Foundation Planting Bed - Tree or Shrub?

Rubytree(7b)September 21, 2012

Hi Everyone!!

I am in the process of planning (and some planting) of my foundation flower bed. My front yard is west facing and sloping downward; the planting bed stretches from the top of the 'hill'and goes downwards on one side of the lawn.

As you can see, there is a huge hydrangea at the bottom of the bed (planted by previous owners). My plan is to transplant it in the spot just under the window. So the hydrangea will be at the top and very back of the flower bed. I also bought a couple of Viburnums (Spring Bouquet) to go on the either side of the hydrangea.

Now I'm wondering if two viburnums are a good idea or if I should do just one viburnum to the left of the hydrangea (on the side of the blue door) and do a short tree on the other side, instead? If I decide to go with a tree it can't be taller than 10 feet or so.

What do you think - should I just stick to the original plan of viburnums on either side or do one tree instead? I'd prefer not to have a maple... are there any shorter trees that you could recommend? Thanks for any help or suggestions that you may have!!

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Just wanted to add that the evergreen viburnums are expected to grow to about 6 feet high and spread to 4-5 feet. The hydrangea should also go up to about 5 feet.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 7:28PM
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George Three LLC

any tree cover there? west sun, brick wall, hydrangea you are going to need a ton of water to keep it looking good.

you house has a nicely centered window, nice brickwork, nice lines at that point. i see no reason to plan anything there over 3 feet except as an accent. i only like shrubs if you are trying to hide something.

i would love to see a nice massing of grasses mixed with some flowering perennials- you know that look.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 10:29PM
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There are dwarf hydrangeas and viburnums that you could plant under your window. If you want to keep the hydrangea, I recommend taking cuttings before you move it in case it doesn't survive the move. Those roots can go very deep and wide to find water. I have one that is planted by my front porch, and I found roots under the house more than 10 feet away.

I don't think that a specimen shrub flanked by two different shrubs of the same species on either side is good landscape design. Identical shrubs look best in mass plantings of odd numbers from 3 to 7 (after 9, they just blur together). Have you considered moving the hydrangea to the corner by the door and planting 3 dwarf viburnums under the windows? That way, you have the eye-pleasing odd number of shrubs as well as a specimen plant, and your hydrangea can grow as tall and wide as you want.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 11:54PM
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Thanks eeldip and beejoy2, I'm very new to gardening (and garden design), so your suggestions are really appreciated.

For the lower part of the bed, I had planned on doing a mix of purple -blue and pink perennials (love the picture, eeldip) but now I have to rethink the shrubs and hydrangea. I like the idea of keeping everything short... I should go look at some plant lists.

If you have any more suggestions, those are always welcome. Perennials are easy, but shrubs are a challenge for me - are there any in particular that you like and could recommend for this space? Thanks again!!

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 3:37AM
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George Three LLC

small manzanita are nice foundation plants. if you look at the link below, plenty of ones that will stay 3 foot tall ish (you might have to prune every once in a while).

my warning here is that once you go manzanita you are committing to some degree of low water gardening, or at least clever planning. you could put them along your foundation, and keep the water hungry plants down hill.

Here is a link that might be useful: manzanita varieties

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 10:53AM
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This is so frustrating!! I like the idea of planting in threes but I just don't have the space... in the last few hours I have looked at hundreds of plants, nothing is smaller than 3-4 feet wide. If I get three of these, it just leaves enough space to plant one, slightly taller plant on the side. No space to do another plant to anchor the another side. That would leave me with a strange design: one tall plant and three short ones next to it :(

I should have mentioned in the original post that the flower bed is only 15 feet wide at the top.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 3:17PM
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If a shrub grows 5 feet wide, you can plant it four feet from another identical shrub, so they grow together. Plus, there is no rule that says you have to plant them in a straight line. If you stagger them, you can plant them even closer. That way, the planting is deeper but not as wide. Also, keep in mind that the stated size of a shrub is in ideal conditions, at maturity. Here are a few compact viburnums:
V. carlesii 'Compactum'
V. x Carlesii 'Cayuga'
V. dentatum 'Cardinal Candy'
V. opulus 'Nanum'
If you are not married to the idea of using viburnums - which, as a species, are very sizeable shrubs - there are other shrubs that are suitable for foundation plantings:
Clethra alnifolia (summersweet)
Berberis (barberry) - numerous cultivars in green, gold and purple
Buxus - several species and cultivars
Ilex crenata - some cultivars, but mind that if you want berries, you need both at least one male plant for every four or five female plants, and the cultivars are either male or female and different cultivars may have different textures - 'Beehive' (male), 'Hoogendorn' (male), and 'Soft Touch' (female)
Pieris japonica - several cultivars, including 'Bisbee Dwarf', 'Bonsai', 'Pygmaea' (also listed as f. pygmaea), 'Nocturne' 'Little Heath', and 'Cavatine'
Abelia x grandiflora - several cultivars, including 'Compacta', 'Conti' (Confetti), 'Dwarf Purple', 'Little Richard', and 'Sunrise'
Escallonia - several cultivars, including 'Newport Dwarf', 'Pink Pixie', and 'Red Elf'
Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Kembu'
Also, there are literally thousands of junipers, arborvitaes, chamacyparis, and other evergreen coniferous shrubs.
And don't forget to consider ferns. There are several evergreen ferns (Polystichum munitum, P. acrostichoides, P. polyblepharum, Cyrtomium falacatum, Blechnum spicant, and Dryopteris erythrosora 'Brilliance', to name a few.

I hope this is helpful.


    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 5:06PM
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Evergreen huckleberry could work there. It can be sheared to shape/height or left naturally. Doesn't mind getting wet.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 12:22AM
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I love evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)!!! But it grows so agonizingly slowly that you need to buy mature shrubs to get the width you want. Ideally, you should only remove 1/3 of foliage per year - and I wouldn't do that the first year, while it is becoming acclimated. While the species evergreen huckleberry gets 10 feet tall or so, there is a cultivar ('Native Star') that only gets about 6 feet tall - so less to prune off, if that's the way you want to go. 'Native Star' is a native selection chosen for excellent fruiting qualities and superior landscape appeal.

Tall Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is also very nice in full sun, but can get well over 6 feet tall and does not take as well to pruning as evergeen huckleberry - so look for M.a. 'Compacta', which gets about 3 feet tall and wide. Also, creeping mahonia (Mahonia repens) can get up to 2 feet tall, but usually gets only about 1 foot tall. Low Oregon grape (M. nervosa) does not do as well in full sun, but with plentiful water, can adapt. It gets about 2 feet tall in the shade, so probably about 1.5 feet tall in full sun.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 2:12AM
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George Three LLC

i wouldn't get overly worked up about the even vs odd rule. the underlying concept is really formalism vs. naturalism. pairs tend to look more formal.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 11:02AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

When you are planting in drifts the outside shape of the drift is what matters and not how many shrubs are inside the drift. Often an even number will be what works.

Since the front of your house is not uniform you should be planting informally balanced combinations of shrubs, with no identical pairs. An example is a small shrub plus a medium shrub at one corner balanced by a large shrub at the other corner.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2012 at 4:44PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I'd put the Hydrangea in the back yard and stick to evergreens at that height and below. It's your entry and should look good all year round. The Hydrangea doesn't have the branching pattern to support it, design wise, through the winter.
Something like a Japanese Maple to act as a canopy over the drifts might be nice. As bboy says, the number of plants in a drift isn't important. You can't count the individual plants most of the time anyway.
Have you thought about making the bed larger?

    Bookmark   September 24, 2012 at 7:22PM
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