What would you do with these perennials?

SnailLover(5a MI)April 27, 2014

I posted this on the landscaping forum, but the discussion became focused on my trees, which I am not cutting down. I really just want some guidance on how to rearrange that strip of perennials above the For Sale sign. I was hoping you all could give me some ideas.

To the best of my knowledge, they are: rosebush, tea rose, lavender, lillies, ornamental grasses. That group with the white flowers I can't ID. It's low and creeping (kinda invasive). Additionally, last year I added black-eyed Susans and mums. I think I only made it more hodgepodgey than it already was. I know it's not a good photo, but it's all I have. Hopefully you get the idea.

So my question is, if someone gave you this mess and challenged you to make the most of it, how would you rearrange it? I can relocate whatever doesn't work there, and of course add other perennials. I have more tea roses planted elsewhere and wondered if they'd look better grouped together.

The ornamental tree at the end was cut down last fall because it was dying. I would like to get another but not sure where to place it either.

I'd like to move the whole thing down further and make use of the slope. Beyond that I have no idea how to proceed!

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I don't know what you heard on the Landscape Forum but I'd get rid of the two trees in the center (especially the large one) to open up the area letting some sun in, they hide the view of the house. The very tall tree by the short one doesn't work, its too busy, unbalanced & looks haphazard.

It also looks like there is a large multi-trunk tree growing too close to the house, dwarfing the structure. That could cause major roof damage & expense down the road + the roots aren't going to do the foundation any good.

Those perennials you listed won't do well in the shade. If you are absolutely dug in & unyielding on the tree issue, dig a new planting area further toward the front of the lot on the slope.

Sorry, I know its not what you wanted to hear. Maybe someone else will disagree and tell you to keep them.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 9:05PM
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My first question would be, how much sun or shade does the bed receive around mid-summer? Next question, what is the soil like in the bed--clay, sandy loam?

The bed isn't well-defined--can you edge it so it stands out and appears more tended?

Generally it makes sense to add taller plants either at the back of a border or in the center of an island bed. Adding gradually shorter plants in front of or around their taller counterparts allows both to be on display simultaneously.

To my eye the bed currently has little or no definition aside from displaying what appear to be healthy plants. I don't claim to be an expert on garden design by any stretch of the imagination. I simply know what pleases my eye.

That being said, there does appear to be an interesting mix of perennials planted & thriving.

I'd offer more helpful suggestions with additional information describing the bed's sun orientation & soil condition.

I have two such "island" beds in my garden--an oval (part sun) and a French curve (full sun) in which I grow an eclectic variety of perennials/shrubs/trees. If you're interested, I'll happily share their contents once you post additional information.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 9:23PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

It is hard to tell from the photo, but what I think I would do is:

plant a smallish flowering tree near the right side of the picture in front of the second large tree.

Move the perennials to a new bed to the right and slightly in front of the house.

Grass over the current bed location.

The bed is definitely in a bad place, and making everything look more thrown together than it should.

You may also need more trees on the left side of the driveway. Since it isn't in the photo, I can't tell.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 9:52PM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

I won't cut down the trees. The whole neighborhood looks this way and I like it. Some houses have an extension of the woods going completely across the front of their house, which I also like, and thought about doing on the right side. It's not important to me to have my house visible from the road. Heck, I'd rather not even see the road! I know that's not everyone's cup of tea.

I think the angle of the photo is deceiving. There's more space between the trees and the house than it appears. There's even a walkway and flower bed behind the birch and shrubbery, you just can't see it. I had some lower limbs trimmed last fall and the dying cherry tree taken out, so there's more light coming through now.

Okay, about the flower bed. The right side of the photo is the east and it actually gets nearly full sun. If I moved the plants closer toward the road they would get full sun. It is sandy soil and I've had a hard time getting grass to grow there, as you can see. I agree about the lack of definition. The yard was neglected for many years. I'd love to see your photos, gardenweed. The left side of the driveway has a small flower bed, shrubs, more trees, and a wooded border between the next house.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 10:18PM
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I say do what ya like, since you are adamant & like all those trees so much, why not go with what the rest of the neighborhood looks like & just plant more trees in the front yard? Close off the view to the road, like you sound like you want to do.

As is, that spot of perennials is a non issue since its insignificant & beside the point with the way it jumps drastically from very low plants haphazardly planted by the awkward tall tree sitting dead center (always very bad) smack in the middle of the yard. Moving them left, right, front or back isn't going to make a difference, the big tree will still uncomfortably dominate whatever direction they go.

Large shrubs would make a lot more sense by that tree, the scale wouldn't look so off & more trees would eliminate the dead center problem. Then you can plant whatever (shade loving) perennials you like, once the bones are in.

Don't mess with "rearranging" mature plants, its not worth it, it'd be better to start over after getting the big stuff in for definition.

This post was edited by TexasRanger10 on Mon, Apr 28, 14 at 1:37

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 12:50AM
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SnailLover - Here are some shots of my garden beds-in-progress. They've had some time to mature since these pictures were taken but essentially look the same other than the plants are significantly more established.

Prior to designing and creating these garden beds, I had designed them in my head, drawn them on paper & included the names of perennials that would be planted in each. Even before the design work commenced, I'd done a shade study of my little green acre to save time before digging & planting commenced. Basically, I hoped to eliminate having to "fix" them--my goal was to do the work once then just stand back and enjoy them. I'm primarily in "stand back and enjoy" mode.

Crabapple corner - part sun, east side of the garden (super-tanker cleat & rope gifts from my son--don't ask)

Looking west, this is the north side of the garden. Full shade bed up against the house, part sun oval bed in foreground, gradual slope to the right across the cement path from the shade bed

Looking southwest, full sun butterfly bed in foreground; full sun bed with granite bench in background I named La Musardiere (French for "A place to be idle"). Bench faces butterfly bed

Close-up of part sun oval bed prior to edging

Close-up of north side beds

Full shade bed north side of house

Looking south, west side of house & atop a short, steep slope.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 7:44AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

My question: If you're selling the house, what does it matter what the perennial bed looks like, as long as the overall picture/feel of the property is neat, tidy, and appears well cared for?

What would I do? I would limb up and prune the trees to neaten them up - I think that will make a difference. Then put a planting of bright annuals in the bed for the summer, maybe some pots of annuals on the porch. Keep the property neat and everything picked up/tidied up and clean (including - especially - windows and DOORS).

It's all about curb appeal - you want people to want to look at the inside of your house, first impressions are tremendously important when you're selling a house. The rest (like re-arranging perennials) is fluff.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 8:08AM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

mad gallica, I get what you're saying about balance, and I like the idea of a small flowering tree on the right. Might help soften the wooded border.

Gardenweed, thanks so much for sharing your beautiful gardens! I love your use of the natural elements, and the cleat and rope too, lol. To me, this is what makes yards personable and warm and is the look I'm hoping to achieve. Your cleat and rope border gave me an idea. The previous owners left some type of ship steering wheel or something in the woods (why, I don't know). I could use that in one of the beds. I feel inspired now!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 9:02AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

I might have misunderstand - are you selling the house or did you just buy it? My above post was based on the thought that you are selling the house (since the for sale sign is there).

Still - whether you're selling or just purchased, the trees need pruning. That's where I'd start.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 9:23AM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

Mxk3, this pic was taken when I first bought the house last summer. I already stated that I had the trees limbed up last fall and it does look better now. I have no current pics since there's no foliage yet. We still have some snow on the ground.

What would you all suggest I do with the roses? I have two bushes and about 3-4 tea roses spread around the property. Could I group them in an island type arrangement? The tea roses have to be moved for sure because they're getting no sun at all. I wanted to do it last summer but ran out of time.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 9:59AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i cant see the bed with any definition as to tell you what to do with it ...

but do be sure.. that gardening on a slope can be a watering nightmare ... and unless you are up to the challenge .... of being out there at least every other day.. to insure proper water to all plants... then dont use such ... water tends to roll off the hill.. rather than soak in for the plant .... oh.. it can definitely be done.. what i am asking.. is whether you want that level of involvement ...

where are you??? ... is the flat part past the slope a snow plowing zone???

now.. again.. i need a better pic .. but what you need to do is define.. and improve the bed itself ... right now.. it looks like grass is just randomly growing into it ... we need to stop that.. and remove such ...

once you redefine the bed ... and perhaps reshape and resize it ... then we would look to planting the backbones of the bed ... and that would be your tree if any .... there are very certain tree planting time in MI ... i am down here in Adrian ... and if you cant do it within a week or so.. then it would be fall planting.. especially if such is fully leafed out.. .and even if you find one.. you hold it over until proper planting time ...

then i would spend the rest of the summer getting FULL IDs on all the stock sitting there ... and move them around ... no guessing ... avoiding doing such in july/august.. the heat of summer .... unless you will be out there watering every day ....

and while categorizing all the stock.. and noting how and when they flower.. you might be able to plant them.. in a way that is pleasing to your aesthetic.. as compared to your comment that it is a hodgepodge ...

a garden is an evolution.. and i suspect.. on some level.. you want perfection yesterday ... and if thats the case.. then the problem is your expectation of immediacy.. rather than what you have ... as all i see.. is a fully stocked bed.. waiting for some arrangement.. to suit your goal ...

good luck


    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 10:40AM
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I checked the Landscape Forum where you did get some good suggestions given the lack of information & bad photos. There were even some attempts at photoshopping changes which takes time to do. Obviously you are very defensive about the trees.

I am always a bit amused when someone asks what others would do or suggest only to get a bit defensive about the replies. Maybe you should look at what others have done to try to get inspiration that way. Gardenweed offered some photos for you to look at which seemed to help you.

Ken's response has some very good advice about moving & IDing mature plants but there is not much to work with in looking at the photo.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 2:33PM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

TexasRanger, I don't have the time nor desire to spar with you.

Ken - Yeah, just below the slope it flattens out and meets the road. I wouldn't be able to go much past that sign due to the snow plowing and right-of-way. The slope is also very sandy soil. Should I bring in some top soil regardless? The grass doesn't grow there either. I'll try to get some better photos of the plants but there's not much to see right now. Probably much greener downstate, eh?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 8:42PM
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SnailLover - you've received quite a bit of information from posters above. Fortunately, you can select what you choose from the information and abide by whatever suits your garden goals.

I'm happy to share whatever evidence I may have that will help you achieve the vision you have of the way your own garden should appear.

I was obliged to make some difficult decisions when I moved to my current location. My parents planted beds up near the road that were inundated year after year with road salt & gravel. I chose to eliminate those beds and had topsoil brought in to level & grade the lawn to make mowing easier. I haven't once regretted that decision, nor have I hesitated (as the above photos show) to design & plant garden beds that offered curb appeal that avoided road salt or gravel.

The cleat & rope are gifts from my son who (I assume) admires my addiction to wooden boat sailing in Maine.

My lawn is generally healthy altho' I don't tend it to eliminate dandelions. My father made me & my brothers dig them when I was 12; I think there are more of them since I started digging them more than 50 years ago. Uh, sorry Dad.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 9:13PM
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I borrowed the pic you posted to the landscape forum to repost here. The straight on front view works best for me. Defining the bed with a nice shape and clean edge, then mulching, will give you the best bang for your buck. Also, rocks. Big rocks. This would create a major improvement in its looks quickly, while providing you time to research and plant new things. Don't forget shrubs.
Then, you could reseed the front of the lawn, if you wanted to spruce that up.
(PS - The more trees to add privacy to the front of my home, the better.)

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 3:17AM
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Also, I Googled for an example of what I'm envisioning, and found this stunning bed to get your creativity rolling.

photo credit - http://www.fabulousflowerbeds.com/

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 3:24AM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

gardenweed, I had dandelion duty as a kid too. At my current house the whole front was covered in chickweed. A bottle of Motrin later, they are mostly gone. Now to get the grass growing...

Nutmeg - This is great! I like the shape you gave the front, and also the rocks. That would help with the water running down the slope... maybe give it a terrace-like effect? It compliments the trees in front which was what I had in mind, so thank you for that ;) Saving the photo for inspiration.

Many thanks for the helpful ideas! I'm just not a good visionary. I know what I like, but implementing it is the tough part.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 9:52AM
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paul_(z5 MI)

Always interesting to hear others views -- whether I agree with them or not.

TR, I don't know that I would qualify her stance so much as being defensive about the trees as that she stated in the very beginning that tree removal was not "on the table" but yet people keep bringing it up. It would be like having people telling you to get rid of all the yellow flowering plants around your home after you just got done telling them that you really love all the yellow flowers.

Also I do wonder how much of "public" opinion is a "cookie cutter" reflection of internalized society norms/expectations. Take the ubiquitous monoculture golf course (manicured) style lawn for which most people strive. There are even communities in which such a lawn is not only expected but actually demanded with a great deal of social pressure to conform. And then there is the question of what one is used to in addition to personal tastes. I recall a conversation with a friend of mine whose parents had come up to Michigan from Nebraska for a visit. When she asked them how they liked the scenery, her father responded "It would have been great if it weren't for all the damn trees!" He was no doubt used to have a long clear line of sight. I have been through Nebraska. And in my opinion it was one of the most visually boring areas I have passed through. (I'm still of the mind that practically no one actually lives in that state. Rather it is just one endless series of wheat and corn fields.) I much prefer forests.

A point to ponder with regards to the trees "hide the view of the house" ... the flip side of that is they provide you privacy. At my folks' place there are a number of large trees and shrubs throughout the yard. Personally, I like being able to exit their front door and not immediately have to view the houses of all the neighbors. For that matter, when I visit to work on their flowerbeds, it's nice having that sense of privacy, of not being in a fishbowl on display. I'm not working on the yard to make it pretty for the neighbors.

SL, as others have pointed out, additional photos from different angles would be helpful. Btw, I, too, at first thought you were selling the house. Twas very unclear what was going on.

"The bed isn't well-defined--can you edge it so it stands out and appears more tended?
GW, I agree with you and Ken there. Definition is lacking.

Mxk, which tree(s) were you thinking should be "limbed up"? And how far up? Should SL consider that idea, might be useful to have more detail as to what you meant. Personally, I would not be in a rush to do so. Firstly better pictures would be best for viewing as well as a closer shot of the bed and trees. Second, without know what the smaller tree/large shrub to the left of the central tree is, limbing up may be both unwise and undesirable (assuming you were suggesting that one get clipped).

That 2nd shot Nutmeg reposted for you is a LOT better. Your yard doesn't look nearly so erratic from that angle.

How "stuck" are you on the whole grass thing? If you and your hubby aren't terribly hung up needing a grass lawn and if grass really doesn't want to grow in that front area anyway, then I'd say don't bother trying to grow it. See if you can find other plants that will grow in that area.

Boulders, large stones, large driftwood sections are all things that don't need much care but can add some interest to parts of the yard.

I agree with Ken's ideas.
"that gardening on a slope can be a watering nightmare "
While it would definitely be work, terracing might help. Depends on how much work you are willing and able to do.
"then i would spend the rest of the summer getting FULL IDs "
Absolutely! That includes any trees and shrubs!
"a garden is an evolution.. and i suspect.. on some level.. you want perfection yesterday" ...
Yes, I got that feeling too. And a very common, totally understandable desire -- just completely unrealistic. We tend to be an impatient people. heh

In the meantime:
1) Pay attention to the play of light over your yard throughout the spring through autumn. (How much light falls on the different areas/zones of your yard throughout the day? Morning sun? Afternoon? Evening?) AND WRITE IT DOWN. Because if you are anything like most folks, you will be certain that you will remember but later will realize that you aren't quite sure.

2) Throughout the spring-fall, what is your ground moisture like in each area. WRITE IT DOWN.

3) If you happen to peruse gardening centers or catalogs, or even see plants you like in other people's yard, make a list of the plants (trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals) so you can fully research their needs and whether or not they will become major "weeds"/"garden thugs" in your conditions. Don't forget to record/note how large -- tall and wide -- they will eventually get as well as hardiness zone. It can be a tedious pain to do all the research but it will be even more of a headache if you don't.

If you want you can play around with some annuals here and there to give you some color to tide you over the summer.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 10:50AM
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If you will read my 2nd post, I suggested planting more trees since she expressed a wish to have more to block the view & that the other homes had this kind of privacy. Trees were not an issue with the exception of the dead center tree which is awkwardly situated so maybe there is a good reason it keeps getting brought up. I had a concern about the one that looked too close to the house but that was explained. It would definitely help to tie in that center tree to the ones to the right.

After checking on the Landscape Forum & reading some of the posts, I figured there might be a bit of oversensitivity & overkill on the tree subject but if I was asking "What would you do if someone gave you this mess", it would be because I was stumped on the matter in solving the problem & was in an open state of mind requesting any solutions & opinions. I don't understand asking for opinions then getting irritated if they aren't what I want to hear. On the other hand, if I was fishing for compliments, it might be different.

It is all in how you pose the question & the visual information provided.

As far as what to do with a few perennials, the photo doesn't give enough information to go by so its impossible to say much. However, in that front area which you can see, it would be charming to make it into a self sustaining meadow of naturalized local native low growing grasses, perennials & annuals for some nice color & texture. If its in the budget, terracing with rocks would look fantastic. Since the other properties were described as having trees up front, this sort of natural setting would be complimentary & natural. The soil was described as sandy --- perfect. In the long run, it would solve the sparse grass problem, avoid having to mow & be low maintenance spring/summer color.

This post was edited by TexasRanger10 on Tue, Apr 29, 14 at 14:14

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 1:33PM
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If you want to move the roses you better start now. I have moved mature plants and not lost them but you have to be careful with the digging and not in a hurry. Have they been pruned? There is a rose forum you might use as well.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 3:50PM
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paul_(z5 MI)

"If you will read my 2nd post, I suggested planting more trees "
I did note that, TR, but forgot to mention that above. Your idea dovetails with my grass comment.

"After checking on the Landscape Forum & reading some of the posts, I figured there might be a bit of oversensitivity & overkill on the tree subject..."

I was simply playing "devil's advocate" with regards to her being seen as a tad ...?touchy? Had not read the landscape comments, but if there were a number of "cut the trees down" comments there, then that too could be cause for her touchiness on the matter.

" I don't understand asking for opinions then getting irritated if they aren't what I want to hear."

Quite true. Although there is also the matter of what "tone of voice" one perceives in a written comment. Definitely one of the great drawbacks to the written word -- nuances normally conveyed by facial expressions or tones of voice are lacking. Makes it frightfully easy for parties involved in the conversation to take comments "wrong". (And no, TR, I did not get any negative impression from your comments. Just thought I'd toss this point out there for any and all to consider both as they read and write comments.)

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 4:53PM
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Well Paul, I did go over there later & after reading through it (one in particular, ouch) I realized it was redundant on my part meaning a bit of pete & repete. I imagine she came here to get a refreshingly different angle & there I went gabbin' on about that tree planted dead center. Woops. But I still maintain its not helping the looks of the landscape as is. And hey, I'm surrounded by trees too, even got a couple planted on my property, one of which I wish would disappear, maybe when the $$$ comes in, yea right, I'm holding my breath.

And yer right. Tone matters. Someone should break my squacker sometimes, I can be pretty damn blunt.

This post was edited by TexasRanger10 on Tue, Apr 29, 14 at 17:18

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 5:15PM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

"I don't understand asking for opinions then getting irritated if they aren't what I want to hear."

This. This x 1000. Not specific to OP nor GW; rather, meant for people in general: IF YA' DON'T WANNA KNOW THEN DON'T ASK !!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 7:44PM
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paul_(z5 MI)


And the corollary:
Don't be offended and get your gutchies up in a bunch if the receiver doesn't like your opinion or suggestions.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 8:59PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I like the idea of extending the trees out further with some understory blooming guys of different colors and textures and combining them with a Japanese maple and a american beauty berry or some fall color interest at different. Levels. I would go for the extended woody look and make the small yard into a room. Maybe a small path on the far right . If you like that privacy then create more of a barrier and wooded area. I would make the built up woods area thicker on the right ., more like a diagonal side of a triangle. YES on the rocks. Never too many rocks. Bigger the better.

This post was edited by wantonamara on Wed, Apr 30, 14 at 10:08

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 10:49PM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

Paul, glad you share my view about the trees and some good suggestions also. Interesting to hear about the Nebraskans' opinions. Maybe it is a regional thing. I had more to say about it but changed my mind.

Emmarene, nope the roses haven't been pruned yet. Good idea to visit the rose forum. Thanks!

Wantonamara - your vision sounds very pretty and serene, love the path idea. The diagonal slant of the woods - I think I get it and I like it!

Hope I didn't miss any other helpful replies. Kinda hard weeding through all this.

TexasRanger, this has gone beyond obnoxious and is now entering weirdsville. For the love of trees, enough already!!! The dead horse has been beaten, bloodied, mangled, and still dead. If you don't like a poster, simply don't troll, err, hang out on that poster's thread. Good grief.

Long day, work at 7 am. Spring is here. Be happy.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 12:30AM
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snailover, I apologize if I injured your feelings & yes, my nose did feel a bit bloodied by your reply so keep in mind we all get responses from time to time that we aren't happy with. FYI name calling is not condoned on GW.

This post was edited by TexasRanger10 on Wed, Apr 30, 14 at 15:17

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 3:22AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

"And the corollary:
Don't be offended and get your gutchies up in a bunch if the receiver doesn't like your opinion or suggestions."

Yep, this too. Most definitely. But only x 500 :0p

OP: Sorry your thread got hijacked. It's happens to all of us at times...

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 6:19AM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

BTW, I'm subscribed to this thread so I see the original comments before they've been edited. Good call on changing that last remark. Truly tasteless.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 9:05AM
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"I already stated that I had the trees limbed up last fall and it does look better now. I have no current pics since there's no foliage yet. We still have some snow on the ground. "

Please repost when you can get some current pictures, preferably several of them that show the true scale of what your place looks like now, after the limbing up and removal of the "diseased" tree.

the rocks. That would help with the water running down the slope
If water running down the slope is a problem, fix it first. Some shallow terracing or a taller retaining wall, or maybe even some well-placed large rocks might solve the runoff problem.

If you don't, what you plant on the slope doesn't matter, because it will be hard to properly water, and then will be torn up when you decide that maybe the problem should be addressed.

Here is a link that might be useful: SCale guide for landscaping.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 9:29AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

are you overwhelmed by all this???

the absolute first thing you have to do .. is figure out where you are going to view the bed from ... and i doubt its where the real estate agent took the pic from ...

you can not possibly spend any time in that spot doing anything but pulling in and out of the driveway ... so you and we are at a disadvantage as to planning something for you ... if you want precise direction.. you are going to have to figure out how to get some more pix up.. particularly from the vantage point you decide you want to work ...

BTW: as to the above.. i am not reading much of it.. when it gets to the point it has.. so i am simply talking to you ... and not commenting on all the other suggestions ..

anyway ... forget about the slope.. when you have a few more years experience of gardening under your belt .. then you try making new things .. lets just work with what you have ...

as a hosta gardener... let me tell you.. your trees will be your biggest problem.. they are super competitors with regard to their roots .. and you will have to learn to cope with them.. and a few things come to mind.. NEVER AMEND a planting hole.. else the trees will grow roots into your plants .. never add soil above.. else the trees will grow roots into it.. never water only the flowers.. as it will attract the tree roots... see the theme ...

sooo.. where was i.. oh.. do you have sitting on your porch inclinations.. perhaps after dinner??? ... is there a kitchen window you will be gazing out.. is there a picture window you will be sitting in?? .. etc.. ID where you will spend time looking at this bed.. and then make the bed viewable from that direction ... really .. when it all boils down.. who cares what the neighbors see .. lol ...

and if all your inclinations are toward using the back yard .. then what are we doing out front???? if so.. then edge the bed.. and mulch it.. and be done with it ...

BTW.. where are you in MI ... maybe i missed it ... and i am guessing.. with that lawn.. you are up north ... are deer an issue???

the sand is not an issue if properly mulched.. and properly watered .. and as noted.. you cant build a better soil.. because of the trees ...

soooo .. step one.. whats your viewing angle ...

once you define that.. a pic would be great.. and we could work from there ...

after that.. you would ID the plants with specificity .. as to shape.. size color .. etc.. and arrange them for the best viewing from the requisite viewing spot ...

and dont go all anal about the idea.. that you can plan this out.. and plant it all with the idea that they will never need be moved again ... this is where a lot of newbs fail.. not understanding.. that a garden is an evolution.. rather than a precision plan ... its like war... even the best plan fails.. once you meet the enemy ... lol ... just start doing it ...

also.. keep in mind.. most perennials are dividable.. and you might be able to make a lot more plants.. from what you have ... and note.. that if they are near or flowering.. they should probably not be moved.. you would plan on moving those.. later in the season.. or in fall ... giving you plenty of time.. to develop the bed edges and mulch ... again.. its an evolution ...


This post was edited by ken_adrian on Wed, Apr 30, 14 at 12:52

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 10:10AM
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molanic(Zone 5 IL)

I for one am so glad that you want to keep your trees. I wholeheartedly agree with Paul and Ken about having your land the way you want and not following the cookie cutter approach for "curb appeal". I am more interested in gardening for nature and my own pleasure than "landscaping" for curb appeal. On the landscaping forum it seems all the ideas and designs look very similar to each other. They seem to be about showcasing your house in a visually balanced way for a picture from the street and creating a low maintenance landscape. It usually involves mostly foundation plantings, a lot of lawn, and a few specifically sized and shaped trees.

I know I have never spent much time standing in the street staring at my house. I would much rather have it flipped with the plantings away from the house so when I look out the window I see my gardens or trees and not the street or my neighbors house. Maybe I would feel different if my house was a Frank Lloyd Wright or if my neighbors had a spectacular Queen Anne. Around my neighborhood though the houses are all pretty boring and commonplace. It seems everyone that has moved in lately immediately cuts down all the mature trees and shrubs and replaces it with nothing but lawn....yaaaawn.

Many people also seem to be focused on the negatives of large trees rather than the positives. Yes a large tree may visually dwarf your house... so what. It also can make your house drastically more comfortable in the hot summer. Three well placed trees in our yard plus the neighbors large trees meant we had no need for a/c for twenty years. Unfortunately the original builders in this area picked fast growing but weak wooded and short lived trees (weeping willows and silver maples). As each additional tree around us had to come down the house got progressively hotter requiring a/c.

I also would prefer looking out my second story windows into a tree canopy to see woodpeckers and warblers at eye level, instead of a view of the neighbor's roof or the street. I probably would feel differently if the tree was blocking a view of the ocean or a sweeping valley of wildflowers, but most of us are not that lucky!

I would say to just got for it in the long run with more trees, shrubs, other plants, and less lawn. I would keep anything near the road low for safety in backing out or if you do have deer. I don't know if all that land is yours all the way to the road or not either. If you want more of a woodland feel get some more trees now that are affordable, small, and easy to plant. It will be a long time until they shade the area so you can grow sun annuals and perennials around them and later replace them with things adapted to grow under trees like native spring ephemerals, ferns, etc. You could have rambling paths through the trees and little hidden garden rooms with that much space. I think that would be beautiful there and involve less mowing. If you need space for veggies or other sun lovers be sure and set aside some good southern exposure space for that. It looks like a really nice lot with lots of possibilities to me!

Sorry for getting into the tree discussion again since it was already said and you are ready to move on. :) I just feel like people who like their big trees get talked down to by the designer types who sometimes act like there is no way for it look good without removing trees. Sure sometimes different trees may be more optimal for future plantings farther from the house, but that doesn't mean you have to go chopping down all the existing trees. For most of us gardening is a gradual evolution with changing needs and wants. What we do is also determined by our budget, time, and energy.

Like gardenweed said already if you want masses of interesting plants to fill all that space you can't beat wintersowing for low-cost goof-proof propagating. Also as Ken said you can divide much of what you already have to make more plants allowing for expanding beds at no cost. I always think larger beds connecting trees look better than small beds around each individual tree. I just gradually make my beds bigger as I get more plants to fill them so they always look full. I do a simple trench style edging to keep the grass out that is easy to expand and move when necessary.

Your thread got a little off topic I guess but it could be worse. I came across one on the soil forum recently that started off talking about types of mulch... and somehow ended up about global warming, politics, and gay marriage!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 4:47PM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

Ken - I'm in Traverse City. Deer are definitely an issue. It is overwhelming, lol. There's so much work to be done all over the property. But the front flowerbed was the most neglected so that's where I wanted to focus first.

I guess I would like the flower bed to be visible from the driveway and road, so pretty much where it's at right now, but moved a bit closer to the road so it gets full sun. I could do it in stages like you said. I'd like to get the roses rearranged first since they're scattered in weird places all over and not getting any sun. Then figure out what the invasive one is. I'll get some pics on that to ID. Getting green here finally. I have bulbs coming up - no idea what they are yet!

Molanic - We must be kindred spirits because I feel the same way. We're by Lake Michigan here. People pay outrageous prices for houses that have a teensy view of the bay... if you climb on top of your roof in January on a clear day. lol. My idea of a great view is birds, rabbits, deer, and the resident grouse at my birdfeeder every evening when I do dishes. If I wanted a suburbia looking house with manicured shrubs I would've lived in town. I also don't believe in cutting down healthy trees. I know that will limit what I can do as far as flowers, but I'm looking at it as a challenge. I do have a lot to think about as far as designing. Ken's probably right about taking on too much at once.

I see pics of everyone's beautiful gardens, like gardenweed's, and they look so effortlessly thrown together (I know they're NOT effortless). When I try to plant things I end up overthinking it, measuring and trying to make everything symmetrical and evenly spaced. Then I don't like how graphic it looks and I end up moving the plants around, and find myself getting symmetrical all over again. then the summer is over. How do you guys do it? lol

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 9:24PM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

I read the last few comments again this morning with rested eyes and realized I missed a few things.

lazygardens - thanks, I will post pics later this spring when everything is green. Had the trees pruned late in the year so haven't been able to see the effects yet.

Ken and Molanic - I missed your point about putting the flowers where I can see them instead of the road traffic, so I will give that some thought. Yes to the question of owning the wooded section to the right. The right side by the house (not visible) was previously a rundown dog run. It's a cleared area due to the septic field so a good place for flowers and veggies. Started working on that last summer, but that's a whole other topic.

Lots of good suggestions, so thanks all.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 8:29AM
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SnailLover - thanks for the compliment about my garden. I think it hails back to 2011 and defining the picture I had in my head of what the garden should look like once I grew the plants to set in the beds. Via winter sowing, I grew trees, shrubs & perennials and was able to stuff them into my garden beds so they could grow up and grow on.

The ornamental dogwood trees I grew from seed are 6 ft. tall this year. The grown-from-seed St. John's wort & spirea have sent out new growth as have veronica, beardtongue, globeflower, Siberian iris, Maltese cross, Shasta daisy, columbine, agastache, blackberry lily & potentilla/cinquefoil.

As for design, I grabbed a sketch pad, lawn chair & pencil, sat in the chair facing an expanse of lawn and started drawing on paper what I saw in my head, which is reflected in the pictures I posted above.

Once I had the raw materials (i.e., plants), I started placing them in the beds. Did I make any mistakes? Oh, yeah--like a shrub (that I thought grew 2 ft. tall & 2 ft. wide) planted next to one of my concrete walkways which then grew 5 ft. tall & 5 ft. wide. It's on this year's list of "things to move."

Fortunately I didn't expect to get it right the first time out so making adjustments hasn't made me give up on having a garden that not only pleases my own eyes but also those of folks passing by, either on foot or on wheels.

I picked up lots of tips and advice from folks on the GW forums. For instance, setting perennials in groups of 3 planted diagonally to a walkway or path. Since I had an abundance of plants to work with thanks to winter sowing, I took that advice into account when it came time to plant out. I also reduced the recommended planting space between perennials, down from 18" to 14". Did I measure with a ruler or tape measure? In some cases I did; in others, no.

When I try to plant things I end up overthinking it, measuring and trying to make everything symmetrical and evenly spaced.

Why? Did you read somewhere that things must be symmetrical? Have a look at some garden designs--Bluestone Perennials' website (see link) has garden bed planting layouts you can check out to get ideas.

You're planting your garden to please your eyes, not the formal gardens at Windsor Castle or Sissinghurst. No one is going to grade you for getting it right the first time.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bluestone garden plans

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 8:35AM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

Gardenweed, I'll have to look into winter sowing for next year. Never knew much about it, but it sounds interesting and easy.

--Why? Did you read somewhere that things must be symmetrical?

Heck no, I do it subconsciously. It drives me crazy. The sketching and planning is a good idea, rather than wandering around with the plants for hours, then changing my mind over and over.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 11:16PM
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molanic(Zone 5 IL)

I wish I had Gardenweed's planning! I usually just pick which plants I want based on if they are good for wildlife, edible, or useful in some other way....then figure out where to put them later. ;)

I do group seed swaps and so I never know exactly what I'm going to get that year. Then I sow a bunch (usually too much) and see what I have to work with in the spring. Then begins the mad dash to try and get everything in the ground before they outgrow the containers or it gets toohot. Things get planted wherever I think they will grow well, without too much regard for color or "design". It somehow all works out, fills in, and looks pretty good.

Anything that I end up not liking gets tossed in the compost with no guilt because I didn't pay anything for it and it gives me room to try something else. I buy very few plants unless they are a real bargain. I am finding less things that interest me in stores since I got more into natives though. I might buy a few things a year, but more often than not now it is mail order.

Shrubs and trees do require more planning. You really don't want to have to move them once they start growing. It is very easy to put them in a bad spot or too close to something when they are so tiny and cute. I do break out the tape measure for them.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 7:11PM
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SnailLover - I winter sowed (WS'd) a total of 486 recycled milk/spring water jugs my first year. A neighbor who makes a run to the town landfill every Monday brought me a truckload of recycled jugs every week, He laughed and laughed and laughed at the idea of growing plants from seed in containers through the winter. He stopped laughing when he saw my results. The ornamental dogwood trees I grew from seed the first year are planted in his garden.

I traded for seeds on the GW Seed Exchange. Other winter sowers (read, addicts) sent me "newbie" packs of seeds. I just kept on filling containers & sowing--it was the most fun I'd had in winter ever!

Once the sprouts started showing, I got a clearer picture of just how many perennials I had to plant out. I gave away gallon pots of perennials to anyone who'd take them. Luckily my daughter is an avid gardener as well so plenty of the plants ended up in her garden beds.

It's just a guess but I wonder if some gardeners are influenced by what they see either in printed materials (i.e., catalogs), online or via other electronic media. I never gave a thought to those types of things when planning my garden beds. I simply pictured in my head what (to my eye) would look good in the space I was viewing, then grew it from seed & planted it.

molanic - I take sun/shade/drainage patterns/requirements very much into consideration when planting. It's worked for me the past 30+ years so I follow the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thought. My other criteria is sustaining pollinators. I also don't stress over planting out since that can stretch out right through October. Healthy plants don't need to be planted out in summer or early fall. The ground doesn't freeze until much later.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 7:57PM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

Gardenweed, what if the snow covers them up? Is that okay, or do they need sun?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 11:48PM
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SnailLover - snow melts and provides moisture to the growing medium in the containers, ergo, I don't need to water them.

If the seeds were to fall from the plant onto the ground, they'd be buried under snow, blown by the wind or eaten by critters. Even so, Ma Nature has kept the planet green for a few millennia. In the containers the seeds are protected from wind & critters.

There's a website that lists what conditions any given seed needs to germinate. Some need a period of cold in order to sprout. All need some amount of moisture. I'm attaching a link to the Tom Clothier database.

Seeds require three things to germinate: moisture, temperature & amount of daylight. That's not to say they need full sun--they don't--just the light, combined with temperature & moisture, will trigger the seeds' genetic code when the time is right for them to germinate.

Here are my WS containers on my breezeway in 2011. Trust me--they're under there.

These were all grown from seed via WS in recycled milk jugs:


Trollius ledebouri/Chinese globeflower

Lychnis chalcedonica/Maltese cross

Peony poppy

Mallow 'Vulcan'


Platycodon/balloon flower

Belamcanda chinensis/Blackberry lily

CT Yankee delphinium from winter sown seed

Montauk daisy from winter sown seed

Painted daisy from winter sown seed

Winter sowing is a USDA-approved method of growing from seed but, beyond that, it's been proven by average gardeners for many years. There's a WS forum here on GardenWeb. There's also a winter sowing website, www.WinterSown.org, that houses detailed information on the method.

When/if you get caught up in the WS madness, let me know and I'll send you seeds in exchange for postage. One by-product of WS is seed addiction. I harvest seeds now in the fall just because they're there.

Hello. My name is ________ and I'm a seedaholic.

Here is a link that might be useful: Seed germination database

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 7:35AM
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A few more bites of eye candy:

Winter sown Barlow columbine

WS lupine

WS Iberis/candytuft

Breezeway pot ghetto

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 10:57AM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

Oh wow, what gorgeous pics! I can see why WS would be addictive. I'll have to look into this for next winter. My coworker gave me poppy seed pods last summer which I stored in the garage all winter. (Not sure if that counts as overwintering, lol) I think the mice all had turns at them. Maybe next year I'll get some more and try winter sowing. Yep, can definitely see this as being addictive!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 2:22PM
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