low maintenance low water landscaping - please help!

laurell(8 - Washington)August 11, 2011

We FINALLY tore out some of the almost 40 year old junipers from the front of our house (half of them was 9 - 4 feet apart!). We are replanting the lawn (ugh - it'll come out in 2 years when hubby is over it and there's more money to do more extensive landscaping) but will be rebuilding an L-shaped berm and doing some plantings on it. For now, I'm going to do 3 clusters of plantings, one at each corner that can eventually melt into each other as funds become available and I develop a clearer understanding of the space without those horrific bushes there. We're having 10 yards of compost delivered (2-3 of which will be going on the lawn portion, the remainder will get stirred into the rocky sandy dirt) to build up a bit of a berm, and then I want to plant drought resistant plants (I don't mind watering to get things established, but I'd rather spend my time watering my more high maintenance beds in the back that have tons of flowers and vegetables). The area is full full full sun, as in it only gets shade when the sun is down.

I've chosen to go with a blue/purple/purple-pinky/white color palette for blooms (my back yard is a rainbow and at times it feels a bit disjointed). I've taken to thinking of the 3 separate corners as "vignettes."

I've included a couple pictures of the areas that will be vignettes, and the main grassy part, plus the rocky thing. The front picture shows the yard much as it sits tonight, the junipers along the side of the house are going in a few weeks, but hubby wants to get the grass going now, so we need soil, and he is insistent that the house not be sporting "a huge unplanted berm of dirt."

For the first vignette, which is next to the driveway, I have a vaguely mountain shaped piece of black slate, and a very sturdy (heavy!) rock to prop it up that I'm going to affix house numbers to, and hopefully at some point use a spot light to illuminate. Since this is the only area that is getting planted this weekend, the plan is a bunch of purple blooming sage, some english and french lavender (not the small varieties), and I plan to pick up some rosemary and hopefully another shrubby thing to put behind the slate that I can use elsewhere in the landscape (nandina maybe?) I have some thyme (a flat of it!) that I was going to use in the back yard, as well as 3 decently sized Mediterranean spurges that I bought and found out that their sap is mega nasty that I don't want around the dogs, so most of that will probably make its way into this vignette as well.

Vignette 2 will probably contain 1 smallish alaskan weeping cedar, several nandina, and some lavender(love me some lavender!), and various sedums that I'm able to track down at Flower world or something.

Vignette 3 will be a largish shrub that can survive under a fir tree (but still gets full sun) that can block out my view of the neighbor's trash cans, probably rosemary, etc, but I am really not terribly particular about this as long as it ties in with the rest of the landscape and is pretty low maintenance.

Along the house, we are planning a deck for this autumn, and a new (less soviet) walkway for next spring/summer so I am holding off on putting anything in those beds until I'm clear on what the space will actually look/feel like with the deck and steps and walkway in.

The overhead is the google maps view of the house, with the junipers in the yard, just so you have a better understanding of the layout of the front of the house.

I am totally disjointed and completely neurotic. I apologize for the length of this post, but if you have any input, I'd really appreciate it, either with plant suggestions or things you see that are setting me up for a trainwreck. I am pretty young, and this is my 3rd year of home ownership/gardening and I'm trying my darnedest to avoid costly mistakes/headaches.

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rain1950(W. WA z8)

Greetings from the West side of the water! The best advice I can give you is to seek out WSU Master Gardeners. They can give you guidance for your plans. They normally set up at Farmer's Markets on the weekend

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 12:58AM
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George Three LLC

i top seeded with this lawn mix this year:

there were a few bare patches where the mix came in to form 100% of the lawn, and i am very happy with it. it grows to about 8" and just stops. hasn't needed a lick of water to stay healthy looking. the grasses are browned, but its mostly dwarf bachelor buttons and alyssum right now. very nice.

obviously its decently expensive for a grass mix...

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 10:57AM
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George Three LLC

oh, and i finally planted a Myrica californica on my property. right next to a giant group of cherry trees. its needed very very minimal water in its first year.

a tough plant. attractive. nice lil piece of evergreen background.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 11:01AM
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mariev_seattle(PNW Z8 Sunset Z5)

Here's a link to the Great Plant Picks site, which allows you to search by sun and drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, etc.

I planted two kinds of lavender (Hidcote and Provence) and several 'Rose Glow' barberry plants in our full sun parking strip when we ripped out the grass this spring. I've only watered them 2-3 times all summer so far, and the Provence and barberry look great. The Hidcote is definitely thirstier and struggling in such a hot place, so I should probably water it more, but I'll probably just move it to a less sunny spot.

I also have several kinds of sedum, including 'Autumn Joy', 'Postman's Pride', 'Purple Emperor', 'Matrona', as well as ground cover varieties like Oregon Stonecrop and Angelina. These all love sun and are definitely drought tolerant. Again, I've only watered mine 2-3 times all summer, and they look great. They also like really lean soil (with almost no organic matter). In richer soil, they all get leggy and floppy. The only sedums struggling this summer are two 'Mediovariegatum' plants (like a variegated 'Autumn Joy'), which got chewed on by aphids.

If you can create a raised berm in Vignette 3 so you get good drainage, maybe you can put in a Ceanothus 'Victoria' or similarly hardy Ceanothus. They're evergreen, grow from a 1 gal container to 6+ feet or more pretty quickly (2-3 years), and have beautiful blue blooms in the spring. They're California lilacs that prefer dry conditions, and you'll only need to water them the first year or two. The same with rosemary. You can actually kill both if you water too much. Last summer I planted an 'Arp' Rosemary, which is supposed to be one of the hardiest varieties. I still lost it after the big snowstorm at Thanksgiving, probably because I watered it weekly, so it was still pretty tender when the storm hit. I planted my 'Julia Phelps' Ceanothus two years ago, but it also got hit pretty hard by the storm and wet spring, losing two out of its three main branches. My neighbor's Ceanothus--I think it's 'Dark Star'--had almost no damage, maybe because it's established, having been in the ground for 5-6 years. They've also struggled growing rosemary and finally gave up after losing yet another plant this past winter.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 2:50PM
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laurell(8 - Washington)

Mariev - Thanks for the california lilac suggestion. I had wanted to use thee in my back yard but opted to cheeks and easier to find plants. I will put it on my short list.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 4:03PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Lavenders are deformed by shade and prone to rotting out if conditions remain damp around them.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 10:25PM
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laurell(8 - Washington)

Luckily the lavender won't be getting any shade, and will stay dry, so there shouldn't be any problems.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 12:39AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I was responding to

>The Hidcote is definitely thirstier and struggling in such a hot place, so I should probably water it more, but I'll probably just move it to a less sunny spot

    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 3:30PM
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hemnancy(z8 PNW)

This is a good nursery for xeric plants that might give you some ideas-

Here is a link that might be useful: High Country Gardens

    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 4:48PM
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laurell(8 - Washington)

Holy cow. The yard looks FANTASTIC. I have a couple of small lavender bushes that are in the back yard that I'm going to put in tomorrow morning, and then I'll snap a few photos.

I can't wait for the grass to start to sprout!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 9:29PM
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mariev_seattle(PNW Z8 Sunset Z5)

Actually, the Hidcote lavender plants are probably struggling because I didn't plant them until late June, and I haven't been very good about watering them since they're in the parking strip. I should have been more specific when I wrote, "I'll probably just move it to a less sunny spot." I wasn't planning to move them to a shady location but to a sunny area closer to the house where I'll water them, and they won't be baking because they're totally neglected.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 1:01AM
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laurell(8 - Washington)

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 2:25PM
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Thanks for sharing the pictures of your started lawn & new garden bed!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2011 at 9:34PM
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changingitup(8 PDX)

Your yard looks great! I realize its been a year but I would love to see current pictures:) I am facing a very similar situation and was wondering what you ended up planting on the berm? Also curious to know if you had the rest of the juniper removed? We have a large one in our yard that has kind of taken over and are thinking about having it taken out and replaced with something more manageable as far as size and trimming needs, but hopefully as drought resistant since it is a difficult area to water.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2012 at 4:50PM
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I'm chiming in here late, but you might want to consider a second Myrica californica in Vignette 3. Mine grow close to 2' a year and they'll do a nice job of blocking the unsightly trash cans. Blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) also do nicely in full sun and grow pretty quickly after about a year.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 10:45PM
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dottyinduncan(z8b coastal BC)

I'd like a 2013 picture please.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 7:52PM
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laurell(8 - Washington)

How funny! I was looking for another thread and happened upon this. Here it is last August/Sept before I tore the rest of the junipers out

No finished photos of the area, I was planning on having mulch delivered in autumn after completing my rock/stream thingy then had to have my appendix removed and was told no heavy lifting/etc for over a month, and lost momentum. We'll hopefully be mulching in the next few weeks and will take more photos then.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 11:54AM
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changingitup(8 PDX)

Sorry to hear about your surgery, hopefully you've healed well. Thanks for sharing your pictures. It's looking great! What is the large bush to the left if you're facing the house? The one low to the ground with the large leaf? You get a lot of ground cover out of it, and if its drought tolerant that could be very helpful for our dry summers

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 10:19PM
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dottyinduncan(z8b coastal BC)

Thanks for the update. Gardens are always "works in progress" and it is nice to see your on-going project. It's fun to follow along vicariously and see the improvement. Less work for us too! It looks so much better than the overgrown junipers and you will enjoy it so much. Thanks for sharing.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2013 at 9:08PM
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