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diggerdee

long - foundation planting, half sun help please

Hi guys,

Once again I am helping someone with a bed. This time, it's a foundation planting, and it is for someone who doesn't really garden, and does not want a garden per se, but some nice plantings in front. I keep insisting I'm not a designer, but my friends keep telling me I know more than they do so I should do a fine job! And in this particular bed, I'm twice as hesitant because I really do not know shrubs all that well. Please don't send me to the shrub forum, lol! I feel more comfortable here for now.

Anyway, the house is a dark blue with white trim, two storey. Center entry door, only two steps leading up to it with a small covered porch (about six feet wide and 3 to 4 feet deep), with a house width of 14.5 feet to the left as you look at it, and 11.5 feet to the right. We will probably be coming out about 6 feet, but that is not set in stone. It faces east (roughly) and (at least as of now) gets about half day sun, with the left side getting a bit more than the right. The land at the far right of the house slopes down. My friend does not want me to post a picture on-line so I hope I am being descriptive enough.

Oh, and her windows are quite low - only about 3.5 to 4 feet above ground level, so we do not want to block the windows. On each side, there is about 4 feet between the center entry door/porch and the windows, which are centered.

She pretty much has nothing there now, except two hostas, so it is a clean slate.

She has selected spirea Gold Mound as one choice, and has three for each side, which we were thinking of planting in a triangular formation (two near the house and one centered between the two but further forward).

So, we are looking for a low-growing, shade-tolerant, possibly flowering but not necessarily so, hopefully evergreen shrub to put in the center of that triangle.

For this, we are considering a dwarf rhodie (Firestorm, Boule de Neige, Capistrano, Fantastica), or ilex glabra (Shamrock or Compacta). We are considering boxwood, but I'm not sure if this will grow tall enough to be seen above the spireas. It's also expensive. And we considered deutzia Nikko, but again, this seems kind of low-growing.

A nursery worker also suggested a dwarf lilac and thought that this would do well in the half-sun, at least on the left side of the house.

The second dilemma is in the space next to the entry porch, between the door and the windows. A consultant at the nursery told us we should go with short shrubs here (boxwood) because that would draw the eye toward the door, especially if we put tall plantings at the ends of the house. My friend would prefer taller shrubs in this spot to frame the door. Opinions on this please? And suggestions for shrubs about 6 to 8 feet tall, evergreen, shade-tolerant, and possibly with brighter foliage?

For this spot we considered: chamaecyparis Nana Lutea, Crippsii, or Gold Mop; thuja occ. Wansdyke Silver or Stoneham Gold; taxus x media Margarita (Geers); Ilex crenata Steeds.

As of this point, deer are not a problem, although she has seen them in the area. But she doesn't have that much going on in her yard to determine if deer will be a problem or not, lol!

And please feel free to add suggestions for other plantings in this bed. We were thinking hakone grass, astilbe, variegated hosta, and I would love to find a small, low-growing evergreen plant to kind of edge the bed with, for winter interest, like a low, spreading juniper. Not sure if I can find anything like that for this location though. And everything must be low-maintenance. I'm debating whether to go with any maroon/burgundy foliage, which I think would look great with the bright greens we may use, but which might also get lost in the shade against the dark house.

Oh, and lastly, we are considering a clematis to grow up the side of the porch post.

If you are still reading, lol, thank you for any help!

:)

Dee

Comments (18)

  • john_4b
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The Chamaecyparis 'Gold mops' would be the same color as the Gold Mound spireas, and that would be a lot of chartruse/yellow foliage. I would think you would need something green, or darker, bronze or purple, to add some contrast to the plantings. Junipers may, or may not, get enough sun there. Most of the perennials suggested are low, and may not show up against the foundation from the street.

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    Original Author
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks for your response John. The plantings need to be low because the windows are only about 3 1/2 feet off the ground, and we don't want to block them.

    The chamaecyparis would be more of that chartreuse color, which is what she wanted, but they would be on either side of the door, and the spireas would spread out from them, not be in front of them. The house is dark to begin with and then in afternoon shade, so she did want something that would pop. And we are looking for a darker green to go in between the spireas.

    You think it would be too much chartreuse, huh? And you think the dark foliage would show against the dark house?

    It's times like this I wish I had a software program where I could put a photo in and then pop different shrubs/plants in and out of the picture! Sure would help a visual person like me!

    Or I at least wish she would let me post a picture. That would be a big help....

    :)
    Dee

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  • mad_gallica (z5 Eastern NY)
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    How about a schematic? The description is fine. I'd just like some more gory details like how far is it from the street, is there a walk from the street straight to the front door, is there an attached garage, are there any trees in the front yard....

    Full eastern exposure should be enough sun for practically anything. If there are shade trees involved it becomes a different matter. Right now I'm wondering about fairly simple groundcover beds near the house, and shrub islands further out. That way there isn't a problem with plants blocking the windows.

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    Original Author
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Oh gee, MG, you're going to make me estimate distances now! Okay, I'll try (till I can get over there to measure, at least!).

    The house is probably about 25 to 30 feet back from the road/sidewalk. The front yard slopes down, and I'd say the house sits maybe 3 to 4 feet lower than the sidewalk level/street level. The walkway from the street to the house consists of some stone slabs (in a straight line) which are somewhat overgrown with grass. I asked her if she wanted to do a nice walkway but she perfers to keep the slabs for her lawn service. There is a similar pathway coming in from the right, from the driveway.

    Garage is under the house, on the side - doesn't figure into the front view except for the driveway, which is a good distance from the house.

    There are two flowering trees in the front. (Sorry, don't know what kind - my tree knowledge is worse than my shrub knowledge!) One of them, as you look at the house, is on the right, right next to the sidewalk (the sidewalk along the street). You actually have to duck under the tree to walk along the sidewalk here. The other flowering tree is probably about 20 feet from the house on the left hand side. It doesn't really cast any shade on the house or the future beds.

    I forgot to mention two other plants. I love the enkianthus I saw at the nursery, but I'm finding wildly differing info regarding size, etc. I'm not so sure my friend loves it as much as I do. And today I was looking at a leucothoe (sp?) Royal Ruby, which is very nice. But this is smaller and I guess doesn't need to figure into the main discussion here, as it can be tucked in somewhere if we want one.

    My friend does want shrubs in front. I know there is not much height between the ground and the windows, but she does want something there.

    Thanks!
    Dee

    P.S. I think the house might be a bit more north/east exposure, not full-on east. To be honest, I've never paid a lot of attention to directional exposure, because so much of where I've gardened had so many trees that I always think in terms of "hours of sunlight" or even "morning/evening" sun, etc. But I do think the house faces a bit more to the north than dead-on east.... I flunked that part of Girl Scouts, lol!

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    Original Author
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Why is it so hard to find info on plants that agrees?

    I just saw a photo in a magazine article about shade gardens, and smack in the middle of hostas and coleus is a bird's nest spruce, or picea abies nidiformis.

    Oooh, that's nice... google search... full sun. Grr.

    I need a break. I'm seeing shrubs swirling around when I close my eyes, lol!

    :)
    Dee

  • WendyB 5A/MA
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I'm a little confused about putting something in the center of a triangle of spireas. When I do triangles, it is to create a larger mass of a single texture. There is no room for anything in the middle of my triangles. This is where a schematic would help. are they spaced out along the whole length for the repetition effect? rather than the en masse effect? (affect?)

    In any case, I think a dwarf rhody would complement the spireas nicely somewhere. I am not familiar with the ones you mentioned but my Ken Janek Yak rhodies are a great shape and habit. low and wide and dense. I'm not crazy about the pinkish flowers with the gold foliage, but its not pink for long. They turn white pretty quick. I have my Ken Janek's on either side of my steps. They took a while to get going, but now they soften the edge of the steps nicely.

    Yes, low stuff is supposed to be more welcoming near the door. Tall stuff on the outer edges.

    There is a holly, Castle Spire, that has an upright habit which is nice on the end(s) of the house. Mine is not happy here in Zone 5A :-(

    The flowering trees that do not generate shade now, may in the future.

    There's a pink flowering Enkianthus, 'Showy Lanterns', that is pretty cool. I just got one last year for my northeast aspect, but its still small (2'). THey are generally tall and upright. Commonly used in front of chimneys. I have the standard white one 'red vein' in front of my chimney on the west side. boring. But it is tall. At least 6' now and I've pruned a couple of times.

    I thought of something complementary for the front of the bed somehwere. Russian Cypress is a nice shade evergreen that provides the juniper-like texture that goes well in foundation plantings. Its not exactly green in the winter, but its not deciduous.

    how about some kalmias somewhere where their legs can be hidden? There are some dwarf series. I want to say Lucy but its not that. Lucky? Lacy? Becky?

    There is a new-ish astilbe Neon Flash that would complement the gold tones well.

    And Lime Rickey Heuchera with some H. plum pudding or whatever might be a nice contrast if it needs more punch somewhere.

  • laceyvail 6A, WV
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Do not attempt to do symmetrical plantings on either side. No matter what you do, the growth rates will be different. Plan to match mass and color, but don't choose the same plants.

  • WendyB 5A/MA
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I agree and disagree. I personally think symmetrical around a center entrance door is best, but that is my preference. yes, the growth rates may differ, but you can prune to adjust. I did have to do that with my 2 Ken Janeks in the back. Have not had to do it yet to my 2 Boxwood Green Velvets in the front.

    If one should die, that would be a real problem, but the risk is kinda low there.

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    Original Author
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I have to run to work, but just wanted to say thanks for the input. I've got some things to think about now, and I'll post later this evening.

    :)
    Dee

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    Original Author
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi again. Wendy, thanks so much for your response! So much good information in it.

    I'm sorry, but I don't know how to even begin to go about drawing a schematic, never mind posting it! Hopefully this will help - picture a row of three spireas, left to right. Now bring the center spirea forward so it is completely forward of the other two. In that space where that center spirea was is where the flowering shrub or evergreen shrub will go.

    The Ken Janek rhodie is beautiful! However, once again I'm finding conflicting info - 3 feet, 5 feet, 8 feet at "mature age" whatever mature age means. Very discouraging to have to deal with all this conflicting info.

    The Castle Spire holly is quite nice. I've passed that along to my friend to consider, although it is darker than she had wanted. I still can't decide whether I like the tall items on either side of the center door or not - although the decision is ultimately my friend's. Many houses on her street do have tall evergreens flanking the door, and she likes that. It's also up to her as to whether she wants symmetrical plantings. I tend to like symmetry myself, but I do understand that in some cases it may not work. I think we might be able to be symmetrical here.

    I've looked into the Russian cypress but I think it's ultimate size is too large for this planting. But I have it filed away in my mind for another area she wants to work on. Ditto with the kalmias. And thanks - I never knew there were dwarf kalmias!

    I think the enkianthus we looked at was Something Bells... doesn't matter because my friend didn't care for it anyway! But I am going to look into the Showy Lanterns for myself, lol!

    And lastly, I will look into that new astilbe, as my friend likes astilbes. I haven't heard of this one, so thank you.

    And thank you for ALL your help. It was very... well, helpful, lol! And thank you everyone for your input. I appreciate the time and info.

    :)
    Dee

  • WendyB 5A/MA
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    correction... the kalmia I was talking about was Tiddlywinks. My guess wasn't even close!!

    'Tiddywinks' - A fine semi-dwarf form of K. l. f. myrtifolia, this plant has excellent branching and develops a low compact, mounded habit. The flower buds are a strong pink and open to soft pink blooms.

    'Tinkerbell' - This plant is very similar to 'Tiddywinks', but the flower color is slightly darker.

    And the astilbe I was referring to was 'Color Flash Lime'.

    I think a dark holly will be nice contrast with all the chartreuse/golds/limes. Even if it is against a darkish house, it will still ground it. Is there enough sun for a juniper? that's always a good tall upright type.

    My Ken Janeks are thigh high and I've had it 8 years and I'm short 5'4". One is lower thigh. One is upper thigh. Both less then 4' wide. I bought it as a 2 gal May '01 ($29). (yes I keep detailed records). THe tag says 3'T by 5'W. Sun to part-shade. compact spreading. I pruned one of them (upper thigh) in '06. I probably gave them Hollytone in early years. They get morning sun 9:30-12:30.

    not a great pic for the overall effect, but this is last years. definitely not overwhelming. This one was never pruned.

    {{gwi:222317}}

    another cool thing about the Yaks is the fuzzy backside of the leaf. tomentose (sp?)

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    Original Author
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Wendy, thanks for that further info. I have added those plants to my list, as well as the Color Flash astilbe (in addition to Color Flash Lime). My only concern is I've found a reference to Color Flash possibly being short-lived, so I will have to follow up.

    I actually love junipers, but I'm not sure if there is enough sun for them. Although, I was out there yesterday morning ripping out ivy and other vines, and moving the two huge hostas that she has there, and it was already 80 degrees and it seemed like the sun would NEVER move around behind the house, lol. Maybe there's more sun than I thought. At least 5 full hours, I'm thinking.

    BTW, I like your technical pruning terms (upper thigh, lower thigh) - lol!

    Thank you!
    :)
    Dee

  • Donna
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi, Dee
    Thought I would suggest Arborvitae, Emerald (Smargd). It is a tall, columnar evergreen that I use alot in my designs where I want tall and narrow. They will get to about 10-12 feet tall and three feet wide here. I have them at each corner and each angle of my house, and on either side of my front door. I grow them in full sun to almost total shade here and they do well. If anything, the shade makes them a bit narrower, which is fine with me.

    You were talking about depth of your beds. I find it easier to design the plantings first and then just make the beds a depth that will accomodate the mature size of the shrubbery. Be sure to leave a good two feet of empty space along the wall of the house for window washing and other maintenance.

    You mentioned purple foliage. I find it shows best, especially against a dark background when it has something chartreuse planted behind it.

    If you want to use alot of deciduous plants, you might want to consider doing a low edging around the beds, or part of the beds, with boxwood. This gives a parterre look, which I have really come to enjoy over the years. It can be low maintenance if you choose the right box. Go for low and SLOW growing varieties. I use alot of korean box (which may or may not be good as far north as you are) for this purpose. I only have to shear once a year. Be aware that boxwoods can have hungry roots. I root prune mine every year or two with a spade to keep them in bounds and away from other plantings.
    I can get one gallon boxwoods here for about $8 each. Of course, we don't grow Green Velvet and some of the other beautiful ones like it here in the south.

    One other thought. If you will get a pad of graph paper and a tape measure and go to the house, you can measure and draw out the area to scale. Just use one little box for one square foot. Then draw away (in pencil). When you are done, you'll know exactly how many plants you will need for the project. It's a low tech way, but it works. Being able to visualize things in your mind really helps. It sounds like you have that ability.

    Good luck! I am sure it will turn out beautifully.

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    Original Author
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi Donna! Actually, I do have Smargd on my list, but I'm glad you mentioned it because I really prefer to have a personal recommendation rather than just a vendor website telling me how great a plant is!

    That's a good price on the boxwoods! I find them to be rather expensive, and small for the price. Actually, my friend does like the boxwoods. It's kind of hard because she wants certain things, but doesn't want to do the maintenance, and she wants instant effect, but doesn't want to pay for large specimens. I can certainly understand how she feels, but I guess we (she) need(s) to make some hard decisions.

    Do you find the boxwoods to be slow growers? I always thought they were. I guess if we were to use it as an edger, slow would be preferred. But if she wants it as a shrub, we'd like it to be a quick grower. And I don't think she will root-prune.... I don't know if *I'd* even do that, lol!

    I had indeed planned on using the purple/burgundy plants in front of the chartreuse spireas. I just saw on Bluestone's site that they have some burgundy-leaved heucheras in their half-price sale. I put a few in my cart, and now if I can only access my cart I will be able to buy them, lol. I've been trying for over an hour...

    I got some graph paper when the second friend asked me to help her. It has come in handy, lol, as more people ask me to help. And a tape measure is standard equipment in my garden tool bucket, lol.

    Oh, and back to the boxwood. You said, "It can be low maintenance if you choose the right box." Any recommendations, or does the zone difference make it a bit difficult to recommend one?

    Either way, thanks for your help! Much appreciated!
    :)
    Dee

  • ghoghunter
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    How about an Endless Summer Hydrangea? They are beautiful and the light blue would compliment the house color don't you think?
    Joann

  • mad_gallica (z5 Eastern NY)
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Maybe 5 years ago I bought few 1 gal boxes. Three Korean box (that's all the tag said) and one Green Mountain. It was part of a fall clearance sale so they were $5 each. At this point, the Korean boxes are about 3 x 3, and I should start pruning them for the space. The plan was for a little hedge running north-south in the backyard.

    Unless you are a lot warmer than I am, it really helps to put box in the right place. Mine is protected by the house from the northeastern winter winds, and from the sun by a couple of big oak trees. Richard Jaynes, the mountain laurel guy, thinks deciduous tree shade is adequate for mountain laurel during the winter, and from the looks of the box, he's right (of course). The one closest to the tree, which probably gets more sun because the light goes under the branches, has gotten burned a couple of times. The burning gets less as you move north in the row. The Green Mountain hasn't had any problems, but I don't know if that's because it's at the north end, or because it's a different cultivar.

    I'd be afraid of a really slow growing cultivar because if it did winterburn, it would take forever to recover.

    More than you wanted to know.

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    Original Author
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    JoAnn, my friend does not like blue flowers! Can you imagine?! LOL!

    MG, that is not more than I wanted to know - it's just the kind of info I'm looking for. Thank you!

    I'm going over to help plant the rest of the spireas tomorrow. Maybe after they are in I can begin to visualize things a bit more.

    Thank you everyone!
    :)
    Dee

  • Donna
    13 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Green Mountain is a hybrid of Korean Box and something else. My favorite reference says it makes a cone to five feet by three feet. It is often used as a substitute for Alberta Spruce.

    I have a hedge of the straight Korean box around one of my beds. I started with very small one gallon plants. It took about three years for them to get to the size at which I maintain them, which is about two feet by two feet (give or take six inches), spheres. I think they might have grown faster if I had given them some light prunings from the beginning, rather than waiting for them to put on more size.

    I have read that Korean box tends to brown out badly where winters are severe. The variety "Winter Gem" is supposed to be an improvement on that problem. I have both the straight koreana and WG. I don't have a bad problem with the winter browning on koreana, but absolutely none on WG. (Remember, this is Mississippi.)

    Japanese box grows faster, but also wants to get up to 6' x 6'. Green Beauty is more compact. Japanese Box is a different color green than Koreana. I would call it more spring green, with koreana being a darker green.

    I can only speak to you from my experience here in the Deep South. But since boxwoods tend to grow seemingly everywhere, I bet you can find some that will do. Hopefully affordable ones too.

    I have found that if you know exactly what you want and you keep a sharp eye out, you can sometimes get smaller sized plants at Big Box Stores and independently owned hardware stores and the like for much less than at Garden Centers. The trade-off, of course, is time. You can speed up a boxwood hedge by planting the plants closer together. (which, of course, means more $ :)

    If you have more time than money, boxwoods are very easy to start from cuttings. It takes me about three years to get them from cuttings up to a one gallon size. That time might be somewhat shortened by a more highly disciplined fertilizer schedule than my "when I think of it" method.

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