Advice on plants for foundation bed in zone 6a

soxiJuly 18, 2012

Hi, I am new to the gardening world and after looking through many books and magazines with beautiful gardens and landscaping, I thought well that doesn't look so hard, a little elbow grease and bam a beautiful front yard. So I jumped in head first by tearing up the area in front of my house near the foundation. When I started going to local nurseries and browsing websites for trees, shrubs and flowers, I quickly learned that I was in way over my head and perhaps it wasn't as easy as I thought. While I know what I like (lace cap hydrangeas, purple and blue flowers, etc), I realized that I have never been good at designing or putting together a pallete that flows well. So in an effort to not buy a bunch of items that completely clash with my house, would not do well planted with each other, or have to endure months of my neighbors glaring at me for leaving unplanted mounds of dirt next to my house, I am reaching out for advice. If anyone is good at garden layout, knowing what is good planted with what and how to make a foundation design flow well with the house, I would appreciate any and all advice. I can email pictures of the area and dimensions. Thanks so much!

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Here is one of the areas that I need help with. I can’t seem to upload more than one at a time, so next picture will be in a following post...

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 12:34AM
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Here is the other. As you can see, they are both blank slates, aside from the unfortunate house color, which will unfortunately be staying for the time being. As I said, any and all advice will be appreciated

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 12:40AM
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molie(z6 CT)

Soxi, you have both ambition and elbow grease --- plus it sounds like you want to take your time to it right --- so good for you! There are so many talented gardeners on this NE site and I'm sure you'll get lots of help. But more information about your yard would be helpful.

What direction does the front face and how much sun does it get throughout the day? It looks like there is one or more trees in your front yard. What kinds are these and how close are they to the house?

How is the drainage in your yard?

Please take some photos from a distance and show us the front and side of the house. This gives a view of your home from the street. All of these photos will be very helpful when you go to a gardening center and ask for help.

To post several pictures at once, place the first photo in your message. Then hit "return".

Type the description for photo #2 in your message. (There should an empty line between the bottom of your first photo and the description of photo #2.) Go to the hosting site and copy/paste photo #2 into your message. Make sure that the code for photo #2 is not "broken up." This code should start on the left underneath the description and not be part of the description. Then continue with all the other pictures you want to include.

By the way, I "learned" how to do this by reading Claire's "How do I include a photo in my post?" tip in the FAQ page. It's a great reference.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 8:04AM
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Thanks so much for your reply! I will work on more pictures and info on the yard in the next few days. I also just heard that a new garden center opened in my area and they are supposedly very helpful with picking out plants. Unfortunately, they close at 6:00 and I work until 7:00, so it will have to wait until my day off Monday. I have been getting a lot off ideas browsing the pictures on this site, particularly helpful since I know they do well in this area, and I will be sure to check out the FAQ section. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 10:51PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b


I see drain pipes and cellar windows in your photos. Do you want the windows to remain unblocked after planting? Will those drain pipes empty water directly where they are now or do you intend to divert that water further from your house? Are you interested in low maintenance small shrubs or do you want some perennials and annuals for longer color in these beds? Have you seen any other foundation plantings that you like?

Most importantly can you tell us how many hours of shade/sun each bed receives during the day and whether that sun is morning or afternoon sun.

More pics would be great, but you will have to open a free account on Photobucket or Flicker or some other photo hosting web site in order to post several photos per post.


    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 7:28AM
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    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 11:17PM
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There are a few more pictures. The house faces north, the left (straight bed) is mostly shaded, the bed on the right gets about 4 hours of afternoon sun n the front of the bed, the part of the bed closest to the house is shaded by the house in the afternoon but does get a few hours of morning sun. The cellar windows will be covered, they are ugly and don't let in any light. As far as draining and downspouts, the soil, as is, is very sandy and does drain well, I will be taking a few inches of that soil out and adding in compost and top soil. I was planning on adding decorative downspout splash guards or digging out a trench and filling it with rocks where the water drains, should I do something else for it?

Overall, I would like a colorful perennials and annuals look, with some low maintence shrubs mixed in. :) The bricks that you see lining the right bed will be set in flush with the ground. I am at a loss for what to edge the left bed with, because it butts up against the walkway I think brick may look odd and I don't love the black edging, but I don't want to sweep mulch off the sidewalk every time it rains. That area almost begs for a raised bed but i can't do that right now.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 11:33PM
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Here are a few that I like, I think the bottom one being my favorite.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 11:44PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

First, the beds are too small for what you want to do. You'll need enough room for some structure from shrubs in the back and color from perennials/annuals in front. So I'd start by digging up the edging. Once that thought barrier is out of the way, work on a pleasing *evergreen* design. This is what the plantings are going to look like for six months of the year.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 11:00AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

I also thought the beds needed to be bigger. I suppose there's not much to be done with the one with the sidewalk, unless there's money in the budget to replace it (the sidewalke, that is) but perhaps you could bring out the right-side bed more. I just don't know how having two different-depth beds would look aesthetically, but I'm sure others can chime in and help us both on that one!

You seem to be putting a lot of thought and planning into this and that's good. I wish the previous owner of my house had done that, because now I have to, lol. So I am watching this thread with interest!


    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 2:49PM
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I can definitely go bigger on the bed to the right of the door, good thing I haven't dug in that edging yet. While I would love to replace the sidewalk, it is unfortunately not possible right now. Perhaps if I dug out the other side of the sidewalk and planted there as well, maybe it would balance the bigger bed on the other side? I am putting a lot of thought into it, sometimes I tend to overthink and talk myself out of everything, which may be where I'm at now. :) The worst part is that I'm renting...but I've been there for 9 years and it's from family, so I don't mind putting work and some money into it, to make it more enjoyable while I'm there. I also made it known that when I move I will be taking a lot of the stuff that I plant with me.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 4:19PM
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I like your idea of digging out in front of the side walk to make a bed. I have a similar layout with a sidewalk in front of my Colonial and that's what we did. We incorporated the left side in front of the sidewalk into the bed on the right side and made the right side larger. I kept it formal in front bc th rest of my yard has big beds that are more informal. Good Luck!!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 10:06PM
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I would not plant on both sides of the walk way. I would leave the left side the way it is - from house to path. On the right side, I like the curve lines. And I think you could go bigger by keeping the curved lines - just extend the radius by another 2-3 feet. To me the curviness creates a balance by stating that you are not trying to mimic the opposite side.

Since the garden is on the north side, I'm guessing most of the shade comes from the house, not the tree in the front yard. But that is important to note. For instance, my shade garden is under a tree. I have some spring plantings that require more sun - they survive their since the trees have not leafed out when those plants bloom.

Many hydrangeas are shade tolerant, so that may be a place to start for your shrubbery. Many evergreens are also shade tolerant. Pay careful attention to how wide the plants get - in addition to height. You really don't want any shrubs to end up touching the house. Ideally you would want 2-3' between the shrub and the house.

Good luck with your gardens. I wish I had put as much thought into my gardens when I was starting out!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 10:30PM
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molie(z6 CT)

Thanks for the updates. The fact that you are not the owner definitely affects any advice we'd give ---- like don't spend a lot!

I agree that the front right side should be extended out. Looking at your second diagram, I'd suggest reworking that curve. The 5' deep arc on the right should swing out to about 10-12' from the house and even continue back to the right edge of the chimney. In other words, if you redrew you plans, the largest arc would be on the right corner of your house.

This will give you lots of room for planting plus give a better chance of survival for the vine that is growing in front of the chimney. Pixie is correct that no shrub/plant should be anyplace near the house. Consider the eventual size of any shrub you purchase. I always add a foot or two to these predictions. You'll need room in back of any foundation shrub so that you can trim as it grows.

GreenHaven's suggestion about digging out in front of the straight sidewalk is also a great one. In fact, you can berm "up" the dirt so that the plants are raised above the sidewalk level, which will shield the view of the sidewalk (that you don't like). We did that very same thing to our house. The front sidewalk, below, was too straight and harsh looking. By creating a bermed garden in front of the sidewalk, we extended and softened the sidewalk area.

Looking from the other end, you can see how the berm is higher than the sidewalk. The plants here don't need to be tall.

You have plenty of time to plan and prep your garden. Fall is a great season to plant, plus many garden centers and places like Lowe's or HD have sales on their shrubs and perennials. If you start with a few evergreens or shrubs along the back, you'd have room for a second row of lower plants in front. Just place these between, and not in front of, the back shrubs. If your planting areas are deep enough, they'll be room for colorful annuals in front next year.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 8:36AM
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I only have one suggestion: when we bought our house all the exposed foundation was surrounded by average hostas. It's really nice. They provide green camouflage for the cement, don't get in the way of anything else in the garden bed, don't mind being shaded by other plants, and don't insist on being seen. They are just a nice green background, but if you do notice them they are pretty because they are hostas! Since hostas recover so quickly from division you could easily split a 1 gallon hosta from a nursery into 3, maybe 4 hostas, plant in the fall, and next summer they'll fill out and look great. Basically they use make for a nice cement hider where you don't have a big bush planted. I'm not such a big bush fan, so I've really appreciated them.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 6:27PM
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Thanks for the replies everyone! Very helpful. I had a woman from a garden center over yesterday to see the area and draw up some plans that should be ready next week and I have another appointment next week with someone else from another garden center to come look at the space and draw something up for me. I'll keep you informed as I start getting things in the ground. :)

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 1:25PM
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Welcom, Soxi! Thanks for posting the photos; they really help.

I would agree with those that suggested that you plant on both sides of your entry sidewalk. Your walkway will go through the garden instead of being the edge of the garden. Over the years, I've yet to make a garden too wide, but I've often had to widen them. I've also had to whack things away from the house so it could be painted, so I'd suggest leaving a minimum of 2-3 feet between where the plant's width will be at 10 years (the usual info given for mature size, though most will get larger) and the house. I also don't like the look of plants lined up - I prefer having layers of plants, and I include bulbs, shrubs, vines and perennials to provide a longer season of interest, so bed depth is needed for that. I try to include at least some hardscape (like a trellis, birdbath, etc) or evergreens in most of my gardens so that there is some visual interest between when the first frost kills most of the foliage and when everything is buried in snow (or in years like last year with little snow, for most of the winter.) As Mad Gallica mentioned, often this period is several months of the year, so anything I can do to make March and November and any other snowless months less dismal outside, is all to the good. This isn't a foundation bed, but this could be done on a smaller basis in a your beds. A good chunk of its interest is year-round, and the evergreens and trellises add interest as background and support for the flowers in the growing season as well as providing all the interest during the 6 or 7 months in the non-growing season.
From December 2010

In laying out the shape of the beds, be sure that they are easy to mow - don't make those inner curves too tight. I use the black plastic edging buried up to the top bead just outside of the bricks which edge my beds; the grass hides it and it keeps the grass from growing between the bricks. The lawnmower wheels run on the bricks and the blade misses the plastic edging, so a separate pass to edge the bed isn't needed. While I don't find the plastic aesthetically pleasing, it does reduce maintenance without being too obvious. Here's a photo of a bed edged this way, and you really can't see the plastic. From June 5, 2012

As a relative beginner to gardening, it's easy to get caught up in just the flowers, but also try to think about foliage. Varied leaf shape, color, and texture will add to the appeal of your garden even when there isn't a lot in bloom. Check to see if any of your plants have nice autumn colors. Try to plant so that you have at least some plants in bloom all through the season as well. The annuals will help with that, but also try to spread out your shrub and perennial bloom.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 7:46PM
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