Help with flower garden / landscape design?

greenbean08_gw(PNW)November 25, 2008

This is my front yard.

(click to enlarge photos)

From Front Yard From Front Yard From Front Yard

I'm looking for suggestions to make it a prettier place. (Of course, if you saw the pictures of my backyard, you're probably thinking this looks pretty good...)

Here's what I'm thinking. I want to put some small/medium sized shrubs in front of the porch. Something that only grows to about the bottom of the white railing (around 3 or 3 1/2 feet tall), so when we sit on the porch with the dogs, they can still see out.

In front of the shrubs would be a path leading to the right, and around the corner of the house. My veggie garden is back there behind the retaining wall. I am considering possibly putting some dwarf apple trees to the right of the house as well. In front of the pathway, I want to put in a perennial garden, in a somewhat horseshoe shape. I want to border the upper part of the retaining wall with ground cover or short plants (it requires too much weed-eating), and I want to border the lower portion with medium sized perennials as well. There is also a small picket fence below the wall, behind the little oak tree now that screens my veggie garden from view of the street somewhat.

I may also plant a shade tree (a young maple perhaps) sort of near the tree creating the shadow on the left of the last photo. The neighbor's trees (the taller ones) are all austrees that are probably 10 years old (the rock is the property line). I've read they live about 20 years, and if that's the case, we'll be needing a replacement tree down the road.

One of my concerns with so much area is good use of color. I'm thinking the perennials in front of the house would need to be a limited number of colors, but I'm having trouble envisioning which colors to use. I'm thinking blues/purples with some orange and yellows. I just don't know.

Anyone have any suggestions? I can water there, but I'd prefer more water-wise plants. I want to reduce the amount of grass b/c I don't want to use all that water.

Oh, I almost forgot, the house faces west.


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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

Hi Greenbean!

I've only been gardening for a couple of years now, so I'm not the best person to give advice on landscape design, but here's my two cents worth anyway.

If your looking for a 3' - 3 1/2' shrub, and you want a blue/purple color scheme, you might consider Caryopteris (see link below). It's about the right height, comes in different shades of blue to purple, and is fairly xeric. You could also use Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage).

For xeric groundcovers, there are plenty of sedums to choose from, and also the iceplants (delosperma) would be good.

For the medium sized perennials in the yellow or orange catagory, I would suggest:

Gaillardia 'Oranges & Lemons'
Achillea 'Terra Cotta' (this one is more med. to large) or one of the yellow yarrows
Coreopsis 'Creme Brule' or other threadleaf type (the grandifloras get pretty large)
Dianthus knappii is a good medium size plant in pale yellow
Linum flavum 'Compactum' (Yellow Flax)
Alyssum 'Basket of Gold'
Rudbeckia hirta (Black Eyed Susan) maybe 'Prairie Sun' or Irish Eyes'
Echinacea 'Sunrise' or 'Harvest Moon'
Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) is a great orange one

The only medium sized perennial that comes to mind when I think of blues/purples is lavender. Of course, that's probably because it's the only blue/purple plant I grow. I tend to stick with more of the reds, yellows and oranges.
I'll bet Skybird, or one of the other more experienced gardeners can come up with some more blue/purple suggestions for you.

Be sure to post some "after" pictures once your done planting, so we can enjoy the transformation.


Here is a link that might be useful: Caryopteris

    Bookmark   November 25, 2008 at 4:51PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

I love my caryopteris shrubs, but I had to move them away from the deck, because they attract so many bees. My wife and kids hated them. If you don't mind bees, they'd be a nice shrub that would need little water (they actually die from overwatering pretty easily). For me, they only flower in August/September, but when they do, they're fantastic.

I'm not a big shrub expert, but some of the ones I'm growing have been outstanding and would fit your height needs, including yellow-twig dogwood, red-twig dogwood (both fast growers), Hibiscus syriacus (wonderful flowers), Antony Waterer spirea, alpine currant, Peking cotoneaster, and various viburnums (but some are too tall). One question about shrubs -- do you get deer in your neighborhood? They'll damage some shrubs (my hollies have never recovered from deer). If you do have deer, look at shrubs (and flowers) they don't like. Most of the ones I listed do fine at my place with occasional deer browsing. I also would recommend English laurels as a nice broadleaf evergreen, but I don't know if they're OK in your zone. I'm a zone 6 that's almost a zone 7, and they're fine for me. A lower growing variety is Otto Luyken. The deer eat my laurels (except not so much on the Otto Luykens), but they always recover OK by early June.

I think you have some good ideas that you already mentioned. I definitely agree that you'll want a tree growing near the neighbor's big willow to take up the space when it dies.

Do you have sprinklers in the ground for the lawn? If so, are you willing to dig up/move sprinklers around to fit your new flowerbed design? That will be pretty important. If you do have sprinklers and don't want to move them, you'll need to have flowers that can handle as much water as the lawn, so that would rule out the xerics.

I found a book to be valuable when I was making plans to redesign some flowerbeds -- it's "The Well-Designed Mixed Garden" by Traci DiSabato-Aust.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2008 at 4:43PM
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Azura(z5 CO)


Bonnie and Steve have given you awesome advice. I like your color choice. I have three flower color schemes in my different beds. My main bed is blue, purple, dark pink and yellow and it has been the greatest challenge. I also have a "hot" colored bed with red, orange and yellow. My easiest and best looking bed is definitely the yellow and purple one. I have a few blues in there and touches of white. It always looks great, the colors flow and if something doesnt work out, there are many options to replace it with. You can easily incorporate variegated and silver foliage for interest when flowers arent blooming. I think thats the main idea behind most design theories: pick interesting foliage and the rest will follow.
"The Well-Designed Mixed Garden" is definitely worth owning, if I only owned one flower gardening book, that would be the one.
Also, now would be a great time to research wintersowing. It saves money, would allow you to work towards your design now and have plants ready to go come spring.

Here is a link that might be useful: A thread about my yellow/purple garden

    Bookmark   November 27, 2008 at 2:12PM
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Thank you thank you thank you for the suggestions! I will check out the book. I was hoping the color idea would be ok. This will be the boldest planting I have ever undertaken, and I'd hate for the flowers to color clash with the house. I found the wintersowing forum a while back, and I'm definitely going to try it. I've been saving containers for a couple months now.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2008 at 10:08PM
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Oh, a couple things I forgot to mention in my last post-
Deer are not a problem where I am. Our wildlife is mostly rabbits, gophers, and the occasional fox.

We do have a sprinkler system in the front for the lawn. It has some issues of it's own (like it puts out an inch of water to the right of the house by the retaining wall, and about 1/4" in the middle of the lawn. We actually started using the sprinkler toward the end of summer unless we forgot and it really needed it (and it was already dark out) then, I'd flip on the auto system. Anyway, I figure we'll either move it, or at least I should be able to cap off the heads that would hit the area too much (or we use the sprinkler for a while). I'd like to replace the lawn with one i didn't have to water very often, but that's going to have to wait a while.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2008 at 2:33AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Bean,

I took the time this morning to come up with a list of some of the possibilities for your front yard garden. Ive separated it into xeric, tall and short, and non-xeric, tall and short. None of the non-xeric ones IÂve listed are "water hogs"Âaverage watering would be good for all of them (about an inch a week, depending on the soil). Also, most of the xeric plants can take "average" watering, especially if theyÂre in a well draining soil. If theyÂre in heavy clay, itÂs a different storyÂbut most things wonÂt do too well in unamended heavy clay. The perennial bed in my backyard has both xeric and non-xeric plants, and the only thing thatÂs causing a problem is the inadequate sun, due to the neighborÂs cottonwoods! You wouldnÂt have that problem! The Russian sage would probably prefer to be drier, but if it had more sun, I think it would be ok. Also, it was one of the first things I put inÂwhen EVERYTHING was buried under ROCK MULCH, so the soil is virtually unammended since I couldnÂt get thru the rock to do much more than stick the plants in. So I really think with better draining soil and (mostly) more sun, even the Russian sage would be ok. This spring itÂs outta here until I can get rid of enough ROCK in my front yard to put in a bed out thereÂon the south side. I usually water very deeply every couple weeks (more than an inch of water, and slowly), and then hand water with the hose every few days as the spirit moves me! With the bark mulch I have, that keeps the surface wet, so the only deep water being used is whatÂs being used by the plants. A deep watering lasts a long time that way. When IÂm "top watering" I also avoid the things that are xeric, like the Perovskia and Agastache.

HereÂs the list! These are all purple, lavender, blue, yellow, or orange, and IÂve put in some white too. ThereÂs a lot more possibilities, but these are some of the most common ones, and the showiest ones. For the most part I left out ones with problems, like mildew.


~Achillea ÂMoonshine \- bright yellow \- non\-invasive yarrow   
~Achillea ÂAnthea \- soft yellow \- non\-invasive yellow   
~Agastache  any that fit your color scheme   
~Catananche caerulea \- CupidÂs dart \- lavender or white \- a favorite of mine \- dried seedheads nice in a vase   
~Coreopsis spp. lance leaf or broad leaf varieties \- yellow, gold   
~Helianthus maximilianii \- yellow \- perennial sunflower \- CO native \- TALL!   
~Lavandula angustifolia \- lavender   
~Linum perenne \- blue or white \- flax   
~Nepeta spp. \- lavender \- catmint \- varying heights \- some spread a lot!   
~Penstemon spp. \- any in your color \- varying heights (Timberline in Denver would be an excellent source for MANY varieties)   
~Perovskia atriplicifolia \- lavender \- Russian sage   
~Rudbeckia spp. \- yellow, gold \- heights range from 18" to 72" (maxima)!   
~Salvia spp. \- several xeric species \- white, blue, lavender, purple \- varying heights   
~Salvia nemorosa (ÂMay Night etc.) \- purple, lavender, violet \- meadow sage   
~Solidago spp. \- yellow, gold \- varying heights, goldenrod   
~Veronica spicata ssp. incana \- lavender \- woolly spike veronica \- gray/silver foliage 

XERIC \- short   
~Achillea ageratifolia \- white \- Greek yarrow \- evergreen   
~Achillea lewisii ÂKing Edward \- soft yellow \- woolly yarrow   
~Alyssum spp. \- soft yellow (or brite yellow, depending on species) \- basket\-of\-gold \- spreads a lot \- good spring color   
~Aurinia saxatilis \- brite yellow \- basket\-of\-gold \- spreads a lot \- good spring color   
~Arabis caucasica ÂSnow Cap \- white \- rock cress \- good spring color   
~Aubrieta spp. \- purples & blues \- rock cress \- good spring color   
~Coreopsis auriculata ÂNana \- orange\-gold   
~Eschscholzia californica \- gold (and other colors) \- California poppy \- will reseed all over the place!   
~Stachys byzantina ÂHelene Von Stein \- furry grey\-white foliage \- flowerless \- lambÂs ear   
~Teucrium aroanium \- purple \- Greek germander \- "sweet" fragrance, foliage and flowers (I think it smells like grape Koolaid, my friend thinks it smells like cotton candy!)   
~Zauschneria californica ssp. latifolia \- orange (to red\-orange)   
~Zauschneria garrettii \- orange (to red\-orange)   
~Delosperma \- any of the iceplants in your colors\- ground cover \- many are evergreen   
~Sedum \- and of the sedums in your colors \- ground cover \- many are evergreen 

~Aquilegia spp. \- columbine \- any that fit your color scheme   
~Aster novi\-angliae or Aster novi\-belgii \- fall aster \- any in your colors \- susceptible to mildew!   
~Campanula glomerata \- purple \- clustered bellflower   
~Campanula persicifolia \- lavender or white \- peachleaf bellflower   
~Chrysanthemum \- fall mums \- any in your colors \- good fall color \- pinch to control height and increase flower production   
~Chrysanthemum maximum \- shasta daisy \- white \- tall or short!   
~Coreopsis verticillata ÂMoonbeam \- thread leaf coreopsis \- soft yellow   
~Coreopsis verticillata ÂZagreb \- thread leaf coreopsis \- brite yellow   
~Delphinium spp. \- white/lavender/purple \- heights from 3' to 6'   
~Delphinium grandiflorum \- lavender to an almost florescent blue \- short, "airy" delphinium \- ÂBlue Butterfly is one of the varieties available   
~Erysimum allionii ÂOrange Bedder or ÂGolden Bedder \- Siberian wallflower   
~Geum chiloense ÂLady Stratheden \- yellow   
~Helianthus decapetalus \- yellow/gold \- perennial sunflower \- tall!   
~Heliopsis helianthoides \- yellow to orange \-false sunflower   
~Hemerocallis \- any in your colors \- short or tall \- some say daylilies are xeric!   
~Iris germanica \- German (tall or dwarf) in your colors   
~Liatris spicata \- white or lavender (there are xeric species, but theyÂre not as showy)   
~Stokesia laevis \- white, lavender \- StokeÂs aster \- flower is similar to Scabiosa but not as prone to mildew!)   
~ Veronica spicata ÂRoyal Candles \- purple \- spike veronica \- I mention this variety specifically because IÂm growing it, and, unlike most of the other many varieties, it does not get mildew! 

NON\-XERIC \- short   
~Campanula spp. (carpatica, cochleariifolia, garganica, portenschlagiana, poscharskyana, rotundifolia) \- lavender, purple, some come in white too   
~Erysimum ÂOrange Flame and E. kotschyanum (yellow) \- creeping wallflower   
~Gentiana septemfida \- blue blue! \- Summer gentian, EverymanÂs gentian (benefits from some shade \- possibly next to taller plants   
~Gypsophila repens ÂAlba \- white \- creeping babyÂs breath   
~Iberis sempervirens \- white \- candytuft 
    Bookmark   November 29, 2008 at 4:22PM
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Wow Skybird, Thanks!!
I appreciate the time you have taken to help me!
Everyone's suggestions are a great help.
I will check these out!!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 12:01AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

If you want specific info about any of these--height, bloom time, etc., just let me know. I couldn't post all that for each one here, but I have it all and will be glad to fill you in on any of them if you google the pictures and like what you're looking at.

Also, you mentioned not wanting to have anything that clashes with your house, but with the neutral tones of your house, I really don't think you need to worry about anything like that. Just pick out what you like the best---and enjoy!


    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 12:30AM
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nancy_in_co(z5 CO)

Hi Skybird,

What a nice list! I may have missed it but one of my favorite yellow xeric plants is the perennial form of gazania. I find the yellow ones very hardy plus they are good reseeders. The orange variety are not hardy for me at 6300 ft but they are hardy in Denver.


    Bookmark   December 3, 2008 at 4:15AM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

Nancy, I've never seen a yellow perennial Gazania. Do you remember where you got yours? My gardens are almost entirely red, orange, and yellow, so that would be a perfect addition!


    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 2:11PM
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aliceg8(CO 5)

Greenbean - first of all, what a lovely house. And I'm jealous of that lovely, almost blank palette you've got to begin with.

I don't have much to add to this, but I would be excited to use the retaining all to cascade plants over. I wish I had some grade differences in my yard to do that sort of thing.

I've been going through the David Austen Rose Catalog, and I saw some lovely yellow English roses. Maybe a few of those, or some other similar landscape type rose would be nice to add.

If you want some fall color, a couple of years ago I ordered 3 "October Skies" asters from Bluestone. I'm not sure that's what I got, as mine grew much larger than described, but they were very cheap and so maybe worth the try. (Or maybe some other blue/purple fall aster.) These were truly spectacular when in bloom I have to say.

And finally, I think the High Country Gardens catalog is a great place to find some neat ideas for xeric plants.

Good luck - I can't wait to see the transformation!


    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 5:45PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

Hey Greenbean,

I just thought of something I should have mentioned before. Take a look at these roses:

This is Ruby Meidiland -- it's a rose that gets about three feet high, NEVER needs pruning (except to just keep a stray can in bounds when it gets over my walkway), blooms heavily in July and sporadically till November (this year at least, since it was a warm fall), and it has this arching/cascading shape that would look great atop your retaining wall, spilling over the side.

I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but these are planted at the top of a boulder retaining wall and are cascading down over it. There are other colors of Meidiland roses, including a scarlet and a white (maybe others, but I don't know). Some are bigger, some smaller. This Ruby variety is medium sized.

I think something like this could work in either your bed right in front of the porch or along the top of the retaining wall. Just an idea!

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 11:40AM
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Thank you Alice! I may have to consider the cascading plants idea, especially after seeing the picture of Steve's roses!

Are those growing 3' high and then over the retaining wall?


    Bookmark   December 6, 2008 at 3:27AM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

Yes, they grow between 2-3' tall (closer to the three feet mark) with the canes arching over as they grow. You can't see the boulder wall very well in that photo. Here's a photo of the front yard in winter, and you can see the rock wall a little better. From Garden Album

I had been cutting the canes back to 18" or so each winter, but I learned in 2007 that it's best to just let them grow and only prune when they get out of bounds. You can see from the first photo that in just one year they grew quite a bit to give me the long, arching canes cascading over the wall.

It's nice that those arching canes look cool in the snow, too!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 1:39PM
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Thanks Steve. I couldn't tell from the first pic where one thing started and another ended.
They really are beautiful.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2008 at 1:50AM
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nancy_in_co(z5 CO)


Sorry for the delay in my response. I have been working overseas for the last few weeks and I could not get logged in to respond.

Here's a link to the gazania:

I think it was a Plant Select a few years ago and you can find it at any good nursery in the spring. It blooms heavily in the late spring/early summer and then a lighter bloom the rest of the summer into fall.


    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 1:30PM
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