1947 house - what besides pink flamingos is period?

starscreamMarch 8, 2006

Hi there!

I don't really *want* to cultivate pink flamingos, but I'm not sure what else is 1940's/50's vintage for gardens. It's a very rectangular house with a rectangular yard, and I'm not sure if I want to add another rectangular bed on the other side of my walk way or go curvy. The existing garden doesn't look all that hot right now (I took this photo today) but trust me, it was much worse when we bought the house.

link to 101kb photo below (if this works)

Here is a link that might be useful:

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i'm thinking back to the "national home/levit style" neighborhoods some of my relatives lived in, not so much plants but accessories and details.
i remember raised geometric trim on front doors and garage doors painted/picked out in 50's colors.
no decks, but patio slabs.
a fence to keep the kids in the yard.
woven web patio chairs.
picnic tables
large brick BBQ grill
clothes poles and lines
small scale bushes cause the houses were new and not much growth had taken place yet.
a large lamp in the middle of the picture window
no porches
early american details

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 9:39AM
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jannie(z7 LI NY)

gnomes are very 50's

    Bookmark   March 9, 2006 at 9:44PM
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how about wagon wheels - big lots has them...

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 11:58AM
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Momcat, that's brilliant. In the 1950s, those wagon wheels were everywhere. I had forgotten all about them. Maybe that's a good thing....

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 5:09PM
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abq_bob(USDA 5a/SS 2A)

I'm Remembering visiting my grandfather's house - he had patio furniture that slide back and forth on metal tracks - I loved those chairs! He also grew many of the "classic" garden plants - roses were his pride and joy. He also had tulips, petunias, and marigolds, all planted in neatly spaced rows so you could see each individual plant. Seems like he had large juniper bushes too, and one big tree out in the front yard.

At my other grandparent's house, it was almost the same - a large cement block patio at the front door, with big green metal chairs, flower boxes full of geraniums, large juniper bushes right up against the house on either side of the front patio, then all lawn with a large tree front and center, and another large tree centered in the sideyard. And down the side of the driveway, rosebushes. Against the fenceline there were fruit trees, apricots and apples if I remeber right.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2006 at 1:02PM
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both my grandparent's built their houses in the 50's. one grandma had tons of peonies, snowball and cherry trees. the other had those sturdy 'motel chairs' and a hammock.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2006 at 8:03AM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

Roses trained up the two front posts would be appropriate. So would simple wooden white windowboxes with petunias. And a nice birdbath in front surrounded by annuals. But I would keep the whole area uncluttered and simple. Avoiding clutter and excess was a principle as sound in the 1940s as it is today.

The house is adorable, so it would be a shame to distract from it. Just some colorful touches suit it and match the period.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2006 at 9:31AM
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zenpotter(z4 MN)

I looked at some photos from back then, a chain link fence for the back yard was big. Roses, peonies, hollyhocks, mock orange bushes, rectangular vegetable beds and annuals. Geraniums, Tulips, petunias, coleus, and cannas. The gardens were around the edges of the yard and there was lots of grass. Yes and a tree in the middle of an area. I was seeing Maples and fruit trees. Most houses that my mother had photos of had three small evergreens as foundation plantings.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2006 at 7:53AM
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annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

Lots of homes in the Chicago suburbs had one or more fruit trees in the front yard, pruned up so there could be bulbs planted underneath. I think many of the WW 2 servicemen dreamed of having their own apple, pear, cherry & peach trees. Do you think this happened in Canada, too?

I bought a few vintage Better Homes and Gardens Magazines from the forties - in the magazines the most talked-about flowers were roses, dahlias, gladioli and cannas. Our neighbors had catalpa trees and crab apples. My parents grew mock-orange, bridal wreath, forsythia, weeping willow, lily of the valley, peonies, Seven Sister rose, and snowball bushes.

Except for the lily of the valley and the trellised rose, the plants were not up next to the house. People placed them around the perimeter of the lot.

Have fun!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2006 at 6:24PM
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Thanks for all the ideas guys!
I think I will add another rectangular bed on the other side of the path if I can work with all the lovely clay we have (I've been reading up on how to deal with clay in the other forums). The property came with many roses already in the yard, including 2 climbers in the back, some very big peonies, tulips, a bus-load of daffodils, a forsythia and a snowball bush. Also a BIG magnolia right in the front. Could some of these have survived from the 40's? The magnolia tree for sure is as old as the house, considering it's as high as the house. I think I'll skip the wagon wheels, but I might actually get a pair of those "classic" pink flamingos... just to annoy the neighbours. ;)

Thanks again!


    Bookmark   March 29, 2006 at 1:42AM
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tibs(5/6 OH)

I bet a lot of them are from the 40's. I have stuff from the 20's, and the plants you listed are all long livers. You have the "bones" for your 40's house.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2006 at 8:08PM
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jannie(z7 LI NY)

From my childhood (born 1952), I remember lawn jockeys, those black figurines with red jackets and one arm up. Not sure the served any useful purpose, and now would not be PC.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2006 at 9:25AM
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One thing all our neighbors in the 50's had that I always wanted but parents wouldn't buy was a gazing ball - which are enjoying a phenominal resurgence in popularity right now. They were made of glass back then and were just sitting on top of a concrete pedistal.

The "motel" chairs, all steel and painted in bright colors were very popular then and are also becoming more popular today.

And frankly I didn't know anyone who had plastic flamingos in their yard...


    Bookmark   April 27, 2006 at 4:10PM
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annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

My mom had flamingos in her 1950's Chicago suburban yard - CONCRETE ones! They were a souvenir from my aunt's trips to Florida, and were pretty cool, actually.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 11:57AM
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sammie070502(PNW z8)

Instead of going the kitsch and cottage garden route, you could investigate the work of Thomas Church and also look at the landscapes that surround Eichler homes. Church was going strong in 1950 and Joseph Eichler (a real estate developer) was just beginning to hit his stride.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 3:17PM
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A concrete flamingo? I'd like to see a picture of that. Any chance? Cheryl

    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 7:24PM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

I saw them in a garden magazine article - a couple's garden was featured, and there were two antique concrete flamingoes in the water feature. They were chipped and worn, and any pink paint had long since faded or peeled away. But they were charming. They also weren't as detailed as plastic 'mingoes. Just the basic shape.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2006 at 10:08AM
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annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

Starscream is in British Columbia, at least on the proper coast for Tommy Church, and maybe can find room for a kidney-shaped, inground pool. To us in "the middle", California meant only Disneyland and Hollywood.

I looked around for a photo of our concrete flamingos, but no luck yet. The pair of them appear in a few old 8mm movies. The legs were sturdy, painted metal mods, maybe 3 feet long, with corresponding holes drilled into the concrete body. One flamingo had its head up, the other's head was down, bill grazing the ground. As Cady says, they were not cartoonlike, or cute, but captured the 'essence' of a flamingo. The bodies were heavy, so that once in place on the metal legs, just a tap would make them bounce. I think that's why they show up in the old family movies instead of in photos - someone was always sitting a baby on the back of the heads-up one and making the bird bounce.


    Bookmark   May 8, 2006 at 11:06PM
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sammie070502(PNW z8)


So we are not allowed to imagine that the original owner of this home was design savvy and aspired to more than dime store kitsch? To do so allows us to consider a range of landscape options and design principles (available in 1947--and also much earlier)that are as pleasing, modern, and functional today as when they were first conceived.

For me, it's not so much about what was available to the home's first owner as it is what is available to us today that complements the period architecture of the home. Starscream could choose to be rigorous about the regionality and socio-economic constraints of the home's first owner and choose yard art (which reflects a paucity of both taste and budget)--or she(?) could choose to consider elements such as courtyards, geometric cement patios and floating steps, built-in seating, indoor/outdoor traffic flow, and graphic interplay between areas of turf and hardscape.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 3:15AM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

I don't remember what magazine I saw the concrete flamingo photo in, but if I haven't put it out for the recycler truck, I'll look for it this week.

The flamingoes were very simple and worn. Perfect "shabby chic."

    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 11:36AM
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annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

Well, Sammie, let's see ... I answered the original poster's question from my personal knowledge of living in the 1950's in the Chicago suburban area. I answered another poster's question regarding my personal knowledge of concrete flamingos. I also made a joke about a kidney-shaped pool, since Thomas Church is known for that pool the way Edison is known for the lightbulb.

How could this be interpreted as not allowing someone to imagine the intentions of the original owner? No one is preventing you from enlightening Amy[Starscream] about the principles of gardens for living. Personally, I would like to read what you have to say about the California-style of landscaping and how it could work for this British Columbia home and garden. The only part of the West Coast that I have seen is the Seattle area.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 12:23PM
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sammie070502(PNW z8)


Sorry...I certainly didn't "get" the joke element--and I thought about your post for a long time before answering. Then again, it's safe to say that I don't joke about kitsch and yard flamingos.

I happened to mention two California influences because I thought each contributed some specific design solutions for this home. But, the principles of modern design were readily available throughout the the US, Europe, and, I'm sure, in Canada. In the midwest, you could have looked to the modern architecture and accompanying landscapes of Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, even Frank Lloyd Wright.

This house, though obviously a modest cottage when built, has a modern sensibility if you consider the flat roof and rectilinear shape and could easily support the more progressive landscape ideas of the times. Afterall, plenty of traditional saltbox or Cape Cod style homes were being cranked out during the 40's and 50's and this isn't one of them. Also, my suggestions were intended to help the OP to deal with her questions about incorporating curves into the rectilinear landscape. Eichler homes, in particular, utilized small interior courtyard areas, so design ideas from these homes could be easily adapted to what looks like a fairly small property.

I think it is poor design advice to simply regurgitate a list of the hallmarks of pedestrian, middle-class fashions of the 40's and 50's. Why perpetuate bad (or at least naive, uneducated, and undefined) taste? Especially now, when we know that alternatives exist. And especially when the OP is soliciting alternatives to yard art.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 5:02PM
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annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

It probably doesn't help that in normal email, I am one of those dreadful people who use italics, underlines, bold type and font changes, any one of which might have signaled my attempt at humour.

The beginning of the thread seemed to concentrate on plant choices rather than yard art. That was an area where I had some knowledge, so I posted on that part, because I'm not qualified to offer any actual design advice. Although I've read a little about design, and (as you know), love to hang out in the design forum, I have no formal training. Any postings I venture to make are based in my own experience. It just happened that in this instance, I had real life experience with concrete flamingos!

I agree that in the photo, the OP's house has a look that might be enhanced by what might have been cutting-edge landscaping at that time. The vertical sunshade section of the roof [don't know the right term for it] looks pretty daring for a 1947 house. It would be interesting to see what could be done with those elements you have listed above: "courtyards, geometric cement patios and floating steps, built-in seating, indoor/outdoor traffic flow, and graphic interplay between areas of turf and hardscape."

This is just an unschooled impression on my part, but for some reason it seems wrong for grass to be growing in the shadow of the porch/roof extensions, and that some kind of hardscape should be there - wood? Concrete? How might that entrance be dealt with by someone like Eichler or Church?


(Starscream/Amy, I hope this is interesting for you, too!)

    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 6:55PM
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annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

Sammie, does your reaction to that kidney-shaped pool comment also mean that you swallowed the link to the Enormous, Expensive, Hollow Plastic Boulders as straight, not smartalecky?? Should I start inserting smiley faces made out of punctuation marks??


    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 7:57PM
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sammie070502(PNW z8)

Truce, OK? :-) See, I succumbed to the dreaded smiley faces a long time agoÂand I am not a smiley face type of gal.

No, I think I sorted out the boulders thing in the proper manner. But I did think that you meant I'd shoehorn a pool into a completely inappropriate setting just because it's a design icon. It was the "...at least on the proper coast..." that got me off track and made me think you were being snarky. Darn. I'll see if I can find the humor next time.

Eichler is more on point than Church anyway. The scale is similar (especially the smaller, enclosed courtyard areas). Since Eichler was a developer and employed different architects and landscapers to fulfill his vision, I'm not sure that it's a single look so much as a constellation of similar, appropriate looks that I'm thinking about.

Let me say that I'm not a professional, but am keenly interested in clean, modern design from the 50's to present--and I've lived in several Eichler-rich areas of California and admired the architecture first hand.

The porch area on this home worries me because the stoop is so meagerÂit seems that it should be at least equal to the footprint of the porch canopy. Poured concrete would have been the original material, but I think that large (24 X 24) pavers set precisely and with generous spacing in between (maybe 4") would be an excellent option. Also, a front walk seem to be missing from the photo. And, I think the front planting bed should be substantially widened. Trying to find illustrative photos, which I will post if I ever do find them.

Here is a link that might be useful: Book review features some courtyard photos

    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 11:46PM
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annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

Sammie, you will get me in trouble. Instead of doing the stuff I should be doing, I've been looking at Eichler sites just to get an idea of what the heck you were talking about. I loved finding out about a previously unknown world! The sites showed the interiors rather than the landscaping, and some are repair-hint-sharing places.

Deciding to live authentically in these houses seems to take a real committment on the part of the owner. Some sites referred to it as cultlike. With the huge windows to the rear patio/garden area, it's obvious why you need tall fences and screening vegetation. Frankly, as cool as they look in the photos, I'd LOVE to visit some people with these houses, but I doubt I could live in one.
Starscream posted just the front of her house - wonder if her home has this type of open connections to the back, and could use some of the outdoor living parts of the Eichler style back there? I've been to Seattle 7 or 8 times but don't know if the BC climate is similar and pretty mild in general. Does Victoria get snow or ice or 90º days? Is this a place where the flow between the inside and the outside can be a natural relationship?

The inside and outside have a rather adversarial relationship in the places where I've lived. The roof shapes and skylights would be a tough sell in Chicago where there is snow load, and that amount of glass would really make heating bills jump, then be hard to cool when the summer heat arrives. In my last Austin house, on top of a slope, the intense sun drove me inside, and an atrium bringing in any more would have been a disaster. But in other parts of Austin, where there is established tree cover, this style might work well - maybe there are existing houses like this if I knew where to look!


Here is a link that might be useful: Eichler house network

    Bookmark   May 10, 2006 at 5:38PM
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sammie070502(PNW z8)

Oh well, I think my job here is done...until someone else brings up flamingos and lawn jockeys...

I know what you mean--there is a HUGE cult following for Eichler homes--lots of resources, but not a lot of good garden pics. Atomic ranch is another good resource for all 40's to modern architecture and stuff.

When I looked at starscream's pix, I thought that a tall screening fence to the left hand side would help to make the house seem more substantial. Also, there was something about the photo which suggested the presence of an "L"-shaped courtyard on that side. If so, that would be the typical place for a paved patio or ground level deck with perimeter seating.

As far as starscream's climate goes, I assumed that the home was built in a moderate climate simply because of the flat roof--not good for snow load. And I hope she has some substantial windows to help open-up what must be a modest-sized living space.

More homes from my old neck-of-the-woods. http://www.socalmodern.com/gallery/index.htm

Here is a link that might be useful: Atomic Ranch - 40's Modern to Present

    Bookmark   May 11, 2006 at 4:30PM
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annieinaustin(z8 Austin)

Starscream, what do you think about these ideas? If your home has a windowed and opened back like the Eichler houses, in conjunction with a deck or patio, you would already have a basis from which you could make a pretty exciting landscape for your time period, instead of just tacking on surface decorations. It could be fun!

Sammie, I look forward to reading your posts in the LD forum, too.


    Bookmark   May 12, 2006 at 1:25PM
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This whole thread revolves around the same question as any other historic restoration project, exactly when are we fixing the date. As has often been said, making a garden is an ongoing process that is non the less true of a 1947 house in BC than one in 17th century Florence. Perhaps with the speed of change current to the 1940/50's we are talking about something even more difficult pin point. I would doubt that the house in question had a garden at all in 1947, to be honest. Perhaps the trick is to ensure that any improvements made because of a change of owner or a change of owners circumstances, a new nearby nursery a new found interest and so on are 'in keeping'rather than totally 'as it was'.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2006 at 12:36PM
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The easiest way to do this is to find a large public library or university library with collections of magazines going back to your period, in this case the 1940s/50s. The most valuable sources for you will be Better Homes and Gardens, House and Garden, and House Beautiful, tho the latter two are probably more upscale than would be appropriate for this typical middle class home. You can also look for runs of garden magazines, tho they tend to focus more on plants than design.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2006 at 1:30PM
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cut1cow(TX 7)

paint the house...the color on it now does not do it justice. You can also tear out the cement walkway and make your entrance to the front dorr from the front of the porch. Color in your plants will brighten the front. Dont over do with shrubs. You want the house to stand out due to its character. Add anything you want...if you like cats, put in a cat garden...this is about you. Enjoy!

    Bookmark   May 17, 2006 at 10:08AM
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I too have a late '40s cottage. I was not as thrilled about how it looked as excited that I could have my name on the title to my own garden.In the Pacific North West there are tons of these little gems. I dont really enjoy this period, and it wasnt in a big gardening neighborhood,(think lots of barkdust and Rhodies) so I didnt feel like I had to be a slave to the date the house was built, as much as the elements of good design and my wallet. I started at one corner and began to work my way around, adding pavers, raised beds, boxwood lined paths, hand harvested bamboo trellace,(from my grove). I had to be aware as well, about the mini climates in the garden that dictated that the ferns and hostas can only go in the front two gardens and not in the hot sunny back. Because the scale of the house is small, 750 SF I do try to keep the paths and plantings diminuative, and tend to layer vertically on the 6ft chain length fence. This is a standard lot 60X100 and my studio is at the back, but in spite of the small dimensions, I have been able to layer in several nice "Rooms" for diferent collections of plants. I am well able to manage this on a tiny budget, by myself. One thing that helps,Besides a paper Plot plan that remains some what flexible, is lots of clusters of pots,planted in layers, if I put a pot with tall thing,like a flowering currant, or a mountain ash, then I will under plant it with a middle layer, that provides more intrest, and lots of times my goal will be to have a trailer in there too.Also tall narrow plantings on the fence, with sections of bamboo privacy screen. I live in this garden, its the only one I will ever have, it needs to please me, as well as support the birds and critters in it. I would rather have something eclectic but well designed that Follows timeless esthetics, than have something "Historicly Correct" and as my best friend says, If you dont like it, you can make it different next year, or at least tweek the parts you want different. :)

    Bookmark   May 17, 2006 at 10:24PM
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sammie070502(PNW z8)

I agree, most of the time I think it is enough to make choices that are sensitive to the home--not to create a time capsule of the year in which it was built. I ask myself, "What would the owner/builder have done with the home today?" I think it is fair game to incorporate any element from the time period between creation and today as long as it meets the requirement of sensitivity to the home and lot.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2006 at 12:09AM
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sammie070502(PNW z8)

I guess I lied when I said I was done... but I wanted to share this great photo resource.

Here is a link that might be useful: Postwar Portfolio Link

    Bookmark   May 20, 2006 at 6:18PM
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Wow Sammie, that's a great little site! Lots of good ideas there.

It's so hard to decide what to do, so I just started digging... I'm 1/2 way done with my 2nd garden bed flanking the front walk. It's not in the budget right now to replace the walkway. I don't think I'd like a strictly period 50's garden, seems fairly stark. And I don't like junipers much. :)

We do want to paint the house this year - isn't bright teal a 50's colour? ;)

To respond to an earlier email, there is no patio or deck out the left side, just a strip of land between mine & my neighbour's house. Currently just lawn and some daffodils, and a big hole that my neighbour keeps promising to fill in (from where they put in a basement suite stairwell).

We do have a great big deck out back, it's accessed through a window from inside the house! Kind of strange, but luckily it does have stairs going down to the back yard so we don't only have to climb thru the window. We use the deck a lot, and I have lots of plants in pots there (carnations, forget-me-nots, catnip, mint, sweetpeas). One day when I can afford it, or when the current deck falls apart, whatever comes first, I will lower the deck so we can just walk straight out. That would also make it closer down to the back yard, currently we don't go into the back yard too much except to go to the veggie garden. I also have fantasies of putting a small patio/deck on the roof! It only snows about once a year in Victoria, and it only lasts for a couple days at most. People still talk about "the blizzard of '96" where it we ended up with about a metre of snow - I believe the worst snowfall in this area since 1916? People in the interior of Canada (ie Winnipeg or Calgary) laughed at us :) The city was totally shut down for several days.

Anyhoo, thanks so much guys for all your input! I have lots of good ideas now and it's been so fun reading all your replies. I like Sammie's idea of the large paving stones w/4' gaps, and Annie I would also love to get a kidney-shaped *something* in there, but a) don't need a pool and b) don't like floating flowerbeds... maybe I can paint shapes on my mailbox. ;)

Thanks everyone! :)


    Bookmark   May 21, 2006 at 12:46AM
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elizh(z5/6 MA)

OK I'm a little late here but--

1) Victory Garden
2) Gazing Ball
3) my grandma's list of rose varieties.

My great aunt had the first two, in Rochester NY. She also had the chain link fence and a certain type of striped window awnings and a covered swinging chair. I'm not going to defend the materials of the fence or awnings, but I think any of the others could be tasteful.
The roses were also in Rochester NY. Offhand I remember Mr. Lincoln and of course Peace. Can dig up a longer list (or ask Mom) if you're interested. Grandma worked in a plant nursery, and propagated her own roses by inserting flower stems into the soil under glass jars. Some took, some didn't.


    Bookmark   November 25, 2006 at 9:48PM
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gonativegal(zone 5a)

I figured I'd add to this post - I live in a brick house from 1945. The neighborhood is filled with the same style houses, block after block.

Apparently, the thing to do in our neighborhood during the 40's & 50's was to install brick or flagstone retaining walls in front of the windows - 18 to 24 inches high. That is a very period look. I'm not talking about about that yucky unilock but actual bricks(mortared with a poured concrete top),or flagstone mortared or unmortared. Very pretty and very period.

I noticed people mentioned the plastic flamingoes - but don't forget about big ceramic deer in the yard - Bambi(lying down) and the mother (standing). These are much cooler....

Plus, there's also the white wrought iron free standing flower boxes by the front door or patio with matching miniature wrought iron chair & table.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2007 at 10:22PM
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What an adorable house! I am on my second renovation of a 50s house. This one was built in 1952 and is my home I grew up in. Here are some tips from a previous renovation I did of a 1950 home in the 90s. 1. See if any of the older neighbors in the area are still alive. They can provide priceless information. 2. The following are some plants I didn't see listed in a quick glance (sorry if I repeat anything). Bearded iris, nandina, quince, weigelia (older pink forms), running roses, ivy, forsythia. A hedge would be pretty. Keep it simple. Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 9, 2007 at 1:26PM
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