front yard ideas

jjbjjbhDecember 4, 2012

Hi all. Please see accompanying photo.

I moved to a new house in Southern California couple months ago and the front yard needs updating and sprucing up badly. I would like to plant some interesting foundation plants/bushes/ flowering or foliage only. However, I want plants that will always have some greenery. i.e. I wouldn't want anything that sort of dries up and becomes leafless and withered. Don't like to see bare branches and twiggy plants in front yard.

I would like a good mixture of flowering plants and foliage. Also, any flowering plants that after they finish blooming, will still hold interest with greenery.

I have a front porch with 3 columns that would look lovely with some sort of trailing vine like flowering creepers. Basically there are 5 separate areas of beds with ground cover/foundation plants. I would like some harmony and commonality amongst all the beds.

The 2 beds I want to address immediately are the one by the upside down smile window and by the porch/railing. The bed along the porch extends along the side all the way to the wall that you see separating my home from the neighbors.

The third "bed" that needs attention is along the sidewalk wayyyy out in front of the porch. Yes, there is a bed there separated from the lawn and covered with ground cover.

The entire look of the beds is very messy. I would like 80% structural/ linear/ architectural plants and maybe 20% free flowing. My examples of structural would be canna, horse reed, yucca, philodendron, etc. Free form would be bougainvillea, honeysuckle or some such.

I would like some variety in texture and form, variations in leaf color and shapes. I would also like at least some color blooming/showy year round. Of course, the flowers would have to complement/contrast the colors of the garage and roof.

I know it's a tall order, but any ideas are welcome.

I am in Southern California USDA zone 9 0r 10(not sure) and sunset zone 18 or 19.

I was a Michigander for 23 years so have no idea about California horticulture.
Thank you for any ideas/suggestions .

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Welcome! Read my name you should know where I'm from...
I figure with the hills in the background you are inland where its hot and dry and your page confirms Corona.

First, pick up a Western Garden Book and Pat Welsh's Southern Cal gardening. Both are great resources.

I agree it is a bit boring. But don't rush into things. Learn and do a lot of research on each plant.

You also might have bulbs buried.
Forget spring flowers like back home...tulips, muscari and some other spring bulbs. For most it doesn't get cold enough here. Daff's will do fine. Pansies are better here in the winter.
Since you are inland I would go with the cool color scheme...purple, blues, white instead of red and orange.
Yellows contract and look great with purple and blues.

You might think about a small water feature near your entryway. The sound is nice approaching and if you leave a window open.

There are plenty of drought tolerant plants to save your water bill that do stay nice all year, but not knowing what colors it hard to recommend. There are also plenty of natives that don't turn to sticks in the summer and that aren't succulents.
I think you might be in a fire prone area so drought tolerant and natives are a great advantage.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 8:50PM
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Take your time and drive around the neighborhood to see plants you like. Go through the books mentioned above. You might want to visit the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Clarement. Riverside also has a Master Gardener group you could consult. Try the website Bewaterwise and look at their garden ideas. That site is run by the Metropolitan Water District and has lots of information about plants that do well in our climate.

Here is a link that might be useful: Drought tolerant planting

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 12:48AM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

The most shocking thing about Southern California gardening is how BIG everything gets here. Never trust the tag or the nursery workers. Ask here. It will say 3-4 feet, but it will grow to 5-7 feet, trust me!

I think your garden needs some height. You seem to like tropical plants, is that the direction you are headed? I would start with that- do you want native/Mediterranean plants, tropicals, or something else?

Your garden is also pretty small for things like bouganvillea or giant bird of paradise. Honeysuckle and horse reed should be avoided like the plague here, because they are far too difficult to control and take over the yard. Cape Rush has a form similar to horse reed and although it gets big, it doesn't run. It's very pretty. Philodendron will need shade, and they get so huge that you may want to reconsider. Cannas are easy but require lots of water, and they have to be cut back because they get ratty looking rather quickly. lgteacher has a good suggestion- driving around your area to see what does well and looks good to you. Have fun building your new garden!

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 1:04AM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

First, pick up a Western Garden Book and Pat Welsh's Southern Cal gardening.

And Smaus "52 Weeks in a California Garden". These three will make you a competent California gardener right away.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 6:09PM
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wcgypsy(10 / Sunset 23)

Amen to that.......

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 6:13PM
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Thanks all. great tips and advice. Off to order the books.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 12:37AM
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wcgypsy(10 / Sunset 23)

Your local library will have those books also.......

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 11:44AM
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Thanks wcgypsy. Will check into it soon. After I find out where the library is. LOL.
Yes, a water feature out front would be lovely. Any suggestions what spot it would look best?
The yard indeed needs height and tropical would be my first choice as well. The inside of my home is very Asian/Zen looking so anything tropical/ zen/ Japanese garden type of plants would be perfect.
I am kinda disappointed to hear about the horse reed :((. I rented for a while in Oceanside north of San Diego and the landlords had three separate areas with horse reed. And I absolutely loved it! Was great for arrangements.

What about bamboo- papyrus- dwarf banana? Someone above said no bird of paradise or bougainvillea. Can you elaborate as to why?

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 8:47PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

In my yard, most of these have been too invasive, or too big in a very short time. Invasives: I have bamboo, horsetail reed, and papyrus. The bamboo is fine if you buy a clumping variety. Horsetails are fine in pots or in small areas surrounded by cement. They own my summers- I pick them out of the grass, the other beds, the pond, they come up twenty feet away. Papyrus runs like crazy and gets frostbitten here. It requires a huge amount of water and grows very fast. I just took mine out, but I like the dwarf variety, which I grow in my pond.

Grows too big too fast: Bird of Paradise. I had both varieties, but I just got rid of the smaller orange one that I had in a whiskey barrel which I thought would contain it. Nope. It always looked ratty: all of the leaves had brown edges. It took me weeks to dig it out. I also have the Giant Bird of Paradise, also planted in whiskey barrels, but the whiskey barrels are long gone and the plant is now almost twice the height of the house and getting pups everywhere that are also huge. Plan on the eventual size and growth pattern of the plants. Bananas are pretty, but they can be damaged by frost. (I'd choose them over the orange Bird of Paradise.) The Giant Bird of Paradise might look nice in your front yard, though. Another cheap and easy plant is Phoenix Robellini, Pygmy Date Palm.

I also grow cannas. I like them, but they require a lot of water and must be cut to the ground every year, because they get so ratty. Daylilies are tropical looking, and they do very well for most people.

Something that you might like that gets big and does not require too much water is Ming Fern. It has a tropical look. King Palms are nice, but Queen Palms are not. Cast Iron plants are tropical looking and do well in full shade.
I like Brugmansias even though they are messy and get frost damage. Duranta is a nice tropical plant that gets big but doesn't run, but it can be damaged by frost.

You may want to look at some photos in the Tropical Plants forum too. I love the look of Bird of Paradise with bouganvillea- it reminds me of the San Diego Mission. That's a place you could visit to get ideas.


    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 11:22PM
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Such great tips and info Renee. Thank you for taking the time. I am so glad I thought about posting here before investing in and planting the invasives.

Papyrus too??? :((. Everything I like seems to be a no-no. But I do love ferns so there might be a silver lining after all. Although I have heard they need shade and I don't Seem too have much of that in my yard.

I do have some palms in the back yard. How can I tell if I have the queen or the kings?

This maybe be a stupid question, but would I have to dig up cannas in winter here??

How about the colocasia, caladiums, alpinia zerumbet, , hedychiums? Also cordyline? would they be more desirable? Is Cyperus alternifolius same as papyrus?

I should probably explain..... I am originally from India and for 30 years in Michigan have not been able to indulge my fondness for the tropical plants I grew up with. Now with being in California I am like a kid in a candy store.
I have dreams of a lush tropical yard. Growing all kinds of plants I have missed for so long.

I do like showy plants out front. Dramatic leaves. With architectural lines.

Also, how would crocosmia look in front yard? As an accent plant? Any suggestions for a compact yellow hibiscus? Any type of Irises that would look good? Would Callas look ok in front?

Sorry If these are too many questions. But right now I am like a sponge trying to take in as much info as possible. I cannot believe I am finally in a zone I can garden year round. :))

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 1:55PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Hi jjjb, I saw a pretty tropical landscape today and thought of you. They had Bronze Loquat trees, which looked wonderful. They had Giant Bird of Paradise, daylilies, fortnight lilies, and Phoenix roebellini palms, and it looked like it was an easy maintenance landscape.

But if you love gardening, don't limit yourself to those easy plants. Papyrus is not hard to control. If you love it, go for it.

You do not have to dig up the cannas, or anything else, for that matter. That's the good news!

The King palms have beautiful green trunks. The Queen palms are messy and get large date clumps that can weigh a hundred pounds. Otherwise they look similar.

Ming ferns will take full sun. They are actually a type of asparagus fern, and they have thorns, so you have to be careful. They get huge, up to fifteen feet tall.

I have never grown colocasias,caladiums,alpinia zerumbet, hedychiums, or cordyline. Stanof may chime in about those plants, he grows lots of tropicals.

Crocosmia is pretty, but likes very little water, as I recall, so you will have to plan everything out and put it in a dry spot. Callas are one of my favorite plants. I especially love Green Goddess, it has bigger leaves and the flowers last forever. I cut mine back at the end of summer, but they are already huge again. Another great favorite is Clivias, for shade. Indestructible plant! We also grow sweet potato vines as annuals, and they come in a variety of colors.

We can grow orchids outdoors, too, as long as they are protected from frost. I grow mine between a fence and the house, and they do fine and bloom every year. Bromeliads do well here too, but they need light shade.

It sounds like you will have a lot of fun creating a garden that reminds you of home. If you see anything you like, just ask here and someone will let you know their experience with it.


    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 5:27PM
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I would put the water feature on the right side of sidewalk as you walk up to house by the front railing.
Would be a nice surprise to turn the corner walking up and see it. You could also hear it from your door or windows.

Renee is giving you lots of great advice. You have all winter to absorb it, read and learn. Take the time to do the research it will pay off in the end and the delay you will not regret.

Whatever any plant tag says the full growth size is..add 20%.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 8:37PM
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Lots of great advice indeed! A treasure chest of info. From all of you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Soooo glad I posted. It is one thing to read catalogs, check hardiness zones and research everything, but NOTHING compares to first hand experience. Always great to hear from folks who have actually planted these and know of each specimen's idiosyncracies, plusses and minuses.

I believe I have Phoenix Robellinis in my back yard. Are those the ones that are planted in groups of 2 or 3 and close to the ground?? Love those! Would love to put them in front. Any suggestions what spot they would look best in????

LOL Renee had no idea what fortnight lillies were. I have seen them all around in the summer and thought they were some sort of an Iris! Who knew???

Hooray for not having to dig up cannas! Assume it's the same for gladiolii and dahlias? Southern California, I love you! Thanks for reminding me of the clivias, Renee. And orchids??? oh my my. Oh, and of course the sweet potato vine. They used to be annuals in Michigan. Here too? wow. Must be really delicate plant. But do they need to be watched over constantly and kept in control?

I am an avid gardener and my back yard will be taking up a good chunk of time with fruit trees and vegetables, roses, etc. so would like front yard to be comparatively maintenance-free or minimum maintenance at best. Just plant and forget it kind of specimens.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 2:42AM
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Gobluedjm, I was thinking to put water feature in the corner formed by the side wall of garage and the "sad" window. But maybe your idea of putting it by the railing is better. My elderly mother often sits on a chair in the front porch and she would love the water feature by the railing!

Would like to pick all your brains further if I may for more design ideas.

Q: If I do put the water feature in front of the railing, do I plant something between the water feature and railing to sort of frame the water feature and soften the lines? Or should I remove the railing altogether?

Q: would the water feature be same height as railing or higher?

Q: What would you guys suggest I plant under the 2 lights flanking the garage door?

Q:The problem with the "sad" window is, it is pretty close to the ground so I can't plant ANYTHING higher than maybe a foot if I want the window to be seen in its entirety from the street. Any ideas what would look best under the window and in that entire bed by the window??

Q: I would also like to plant something tall and columnar on each side of the window. I love the linear Italian Cypresses. What do you guys think? Any problems with those being so close to home?

Q: what would you guys plant in front of the 3 columns? Nothing? or something vining.... thunbergia, clematis, passiflora?

Q: Suggestions as to what annual flowers(begonia, petunia, impatiens etc) to plant along the border of the walkway leading to front door?

Q: what specific color scheme would you recommend for the flowers in the front yard? Would it be contrasting(blue/purple) to the orange/peachy of the garage door and roof? or in the same color palette, i.e. oranges, reds and yellows?

Please do not feel obligated to answer any of the questions. I have already learned so much from your posts, I feel guilty asking for more advice.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 3:30AM
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I wouldn't remove the railing as that could be a safety issue for your mom. The railing will hide the back of the water feature unless you get a round fountain type. I wouldn't have the main part of it taller than the railing as it might be out of proportion. In the spring garden centers, Lowes and HD will have them and some I've seen at Lowes would be the right size. You could make it the focal point with the proper plants around it.
Whatever plants you put around the water feature they shouldn't be messy or have a lot of litter. Otherwise you'll be cleaning it constantly.
Perhaps you can take the picture into photoshop or other software and play around with colors, textures etc and see what appeals to you. Or even just paper copies of the pic and place pictures of plants around.
Personally I like the cool colors liek blues and purples with splashes of red, yellow orange. When it gets to 90 degrees inland the last thing you want to look at are red flowers.
I also wouldn't put any tree within 10 feet of my house.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 6:56PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

You are right-'Fortnight Lilies' are actually in the iris family- they have gone through name changes from morea to dietes, I believe. Some people here call them African Iris.

I would put a fountain in front of the big window instead of the railing. Phoenix roebellinis can go most anywhere, but not too close to the house. I might consider a Giant Bird of Paradise all the way off to the right corner of the house. It will get as tall as the house, so that's an issue. All vines are work, work, work, in my experience. The only one that is not too much work in my yard is the Star Jasmine. So I would not grow vines in the front if I was trying to keep it simple. As gobluedjm says, don't plant cypresses in your front yard- they are far too large and you will regret it. Take a look at hoovb's blog to see how big they get.
I wouldn't worry about a color scheme much. Most tropical plants seem to come in orange yellow and red, though.
You could plant salmon colored canna lilies to each side of your sad window, and let them grow in a little bit on each side to frame the view from inside and to make it a happier window. I would not worry about keeping the plants low outside the window- just consider how pretty it looks from inside. It's nice to look out and see a lush garden. Which bedding flowers you choose depends on the light and water requirements of the larger plants. You may want to go with ferns or bromeliads instead of annual bedding flowers to reduce the labor. How much light does this yard get? Which direction does it face?

Here is a link that might be useful: Piece of Eden on Italian Cypresses

    Bookmark   December 17, 2012 at 1:30AM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

A water feature is best in shade. This is because of algae growth. A water feature can become a PITA once the algae starts growing.

One way to keep algae growth at bay is to add 30% hydrogen peroxide to the water at a rate of 1 cup per 100 gallons once a week. "Household" hydrogen peroxide is 3% and is too weak to be effective on algae unless you add a large amount of it. 30% hydrogen peroxide is available at pool stores under various brands as an "oxidizer". 30% hydrogen peroxide can burn the skin, so ALWAYS follow ALL package precautions and warnings. Once added to the fountain water it won't hurt much of anything except algae as it breaks down into water and oxygen.

You also want to keep your water in your feature moving via pump or air pump because of mosquito potential. Mosquitos do not like movement in water. They want still water in which to breed.

This is based on my experience of water features over 10 years, of course "your mileage may vary."

    Bookmark   December 17, 2012 at 2:35PM
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I thin you need a tree or 2 for shade and vertical interest - olive trees are beautiful, evergreen and love the hot dry climate!

    Bookmark   December 25, 2012 at 11:44AM
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My best friend bought a house at the south end of Corona almost where the hills start. The day we shopped for that house it was brutal heat in summer that reminded me of Palm Springs. The lawn lived for 4 years before he took it out. He says there are summer water restrictions now. The two crepe myrtles and a bottle brush he planted are looking fine. He's also got a couple of good looking grape vines that produce in that clay without a huge amount of water.

There is (was?) a nursery near Ontario blvd. across from Home Depot that had a lovely shade house and inside they grew impatiens, begonias, hardy fern,gardenias and clivias. There was a big honeysuckle on the side of that shadehouse with its roots in the shadehouse and the vine in the sun on the southern wall. That was the only place in Corona I ever thought was pleasant to be in during the mad heat of summmer. There was also a water feature in there which helped to cool it.

If I had your house, I would plant a big tree in the right hand part of your photo where the lawn is (not the slanting bed near the sidewalk) and make a shady bed under it with lots of bark mulch.

I'd plan on a wide stair step and walkway with pretty lights going straight up from the sidewalk to the door with some daylilies on either side and other water wise plants. This would cut the lawn down in size to save money on water and give your entrance some grand style. I don't usually go for big hardscape solutions, but I saw just such a yard in Riverside and it was stunning.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2012 at 2:13PM
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