What to do with my front yard?

kmarissa(6b)March 12, 2013

Hi all,

I've lurked in this forum often, but haven't really posted. I hope it's okay for me to post this question now. I figured I'd post it here since I love cottage gardens, and you all seem so friendly and helpful! If I'm posting in the wrong forum, I really do apologize.

So here's the thing. I hate the front yard of my house. The back yard is coming along, but I haven't done a thing with the front ever since I moved in. I've included a picture for reference, taken earlier today. The house is northfacing, so in the picture you are looking toward the south. As a result, the beds are shady, and only get probably, at most, an hour or two of sunlight in the early morning on the left bed, and about the same amount before sunset on the right. In thinking about redoing the front, I'm concentrating mostly on the bed on the right side of the picture, since the bed on the left side is basically hidden by a hydrangea.

In the spring, tiger lily-type daylilies come up in the front bed on the right side of the picture, and lilies of the valley come up on the left side, behind the hydrangea bush--along with a good helping of bindweed and ground ivy all over.

Somehow, the front yard always ends up looking both overgrown and straggly at the same time. I think it's mostly the daylilies, especially after the first flush of blooms are over. They tend to look messy, and there's nothing else in the beds to provide interest. And I also have a tendency to completely neglect the front yard, which creates a vicious cycle: The front garden looks bad, so I neglect it (because it seems futile to do anything with it), so it looks even worse, so I ignore it even more... etc.

I'd love to move the daylilies to the western side of the house (would be on the right in the picture, but the side of the house isn't really visible), but that would leave pretty much a blank slate in that right-hand bed. I feel like the daylilies would do better getting more sunlight on the western side of the house, rather than growing in full shade as they are now.

Here's my quandry--we rent our house. I have all sorts of ideas for lovely beds full of shade-loving perennials, but I really can't afford to spend hundreds on a new front-gardenful of beautiful plants for a rental, when that money should be going toward a downpayment on a place of our own! All the colorful, cheap annuals I can think of that will actually grow in full shade won't grow high enough to replace the daylilies and screen the plastic lattice at the foundation of the house.

Does anyone have any ideas for (relatively) inexpensive plants that do well in the shade, and will look good in the space/reach 2-3 feet (or higher)? I did think about using ferns, since I've seen some ostrich ferns for an affordable price this spring. But I worry that, considering that our house is kind of ramshackle (did you notice our front steps lean to one side?), ferns may end up looking weedy and monotonous if used by themselves.

Anyway, I'd appreciate any ideas that folks may have for me. It might be that what would look best would be to just leave the daylilies where they are, and better define the beds with mulch? Maybe some companion plantings? I am really interested in all ideas at this point, because at this point, I'm tired of being the ugly house on the block!

Thanks again for any input (and my neighbors will thank you too!), and so sorry that my post is so long!

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There doesn't seem to be a photo with your posting, so it's a little tough to be specific. That said, since you are saving for a home of your own, perhaps you don't want to increase your landlord's equity by putting plants in the ground. Have you considered the idea of a grouping of handsome pots filled with shade lovers? The pots would give you the height you are looking for, and of course you can take them with you when you move.


    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 9:57AM
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In my opinion, it'slovely that you want to live in a nicer place even if it happens to be a rental. I wouldn't stress that it would be benefiting the landlord, because you are really benefiting yourself. When you feel less stressed about your surroundings, it does help you healthwise. You can also dig up your plants to transfer whereever you move to.

first you can try your hand at propagation or just asking neighbors for spare plants because I bet there would be many wanting to share. You can also obtain free seeds through seed exchanges (ask or offer a certain packet of seeds to trade with others --- check the seed exchange forum). I for instance, know how to make new plants out of cuttings and if neighbors provide those cuttings, I would offer to give them back a share of the new plants. You can even grow new plants from grocery produce - tomatoes, lemons, pineapples, pomegranate, to name a few...

Clean up the yard. prune back those daylilies - with permission of the landlord of course. Just work the garden.

In deep shade plants you can use - hostas which does well from light to dark shade. I would avoid the ostrich fern which can spread. There are other ferns that are better behave. Also there are astilbes that have a variety of colours from white to deep reds and these are relatively cheap to get. Solomon's seal is another deep shade plant with bell like flowers. A spreader but easily maintained. -- all these plants you can obtain by asking for spares or by propagating. For instance I got several hostas from one potted plant. I simply divided it and got at least 4 plants from that one pot. In another case, I spotted a variagated hosta I liked and ask the owner if I could get a root. (Easily done by cutting loose a lpup). Same with the solomon's seal. Astilbes can be grown from seeds but again check the seed exchanges.

I recall a magazine article which appeard in Kitchen gardening. This young artist who lived in a rental in Manhattan was in need of a space to plant. So she set up a rooftop garden. The access to this area is via her apartment window. She amassed many pots by dumpster diving. Got free soil from things being tossed out (in my area here in Canada, free compost is offered by the recycling plant) She also scouted around during garbage day for planks to use as stands and such. Eventually she managed to create her paradise and also enjoy the fruits of her labor. So this is encouragement to you to see how you can get free things to create your garden.

Anyway this is just a start. Good luck with your quest.


    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 1:39PM
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Ianna has given you lots of ideas. What I would add is to join a local garden club if there is one. When I first moved here that is what I did and they held a free plant exchange every spring. So there were a few things in my new garden that had self-seeded so I potted them up and had a few things to exchange. Many gardeners also gave me extras so I had a good start on variety of plants. There also is a charity plant sale every year here so I always buy a few inexpensive plants to add to my garden.

I've also found plants, garden tools, pots, and garden decor at yard sales very inexpensively.

Another thing I've done many times is plant perennial seeds. It's so easy to grow lots of plants from one small package. I've grown citrus trees from seeds in fruit we bought to eat which make lovely little trees. Not sure if they would survive year round in your zone but could be out in the shade for the summer. You could also put houseplants in pots outdoors for the summer to fill in. I also grew a sweet potato vine from part of a sweet potato I had thrown in the compost. When it started to grow I planted it in my garden.

I recommend you first weed and clean up the beds and mulch. Once it looks neat and tidy you will have a place to put whatever plants you can obtain.

If you can post your pic it might help us to give you more ideas.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 6:00PM
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aviastar 7A Virginia

I don't have many suggestions about particular plants, but I did want to mention that I had a landlady once who was more than happy to reimburse me for any landscaping.

I asked in advance, of course, but ultimately you are offering to improve their property. Why not ask if they would be willing to put up a budget for plants and you'll throw in your labor and everybody benefits!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 6:26PM
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Wow, after such a long post, I didn't upload the image right! It was showing up in my previews; I wonder what happened. Am trying again right now.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 8:26PM
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Thanks for the ideas, all! I hadn't thought about inexpensive ways to obtain plants. I do have plenty of seeds for this year, but only for things like strawflower, cosmos, poppies, and other things that I wouldn't put in full shade. I'll have to look into some other options!

Very smart of everyone to point out that I will want to get my landlord's permission. My husband and I are lucky to have an extremely easygoing landlord, who has an exceptionally hands-off policy (although it's not that lucky when we're on the hook for various household repairs. I think of it as training wheels for a house). I did ask for permission to garden, back when we were signing the lease, and he was happy that I wanted to do so. We have carte blanche except for doing things like tearing up the big, lovely lilac in the corner of the yard.

I do have a bad track record with pots, especially in the summer since I can't seem to water them every day. I have two self-watering windowboxes, and those do well but still need to be watered about every 2 or 3 days. It's true that I can dig up anything I plant, to take with me later, but I'm already planning to do that with six roses, a rosemary, and a couple odds and ends in the back yard--so I don't want to overextend myself.

So I guess, to get more specific, what are people's opinions--would you choose to move the daylilies and find something else to put in the bed, or leave the daylilies and try to make the beds look tidier with mulch and possibly companion plants? I know that neither option is "right" or "wrong," but I'd be interested in the opinions of folks that have much more gardening experience than I do. ;)

Thanks again for all the thoughts so far!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 8:44PM
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that's a cute cottage.

I personally do not like day lilies except for the Stella d'oro which is a lovely well behaved plant. However it requires a good sunny location.

In my opinion, remove the day lilies but if that is an issue with your landlord, you can reduce it size by digging out a portion of the plant,

I'm not much into potted plants for the same reason. However I have been successful with pots containing succulents (requiring sunny locations) because they need less watering.

Roses and rosemary usually enjoy a sunny location. Roses produce more flowers this way, get less leggy (because it will try to reach out for sunlight) and because in a north facing yard, it gets susceptible to mildew, black spots, and other fungal infections). So choose a spot well for roses. Rosemary is pretty much the same, it's a sunny to a light shade plant. You will need to trim it back to keep it in a tight form.

Hydrangeas do come to mind - and you mentoned there is one there already. Perhaps add another one just next to it for contrast?

As I mentioned, look into hostas -- the variagated kinds which will fill up places and look 'bright' in dark spaces.

mulching always makes a nice looking bed, so does creating good sharp edges too.

Maybe put a climber for the tree like a clematis? - these can be cheap.

Perhaps the other members can add to the list of possibles for this shady cottage?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2013 at 11:46AM
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lola-lemon(5b East WA)

I just popped in here to the cottage garden and thought I'd add that Costco sells some nice little bags of shade garden assortments.

Astilbe, Ferns, Hosta etc.

Hosta look awesome if you mix and match, or if you plant 3 together.

Another shade happy plant is Hellebore. They can be grown from seed.

All of these plants will take some time to grow into their full glory, but they will eventually be big and beautiful.

I recommend googling an image search for Hosta perennial bed, or Shade perennial bed and copying any ideas you like.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 2:13AM
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Couple of thoughts. You will be able to find things inexpensively and it will be worth your enjoyment and the de-stress factor, as someone mentioned. I definitely would move the daylillies, they will suffer in a shade garden. Looking at the picture, a couple things strike me. I love hydrangeas but they look bad 1/2 of the year. Maybe an evergreen. I have pieris in shade and they do well and are evergreen. I got them at Lowe's or Home Depot, very cheap. Hellebores are evergreen too and flower in winter. I also see a ?water meter on the right side so I guess you have to leave some access to that. Maybe put pieris or dwarf lorapetalum (I have one in shade and it does fine, maybe will flower less) which comes in the purple leaves/pink flower or the greenish leaves/white flower variety (get the dwarf they get big) and hellebores and hostas). Place far enough out to leave access to the meter. I also have astilbe in shade, which I got in a little box as a root, but it takes a while to come up in spring. Maybe round the bed out wrapping around the corners of the house, possibly locating the hydrangea to less of a focal point. Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 9:08AM
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I note that there are hydrangeas that do look okay year round. I've several kinds and my favorite are the white limelight ones. However these are not deep shade ones. They can do well in a dappled sunlight. The oakleaf hydrangea looks great year round.

One other plant I thought of for early spring, late summer is the elderberry plant (the purple one). Beautiful foliage and cute dainty flowers. I have one facing north and was surprised how vigorous it was. It's tall though. Can grow to 15 feet.

Hellebores are beautiful, spring plants. excellent suggestion there. Also I would add crocuses, early tulips, alliums, etc.. these are plants that can flower before the tree starts to grow leaves again.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 11:32AM
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check out the winter sowing forum at the Garden Web. I have saved THOUSANDS of dollars starting plants from seeds. ... in milk jugs ...outside ... in January!

I'm just a lurker --- but It is the nicest group of people -- giving advise, suggestions and FREE seeds!.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 2:05PM
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Hi all,

I just wanted to (very belatedly!) thank you all for the wonderful suggestions and opinions. I did end up moving the daylilies to the side of my house, where they are not only out of the way, but receive more sunlight which hopefully will translate to more blooms. I looked through various plant sales online for shade plants in my budget and last week, my order finally arrived.

Now, my front bed is planted with autumn and lady ferns, coral bells, and a few bleeding hearts and cyclamen. I also found that an astilbe which I had planted last year has survived after all. It will take a few years before the plants really fill in, but I am optimistic that they will be a better fit for the space than the daylilies were.

Thanks again all, and I'll post a pic later, when the plants grow a bit and there's actually something to see!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 1:25PM
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I missed this earlier, and it looks like you've already planted, but I had a couple more good shade perennial ideas (at least for zone 5) that flourish on the north side of my house - brunnera and geraniums (the perennial kind) - esp. Geranium Samobar which self-seeds true to itself, but grows in a nice compact clump unlike some of my more sprawly geraniums (Nimbus & Brookside).

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 3:34PM
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