to "wing it" slow because it's the front yard -lol! Mistakes out back aren't in full view!

What's a couple of good reference sites - anybody? It might be a good idea for me to visualize how some shrubs work together before I get my shovel out.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2012 at 1:36PM
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Kit, Ken is right, don't treat it the same on both sides, think diagonally across the front.

Since you own the whole place, pick sparsely branched medium to small sized shrubs to screen the door to the left, where the large tree is. Make a 'woodland' setting so just one door can be seen as the main door to your house.

You can make a mulched woodland path along the same diagonal from the driveway on your right in the photo to the front of your yard to the left of the rust colored pole. You can also make a branch in the pathway to get to the driveway on your left.

By having the pathway across the yard, you can make the whole yard a woodland setting with one 'smaller garden' around the shrub-tree near the front of the road, and that way there is no lawn to mow!

If you get really brave, take the large tree down, but that takes a bit of money, and I don't know if you have to 'mitigate' the loss of the tree and plant more trees to offset the one you take down. That's not a big deal if you can add the new plant material someplace in town or at a local park, but if they want you to replant on your property, that's a bit tougher.

I used to live up there ages ago, and you have clay soil, and a high water table in the spring and fall. You also have to deal with road salt.

I'm not sure if you can have a fence in your front yard or not, in the county we were in, the height was 3ft, and you had to be able to go around it, and the 'picket' spacing had to be so that a tennis ball couldn't go through the spaces. Natural screens look nicer anyway.

Get with a good nursery in your area, and the Extension Agencies are super, East Aurora is an amazing town, lots of pretty gardens in the spring. Their resources, and nursery are very good.

I'm guessing that you have 6.5ph but do the soil test to see what you need to add, you look like you are in an other subdivision so they didn't leave you with sub-soil and that's great, but you also need to add lots of organic matter to get things growing in all that clay!

One good book that I used a lot was "Natural Gardening" by Sally Roth, I'm sure there are others that fit your NE garden conditions.

Here is a link that might be useful: Natural Gardening by Sally Roth

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 1:27PM
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kittens(Zone 5)

I'm getting some really good suggestions, thank you! I can almost start to visualize something now. I like the idea of putting a path in there. I can work within the sections the path(s) would make and now it doesn't seem so quite overwhelming having 'dividers'.

I wanted to take the big tree down ages ago but everyone didn't agree on that so it's got to stay. I have some Japanese Lilac trees and I'd much rather have something like that out there. They don't make a mess and they bloom. But, that makes sense to me to put some taller items in that area since the tree is there already. I never thought of camouflaging one of our doors. I'm so glad I came to gardenweb! You guys have such an eye for designing!

I'm expecting to have to amend my soil. They have a garden show at one of our colleges (HVCC) and the Extension offers soil testing. They also have wonderful displays so I'll see what ideas they I can find. I've never treated my lawn (front or backyard) and I'm starting to get oodles of moss growing so I'm guessing I have a lower ph. I know it's very non-traditional but I just love the moss.

I'm about 1/2 hour away from the clay lands. I've dug a 6' hole before and it's all sand, all the way down. It makes for great drainage and my perennial gardens seem to thrive. I just have to top-dress those beds for ascetics and weed control.

I agree, I like a natural screen opposed to a fence, too. (We only have height restrictions here but you'd have to back it away from the road because the heavy snow the plows push in). I'll have to find some things that can take the road salt and withstand snow piles when I clean my driveway also, as Ken mentioned. I'm going to have a gazillion hydrangea (because they propagate so easily) I wanted to use but now I'm thinking their branches are too delicate to withstand heavy snow. I'm going to have to do some research to get around the obstacles mentioned. It might be best for me to place some ground-cover type items along my driveways and fill in from there. I'm glad that was pointed out to me because I know I would have run into trouble next winter.

I ordered the book that's linked above. The second page of the preview sold me on it! What lovely photographs. Hopefully, I can get some ideas on pairing in that. I have to admit, after looking at her photos I'm getting intimidated about starting such a big project now. It might be best for me to take this slow and work a section at a time.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 10:52AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

you still need to ID that tree ... when it leafs out.. its important ...

and i am not sure you need soil amendment ... especially if that is a maple tree ...

soil amending is NOT needed on trees/shrubs/conifers .... and it seems to me.. that is a vast majority of what you had ....

i swear you had a list of plants.. but i am not finding.. but not trying to hard either .. lol ... i found it in your trade list ...

if it is not needed.. then it is a waste of effort and money to simply do it ...


    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 11:06AM
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kittens(Zone 5)

As soon as that tree in the front leafs out, I'm going to post it up for identification. I'm getting the feeling that I might be able to use it now. We don't think the big tree is a maple because we have to clean up acorns in that area. I will post a pic of that one, too just to confirm. Hmmm, I would rather not have to amend the soil. And you know what Ken, everything is growing well where it is in the yard right now and I never have amended! I'm adding unnecessary work to my to-do list. Yes, I have a long list of zone-friendly things I've started to acquire on my trade list and then I got crazy and started propagating.... 100 Eunonomus Manhattan could be too many lol, guess I've gotten a little carried away but I'm having fun. They take so long to grow though!!! It's much different than perennial gardening. I'm figuring in the long run it's easier and more cost efficient to subtract or transplant as they grow. (I do have over 500 feet around my property lines that my ultimate goal was to create living fences around so I do have a lot of room). I'm not familiar with shrubs so I'm learning as I go... I appreciate all the advise because I'd like to mitigate my experiments the neighbors will be subject to :)

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 12:15PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

We don't think the big tree is a maple because we have to clean up acorns in that area.

===>>> well .. that is a good indicator.. lol ...

i would not raise the soil or amend the soil very much.. within 20 feet of it.. regardless of what it is ...

do you spend a lot of time on the front porch???? if so.. consider adding a small deck to make it a larger seating area... BEFORE you start planting ... e.g. if the porch is 4 by 8 feet, upon which you can barely have 3 lawn chairs ..... consider making a 4 foot addition to make it 8 x 8 .... but on the other hand.. if you dont really use it.. its not worth the investment ...

and once you make that decision.. wait.. here is how you do it ...

get a 6 pack.. or whatever.. lol.. pull out the lawnchairs.. and go sit out there ... and start considering what you want to hide ... e.g. that one neighbor out across the road.. plant a shrub that will attain the size necessary to achieve that...

do you want to be hidden when you are sitting out there... figure out how to do that .. etc ....

until you can conceptualize what your goals are.. you will be befuddled on what to do ....

and as for the driveway.. park two cars side by side.. and open the outer doors.. then add 2 feet.. and you will understand the free zone needed along the drive..

IMHO you have 100 too many Eunonomus Manhattan .. i hate Eunonomus with a passion.. just because you made them.. and have them ... doesnt mean you have to plant them ...

and when it all boils down.. ask yourself.. do i want to be sitting on my porch ..or do i want to be out there pruning/shearing what i plant over the next decades .... i prefer to plant things with proper spacing.. so that they will require little or no care over the decades ...


    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 8:46AM
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kittens(Zone 5)

I will keep all of your remarks in mind, Ken. I'm really liking all of the ideas brought up and I think I have somewhat of a starting point as to at least where the plantings should go. I'll definitely try to follow the spacing recommendations, too! Hopefully, I won't need a six-pack after I start this project - lol!

You had helped me years ago which you're not going to remember. I was having a new neighbor issue and you gave me a fantastic description on how to layout about a 30 foot bed, appealing to both sides to give me 100% needed screening. I was going to install it to anchor against their future fence. I was beside myself to finally have a resolve. When I mentioned to them what I was going to do (they didn't want me to screen my property), they decided to install their fence set 8 feet off the property line so my yard would end up remaining in full view. It was terrible, Ken. I had a 100 foot unkept hell-strip running down my yard which they used continuously as an alleyway. It felt so intrusive everyone abruptly stopped sitting in the backyard. Out of desperation, we slapped up a wooden fence, hence the euonymus to cover it. (I went disabled for some time so I'm just starting to get back into things). The fence runs down a wooded area very close to a pine tree, no less. It's a tough area and it was cost prohibitive to put in any kind of immediate screening. It just takes so much time for everything to grow. The euonymus seems to be working out right now to soften the fence and give it more of a natural look. It grows fast and sure does root well! I haven't had any problems I've read it could have so I plan on leaving it and just cutting out the extra plants as they mature.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 12:35PM
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MollyDog(6 PA)

Have you considered a low picket fence several feet back from the front of your property line. This would give you some architectural interest. I would add a mixture of perennials and spring bulbs in front and/or back of the fence.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 8:53AM
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MollyDog(6 PA)

I should have also said I would anchor the fence with a pyramidal evergreen on both ends. Pyramidal yews remain small and need little attention.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 8:57AM
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kittens(Zone 5)

I hadn't thought about a fence, mollydog. I was thinking about an arbor somewhere but a small fence might be a good idea, too.

I took a picture of the tree by the road. It's in bloom.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 11:24AM
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It's a native wild cherry, Prunus virginiana, called choke cherry.

Not a tree that in my experience offers really deep shade or root competition. You will have to pull up the little seedlings from your garden beds. The birds will be happy with the fruit.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 1:38PM
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MollyDog(6 PA)

I had drawn up something with a fence but i didn't upload because Ii didn't want to be presumptious. I think a fence would make a huge difference.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 3:31PM
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kittens(Zone 5)

Oh, yup, that's a wild cherry up front!

I'd love to see what you did, mollydog. I'm a lost little sheep here. I've been looking around all of the neighborhoods. Everyone seems to have the same front yard :). I wanted to use my dappled willow but haven't seen it in one yard yet. Any chance they have a yellow pyramidal yew?

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 7:05PM
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MollyDog(6 PA)

How about a fence with an arbor :o)

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 9:06PM
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Am surprised that someone has not recommended a no mow lawn. Consider low, mounded shrubs and groundcovers. You don't have to do it all at once, plan it and do it bit by bit and do away with your lawnmower.

Here is a link that might be useful: no mow lawns

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 10:26PM
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kittens(Zone 5)

Mollydog, I'd like to see it without an arbor now. My first thought was an arbor because I thought it was going to need some kind of structure but the fence would do that. And, for reference, that pole in front of my choke cherry is a what's left of my light post. (I was planning on having someone move my mailboxes over there but not put anything too too elaborate because the plows tend to whack them).

sam md, there's a woman in town that has her entire yard in creeping myrtle. The no-mow lawns are just lovely. It's been mentioned that I'm going to need to leave space around the edges of my driveways for snow-clearing. I also want to leave some space in front of my deck open so we aren't boxed in up there. My ground-cover challenge is going to be the oak tree. Lots and lots of leaves come fall. It's brutal trying to get leaves out of some of these ground covers. I have a patch of winter creeper and I have to mow it down in the fall to clean it out. Any thoughts on moss? I haven't spent any time on that forum yet. It's growing happily in my yard right now (both sun and shade). The only time I don't like it is when it seeds and sends up those brown shoots. It's very soft for the bare-foot gardener :)

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 10:22AM
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I love the symmetry of your house, and think it would look darling with a little woodland garden, and the aforementioned diagonal pathways as counterpoint.

I would dig up the dead boxwood but keep and use the other two, as they're so slow-growing, and a few evergreens are always welcome in winter. Plant them close together but not side by side (zig zag?) along where one path intersects with another.

If the light post is non-functional, could you remove it? It detracts a bit from the beautiful specimen cherry tree.

Leave room for bird houses and a bird bath, and you'll have a habitat planting that many will admire. Use forsythia for privacy where needed and a big pop of yellow against the blue of your home!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 2:54PM
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I just remembered an old book, it shows a plan you might like; Home Landscaping: Midwest Region, including Southern Canada, by Roger Holmes & Rita Buchanan, 1999. There is a sunny woodland garden on page 76-77, shown right after planting. On pages 78-79 it it shown after it matures.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 4:32PM
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MollyDog(6 PA)

I can't wait to see a pictures of the work in progress!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 5:34PM
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kittens(Zone 5)

prairiegirl - I will see if I can find the book you've referenced. The light is functional and we want to keep it because there aren't any street lights on the road. I've been looking at fencing; there are many options. I'm thinking now that it might look cute with 2 8-foot long (or so) fences, one on each side of the property but leaving the middle open. They have white plastic decorative fence available. I've noticed everyone's wood fences around here look extremely ratty when I was out driving around. Maybe not even picket but they have square railed fence that's short. The lines might match the house lines better? Then maybe try to incorporate my mailboxes onto the lamp post and change the post to white. I have to measure and have them mark the utility line first. But I'm thinking if I do one fence across, I'm going to have to go between the tree and the post. If it's in front of the light, it'll be too close to the plowing. If I go behind the tree, it'll cut the yard too much. Thoughts? I guess I'm going to be planting from the road first and work myself up to the house now :)

    Bookmark   April 26, 2012 at 2:12PM
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MollyDog(6 PA)

Having fence sections on each side would work...I was always told there should be an opening to make your home welcoming. Later a curved walkway leading to your front door could be added. This would help direct attention to your front entrance even if the walkway is seldom used. The lamp post could be incorporated into the planting bed beautifully, even used for a flowering clematis perhaps. I would only use taller anchoring shrubs on the outside ends so the fence itself does not become disconnected from each other. You could use lower evergreens in the planting beds for winter interest.

If you do put in a path to the front door I think a grey PA flagstone randomly placed would be beautiful with your blue house. At some point a small sitting area under the large tree near your front porch could be amazing. You could use the same flagstones, along large planters rather than trying to deal with tree roots, groundcovers, fountain....ahhh, the beautiful things you can do!

I can't wait to see in-progress pictures. I think starting with the fence will make everthing else fall into place. This project should keep you busy until you are ready to tackle the porch area

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 10:30AM
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MollyDog(6 PA)

Not too hopeless any more. I'm excited and it's not even my yard!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 5:18PM
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kittens(Zone 5)

I know, I can't wait to get started - my back already hurts :) We are fluctuating between winter and spring so I have a couple weeks more until I get going.

You know, after spending more than 10 minutes in the front yard, I found the sun comes up from the road, not from the back side of the house - lol. That might give me some more options for planting in front of the big tree to block the left door. I wanted to put my diablo there and it just might get enough sun. I'll have to wait for the tree to leaf out.

Everyone is giving me such great ideas. My brain was stuck on what to replace the boxwood with. Stuck because that's not what should be done :0)

I have this great white concrete-looking bench in the yard that just might get moved out there.

One thing I know I have going for me is that I've never done anything in my yard that couldn't be rectified! Now I'm feeling a little more confident about trial and error being given some starting points.

And happy belated b-day, mollydog! Mine was yesterday - Taurus rock!!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 10:39AM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

HA-we have the same birthday, kittens. Hope your day was fun! Also happy belated birthday to mollydog.

I have also gotten rid of almost all the grass in my front year. As an aside, the dogs have done the same for me in the backyard. That does not look mas good as the front, I'm afraid as they dig up or trample everything I plant. *sigh*

Anyway, I have several large oaks, as well as a river birch, three dogwood (2 Cornus kousa and one pink dogwood), and a deciduous magnolia. Then, lots of shrubs, hosta, ferns, heuchera, hellebores, aquilegia, etc. I love not having much grass. I think moving a bench out there into your front yard would be wonderful and then a path or two between your garden areas.

I never worry too much about mistakes. I can always move whatever or replace (the small stuff anyway). Enjoy the transformation.
Can't wait to see pictures!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 12:21PM
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kittens(Zone 5)

boohoo! No rail fence you guys :( They've been over marking out the utility lines for me. The lines run from one end of the driveway all the way across to the other driveway. There's 3 different lines (cable, gas, electric) and they start just about in the the middle (between the cherry tree and light pole) and come down to the street. I had the property marked years ago and they weren't there. There's a new house next door. Do they snake them under the driveways? (sigh).

Now I have about 4 feet of frontage with land mines. I best be getting a wooden trowel :) I liked the fence idea because it segregated the property. Do you think if I put a couple of solid heavy-looking white planters in place of the fence I'd get somewhat the same effect?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 9:14PM
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MollyDog(6 PA)

Oh no! I would still go with the fence just moving it back, having too many planters would look too busy. Can you still plant perennials in that area? I don't know how deep the utilities go. Perhaps your fence with one planter centered on each side in front of the fence if you can't plant the perennials or even hanging baskets.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 8:41AM
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MollyDog(6 PA)

You could fill in the area in front of the fence with a groundcover that could curve and continue up the side of your driveway.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 1:06PM
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MollyDog(6 PA)

You havve to let us know what you decide to do. I wish you luck in whatever your choice.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 8:35AM
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MollyDog(6 PA)

Just wondering what you decided to do?

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 10:18AM
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