Help me design: seeking ideas

wannabegardnr(7 Maryland)March 1, 2014

While we wait for yet another snow storm to strike with single digit temperatures to follow, I hope you all have some free time for design suggestions.

Before I became a regular follower of this forum, my idea was to have some evergreens ( I wasn't using the word conifer back then) to block out the house behind me. Then I got to seeing your pictures, and decided I will go for something beautiful to look at at the expense of a solid screen. The trees will help take my focus away from the house behind.

So, here is what I did last Fall. Create the backbone, the larger trees. From left: Picea abies 'Gold Drift' (thanks Dan in Chicago), Picea glauca 'Pendula', Picea pungens 'Glauca Pendula' ( thanks Dave from Kansas City), Pinus strobus 'Angel Falls' and Picea omorika 'Pendula Bruns'. Thanks because their trees made me get them. My plan is to stake the weepers up to 10 - 12 feet, then let them weep down, thus avoiding a tall wall. My hope is when they are large enough, maybe in 10 years, they will help to disguise the house behind. The minimum distance from the fence is 3+ feet, which is the P. glauca. The trees are spaced a minimum of 4 feet apart on the x-axis, but actual distance is bigger because they are planted in a zigzag pattern. I deliberately varied the spacing a little, they are not spaced equally or planted along the same line.

The two little guys are Pinus mugo 'Jakobsen' and Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea'. They can move.

There will be a Cedrus Libani var Atlantica 'Glauca Pendula' to the left of the 'Gold Drift'. Between the Gold Drift and the P glauca 'Pendula', against the wall, I'll plant an Acer palmatum 'Ryusen', to block out the lower window of the house. Behind the blue I was thinking a red leaved smoke tree, cut down frequently to keep small. Or I could do something green and bring red from a dwarf jap maple like 'Shaina'. I even thought of planting 2 -3 nootka Van Den Akkers behind the blue to create a screen, but that would probably be a bad idea - too much shade and too crowded when they are big. I thought something yellow will look nice next to the blue. I was thinking of Cham pisifera 'Mops' or maybe Thuja orientalis 'Franky Boy' on the right and mugo 'Carstens on the left with something else behind. Or I could do the yellow Mops next to or in front of the Pendula Bruns with something larger like a parviflora in front of the Angel falls. Or a parviflora or a winter yellow could peek out from behind the pendula Bruns.i wanted to scatter 2/3 heathers for winter color too. I considered planting 3 in a row in front of the blue tree.

What would you do? How many plants inside each triangle? 1 large dwarf? 2 smaller dwarfs? 2/3 dwarf + mini combined? What shapes next to the big guys, or what colors? Share your ideas.

The planting area will be about where it is in front of the Gold Drift right now, but it will slowly curve out as it gets to the omorika. So if it is 8 foot from the fence where the Gold Drift is now, it will be maybe 13 feet near the omorika. More pictures as replies to this post.

You are looking south in the pictures. The fence shades the bed in winter.

Thank you if you reached the end.

This post was edited by wannabeGardnr on Tue, Apr 1, 14 at 0:55

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wannabegardnr(7 Maryland)

From the right side. You can see the spacing better. I don't have this view from the house. I see them from the front.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 8:07PM
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wannabegardnr(7 Maryland)

From upstairs. You can see how the bed will get wider on the right. I have to create the proper outline this year. It's a work in progress.

This post was edited by wannabeGardnr on Tue, Apr 1, 14 at 0:55

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 8:09PM
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wannabegardnr(7 Maryland)

Winter view from the house

This post was edited by wannabeGardnr on Tue, Apr 1, 14 at 0:56

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 8:35PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

are we saving the grass for kids???


    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 10:29AM
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WannabeGardnr...looks like you have arrived. You need to change your handle.

"What would you do". Kind of reminds me of what I asked myself 16 yeas ago, has it been that long, when I decided to create a conifer garden. That's one you will have to figure out and you will and do overs will become part of the norm. You will know the plant for a certain area as you add to your garden.

If your planning on staying at least 15-20 years then take heed.

Don't get in a big hurry. Finding the right plants that will fit a flowing design will take years. Design one area at a time and pick and choose your additions carefully. Always design your beds that will accommodate changes in the design. For instance tying two together or enlarging an existing one.

I like your back ground plants spacing and all. Now you need to search for additional additions that will blend for color and height.

Find a good nursery that handles a good stock of interesting and rare cultivars. NO big box stuff. Get to know them. When you have your foot in the door, so to say, see if they will piggy back your spring order onto theirs. Most will be accommodating if they know you are a serious collector.

This is what's coming your way. Enjoy



    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 12:35PM
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wannabegardnr(7 Maryland)

Yes, Ken. He turned 3 today. He's finally sleeping after all the excitement from morning, and I am feeling exhausted. The lawn is for me too, I want some open space for outdoor parties and lawn games. A big oval is what I'm thinking. The rest will slowly get filled in. As you can probably tell, I started from a blank slate.

Thanks Dave. It's exciting and intimidating. There are so many combinations possible and so many beautiful plants. Yet I have to remind myself I can't cram too many things. Have to remember their growth potential. 10 years I can imagine, but at 20 years I can't visualize any grouping.

Do you plan for 10 years? Or can you, with experience, visualize how something will grow among its neighbors in 20 30 years?

I am totally addicted to the forum now, checking several times a day for any post.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 5:03PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i figured as much ...

i dont understand your triangle comment ..

but i would get away from a straight line right across the front of the straight fence ...

good luck


    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 6:56AM
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I think your fence row is looking sweet - keep it going, then fill in with shapes and colors in front of your backing plants.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 8:37AM
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wannabegardnr(7 Maryland)

Ken, since I planted in a zigzag pattern, when I look from the front, there are two open triangles now. The front two points of each triangle are more then 2 feet apart. So I want to fill them with smaller omplimentary plants. That's where I am struggling. Two plants, three plants, what colors and shapes next to each other.

No it won't be straight. That would look very boring to me. The narrowest part of the border will be to the left of the gold drift, and the widest part will be past the omorika where it will curve forward towards my deck and form the other half of the oval. I am visualizing an oval shape for the lawn.

Thanks unprof. That's the point I am at. How to fill? Will you give an example based on one of my trees? What would you place next to it and why? Trying to learn how to come up with pleasing pairings. I am afraid Dave is right, it will be trial and error, or just change of mind, but I was hoping to get some pointers from you experienced folks to get going.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 12:19PM
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Go with things you like. You seem to like weepers, so I would go with a smaller one out more in front, like P. strobus 'Niagra Falls.' Don't worry so much about how you're placing them - just think about how much space they'll need as they age, and try to keep a nice flowing line. Abies normanniana 'Golden Spreader' is a really nice cultivar that would probably look great in your yard, but it does get some width on it.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 12:41PM
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wannabeGardnr, I am a relative newbie to conifer gardening as well (3rd year). I agree with the others about selecting things that you like, but I would add, try to focus on texture and color.

Conifers are nice, because they are "structure" plantings that will be there all 4 seasons. So change color and various seasons, but overall they are pretty consistent. Try to mix your blues/yellows/greens/reds and if possible get varying textures. If you study all the experts photos on here, you will see that their gardens are interesting because they mix. If you had gold drift, you might consider placing something low, mounding, and blue in front Picea pungens St. Mary's Broom or Abies procera 'Blaue Hexe'.... Maybe sneak your Shania in there as well..

Again, I am no expert, but these are the patterns I have identified as looking best, based on all the photos I have seen here... Also, lowest in the front, building to tallest in the back, so all plants are viewable...

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 2:18PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

Wannabe, you mentioned that you wanted the lawn in the shape of an oval. I approach the lawn shape as if it were water, a pond in your case. The 'pond' should go closer to the fence where you want to maintain the view and further from the fence where you want to hide the view. Your deck or patio can become a dock. Your pond can have a bays and points. Rock outcroppings go on the points, never in a bay. Bays have low plants. Think of it as a valley. Points have small specimen trees with trunks. Think of points as ridges. Of course, larger plants to the rear.
Once the lawn line is established arranging the plants of your choice becomes easier because you are thinking the big picture instead of many small ones. It's all about scale.
Design the lawn on the sides of the house to follow natural pedestrian traffic flow, like water coming into and out of the pond.
Also, I am careful to not shade the winter sun. Where I'm from, it's very valuable.
Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 11:17PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

So I want to fill them with smaller complimentary plants. That's where I am struggling. Two plants, three plants, what colors and shapes next to each other.


i am a collector.. of many types of plants...

i can not.. on any level.. understand buying 3 of anything....

i might buy 3 iris... but they will each be a different cultivar ...

and in 30 years... i have never had a plan ...

i buy things on a whim.. plant them.. and either.. kill them.. lol ... enjoy them.. or move them later ...

i never really understood going all anal retentive on a plan ... i have enough responsibilities that require planning.. the garden is where i give into whim.. rather than plan ....

the conifers are your backbones.. the rest is your playdough ... you play with it... you do not plant complimentary plants for the decades ... they come.. and they go ...

so my best advice.. on your frustration.. is.. wait for it.. WING IT ... just buy things.. plant them ... and fix it later ...

i have read your triangle words repeatedly ... i cant 'see' it... all i see is a 3 or 4 or 5 foot wide bed.. straight across the back fence .... i recall suburbia fondly ... with all its limitations .... but that straight line bugs me ... do what you will.. with that info ... yes.. over the years.. your conifers will soften that ... but right now.. that straight line overwhelms me ...

see pic below ... i dont deal in suburbia anymore ... but i challenge you to find one straight line .... excluding the cement .... you have straight property lines.. straight fence .. and straight houses .. and a straight bed .....

your goal... as far as i am concerned.. is to figure out.. how to 'soften'.. all your hard corners ... and therein lies your challenge ... and all i am saying.. is that straight bed line.. is where i would start ....

good luck


    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 9:19AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i dont mean you have to fix this immediately .... make it a 5 year plan ...

define.. exactly.. what lawn is imperative ... and then the bed issue.. resolves on its own ...

e.g.: many of my beds... were made around dead stumps.. mowing nightmares ... and once i figured out those.. i made paths.. to drive and walk thru ...

then.. i bought things.. and planted them in each bed... no real rhyme or reason ... just no two color plants next to each color.. a yellow.. by a blue... or a green.. etc ... throw in some variegates ...

but if forced to go green next to green.. then looking toward height.. width.. ][those two would be annual growth rate] .... and also texture .. etc ...

but it all starts.. by you defining... the bare min.. of lawn you need to live you lawnal dream ...

i guess what i am trying to say ... is that the lawn is a backbone.. and that determination need be made now .. for the long run ...

have i beaten this horse enough.. lol


    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 11:09AM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

Yes Ken, you and I are thinking alike. Yikes!
But to make a point. When designing, start out with the big picture and work down. Sort of like an outline. Everything has to be in order. You can't do the little things first and come out right. You don't put the frosting on the cake before it's made.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 11:26PM
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wannabegardnr(7 Maryland)

Well I'm late to get back. I was trying to digest all the feedback, and the work week was busy.


Unprofessional: thank you for the suggestions. When you mention flowing lines, do you mean a smoothly curving bed line, or transitioning conifer sizes, from tall, gradually to short, not tall short tall short? How exactly does one achieve smooth flow. Sorry if that sounds like a silly question. The 5 I have now are intermediate growers. Is the rule of thumb to put dwarfs next step down from them, or it doesn't matter as long as it fits in the space for as long as I want?

SC77: thank you for the combination example. That's exactly the kind of tip I was looking for.

Mike: wow, your post is what stumped me, in a good way. First, I had never read about garden design explained with the analogy of a water body. Your explanation makes it easier to visualize. Are the any books or websites I can refer to that demonstrates that principle preferably with plenty of illustrations?
I will work on a drawing for the overall design and attach that for feedback. I have a rough idea, but not the complete picture. I thought I can start at the boundary and work my way in. Over the years, if I need less lawn space, I thought I can expand the beds. When you mentioned a tree with a trunk for the incurves, does it have to be a big tree, or maybe just bigger in size compared to what's in the bay, or just something stronger impact/bolder texture compared to what's in the bays/ out curves? My square footage is not very large so I feel afraid of placing something large up close. Is that just foolishness from inexperience? I was glad my general plan matched with what you recommended. I did plant those trees to hide the house, and the curve was getting wider there. I was afraid of making the lines too busy and squigley, so I thought the oval would give me a simple design with one smooth curve, and make the lawn minimum, but functional for badminton, croquet, etc. but I think you are encouraging me to add a few gentle curves to make it more interesting and add depth!

Ken: No way is it going to be a fast project. Conifers are expensive for me, and starting a garden from nothing takes time and hard work. The planting appears flat to you because I started with the big trees first, and they'll be at the back even in places where the bed will be wider. The bed lines are not drawn yet. As for the triangle, refer to the picture in my first post. The 'Gold Drift', P. glauca 'Pendula', and P. pungens create a triangle. I was looking for help in placing smaller plants next to them that will be complimentary. How large, in terms of growth rate, do i pair with them, and that kind of determines how many plants I can fit into each triangle, before I add more out in front of those trees. 'Gold Drift' and the pungens are more then 8 feet apart, and I will not leave all that space empty. You and many others are advising me to go with what I like and then I can move them if I want. I don't want to move the larger trees (if they live, there's that still) but I can certainly play around with the smaller ones. No more conifer planting for me until Fall. For now planning, setting up watering, and finding out what lived. I did mail order some perennials though, for other parts of the yard.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 3:31AM
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Looks real nice... I like the fact that they are all weepers which are also my favorite. That one weeper that looks like it's planted 2 inches from the fence... aren't you afraid that some day that little guy will do a little structural damage to it?

For your other beds, I would also recommend placing conifers next to each other that are complete opposites in color and texture. Like a bright blue spruce, a green pine, a yellow Thuja, a red weeping japanese maple. By blue, red, yellow, green... I mean pure blue, red, yellow, green. So many just a slight color tint that you can't really tell unless you examine it closer. . I've ordered some in the past that I ended up not using in the spots I intended them for because they weren't blue enough, weren't yellow enough, etc.

In my plan, I try not to put any two like trees next to each other in both texture and color.

But that's just a few suggestions I though you could use for your FUTURE beds... I wouldn't change anything about the bed against the fence.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 6:43AM
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wannabegardnr(7 Maryland)

Hi Rick, that one's 3 and half feet away. At 2 feet wide in 10 years, I have got at least 30 years before it will touch the fence. After that I don't care.

Ken has a role in my choice of trees. His drumming about trees never stop growing got to me. I didn't want a 40 foot wall. So I picked two skinny uprights (happened to be weepers I liked), and 3 real weepers. My idea is to take them up as high as I want to hide the house, and then bring them back down.

But now I am second guessing myself. Maybe I should have mixed it up with 1 broad slow growing upright. I didn't pick a broad tree, because it would block out the sun for whatever I placed in front of it.

Overall I am happy with the backbone, but I want to fill it in a bit and define the bed shape.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 12:40PM
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wannabegardnr(7 Maryland)

Okay, for Mike botann and Ken, and anybody else. I pulled arial map of the house and drew on it.

* Property boundary is in brown.
* I have marked the good views, and views to hide with black crosses and check marks.
* neighbor's trees and structures that affect my design are marked.
* I haven't decided whether to add a tree next to the deck. I am leaning towards it because house gets too hot in Summer. But want to keep the canopy small to be able to plant enough variety underneath. No maples. I was thinking skinny Ginkgo, large crape myrtle, or other small trees. Want canopy to be high so I have clear view from lower floor. Also considered shading the deck with sail cloth, pergola, umbrella, but house would still be hot.
* The grey area I want to add a paved area to put a fire pit
* So far I have started the conifer bed and the two perennial beds. The hydrangeas and the Skylands is planted.
* I have drawn the bed line I was thinking of.

Help me draw the bed line.
Suggest a tree to go next to deck. Or suggest alternative.
[Mike: where would you put the bays and ridges? I could put a Beni Kawa sticking out to the right of the Red Dragon and make it a ridge, and the weeping Blue Atlas Cedar becomes the bay, but I am lost with the rest.]

Picture looks too small in the preview, hopefully it allows you to click on it and make it a bit bigger so you can read the annotations.

I should probably put this in the design forum, but I will start with you guys first.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 3:42PM
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In your snowy picture there is a tree next to the deck, is that the Japanese maple shown on your aerial view? What do you like/not like about it and what do you want different from a new tree on the other side of the deck?

Anyway the snowy tree looks good to me and I think more tree(s) near the deck would be nice.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 4:53PM
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wannabegardnr(7 Maryland)

Yes, that's the Japanese maple. The tree is beautiful. I would have loved if at that position there was a bigger tree, because it is positioned south west. This one is only about 13 feet tall, so it doesn't throw any shade on the house. Also because of the low canopy, it blocks part of the view. The part of the deck under that tree stays cool. I can sit under there The tulip tree shades the house till maybe 10am/10:30 in high Summer, and it is small for a tulip tree, so we may get more shade as it gets bigger. But I was thinking something that won't make me feel blocked in, so gives high shade, and even if it shades only for a couple of hours, that would be better than nothing. I realize if I want absolute shade I would have to go with a large tree, but I fear how much gardening I can do with too much shade. Also realize there won't be any shade in the first 10 years.

This post was edited by wannabeGardnr on Tue, Mar 11, 14 at 11:20

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 6:20PM
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