Return to the Landscape Design Forum | Post a Follow-Up

 o
Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics)

Posted by sidney4 (My Page) on
Sun, May 20, 12 at 10:35

This is my first post on this forum....many thanks in advance for any advice or ideas you can share with me. We built a new home on a wooded lot a couple of years ago. Its situated on a slope and the lower level is a partial walk out. We have a screened in porch on the main level that creates an overhang off the back of the house about 14 feet deep and I have no idea what to do with the area underneath it. We've had two landscape design plans drawn up but in each case the plans only landscape to the outside perimeter of the porch leaving the area underneath completely bare. Both designers suggested just filling in the area with mulch which we did but IMO it is an eyesore. Whats more one of our guest bedrooms overlooks the area under the porch so I would like to create a nice view from the guest bedroom window.

We brought in a couple of mossy rocks which I think may be something to build on but I worry that filling the whole space with out cropped rocks without mixing it with something else will just make the space look like we use the area to toss debris.

Do any of you have ideas of ways I could turn an eyesore into an asset. I am hoping some designer with an artistic eye might even have suggestions for ways to make the space a focal point.

The back yard faces east and I am including a few pictures if that is helpful.

This was taken prior to any real landscaping......

Photobucket

This was taken after the addition of plant materials........

Photobucket


Follow-Up Postings:

 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

That's a tough spot -- dry deep shade. If you want plants to grow in there, you'll have to plan on some kind of irrigation. Even tough drought tolerant shade ground covers like hellebore and epimedium might struggle in there.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Precisely! Putting plants right up to the drip line (as per both plans) just seems to call more attention to the emptiness of the space. Because its next to the patio area it is not something you can hide.If I had it to do over again I would have made that area a full walk out and extended the patio but hindsight is 20/20. If we could rig some sort of irrigation system, would there be enough sun for a design combination of rocks and plants?


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Something that I've been fascinated with for a while is the idea of designs in different colored rocks or tumbled glass. I've seen it done with Mondrianesque color blocks. Unfortunately, the places I'd like to do it here would become maintenance nightmares because the weeds would quickly take over. But it might actually work under there.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

I try many,post a drought river bed garden pic.you should not plant a tree block sun light.

Photobucket


 o
RE:65 Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pi

Where are you?I suppose you be Zone 5.Are there any snake or other?


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Ooh, you have a chance to make something so cool there, especially as you have shown that you already tend to containers in the nearby seating area. What room is behind that window?

I would level out the ground under the window and add a bunch of store bought and/or homemade hypertufa troughs. Plant the deeper containers with dry shade loving perennials like ferns, hostas and bugleweed, the more shallow ones with whichever shady annuals you prefer. These can easily be changed up as needed. Watering once a week or so with a garden hose would be the only maintenance that you would require over the growing season. Intersperse with large, architecturally appealing rocks for year round interest.

If you like, you could even have a shallow water feature directly under the window - just make sure that you add mosquito dunk if you like the quiet or a fountain spitter for the ambient sound.

Untitled Untitled Untitled


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

mad gallica...interesting idea...and you are right...... weeds would not be a problem. The biggest challenge right now is leaves. The area just above the upper stone wall is like a wind tunnel and all the leaves get trapped under the overhang. Our leaf blower works for now and we're studying ways to place shrubs on the north side to form a windbreak of sorts. Is there any chance you have pictures of what you are talking about? I've also wondered about working in some sort of sculpture in that space. We just had large metal sculpture set on the opposite edge of our back yard and I like the contrast between nature and the contemporary design of the sculpture.

designoline6, I love what you mocked up. Are those flagstones? What are they set in? Do you think I could get by with plants along the base of the upper wall since it opens to the north side? You are correct...I am in Zone 5 ...northwestern Illinois.....very hot summers and very cold windy winters. As for snakes and such ....we have a little bit of everything. The back of the house faces a densely wooded slope. We are regularly visited by deer, turkeys, groundhogs, fox,etc. So far we've been pretty lucky with peaceful coexistence with nature. The groundhog is the only animal that seems to bother plants in our yard.

I agree with your comment about the tree. That was the landscapers idea . He thought a weeping cherry would provide a nice view from the guest bedroom but I'm wondering if it makes that area looked more closed in. It doesn't really block the morning sun ,however. I think it looks that way because of the angle with which I took the picture.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Do you have kids? That would be a great spot for a secret fort.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

adriennemb, great suggestion. I think that is the kind of thing I would like.....and it sounds as if it would be manageable. I'm not sure what you mean about leveling out the area beneath the window...it is already level. The room behind the window is one of our guest rooms, BTW.

I like the look of the handmade hypertufa troughs but I'm not sure how to make them. Is it difficult to do well? How deep would it need to be to be practical? This may be a dumb idea but can a planter of sorts be fashioned using several old black water mossy rocks?


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

tanowicki, I have grandkids including 2 grandsons that are 6 and 8. Normally that would be a draw for two boys that age but they are much more attracted to the acre of woods behind it. It is such a cool area to explore that even the adults tend to wander back there.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

I like the gravel idea by designoline poster or a secret patio....with a fountain and some artful pots. Maybe install a wooden arbor for an entrance.

Tressa


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

I suppose that you could try to make a kind of container with black mossy rocks, but without a liner of some sorts, the soil, water and nutrients would just seep out through the gaps. I do know that making and planting troughs of hypertufa is not hard and is a great project to do either by yourself or with the kids.

I've tried to link a couple of sources here (let's see if this works), but there's lots more out there...

www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/make-hypertufa-trough.aspx
www.perennialresource.com/articles/181_The-Complete-Guide-to-Growing-Perennials-in-Containers.aspx


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

adrienne, thanks so much.....i read both sources and then some ( when i should be getting ready for work)! This is something i would like to try even if it doesn't workout under the overhang.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Since it's not a huge area, 3-5 moss covered larger but low rocks would be a great start directly underneath the covered porch.

In addition a climbing rose on the perimeter of the covered porch would look awesome and not bring attention to the "black hole". This would provide a heavenly scent into the guest bedroom and the patio below. Though it's on the East side, someone last year introduced me to a thornless aromatic rose that doesn't need that much sun (I planted mine on the East side). Zephirine Drouhin Climbing Rose.

Perhaps an evergreen on the top of the wall would add interest to an already nice wall. Putting it at the top would allow for some sun, while it drapes over the wall. I'd have to see the view out the guest room to see what angles they actually can see.

I think this simple fix would look great from the inside and outside.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Creating an area like this, or even lower, is something that always bothers me about decks and porches.

I think my criteria here would be
(a) light-coloured floor (saw some emerald gravel at a landscape supply yard yesterday) and any objects light coloured (no black mossy rocks),
(b) lots of light coming in (so just low plants at the opening),
(c) no plants inside since that would mean both watering and debris,
(d) no cavities or spaces under or behind things because, like designoline, I wouldn't want to make critter habitat of any kind (insect-snake-mammal).

Do an image search for "zen garden" and I think that is a direction to consider - using the material Mad Gallica suggested (examples at link below). Maybe go with softer tones if the morning light makes it too glaring in the guest bedroom. Lighting for real drama at night?

The leaves coming through are obviously an issue to address. It might be a bid odd, but worth considering, to put up chicken wire where leaves are most prone to enter? That would leave the light but stop the leaves. Or just consider blowing them away or shop-vaccing them up to be one of the tasks of winter/early spring, so use slightly larger rock for the base material (won't get sucked up or blown around). If larger rock, depending on the leaves, some will just filter through and decompose too, I think.

In case you haven't noticed I'd have a real obsession with drawing light into the space. I wonder if even the house wall could be lightened up in that area - just a tone or two - if it's paint? If it's vinyl siding, obviously not so much. Also, any objects will create shadows behind them.

And it seems to me you might have some scope for dropping the grade of the area a bit, though possibly that would alter the ideal line for your retaining wall. But scooping just a bit more dirt out of there so the ground does not drop as you go into it (and it does not look quite level in the photos either) might also help.

Karin L

Here is a link that might be useful: base material


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Karin, I would normally be right with you regarding keeping things light since I've got a sensitivity to lack of natural light (SADD), but in this case I don't think it's an issue.

Since this is a guest room (bedroom) most of the time spent in this room is early morning and at night. One thing I've learned about decorating (which landscaping is qua Si decorating) is to decorate to when you are in the area the most.

Since there already an over abundance of light in the morning perhaps waking guests, this would provide more filtered morning sun. Being the vine would be approx. 10-15' away (went off of average room sizes), it shouldn't give a guest a closed in feeling. At night it will be dark and guests would only have the sweet smell of roses to drift off to sleep with.

As far as critters hiding etc. that can be another issue. Using light color mulch perhaps marble rocks creating a more inhospitable area where it's not as attractive should minimize them.

Another possibility is to rework the small upper retaining wall and create a small waterfall that drops down but pools outside of the underside of the upper porch. Guest would be treated to the soothing sounds of the waterfall waking up and going to sleep and the visual during the day. This might perhaps be too attractive for critters being that they'd drink up and lounge underneath.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Or be up half the night going to the bathroom - water dripping/running does that to some.

I liked the courtyard type idea. For all the prep and materials for hypertufa from face mask to bags of peat moss, portland cement, etc. etc. (not to mention ruining a perfectly good wheelbarrow or five gallon paint bucket)I'd buy a nice composite - sarcophagus shaped perhaps - planter with some swags or other classical ornamentation. Or a piece of real architectural salvage.

A walk in the backyard woods might yield some woodland ferns that would be as happy in a container as on the woods floor.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Aloha,karin, duluthinbloom, thanks you all so much for your comments and suggestions....even if you aren't in total agreement :) I started this process without any sense of what to do with the space and you've all given me some great ideas....so much so that I am now having trouble deciding which way to go.

I am inclined to go with an approach that does not require us to do a major overhaul of the landscaping work we've already paid to have done.

I love the idea of a waterfall feature. It would be a nice soothing addition to the space that could also be enjoyed from the porch space above but if there is any danger of luring wildlife from the woods that would make me nervous.

Duluthinbloom, you've also given me second thoughts about hypertufa. I love, LOVE, the way it looks but it may be a little out of my league as a DIY project. I am a big fan of architectural salvage and may explore that option a little more. I also think moving some ferns from our woods would be a great idea. Its easy and accessible and if they don't survive I'm only out a little time.

Karin,I did some searches for zen gardens and found some interesting examples of large river rock set in amongst larger rocks in a mosaic pattern. I think an arrangement like that could be seen from the bedroom window but I will have to check that out.

Aloha,you make all your suggestions sound so inviting. I have also thought about having something that might spill over the wall.I just wasn't sure what to plant that would provide that effect. I am also going to look into the rose you suggested....its sounds like it would be wonderful if it can be acclimated to the space.
Tomorrow, I will try to take a few more pictures from different angles including one from inside the downstairs bedroom .

Thanks for all your feedback . Everyone here is so helpful.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Here are some more views that may help you get a better perspective of the space. As you can see that whole space really needs SOMETHING.

Photobucket

A pic of the area above the wall. I put some annuals in for now hoping they would do well enough to add a show of color that could be seen from the patio.

Photobucket

View from the patio.

Photobucket

I tried to get a picture from inside the bedroom but with sun was streaming in, all you could see was the dirt on my windows :). I've added window cleaning to my to do list and I will try to get another shot when I get home from work tonight.

Seeing all these pictures makes me feel a great sense of regret that I didn't insist on a full excavation under the porch....it could have been a nice shaded addition to the patio.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Obviously, this is rough. I'm not going to draw in all that stone and I have no idea how your patio geometry outside of the photo really is or how to connect a theorized extension to it. This scheme would obviously cost a lot more than adding a few plants. But your last statement makes me think it's a solution that would be more agreeable to your long term desires. Excavating further and extending the patio is possible unless there is a truck-sized boulder hidden immediately beneath the soil surface. It would also be helpful to have a place to put extra soil.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Yardvaark, thanks so much for the mock up. You've confirmed what my instincts were telling me....that a full walk out would have been more functional AND much more aesthetically pleasing. The original plan had a full walk out but our builder recommended the change during the build because he thought the cost of excavation was getting out of hand. I think what we've spent on retaining walls and landscape do-overs probably would have paid for the extra excavation.

I think Yard's picture may have to be a long term goal. I can't even bring myself to pitch that idea right now with DH. He is still grumbling about the last landscaping bill and we still have at least three other major landscaping projects we have to tackle before we undo this this one.

I guess my goal for now will be to come up with an acceptable interim design so I can quit obsessing over what i should have done.I spent some time on Houzz last night, looking for examples of zen gardens and any other landscapes that made creative use of hardscapes or sculpture. I thought if I could at least come up with some hardscape to anchor the space I can trial and error with some hardy plant material , architectural pieces, etc. I know these landscapes don't translate well to my yard but they are my inspiration pics.

Stanford Garden traditional landscape

Exteriorscapes traditional landscape

Exteriorscapes contemporary landscape


 o
one more pic

I forgot to add this one......Yes, I know this one has nothing to do with the area under my porch but I have a cascading stream at the back of my lot that is a modest rendition of this pic and I would love to have my yard fit visually into that kind of setting.

Water features tropical landscape


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

For an interim solution, you might look at this area less like a garden and more like a stage set. I think Karin was right on in what she said above. You seem to like the Asian garden themes and that could be worked into a plant-free display. I also would consider a small use of artificial plants as part of a (seasonal?) display, if they were done tastefully. (I emphasize "small.") Some of the better ones are fairly convincing if used judiciously.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Geez, don'tcha hate that - dancing around the obvious but big solution. We have that - we should be doing major structural work on our house (raising it, plus dormers) but we are restricting ourselves to new windows and such, and not getting enough bang for our buck as far as I'm concerned.

One way to look at this is to say, OK, what if we gave ourselves permission to take the level of the ground right down, even if we don't convert the window to a door right now? THEN what would we do with the space? As per Yard's mock-up, it's still an empty, dry, and fairly dark space.

Maybe you would move the blocks used in the lower wall to extend the upper wall. Cost obviously would vary big time between DIY and having it done.

Letting yourself imagine the big solution in action may crack through your impasse, or it may make up your mind to just doi it. But sometimes, we idealize the big solution, and start considering it the holy grail, without realizing that it might not actually solve the problem we are grappling with. For example, we can spend 100,000 to raise our house and build dormers, and in the end we won't have a single spare foot more floor space. I'll still need to get rid of some of my stuff :-)

Karin L


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Yardvaark, thanks for you feedback. Your suggestion has started me thinking about ways to stage the area...I might even be able to do it in a way that is also useful and practical. I don't think I can bring myself to do fake plants however. We used to live in a community where a woman did her whole yard with silk flowers. I still can't get that image out of my mind. It was memorable not in a good way.

Karin, your comments are well taken and frankly that kind of soul searching about what I ultimately want is whats killing me. I love decorating the inside of the house where you can try some thing to see of it works and if it doesn't you just move it some where else. Its hard to try out a retaining wall and then move it if it doesn't work out. I pitched the idea last night to DH of excavating the area and making the patio larger. I thought it was a subtle suggestion but he reacted pretty much the way I thought he would....let's just say he's not ready to go there yet.

For now I'm back to making the most of what I have....not nearly as fun as a blank slate but I keep thinking there might some super creative design could even be a wow factor.

I have two more questions for all of you.

My first question has to do with wildlife. I don't want to create something that ultimately becomes a haven for wildlife. Can someone give me a list of dos and don'ts?

Also, as per Karins suggestion to bring a lighter color into the space, would a light stone facing make the area more interesting or would it be too busy next to the retaining wall. We have stone work on other parts of our exterior. I found this pic that was taken by our builder of our front entry....it shows a little of the stone and you can see it is lighter than the siding. I'm just tossing that out there as a possibility.

Photobucket

Again thanks to everyone for sharing your expertise.You are such a great resource.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

sidney, I don't think you'd have critter concerns under there. It seems much too open. I've had raccoons and possums spending their days under a shed (about 18" clearance and under a deck, about same space, at another home.

I had a situation like yours, sans windows, and filled it with plugs of mondo grass. Read the link I'm providing for more on this. Leaves could be left there, will filter down, out of sight. The boulders that have been suggested would nestle nicely among the mondo. IMO, this is a great solution!!

Rosie

Here is a link that might be useful: Information about mondo grass


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Thanks Rosie. I was looking at mondo grass at the nursery the other day. I'm adding this to my list of possibilities. I'll experiment this week end to see how well it might adapt to the environment. I've already tucked a fern into the space as per an earlier suggestion. We'll see what survives.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

I don't think the stone would improve the area. Even if it would, I don't think the time and effort to put it there would be worth it.

I was thinking today... I suspect that if you had a full walkout, it might just end up as a place to put stuff. It may be just as well that it's tough to get in there :-)

I agree it's too open as it is for critters... I was cautioning against creating habitat with whatever decorative solution you come up with.

Karin L


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

You kinda want a patio there, but don't want to spend the $$ on hardscaping right now.

So, here's my suggestion:
1--level the area immediately under the porch as much as you can (you need to get the dirt and mulch off your siding anyway to avoid rot and discourage bugs/termites)
2--fill in with gravel, and use metal edging to hold it in place
3--add a bistro table & chairs or nice bench (or hang a porch swing) and some interesting pots or garden sculptures (don't try to grow anything under here)
4--put inexpensive stepping stones between the patio and the new covered sitting area

You can do most or all of this work yourself: we're talking raking dirt, installing edging, and spreading gravel.

Leave your plantings where they are. (Squeeze the stepping stone path through them if you can.)

Now your guest room will look onto a secluded covered sitting area, not a bare spot.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

And it might require some retaining walls!

It does seem like it would make a nice screened-in area for a table & chairs, just like the upstairs.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Oooo! Screened-in would be fabulous, but would definitely require hiring someone.

Putting down an on-grade deck might be easier, and would balance the screened-in porch above it.
(though I don't know how decks work in your climate, or if you're up to putting in a deck yourself)


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Maybe you would use a patio there outside the guest bedroom, but maybe not... Unless there was a door directly to that area from the guest bedroom, it doesn't seem like an area that would get frequent use as a patio. The mock up that Yardvaark did makes it look like too much concrete to me... Like a big driveway going to a carport or something.

I don't have any bright ideas, but I like some of them that others have proposed, and think your idea of a "zen garden" type of thing could work out well. I bet if you keep looking for inspiration and keep trying shade loving plants that might like it there, you will find something that works... and someday it might just be one of your favorite areas to look out and see. Good luck!

BTW, I noticed that your last inspiration pic has a clematis climbing over some rocks. You could try one of those as well and see how it does for you there, maybe climbing up your retaining wall (if you put some wire up against it for it to climb up) and scrambling around those rocks you've already got there. Clematis have the reputation for being sun loving, but I've read that many of the white and light varieties do fine in shade. I have some between our house and garage that don't get much sun and they bloom just fine, including Comtesse the Bouchaud which is similar to that in your inspiration pic.

Clematis in the shade with wire (and shrub) support:

Photobucket


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

Thanks everyone for the additional suggestions. I've been mulling it all over. Burntplants, I hope termites and bugs aren't a problem. We have the foundation treated twice a year and the siding is vinyl but I will check into this to make sure. I hadn't considered this an issue because the wood mulch was a suggestion from our builder and 2 of our landscapers. You have me concerned however.

After some thought, I'm concluding that overhauling the grade isn't a viable option for a couple of reasons. DH is dead set against it and the second one is that I don't think it will end up being a livable space for the reasons karin and almondstriation have mentioned. The long term landscape plan involves a much larger outdoor living space in the area of our yard that is above wall and will be connected by steps to our screened porch. This little add on patio on the lower level would not likely get used much. The outdoor living area on the upper grade will be an expensive project and I hate to devote time and money to a make shift patio that will push back the timeline of the larger project.

Clematis is another plant I am adding to the list of plants to try. Almondstriation, thanks for that suggestion. I just pulled a volunteer oak seedling out of there so I know there are some forms of plant life that can survive under there......how would an oak tree look in that space ? :)

I was reading the thread on landscaping around garden sculpture and noticed the picture with the two large sphere's and the gel fire fire pit. The area has very little plant material but it is dramatic. I hope my space can achieve that kind of interest but not in a tacky way. I did a photo search for "spheres" on Houzz and saw some examples that have me thinking. I would love to hear some thoughts on this from some of you who work sculpture into your landscape plans.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

I am not familiar with your zone, but that area looks very well protected from weather extremes. Would it be too dark to even grow house plants like philodendron or ferns or spider plants, etc? It seems to me that you could build a couple or three largish planter boxes and plop in pots of house plants that would thrive there.... at least until it is too cold and then over winter them.

Maybe hardscape decorating is the way to go? Maybe a hot tub there?


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

It does get some light and it is a fairly well protected area. Actually, our front porch is L shaped and the deeper portion of sits farther back than this area beneath the screened porch. We have ferns out there all summer and they tend to do well. I suppose it's possible to create a combination of hardscape softened by potted ferns. Thanks for the suggestion. That may be some thing that could be done in short order.


 o
RE: Partial walkout basement presenting landscape challenge (pics

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Tue, May 29, 12 at 1:15

If you are willing to irrigate plantings in this area, it would seem a no brainer to add some ferns, perhaps a couple of larger/taller ones to the right of the window against the taller wall, and some massed lower ground cover type ferns fronting them along with some ground covers such as dwarf Mondo grass or chartreuse foliaged Acorus gramineus Ogon or a variegated Carex such as C. oshimensis Evergold. If Lysimachia nummularia aurea is hardy in your zone, or variegated Vinca minor Illumination could brighten the shady conditions with brighter green/white foliage.


 o Post a Follow-Up

Please Note: Only registered members are able to post messages to this forum.

    If you are a member, please log in.

    If you aren't yet a member, join now!


Return to the Landscape Design Forum

Information about Posting

  • You must be logged in to post a message. Once you are logged in, a posting window will appear at the bottom of the messages. If you are not a member, please register for an account.
  • Posting is a two-step process. Once you have composed your message, you will be taken to the preview page. You will then have a chance to review your post, make changes and upload photos.
  • After posting your message, you may need to refresh the forum page in order to see it.
  • Before posting copyrighted material, please read about Copyright and Fair Use.
  • We have a strict no-advertising policy!
  • If you would like to practice posting or uploading photos, please visit our Test forum.
  • If you need assistance, please Contact Us and we will be happy to help.


Learn more about in-text links on this page here