Suggestions about foundation planting plan

squeakmommy(Z6b Mid-TN)November 9, 2007

Hello, all! We recently purchased a house that was built in 1917 (though recently renovated) and are remaking the front yard. The front of the house has a full western exposure, and a small yard. It is also up a slight slope from the sidewalk. We currently have no trees in the front, and the foundation plantings consist of some Japanese hollies. We had to remove one because it had become a giant insect nest, so now we have two just kind of plunked there and it looks rather drab.

The house is teal blue with white trim, cottage-style, with a nice front porch, though the renovators removed all the porch railings. The foundation is exposed about three feet and matches the house (teal blue), except where there are Japanese hollies left. I will try to post a picture when I can.

We plan to plant a white flowering dogwood (or similar small, light shade tree) in the front yard to provide some much need dappled shade in the afternoon (NOT heavy shade). I would like to have hydrangeas along the foundation.

However, I figured I would need something behind the hydrangeas so that in the winter the foundation wouldn't look so bare. I was considering deciduous hollies (winterberry) which would add winter interest, though are not obviously evergreen. I thought the winterberries in the back with the hydrangeas in front would look nice. However, my mom insists that if I don't plant something evergreen, I will regret it (to my dying day - I believe she said - LOL!). Fir/juniper/pine family is out because DH is dreadfully allegeric, and I just don't like the typical boxwood, japanese hollies, etc. They look too formal and uncomfortable in front of our house. Our garden style in other parts of the yard is cottage/informal - in the side yard, I have a butterfly garden and and several roses, for example. Another alternative would be a small evergreen holly, if it wasn't too pointy and stayed small (our kitties lounge in the front beds alot, and wouldn't want them to get lanced!). I also thought about some type of evergreen crape myrtle.

So finally to my question - does anyone have suggestions of alternatives to the "traditional" foundation covers? Something that is evergreen but not boring, or has winter interest but won't crack the foundation with giant roots or something? I would like something informal and soft, that with the hydrangeas will say "Welcome to our comfy Southern cottage!" Any suggestions?

If I can't find anything, DH suggested that we paint bunnies and woodland animals on the foundation, to give the neighbors something to look at in the winter - LOL!

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squeakmommy(Z6b Mid-TN)

Oh, one more thing, please not nandina (sp?) or photinia (sp?). Those are done to death around here, and rarely done well.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 11:00AM
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If it's a full western exposure, do you think that hydrangeas would work? The usual pink/blue ones (called mopheads) appreciate some shade. Can you figure out how many direct hours of sun the area receives? Just observe on a sunny day, checking every hour until the sun moves elsewhere.

Evergreen shrubs include dwarf yaupon holly (no prickles), dwarf compact japanese holly like 'Helleri' (also no prickles), some kinds of leucothoe (also dwarf), dwarf mountain laurel (depending on the sun). Not sure if Daphne is hardy to 6b, it can do well with proper soil prep. For areas that can handle a taller shrub (between windows), consider fragrant tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans). Depending on the sun conditions, Pieris is also a very nice evergreen.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 1:02PM
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squeakmommy(Z6b Mid-TN)

Thanks for the suggestions, esh_ga. One of the reasons that we are planting the tree to give some much needed shade. Nothing will grow along the front except the standard japanese hollies, boxwoods, etc. It will be several seasons before the tree matures to the point that it will provide a lot of shade, but hopefully it will at least help a bit at first.

Our house it very angular and I am hoping to soften the effect with some softer landscaping. We currently have 'Compacta' Japanese hollies, which attract insects and insist on looking formal and boxy even with light pruning. They were planted too far apart to provide a "solid" green backdrop, and too close together to allow sunlight to get between them except in the hottest part of the afternoon. So they are coming out.

What is the "take" of everyone on whether foundation plantings have to be evergreen? Our foundation is not ugly, per se, so I thought I might be able to use something non-evergreen with winter interest.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 1:57PM
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Oh, sorry I mentioned japanese hollies - I forgot you said you didn't want those.

You are right that people place too much emphasis on hiding their foundation - foundations are not always ugly. Just a few evergreens for winter interest could suffice.

My foundation is a mix of evergreen and deciduous, including some things that I suggested to you. I try to use mostly natives so I have mountain laurel, florida anise, native azaleas, fothergilla, daphne (not native), leucothoe, tea olive (not native). I think you could do a mix as well. I also use some tall ferns as filler during the warm months; they go dormant in the winter.

I do think that it will be a while before a tree like dogwood gives you enough shade to plant certain things. You might consider one set of shrubs now, knowing that you want change them later when the shade is available (3-5 years from now). Are you planting the dogwood right next to the house or further out, it might make a difference on where the shade will be.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 2:21PM
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squeakmommy(Z6b Mid-TN)

esh_ga, thank you again! The dogwood will be planted in the center of our front yard, so maybe 10-15 ft' from the house - LOL! We have fairly small front yard. There is a bradford pear off to the southwest corner that shades the front bed a little in afternoon as well.

I think you are right - we are going to have to put in one thing now, and work up to the part-shade garden. Rather than hydrangeas, I may initially put in some shrub roses. But I thought I would get the "backdrop" started now so that it could be more established when we add other things.

I guess I will need something that can tolerate the sun now, and still be nice as the area gets shadier. I was considering daphne until I read that it was poisonous. And I like the idea of native azaleas - I like to make native selections when I can (said the girl who wanted to plant hydrangeas!). I had to look up fothergilla, and that is nice also!

I think a mix of things would be good. I will have to take some measurements - we were planning on making the bed a bit larger, but I will need to stick with just a few varieties, as there just simply isn't room. If this gives you an idea, the front walk is off-center to the left as you face the house. Originally, we had one japanese holly on the left and two on the right. As they matured to about 4-5' tall and about 4' wide, they pretty much took up the whole bed, except that the two on the right had a space of about 2' between them. They are healthy, just more formal than I like, and it doesn't help that DH feels he needs to "prune" them (ex. he "pruned" them yesterday, which means now they will sit there denuded of leaves in the pruned areas all winter until they leaf out next spring - grrr!).

Maybe I can choose a couple of evergreen plants of some variety to flank the stairs (and hang Christmas lights on), and then use something more to my liking for the rest.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 3:28PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

If you are relatively new to the house, I'd strongly recommend that you spent at least a year there before making any major changes to the outside. At least wait until spring, so you get a better idea for what real winter deficiencies might exist. Also, if you really want shade, you are probably much better off with a real shade tree than a dogwood. Particularly if you are thinking of the native dogwood, Cornus florida. It's the kind of tree people plant in full sun gardens because they don't cast enough shade to bother the plants.

Where you are, winter is probably a brown and gray affair. This often leads people to variegated evergreens because they provide a visual pop when everything else is quite bland.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 4:12PM
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squeakmommy(Z6b Mid-TN)

Thanks, mad_gallica. We have been in the house for four years now. We originally considering a maple for the front, but there is just not enough room - it will quickly get too big. The nice thing about our neighborhood is that it was built in 1917 as a planned community, so we are able to walk/drive around and see what other people have done with the exact same house that we have and how it worked.

It took us months to finally decide on Cornus florida for the front. One of the reasons that we bought the house was the wonderful light, so we wanted a tree that would diffuse the afternoon sun somewhat without eliminating the light.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 4:31PM
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goodhors(z5 MI)

My suggestion would be to try some grasses instead of bushes. You said foundation was already painted, so you will need to repaint at some point. Can be hard with full bushes. Grasses would be easy to work with, come in a variety of sizes. I like how they add some motion in winter. Color could come in summer, striped or zebra grass, purple leaves.

You could add some bushes as part of an alternating plan for continutity. Maybe design from the corners towards the center, big clumps on corners, sizing down to a pretty bush. Perhaps mixed with other silver leafed plants, Russian Sage, Lambs Ear or Rose Campion. Catmint is more green, has a good bloom season, then sheared off, will bloom again. All casual plants, can be billowy, soft around edges. Easy care. Several together, make a bed space, for the alternating plan. My cats like them all. Many other plant selections that would work, be happy on a west side.

I am not real familiar with your area, so can't help with the evergreen bushes. I know I don't want sharp things around the house, always getting snagged.

Actually the twiggy bush can be fun to decorate with seasonal things. The neighbor's naked lilac gets a real workout wearing Christmas lights, Valentines, Easter eggs, Halloween spider webs. You would have the flower bonus, fall colors, in the other seasons.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2007 at 11:58PM
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squeakmommy(Z6b Mid-TN)

Thank you everyone for the great ideas. I really liked the idea of grasses also. Someone I know suggested rosemary as well.

One of the things I determined this weekend is that I can use forced perspective in my foundation plantings since my house sits about three feet above the sidewalk and 5 feet above street level. I can choose something decorative and deciduous, but taller, such as winterberries, for example, along the foundation, and then plant smaller evergreens in front of that. The effect would still cover the foundation without being boring, and allow me to use something in the back that while attractive might be leggy.

I have abandoned the idea of hydrangeas in the front for now, but I have a great place around back for a few, and once we get our front fence in, I can put some inside the fence.

Thanks to everyone for all your suggestions - I have been trying to decide for almost two years what to do!

    Bookmark   November 12, 2007 at 10:44AM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

As far as a tree for the front, there are a great many choices between a thug of a maple and a small dogwood, and to the west of a house is where a tree should be sited to provide shade.

Have you considered something like a Heptacodium miconioides--20 feet, multistemmed with interesting peeling park, fragrant white flowers in late summer followed by a long show of red calyxes. Or perhaps a Sweetbay Magnolia (M. virginana)--25-30 feet, airy and open, highly fragrant flowers for about 6 weeks in June into July. I think you need to rethink the tree choice.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2007 at 6:41AM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Other shrubs to think about include Abelia spp., Indian Hawthorn (Raphiolepis), Loropetalum in either the purple-leaved or green (may need pruning to keep to size), Iteas (not evergreen), Clethras (not evergreen), Gold Mound Spirea (not evergreen, and maybe overdone), Caryopteris, Buddleias which may also be too big, or a Star Magnolia (not evergreen). Any of these would mix well with the others and with grasses and perennials.

I would agree that while they are attractive while in bloom, and the fall color can be nice, a dogwood might not be the best for shade. The 2 choices Lacey suggests would be good, as could a tree-form Serviceberry (Amelanchier), or a smaller cultivar of a Birch (probably River Birch), single trunked so as not to block too much of the space available. Vitex agnus-castus is another small tree that seems to stay fairly open - has at least one flower flush in the summer, and more with watering - with blue panicles.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2007 at 8:25PM
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linrose(6b KY)

You have so many choices, what fun!!! I'm with esh - a mix of deciduous and evergreen is much more interesting. And I'm all for natives as well. I was faced with a similar foundation-type challenge this past year on the front side of my house. I had a whole lotta shade from huge Southern Red Oaks so I didn't need to add any more shade. In fact I had a hard time finding beautiful plants that thrive in full shade but I managed. I've been mostly happy with my choices (again assisted by all the wonderful GW folks here.)

This has been a most beautiful autumn here (I'm just north of you in KY), despite the Easter freeze and summer drought so I thought about your question in terms of fall color. I ran out with my digital camera and snapped off a few shots of some shrubs I have around my foundation in full autumn glory. I didn't get around to all of them as I lost the light. Sorry for the flash pictures, I still don't know how to turn it off when I want to.

For my part on the north side I chose heavy to moderate shade evergreens - Mountain Laurel, Pieris, Leucothoe and Sarcococca, and some shade tolerant deciduous shrubs - Itea, Calycanthus, Cornus, Hydrangea quercifolia, Fothergilla, Viburnum, and some perennials - Hellebores, Heucheras and Liriope. I can't remember them all right now.

But just around the corner on the east side of my house I have the hottest, sunniest driest garden - and so the plants change dramatically from my northside shady garden - the transition is kind of tricky. I have a mature Fosters holly at the corner, limbed it up a bit and underplanted it with a Clethra (another native favorite of mine.)It'll take a mix of sun and shade. BTW it has a great golden fall color not to mentions its fragrant white summer blooms.

I second the idea of planting an Amelanchier (serviceberry) in your front yard. It is a beautiful tree, larger than a florida dogwood with less disease problems and the birds love it too! Great fall color. Again the shade from it will be light.

Don't be afraid to just dig in and go for it. There are no mistakes in gardening, just "learning experiences" LOL!

Some late afternoon pics for you:

Fothergilla - I LOVE this native shrub, I have several planted around my deck and in the wooded area in the backyard.

Oakleaf hydrangea - also a native, and look at that fall color! The flowers are amazing too!

My "hot" eastside foundation wall - with a rugosa rose and Miscanthus, a pleasing combination, in all seasons.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2007 at 6:26PM
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I'm new to this forum, but I have a very similar front yard planting, in zone 5. I removed all of the overgrown (evergreen) yews and arborvitaes that skirted our foundation, and had the same questions as you.

I like all the suggestions so far, I have pennisetum on either side of my front steps, and sweetspire shrubs backed by Summerwine ninebark. These have outstanding fall color. I like the idea of shrub roses in front of those two, I also have three evergreen dwarf inkberry hollies in a small grouping at the corner (but I move things a lot!)and dark purple sedum and heuchera & Firewitch dianthus, which still has a few blooms!

I have a variety of other perennials (yarrow, salvia, daylilies and blanketflowers)chosen for their long season of bloom, but that may be too busy for some, & I plan to edit in spring...

Lots of lady's mantle (think they need more shade), artemisia may be a better foil for the dark purple foliage, still deciding...

I hope this gives you some food for thought, happy gardening to you!

    Bookmark   November 21, 2007 at 10:40PM
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rteets(PA z6)

I took on the task of doing the landscaping around a friends business a couple of years ago. I really don't like evergreens and I feel that they pretty much just disappear in a landscape - summer or winter. So I didn't plant any evergreens there at all. For winter interest I planted deciduous winterberries (nothing left in winter except gold berries), a crabapple with gold fruit and several yellow-twigged dogwoods. The building is red so in winter it is quite a stunning display of gold against red. No one has anything like it and it really catches your eye. With a blue house you could of course use red varieties if you prefer. You can also purchase red or yellow-twigged dogwoods with variegated leaves to they have a bit more summer interest. All of those plants would just love a western exposure. Good luck.....

    Bookmark   December 27, 2007 at 6:41PM
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Also consider skimmia - it's got year round interest (berries, and very long lasting flowers) as well as great glossy foliage.

The native inkberry (Ilex glabra) is a much looser, more informal evergreen holly. The berries are black, so not as showy as some others, but these are great in the right setting.

I have only a few evergreen shrubs in my foundation planting, with hydrangeas and azaleas mixed in, but I also have a lot of big hellebores, which are evergreen and bloom in winter; they really carry the border through the winter season and I love their glossy, interesting foliage.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2007 at 5:35PM
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Is Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana var. virginiana) self-fertile; or are two required for fruits/berries?


    Bookmark   May 25, 2008 at 7:38AM
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