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heather_marie_walters

Landscape/border design help and critique needed

7 years ago

We are just getting into gardening (first-time homeowners) need some help and ideas with our landscape / border design. We live in zone 7 (Long Island) with somewhat sandy soil that has been tested (pH 6.4) that is quite flat.

As you can see from out layout and pictures (attached), our biggest challenge are the three different fences our neighbors have erected. As you can see, to the South, we have an (awful) opaque wood fence with the posts facing our yard. To the Northwest, a black aluminum fence that offers no privacy from our neighbor's (well-maintained) yard. To the Northwest, an off-white PVC fence that isn't an eyesore but isn't our favorite either. The goal is to hide the wood fence as much as possible, provide more privacy to the rear (does not have to be invisible, but right now there is virtually nothing at eye-level) and, to the Northeast put together something that will partially block and draw the focal away from the PVC fence.




We are also looking to rip-out the overgrown shrubs on the Southeast
side of the house and put in a path bordered by a fence-blocking shrub
wall on one side and some low-height, shade tolerant interest along the
other.

We did engage someone to put together a plan for us
(attached), but I found it to be somewhat uninspiring, especially with
the number of grouped aborviate and 14+ schip laurels which are fine for
what they are but are not particularly interesting. The person also
did not take into account the shed or the fact that the large silver
maple on the South side came down recently (the latter obviously not
their fault) which is now to be replaced by a new 5' October Glory
maple.




I have started working on my own plan (attached also) but
it certainly needs some help, especially with ideas for filling along
the borders. We are focusing on purples, blues, whites and yellows for
flowering. We would like to keep the center of the lawn open for now as
we have 2 small children. We plan to demo the existing raised beds and replace and relocate them.

As far as sun, the rear half of the South side gets direct light from about 8-10am, the North side of the rear gets direct sun from about 1pm to 3pm and most of the North side gets direct sun from 2pm to 6pm.

Any help or input would be very much appreciated! In a lot of ways, this is a blank canvas, as we are not wedded to anything except for the trees. I know this is a process and I have spent a lot of time doing research and lurking on the gardenweb forum to learn as much as I can.

Thanks in advance!

Comments (62)

  • 7 years ago

    The general bedline curve by daylilly is good. You can slide that shape left and back if you want more grass. Keep in mind that you want a bed depth of at least 5 feet (6 or more is even better). Anything less doesn't give adequate space for shrubs to grow.

    Camellias get 10 feet or more tall. I was thinking ones hardy to your area would replace the skip laurel for screening. They can handle some sun, particularly morning sun.

    HMW thanked whitewatervol (Z 8a/7b Upstate SC)
  • PRO
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The illustration is not a package of suggestions of how to plant your back yard. Rather, it is a suggestion of an approach to take. What plants you use and their placement might look quite different from my example.

    Keep in mind that a major objective of landscape design, as opposed to landscape engineering, is to create a functional piece of art. Not only will you be in and use the space, you'll want it to be good looking and be able to appreciate its beauty while you do. Creating a bed line is a major opportunity to establish an artistic theme and make a strong artistic statement. A wiggly, random line is pretty weak and doesn't really say much about why it exists. Perfect geometric shapes on the other hand begin to speak of architecture and how man is able to create a high degree of organization out of randomness. A simple, perfect circle seems like it would work well in this circumstance. Modifying it in order to accommodate the existing features (shed, deck, patio) would be pretty easy.

    Where the bed ends up being the deepest are the areas that naturally invite the large plants ... trees, either existing or proposed. Speaking of the practical aspect of maintaining an area, a circle would be much easier to mow than a lawn that dips deep and contortedly into corners. Too, it is unpleasant mowing thin grass that barely will grow on account of heavy shade. It is usually the corners of the yard where this is almost a certainty.

    I'm totally in favor of your removing the existing raised planters that separate the patio from the lawn. However, I would not separate these two elements with beds. I'd also simplify the patio edge by making it straight across, which means deleting or adding brick.

    It's reasonable that the 3 different fences seem bothersome, but I think this could be minimized a great deal without relying on totally smothering the fences with foliage. If you try to do it all with smothering, the plantings can ultimately become quite bulky and usurp a lot of the lawn space. One powerful weapon in hiding fences is shade. If small trees are planted adjacent to the fence, their shade can make the fence dark and non-descript. From the important viewpoints, I would explore the view of the fence and first determine what is beyond it, in the neighbors' yards that needed screening. These are the places for considering small trees or large shrubs. The fence that shows the least in the photos is the steel picket fence at the back lot line. It barely needs screening. Maybe everything in the neighbor's yard does not need screening, depending on how they use their yard. If they are rarely in some portions and there is nothing bad to look at in those portions, you might be fine with low groundcover and allowing the fence to show. Where they are active or have things you don't want to see, you might use shrubs, trees or tall groundcover. You don't have to obliterate the view of everything outside your yard in order to make your space pleasant. Creating a fair amount of "distraction" is sometimes enough. Part of this, too, depends on how much privacy you need.

    The shed is a bit cute but needs some adornment. I agree with the suggestion of window boxes. If you need to use fake plants in them on account of maintenance issues, that's an option. I wouldn't try to hide the shed and it needs to be convenient to access. Even though it's painted same color as house, that's not necessary. It could become an other nice color and would work as long as the whole scene is compatible. Everything does not need to match. Many times things are more attractive and interesting when they don't match. This is especially true in the garden. Focus on compatibility.

    HMW thanked Yardvaark
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  • 7 years ago

    Thanks for the input. I put together an updated sketch integrating a lot of your ideas, particularly with a circular bed, which I agree looks much better. I thought 15-20 feet of depth in the upper left corner was a bit of overkill but thought a seat would work there.

    I am still struggling, especially with the areas marked "A" and "B". "A" can only be 3-4 feet wide because of the path. Would camellias work there? Can they be pruned to keep them tall and thin? It gets little, if any, direct sun - would they survive?

    "B" does not need heavy foliage or to hide the fence. Just some things 1-3 feet tall on the ground that will strive with morning sun, bloom nicely.

    All of your input is much appreciated!

  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    How wide is the space around A? It looks like 12 - 15 feet based on your scale. You need to subtract 4 feet minimum for the walkway. If it's 12 feet wide that leaves 4 feet on either side of the path. If it's 15 feet wide, you will have around 5 feet on either side of the path. That leaves pretty narrow beds. With limited space and low sun, you need smaller shade tolerant plants like hosta, heuchera, ferns, astilbe, and hellebore. There is enough color variety between those to provide interest.

    Camellias are mostly 8 - 12 feet tall and 4 or more feet wide. They tend to get even larger after 20 or more years if left untrimmed. They are too large for that space. I was suggesting hardy camellias to replace the skip laurel you had said you didn't like in your plan. The 'April' series from the National arboretum ate some of the camellias that should be hardy in your area. They would provide an evergreen screen and they also have attractive blooms in late fall or early spring depending on the variety.

    I think YardVaark has come up with a great bedline for your plan. If you go with a circular layout, be careful to lay it out as close to an actual circle as possible.

  • PRO
    7 years ago

    You have many things that are not going to prosper on account of shade: a vegetable garden, sky pencil, clematis. In the skinny areas, you'd be better off with perennials than shrubs.

  • 7 years ago
    Will a sky pencil and vegetable garden really not thrive with 3-4 hours of sun? I can see the issue with the clematis on the bottom left corner, but elsewhere I thought 3 hours or so would be ok. Am I wrong?
  • 7 years ago

    Most garden vegetables need at least 6 hours of sunlight to do well. My current yard is almost all shade. I have 3 potted tomato plants "hidden" in one of my few sunny flowerbeds.

    Tomatoes, some greens, and some peppers can get by with 4 hours or so but will be less productive.

    I've not used sky pencil hollies before but Monrovia lists them as full sun. Why not use a shade tolerant evergreen instead?

  • 7 years ago

    In my experience a Guernsey Cream clematis will grow with filtered shade but the brighter colored clematis need more sun. Plain old sweet autumn clematis will grow anywhere...maybe too much so. Tomatoes definitely need more sun; I'm not certain about the sky pencil holly. (But it is my opinion that they are exclamation points in a garden rather than any sort of screen.)

    I looked up that October Glory maple, as an example of a potential problem. http://treegrowersdiary.com/octobergloryfacts.html This blogger planted a nice 9' tree and 7 years later it was 33' tall with a spread of 22' and surface roots heaving the nearby lawn. My concern would be that by then new neighbors might object to this tree, or others, extending over their side of the fence. Some people even take a buzz saw to limbs on their side, even if it's a lovely dogwood. Very difficult problems in urban areas, but something you should consider before spending your $ & time. Have you tried printing off your pictures and overlaying a rough perspective of the anticipated trees to see just exactly what views you would and wouldn't be blocking?

    Your plan is coming along nicely...already way better than that design produced for you by the Plant Seller. With the better photos, I see a need for tall screening for the brick patio so that the yellow-ish house next door isn't quite so looming & looking into your sitting space. Perhaps a matching trellis on the interior side of the air conditioning equipment extending perpendicular to your house? Yes, I have been the ridiculous one propping up 1x2s and tarps to check out whether such a screen would help.

    I don't quite agree with whitewater that a 4' wide solid path is necessary in a private access such as your sideyard, at least not unless it needs to be a passage for lawn equipment or trashcans or tricycles. Which isn't to say that there will be room for a tall hedge, even with just stepping stones. Such passageways can be lovely shade gardens with vines and hosta and ferns. I've also seen such areas feature a collection of bird feeders hung on a fence, primarily to be viewed from indoors thru the windows. Or you might research bamboos planted in barrels above ground....bamboos don't work here in IN in or out of a barrel, but using containers is a way to gain a couple feet of height in a close area like that.


  • PRO
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Forgot to mention another concern with veggie garden location is that tree roots would be impossible to keep out. It would be impossible to turn soil annually. It's only good for perennials/groundcovers.

  • 7 years ago

    What would you suggest in place of the sky pencils?

  • 7 years ago

    There are skinny arborvitae and maybe even skinny yews.

  • PRO
    7 years ago

    One reason it is hard to help you with screening plant suggestions is because we cannot really grasp exactly where you need screening and the precise conditions of those locations. As I pointed out earlier, in the process of developing a planting plan, you'd evaluate from the relevant viewpoints, where you need screening. You may have done that while standing out in your yard, but it's not anything you've conveyed to us in an understandable way. I agree with Samarnn's prior comment that Sky pencil is more like an exclamation point, than screening. To be screening, they'd need to be planted 18" apart, which can become impractical. In looking at your plan, it's hard to tell what you are trying to do with them.

    A possible way you might solicit suggestions for help with screening is if you took any of the original photos (from which I made the panorama) and drew on them where you are trying to put what shape, it might make it easier for us to understand exactly what you are trying to do. To draw on a photo, open it in Microsoft Paint (or any free drawing/paint program/app). The circle or square tools will probably be the easiest to use if you don't have touchscreen and stylus.

  • 7 years ago

    Yardvaark, maybe this will help to show what I am trying to achieve more clearly.








  • 7 years ago

    I might add that the idea of a shade gardens with vines and hosta and ferns along the side path is probably the best idea for that area yet. The key there would be tall and skinny shade-hardy covers that distract from the fence and make the walk more inviting. Again, with lots of families and friends coming by, the walkway does actually have to be 4 feet wide...


  • 7 years ago

    With the exception of the left rear corner, the idea of exclamation points to break up the landscape rather than a "wall" of privacy was what I was looking for in those areas. Is just as well to replace them with part-shade conifers or arborvitaes (preferred growth 5-6' in all areas except for that left rear corner, where 8' might be better). That corner gets mostly shade, and I would really like to hide the corner itself and make it into a seating area like in the latest drawing. I think a tall "wall" there draws the eye and makes it a little more cozy, if that makes sense.

  • PRO
    7 years ago

    Along the back lot line where you say it does not need screening but is bare, it seems like you simply need an arrangement of groundcover materials (which could be shade tolerant perennials ... Hosta, Liriope, etc. Personally, I would be driven crazy by the leaning, misshapen tree and planning for it's replacement. I question the seating area you hope to create in the back, left corner and think it will backfire. It seems to me that, rather than reinforcing the lawn circle, it is in competition with it. I don't think the yin-yang concept of "white space" is going to play out properly with this scheme.

    If you're going to totally hide a lot of the wood fence, which it seems you are determined to do, you're going to need a shrub that will tolerate shade and can be trained/clipped into a hedge. Camellia would be an example. Shrubs that are spaced out such that fence is seen between them all is going to be ineffective and busy looking. Another way to hide the fence is with a shade tolerant vine growing on trellis. (I have mentioned the "suspended" trellis innumerable times as the cheapest, quickest, easiest way to go on this. It is fence posts spaced as usual all connected up by swagging a chain from the top of each. The vine grows up to the chain via temporary cords that are tied from it to stakes in the ground. Ultimately, it forms a green curtain on the structure of fence posts.) The drawback of a vine is its potential to escape so one must be aware that they can control whatever they use. Also, where you need screening above the fence, the suspended trellis is not going to be suitable because it is only as high as fence posts.

    I think your best bet with the line of white vinyl fence is to use large shade tolerant shrubs in the multi-trunk tree form. The branching structure of the trunks adds interest to, and filters the view of, the boring white fence. The canopy extends screening above the fence. Groundcover below make the most sense. In the picture I drew, it be like the small tree near the shed, but add 3 more in a line along the white fence.

    It will be to your advantage to let more light into the yard if you have a way to do it (removing low-hanging tree limbs.) While many shrubs and plants are considered to be "shade tolerant" they often don't perform as well when light is limited. They may look thin and weak. It would be best to stick with plants that really do like the conditions you're offering.

    HMW thanked Yardvaark
  • 7 years ago

    " Is just as well to replace them with part-shade conifers or
    arborvitaes (preferred growth 5-6' in all areas except for that left
    rear corner, where 8' might be better)."

    You do realize that they will not stop growing at some magical predetermined height?

    They grow forever.

  • 7 years ago

    This last batch of photos with comments were very informative. This may be difficult to grasp, but "hide this fence" is not a rational approach to design. You may indeed be able to hide the fence, but what will you have done to create a garden? It is more effective to focus on what will look beautiful with the fence behind it. That may be subtle in wording, but the meaning is vastly different.

    There is nothing particularly dreadful about any of the fences (aside from the gap-tooth section that will be replaced). Because they are presently "naked" you focus on them. When a real garden is created, they will still be there, but the garden will capture your focus. This is motherly advice saying, "it's going to be okay."

  • 7 years ago

    What Kiminpl said! I was going to type something like that yesterday but figured someone else would chime in. I had the same issue at my last house, hemmed in by ugly chain link on both sides and the back of the garage at the back. I planted what would grow in the conditions of my yard and what I wanted to look at and use. It became a joy. The fence faded as an issue.

  • 7 years ago

    In planning, also consider the design concepts of contrast and texture. Anything you put in front of your light colored fence will be a much bigger contrast than the same plant in front of the darker wood fence. Similarly, a bold textured plant, like oakleaf hydrangea or the rhododendrons with big leaves will draw more attention to a spot than a fine textured plant, like arborvitae or periwinkle. Too, regardless of what you plant, a sunnier area will be more immediately striking than a shaded area. You can use contrast to deliberately draw the eye toward or away from something. So perennials on your sunny spot against the light colored fence will
    draw more attention than a mass of plain groundcover in front of your
    back fence. And the brighter the perennials, the more attention to that spot. This works within an area, too. So a collection of a contrasting stuff within an area will draw more attention than if that space was just a plain simple hedge. Imagine the difference in your back area if it's just a mass of ferns vs a mixture of ferns and big hosta. The art, and individual preference, comes in figuring out just how much contrast you want for a given spot.

    I like Yardvark's idea of a few matching large shrubs/small trees in front of the lighter colored fence especially because it gives screening above the fenceline, which seems to me more important than screening the fence itself. I totally agree with kimipl that your fences won't be nearly so bothersome once they aren't naked. Those of us without perfect bodies don't need to wear head-to-toe voluminous kaftans...a little bit of lingerie can go a long way to accentuate and distract.

    Dogwoods make nice multi-trunk shapes but may ultimately get both taller and wider than you would like. I've used the somewhat smaller Burkwood viburnums to do the same thing (ok, I whack 'em pretty hard to get that multi-trunk effect). They're semi-evergreen here, probably more evergreen in your area. Or they might be a possibility for that shape on the opposite side, as they will take quite a bit of shade. I plant big hosta at their feet because the bold contrasting leaf shape draws the eye away from lackluster view beyond the fence.

    HMW thanked samarnn
  • 7 years ago

    This: "It is more effective to focus on what will look beautiful with the fence behind it."

    The depiction above with the multi-stemmed shrub in front of the white fence shows how a well-planned and simple garden space can lessen the impact of the fencing that troubles you so much.

    Regarding the space you desire for the boys to play within, I have 3/4 of an acre and if your 10' key/scale above your plan is accurate, then there is more than enough space for the boys to play. We live in a neighborhood with no fences and at least 8-10 kids play in our back yard on a regular basis after school and on weekends. The space we have allocated for this is about 50x50'. It's enough for wrestling, soccer, baseball and football games, corn hole, etc.

    It would be nice to make the shed a feature as suggested with window boxes--I love it when people "pretty-up" their sheds. Mine is painted to match my chicken coop (have to repaint it this summer) and if I had windows I would add window-boxes.

    I commend you for doing some research, making a plan and seeking feedback before beginning the work. One thing that struck me with your pictures was the lack of cohesiveness in the yard. The brick patio and wooden deck don't seem to mesh well together. I know this is not your doing but the seating on the wooden deck reminds me of park seating (I grew up in NYC)...it may be worth making it more cozy in the future. Good luck...the folks on here are very good and generous with their advice. Post updated pictures when you start the process, would love to see what you do!

  • 7 years ago

    Thanks for all of the input. I am going to rework the two sides of the yard and see what I can come up with. I will continue to post updates to the plan and of course pictures when I get underway, but I did want to thank you each for your help so far.

  • 7 years ago

    I put some more thought into the area marked "A" along the side of the house and I realize that it would be impossible (and probably not desirable) to try to hide the whole fence. I did like samarn's idea of using barrels or pots to fill in that space for a shade garden with some ground cover. I wanted to see what people thought about adding some either potted plants and/or a trellis on the fence. It might end up being too busy with both but here's what I was thinking as a starting point...


  • PRO
    7 years ago

    I don't get how it helps you.

  • 7 years ago
    It would help improve the look of that area without impeding on the path. I was starting to think about what would work on the left side in the area marked "A" and was looking to see what people thought
  • 7 years ago

    You're considering putting 4' of trellis on top of a 6' fence? The area is 12'-15' wide? I like the basic idea, but I fear that trellis is too tall, possibly not strong enough for 10' of height supporting hanging pots, and proportions wouldn't work anyway. Try putting sm trees or shrubs in the barrels and either not having the trellis topper or having only a 18"-2' trellis topper similar to the one on top of the fence to right of your backyard. There may be rules in your community about 8' or 10' fences. And yes, trees/shrubs in a barrel are likely to have a limited lifespan of only a few years, at least unless you get into root pruning. Me, I would use cheapies, prune 'em hard to control width & density, and plan to start over every few years. Boxwood would be pricier. easier to control width, & likely to live longer. FWIW, my sister has a flourishing climbing hydrangea growing on a tripod in a barrel for maybe 5-6 years. It's a good 10' tall altogether x >4' wide at the top and doesn't bloom. She expects to get another couple years out of it before the barrel itself falls apart.

  • PRO
    7 years ago

    I'm not speaking against adding interest at the lower elevations, but I can't see how worrying about what is below the top of the fence helps with the problem of needing screening above the fence. I wouldn't be concerned with solving minor details until first resolving the major ones. For screening, it seems like you need large shrubs in the tree form (so they don't impede with access & pedestrian traffic of the path area. They must be shade tolerant, but also you can't let limbs of large tree hang down and block their light.

  • 7 years ago

    Yes, Yardvaark, I too would approach this project with priorities. The sideyard is probably simplest, but I would start with the screening, especially immediately to right of the brick patio, because it will take a few years for screening to be effective. But I do think, and I'm sure you agree, that HMW is on the right track to have a general plan at the outset. HMW are you thinking of this as a multi-stage project or are you hoping for one big installation of all the major parts?

    HMW, please tell us what the outlook onto the sideyard is from the house. How prominent is this area when viewed through the windows and is this a concern of yours, or are you seeing this passageway primarily from perspective of those walking through? A similar question about view lines from house might effect placement of screening in the back.

    Yardvaark, Interesting that in this latest little sketch you show screening using narrow vertically growing shapes, whereas in an earlier sketch of the other side you illustrated cluster trunks with more horizontal bubbletops. Were you just showing options or were you specifically suggesting variation of form on the opposite sides? I can see the argument for different forms, given my inclination towards too much variety :(, but I think using the same form on both sides would result in a more harmonious design with less attention drawing contrast to the screens.

  • PRO
    7 years ago

    "Yardvaark, ... Were you just showing options or were you specifically suggesting variation of form on the opposite sides?" Samarnn, I wouldn't be looking for symmetry as much as relative balance. The areas have enough differences that it's probable (though not guaranteed) that the same plant wouldn't work well for both locations. The right seems more open, the left side more confined. At the right side correlating with fence panel architecture was a concern. At the left side, it's doubtful the same thing could be accomplished. It seems more important to create a screen that coordinates with blocking a view, with narrower plants as there is less space. Can't really worry about coordinating precisely with fence panels in the same manner as right side. It seems likely the light conditions of each location may be different enough from each other to warrant different plants. Can it still seem "balanced"? I think so.

  • 7 years ago

    First, I want to again thank everyone, especially samarnn and Yardvaark, for their help. I think this post will clear up some questions about the left side-yard/path. As you can tell, that area is quite narrow (12ft wide) with shade not only cast from the large oak above, but also from the neighbor's wood fence, house and trees. For a good portion of that area, it is light but there is no direct sun. For the front area (marked in red), there is about 4 hours direct sun.

    My concern with the side yard is really limited to a path from the perspective of those walking through it. Although there are windows along the side of the house, they are from the study/office that is used less frequently than the rest of the house. I am most interested in making this an accessible and aesthetically-pleasing passageway.


    To give you more of an idea of the look of the actual passage, here are some pictures that may be of help. This first picture is a view standing at the front of the side-yard looking towards the back-yard (with our property to the right of the fence). The areas marked in red are overgrown shrubs that need to be removed. Directly across the side-yard (to the right) from the spot where the stone wall ends and the fence begins is the large oak tree.


    The second and third pictures (below) are taken from the back-yard as you look towards the front of the house with the deck and house to the left. I have highlighted in blue the wood fence that is obscured by the overgrowth (that will also be removed).



    The side-yard is definitely the victim of years of neglect. My plan is to rip everything out (except the oak) and start from scratch in this area. I think

    it will definitely get more light (and perhaps support the growth of shade-tolerant grass) once all of the overgrown shrubs are removed.

    I do plan on doing this project in stages over then next 2 years and my first priority is to start getting the larger shrubs and trees in the ground because, as you correctly noted, they will take time to grow. I plan on hiring some help with the major parts of the project (tilling beds, ripping out shrubs) and doing the planting and simpler stuff myself. Other than this general plan, I need help prioritizing.

    To answer your other question, the view from the interior of the house
    runs more or less from the rear 1/4 of the deck to the oak tree on the
    right, marked here:


    As far as variation on opposite sides is concerned, I think that is perfectly fine. The only place you are going to be able to see both the rights side of the yard and the path area with an unobstructed view is a 4' square to the immediate left of the shed (facing the house).

  • 7 years ago

    This is probably a better rendering of my thoughts on how to use the side yard. But I am definitely open to suggestions and thoughts

  • 7 years ago

    I'd strongly recommend you try to ID things, and find out how well they handle being cut back, before ripping them out. There isn't going to be a lot of plants able to tolerate that level of shade, and established ones will have a better chance. It isn't the shrubs that are the problem, but the fence and the tree.

  • 7 years ago

    mad_gallica - normally I would, but the extent to which they would need to be cut back would leave them with very little but stems without leaves. I think the likelihood of survival would be basically nil.

  • PRO
    7 years ago

    I would say your only hope of really getting something to grow is to limb the tree up in order to let light come below the canopy. Of course, we can't see it, so what you're working with is a mystery to us. Still, probably not much hope of ever getting grass to grow after shrubs/trees come along. It looks like a groundcover area to me.

  • 7 years ago

    I can see my garden style would be in conflict with your impulses. :) I would cut the lower part of the shrubs but leave the overhead canopy and then plant colorful shade-loving jewels along a nice new path. Orchids, ferns, calathea, bromeliads, coleus? Fuchsias, gingers? -- some irrational exuberance. Your pots and trellis are too stark for me. :)

  • 7 years ago

    Don't know what that tree at the side is, can't see leaves but bark looks like hackberry. I have a lot of them where I work. They are quite aggressive. Yaardvark is right, too much shade for what you would like. HOWEVER, there is a way to get some plants and color in there. Use POTS! I did that at my last house. I had a tree for shade but had so many plants I wanted to grow under it, but they didn't thrive since the tree was out competing them. So I arranged big pots among my groundcover with colorful plants that can tolerate shade. There are some ferns that can tolerate dry shade that might make it in the ground, like lady fern. Another plant that might do well there is astilbe. There might be some hardy hostas that could take it but I don't know any good suggestions on that. I like the big fragrant ones. We have good luck with vinca, lamium, and ajuga as groundcovers. In your zone probably the ubiquitous pachysandra too.

    HMW thanked l pinkmountain
  • 7 years ago

    Thanks for all of the great feedback. I think the pots over groundcover will work nicely in that area. Does anyone have an opinion as to using hanging baskets, garden lights or a trellis above the pots?

    Yardvaark - I think with the trees on the side removed (not the oak), there will be enough sunlight, even if not direct, to have some shade-tolerant grass grow there. There are already (admittedly sparse) patches that have survived the shaded conditions.

  • 7 years ago

    HMW, As your major installation isn't likely to be yet this year, I don't see that you have much to lose by trying hard-pruning, as mad-gallica suggested, just to see on which overgrown shrubs it might work. Also note that one can prune almost any old thing for an artistic shape. Right now I have an inherited burning bush that I "scuptured" to temporarily stand in for a more attractive feature that is, as yet, just a baby. It's no Japanese maple, but at least it isn't yet another meatball. or lollipop.

    If it were me, I would use that big oak as focal point of the passageway. Lighting might be a way to accentuate what is undoubtedly a strong shape, though a skillful arborist could almost certainly open it up and further emphasize its lines. An uplight might work, or a narrowish spot mounted on the corner of house? I don't understand lighting, but I think there is a board on Houz with some experts.

    I would keep the rest quite plain, with a some big hosta across from the base of the oak to further draw the eye downward and shorten the perspective with the use of very bold texture. (Hosta there might very well need to be planted in buried pots or growbags because of root competition.) I wouldn't use a row of hanging baskets as unnecessary draw of eye to fence and a maintenance hassle. Ditto any lighting hanging on the fence, though possibly low lighting on the path itself would be both functional in terms of safety and as a way to further draw the eye downward and away from the fence.

    I agree that this is a proper place for a curving path. Another option would be a staggered path....like in thirds, using bigger stones at the slight jogs. That would also provide pretext for breaking up the beds of plainer groundcovers into different masses, further reducing the railroad effect. Maybe the narrowest bed is just a vine on the fence, possibly with a trellis to add height in just that middle third, again, to reduce the linear lines.

    FWIW, dwarf mondo grass makes a very fine textured & tough evergreen grass-like intervention between stepping stones in shade.

  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    So that's an OAK in the side yard? I have one right next to my current house now. But my recommendation stands, a big tree like that just hogs too much of the nutrients and light. Nothing but moss grows in my side yard. I have a relatively ugly fence there too, and some extremely straggly junipers against the house that are on their way out. They only lasted burning off the biomass they stored up before being planted there.

    An attractive mulch, a few plants (you're going to have to space them) and some lighting will go a long way to de-cluttering the area and making it look nice. Rip out those shrubs, IMHO, they are a lost cause. And if the fence is yours, yeah, then why not some nice planters or hanging baskets on the fence (I wouldn't do both) planted with some colorful impatiens, hosta, etc. You can grow perennials in big pots if you look after them a bit.

    One shrub that I have had good luck with growing in shade, is golden globe arborvitae. Stays small and holds its shape without pruning. Rhododendrons can take some shade too and don't need as much pruning. I prune shrubs but don't enjoy it, my favorite yard plants are the ones that don't need much care. I think you are on the wrong track if you stick with the idea of a long shrub hedge to hide the fence. Some nice flowering shrubs spaced farther apart with a nice shape, will look nice AGAINST the fence instead of hiding it. Really, if you make the space in front of it nice, the backdrop will fade away and your eyes will focus on what is in front. Right now your eyes focus on the overgrown shrubs. Heck, they HIDE the fence, but still look kinda ratty.

    Here's an example from my last home. Note how close the fence and neighbors are. Here's the before, and then here's another one six years later. And yes, I know it is a cluttered yard, but I loved looking at all the pretty things and playing with the plants, so that's my look. That orange bowl shaped planter is a little fountain we made filled with Lake Superior rocks. It was a pain to keep the algae off it being in the sun, but with your side yard being in the shade you might consider installing a small fountain or some type of bird bath or even a small sculpture. They don't need watering, lol!

  • 7 years ago

    The area in the side yatd is narrow and in heavy shade. The soil there is also probably fairly dry from the Oak pulling up most of the available water. That's going to limit your plant choices pretty severely. I doubt you will ever get a healthy looking lawn grass to work there. If you are really going for the grass between stepping stone paver look, mode grass (as someone else suggested) might be a reasonable option.

    You basically have 4' for the left bed, 4' for the path, and 4' for the right bed. Hellebore is a plant that tolerates a fair amount of dry shade. Many traditional shade plants like ferns and hostas don't do great with dry soil. If you are careful with placement and willing to water, though, some combination of hostas, hellebore, ferns, and heuchera might work well in that space.

    This year may be more about removing what is there. I think it would be a good idea to identify what you have. As others have pointed out, some shrubs can be pruned severely and still come back. Even if the shrubs don't work in that part of the yard, they may work elsewhere. They may also be something that needs to be removed but you need to identify them first.

    How high up are the bottom limbs on the Oak? I can't see them in the pictures.

    What is the evergreen shrub with the gate you want to use at the front of this space?

    HMW thanked whitewatervol (Z 8a/7b Upstate SC)
  • 7 years ago

    The nice thing about putting pots under a big shady tree is you don't have to worry then about the plants in the pots competing with the tree for water and nutrients. Although YOU then have to be the one to provide that to the pots!

    HMW thanked l pinkmountain
  • 7 years ago

    whitewater - I was thinking about putting in 2 schip laurels on either side of the gate and then filling in the area around the flagstones (between the beds) on the path to the back yard with irish moss. The limbs to the oak are way high up. The lowest one is probably about 35 feet up.


    pinkmountain - I think pots are definitely the way to go in that space and I definitely don't mind maintaining them.

  • 7 years ago

    With pots you will need to lift and turn them occasionally to keep tree roots from creeping into them. The soil will also need to be rejuvenated every few years. I would still recommend a similar selection of ferns, hostas, heuchera, and astilbes for that space even if you go with pots.

    What do you like about schip laurels? They seem like kind of a cheap plant to me.....

  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Schip laurels equal office park or strip mall plantings around here...

    Same with inkberry actually.

  • 7 years ago

    What would you suggest instead of schip laurels? I need something evergreen that I can keep under control and shape nicely.

  • 7 years ago

    How much sun does that spot get? I've tried to look back through the thread to find it but this thread has gotten really long.

  • 7 years ago
    Full sun for 5-6 hours.
  • 7 years ago

    In my area I'd use gardenias in that situation but the varieties that get tall enough for that situation aren't hardy to zone 7.

    Boxwoods or schip laurel would work but I don't really like either plant.

    I don't know if abelia is evergreen in your area. If it is, that might be an option. Loropetalum comes in green and red varieties and could be another option.

    Is there a good arboretum or botanical garden in your area? If so, visit one to get ideas of how mature plants perform in the landscape in your area.

  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Or even try googling "big planters with shrubs" or "big planters with perennials." At least you could get some ideas of what look you like, then try to find plants that fit the bill. Nothing wrong with skip laurels, IMHO, if that's what you like. I'd try to find a plant that naturally stays the size I want without pruning. But I hate pruning. I love the magic carpet spirea for hedges, but not evergreen. But a lot of the season they have something interesting going on. I've also had good luck with dwarf varieties of arborvitae staying relatively small.

  • 7 years ago

    Photo inspiration?

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