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Little cottage in the woods

Posted by daysquid 7 Annapolis, MD (My Page) on
Mon, Sep 17, 12 at 20:35

I need your help with the entrance to our cottage in the woods. The picture shows our green cottage with our brick entrance steps going down the slope. We are putting up a fence between our home and the blue cottage. The soil is on the clay-side and the area closest to soon to be fence line gets between 4-6 hours of sun. I'd like your suggestions for a shrub border up against the fenceline and for plants along the stair. Thanks for your thoughts!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Little cottage in the woods

I forgot that we will have a path through the center of this bed separating the area in front of the soon to be fenceline and the area edging the stairs. So there are two separate zones. Again, thank you for your help!


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

One more thing, I prefer the blues, pinks, purples, and whites. Thanks again!


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

I'm thinking that more photos illustrating the layout of entire property would help.
Specifically- is the approach to your home (and parking) via the top of the stairs?
Is there a retaining wall on the other side of that patch of earth?
How much space is there between the back of the house and the fence?

So yeah, need more photos from a much wider view.


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

This is a wider view from the top of the stair. And this is our main (and only) entrance to our home. Our parking area is on the top area on the left side of the steps.


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

another picture.


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looking to the left.


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where the fence will be put in.


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A closer shot of the front door from the steps.


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Let me know if more pictures are needed. I'm happy to provide.


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Ok. Maybe I'll ask a specific question. I'm thinking hellebores along the steps was wanted suggestions on mixed border along what will be the fence line. Thoughts?


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

I don't understand why you want to create a corral-like effect along the edge of the steps. Something low seems like a better solution. You already have English ivy on one side. It looks good and like you know how to keep it controlled. Why not continue it on the other side (since it's already there) without the dividing barrier of a hedge?

You say in the beginning that along the fence will be a shrub border and later it will be a mixed border. Do you mean shrubs mixed with perennials? Do you need any screening that extends above the fence... such as to block out view of neighbor's house? To me, anything that appears as a "wall" in front of another "wall"--such as a hedge in front of a fence--looks wrong. It would look better to have a plant grouping (or two) that interrupts the fence (especially extending above it) instead of continuing along side it. A low planting that has the effect of a "baseboard" would be okay along with other plantings would be okay.


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

I'm so excited that you have responded. I was so hoping that you'd find my post. I guess I wasn't clear, I was thinking the hellebores would be low and could act as a ground cover like the ivy. And that would be low along the "empty" side of the steps. And yes, we do want a fence separating our property from the nieghbors. This is where your help is specifically helpful. I see your point about having a "wall" in front of another "wall. But I'm not sure I understand what you are recommending. I was thinking a mixed shrub border but now that you said "wall" in front of "wall" -- I'm not sure what to do. Could you be more specific with your suggestions. And many, many thanks. I see your expertise on other posts and you've got great talent.


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

Thanks for the vote of confidence. I'm not sure I really made a suggestion yet, so don't know what I should clarify. I'm just saying that I would NOT "hem in" the entry walk experience. I guess you think that Helleborus are shorter than I think they are. I think that "lining" the walk with anything tall-ish (a concept I generally--99% of the time--find distasteful) will bring about a confining feeling. Having nice ivy on both sides of the walk ... the ground will be nicely upholstered and not obstruct any view or give a confined feeling. It would feel nicely "nestled in" in a cushioned sort of way. Then, the view can be created at a little distance -- like at the fence. What I'm saying about planting there is that it would be better to create a plant grouping of some kind--with height--that breaks-up the long run of fence (I know it's not THAT long here but I'm speaking in general terms.) Kind of like how columns on a brick wall break up the boredom of a long run of wall. I asked about if you needed any screening of the house next door because using small "trees" to extend the height of the fence and break of its long run at the same time works pretty well. (small trees might mean something 10-12' ht.) I can't yet gauge the length of the fence you are considering, but a plant grouping or two ought to "break it up" adequately.


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

It is probably that I don't have the right visual for a bed of hellebores. I saw this picture and thought they were low. Now I see your point about them beeing a bit higher (than ivy anyway).

The fence line will be about 30'. And your illustrations really do help. I like boxwoods so perhaps they could be introduced as the baseboard effect? And talk to me about trees. This area appears to be getting more like 4 hours of sun. I'm assuming I could also do one tree area with two short sections? More, more. What else do you think.


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

Trying to visualize smaller shrubs up against fence. Perhaps a collection of boxwoods and then a tree? Just trying to brainstorm some options.


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I tend to like mixing formal and informal.


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There are many Helleborus so what exact height you would select I wouldn't know. But some of them get sizeable enough that they could give a confined feeling if "lining" a walk. The picture you just added shows a completely different situation, the Helleborus being the low groundcover relative to the Hollies (or whatever the large shrubs are.) If lining your walkway with Helleborus, they would be acting like a hedge. If you used them as in the picture above where your whole yard was Helleborus and then you used something lower to create some sense of spaciousness along the walk (like a 3' wide strip of ivy) then that would work fine. But a scheme of using Helleborus in a groundcover way seems like a lot more expense and effort than just polishing up the ivy.

For a 30' fence, you could do one tree area if you are using a group of 3. If singles, then I'd repeat it... probably x3. Large shrubs that tend to get leggy on their own usually make good subjects for nice small trees. Philadelphus coronarius, for example. What large shrub that takes the light you're offering do you like? You'd need to pay attention to light conditions to pick something that would be happy. Boxwood probably wouldn't like being below trees. In the open, they might be fine. Below trees, I'd consider a taller groundcover that didn't need height trimming... like Liriope. In shady conditions is seems to get about 2' tall. Maybe Helleborus would work there. (I can't really gauge your light conditions very well.)


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This is a scheme to show arrangement. The personality and flavor would come from the habits and traits of the actual plants that were used.


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I like your scheme. Especially given that this is a triangular space -- the corners tapper so smaller shrubs/plants would be needed. The center clearly could accomodate large shrubs trees.

Light conditions, it's about 4 hours of morning with some dappled later.

I'm a traditionalist and someone who is new to gardening so I don't know many shrubs/trees. I like hollies, boxwoods -- I just purchased a verigated dogwood shrub for another garden on our lot. I just love it (ivory halo). I also like the Philadelphus coronarius that you recommended. Weeping shrubs would be of interest but I don't know any. Thanks again for all your help.


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

The large shrubs that are often thought of as "old fashioned" like Mock Orange (Philadelphus) or Beauty Bush (Kolkwitzia) take on a weeping character while they bloom and somewhat afterward. The blooms are so weighty that the branches arc back down. After they're there for a while, they stay curved. This is one of the reasons I like plants like these kinds of plants as small trees. I enjoy the form as much as the bloom.

The first two pictures show the flavor of Coronarius in bloom and the third pic is Kolkwitzia. (These are not specifically in tree form; they just show bloom character.) If you prefer a small tree that's more tame-looking, that can be shaped to tight specs, something like Camellia or Dwarf Burford Holly might be more suitable. There MANY options. Investigate shrubs in the 10'-15' height range. Look for something that doesn't have a propensity to sucker badly unless you want the appearance that is more like a "grove." A tendency toward "legginess" is a plus for a tree.


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Great pictures! I prefer the large shrub look (as in the first picture) vs. a tamed small tree. And flowering is great. I will research more shrubs. Should I be concerned that it only gets about 4 hours of sun?


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Do you think I could do a Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem'? I love the shiny leaves and sweet smell.


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Of course you can do anything you want to do. Whether it's optimizing the potential of the space is another question. Most people like to grow Magnolias in the shrub form with a full skirt to the ground. Some abhor them limbed up. While some sources say less, I'd figure on 'Little Gem' eventually reaching a height of mid-thirties feet with a spread at the base in the vicinity of 15'. So that's a pretty big shrub, if not limbed up. I don't know your vision of how it fits in. I'm sure it could fit, but it might dominate the space with little room left for much else. It would for sure give a sense of enclosure and add to the shade.


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

This is too big. Not the look that I was hoping for. Can you recommend any shiny broad leaf evergreen shrubs that would be much smaller?


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Camellia; Burford holly


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

  • Posted by pippi21 Z7 Silver Spring, Md (My Page) on
    Sun, Sep 30, 12 at 14:35

I have a personal question..what age bracket are you in? While the cottage looks so appealing now..as you get older you may not be able to climb all those stairs/steps.. I speak from experience. We moved to all one level 7 yrs. ago and it's the best things we've done in all our married life. We miss all the space our former home of 27 yrs. had but we physically could not climb those stairs now at all. There was no way around it, unless we installed one of those chair lifts or an elevator.

Is this your primary home or a weekend or summer home to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life?
Annapolis has some beautiful pieces of property set back in the wooded area by the river and bay..


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

  • Posted by min3 9N.CA (My Page) on
    Tue, Oct 2, 12 at 15:43

I agree Pippi! We had difficult experiences trying to get large incapacitated dogs up and down our outside steps, not to mention ourselves. Recently we have been lucky enough to be able to extend our driveway up the side hill to the end of our entrance deck. If we hadn't been able to do that, it would have meant getting some kind of elevator or making a move to a one level home.
I hope Daysquid has a lot of healthy young years ahead in that beautiful place. Min


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

I'm in my early 40's but we do have plans for a gentle slopping path that will be a secondary entrance to our home.

I had a landscape designer come out and we need to mix in significant amounts of compost over the next few years to combat our clay. Ugh.


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

So, what's the deal with the planned fence? Are we talking about a 4' picket fence or a 6' privacy fence? And why the fence to begin with? That's a tight area and a fence will tend to make it tighter. Depending on what the directional orientation of that area is, the fence might also further inhibit the light exposure -- which is limited to begin with.

I assume that property is on the South or Severn? It's obviously a wooded lot and you have, at best, what's considered partial sun. Many of the shrubs and trees you mentioned above will not perform ideally in that amount of light exposure. Some will do ok, but they'll tend to be "reachy" -- ie thinner and branching. That's a very naturalistic environment and I would design for a naturalistic border - not a formal hedge line. You could get some flower color from plants like oakleaf hydrangea (which would likely do very well in that situation) or maybe kalmia. Were I you, I would start by doing a lot of research about plants that will perform in that light exposure in the mid-atlantic and narrow your choices down from there.


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We're on a creek off the Severn and the fence is for privacy. Funny you mention hydrangeas because we have a couple that didn't do well because they weren't getting enough sun. Out of necessity, we might have to put them here to give them more sun. Two are Color Fantasy, one is Endless summer. I also have two white stargazer hydrangea that need a home and are still in pots.


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RE: Little cottage in the woods

Oakleaf hydrangea is more drought tolerant (important on a hillside) and also will bloom in more shade. It's an excellent plant.

Seriously, do more research on plants that will perform well in this zone in those cultural conditions before you start plonking things in the ground. While I am not a native plant purist, there are many Maryland natives that will perform well in that situation. Check the Maryland native plant society's web page. Another good source that allows you to search by plant attribute is the University of Connecticut plant database (just google it up). Walk through similar areas at Adkins or National Arboretums. Browse (don't be in a hurry to buy) one of the really good nurseries in our area -- that means Behnke's in Beltsville, Johnson's in DC or Merrifield over in Virginia.

If your neighbors are late night partiers, drug dealers or nudists, then absolutely go for the privacy fence. But, given the already close quarters, you might want to explore whether you could achieve a sufficient level of privacy without an actual wall - a mixed shrub border would likely do the trick unless, again, there's a particular privacy need.


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