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Opinions on plants for new front yard design

Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
Sun, Sep 20, 09 at 16:18

We're still working with a landscape designer to redo the front yard. He owns a local nursery and we are enjoying working with him. Currently, we have a large 50x50' front yard with a huge Mimosa tree and lots of grass. Our general plan is to replace the Mimosa tree and most of the lawn with a less-messy shade tree and more drought-tolerant plants. We have clay soil and the front yard faces south.

I'm looking for comments, pros and cons, regarding the following plants that he included in the plan; this list includes comments from my research.


  • Achillea tomentosa -- placed next to a rose, would it get too much water?

  • Caryopteris clandonensis -- I like this plant and have always considered it for our yard.

  • Echium -- I have seen this growing at work and it looks very pretty and dramatic at its best, but very floppy and open in the center at other times.

  • Cistus purpureus -- I thought this was best in sandy soil... OK in clay?

  • Pittosporum variegata -- Can get 5-10' tall; he placed them next to a 4' split-rail fence. I think they are too big for this spot.

  • Miscanthus variegata -- never grown a grass plant before...

  • Eriogonum arborescens -- CA native, sounds good

  • Lantana trailing 'gold' -- Good color, size; I like it.

  • Pennisetum variegata --

  • Phormium 'Maori Sunrise' -- reverts to Bronze; cool sun/lt. shade. Better variety: Phormium 'Flamingo'. Basically, I'd like a Phormium that grows to 4-5 feet and retains its color; I prefer the floppy variety over the upright.

  • Anigozanthos 'Harmony' -- This one is drawn into a spot with afternoon sun, but research says it prefers cool sun and lt. shade.

  • Lantana 'Irene' -- Love the color but when new tree grows up, this spot will get about half-sun.

  • Ceanothus horizontalis -- can reach 10' wide in 3 years; good for bank stabilization.

  • Lagerstroemia 'Petite Plum' (crepe myrtle) -- Dwarf, erect, to 5-6' w/ deep plum purple flowers.

  • Achillea millefolium -- Lots of nice varieties; which one?

  • Anigozanthus 'Big Red' -- tall variety; love the color

  • Nagami kumquat -- we already have it growing in a large pot in the backyard; want to move it to the front yard next to the driveway. Wondering what the actual mature height will be grown in the ground.

  • Phormium 'Pink Stripe' -- aka 'Candy Stripe'; 5-6' tall. Wondering if it retains color well.

  • Punica granatum (Pomegranate) 'Wonderful' -- tolerant of clay soil but requires regular water and frequent sucker removal.

  • Pittosporum tobira -- aka Japanese mockorange; can be grown as small understory tree.

  • Hemerocallis (Daylily) 'Stella d' Oro' -- common golden-yellow plant.
  • For the tree to replace the Mimosa, we're considering a Crepe Myrtle with a large canopy for shade, or a grouping of 3 medium-size CMs with shade canopies. However, someone showed us their CMs covered with brown flowers and says it suckers a lot at the base. Another consideration is the Chinese Pistache which we love for its fall color.

    I think there are too many different plants in the plan; we want an attractive plan that doesn't require a lot of weekend maintenance since I still work full time and we enjoy half-day bike rides on weekends.

    I would appreciate any comments, pros/cons, thoughts, etc. about any of these, and any suggestions for better plant alternatives. It's getting close to planting season and we also want to have the house re-painted before work on the landscape begins.

    Jen


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

Achillea tomentosa -- one of my favorite groundcovers; plant this and get rid of the roses

Caryopteris clandonensis -- I like it, too, but it goes kinda dormant in winter and it requires hard pruning to keep it bushy.

Echium -- prefers a lean soil.

Cistus purpureus -- best in light soil, yes.

Pittosporum variegata -- can get 15+ feet tall and not exactly drought-tolerant when young.

Miscanthus variegata -- not great in the long run in So. cal.

Eriogonum arborescens -- I like very much

Lantana trailing 'gold' -- I'm not a Lantana fan and I don't think it matches the "style" of what else you have going.

Pennisetum variegata -- What is this?

Phormium 'Maori Sunrise' -- there are hundreds of cultivars of Phormium. Make your exact pick.

Anigozanthos 'Harmony' -- afternoon shade is fine.

Lantana 'Irene' -- see above.

Ceanothus horizontalis -- what exact cultivar?

Lagerstroemia 'Petite Plum' (crepe myrtle) -- crape myrtles are not drought-tolerant when young.

Achillea millefolium -- Go with the hybrids, NOT selections of millefolium.

Anigozanthus 'Big Red' -- nice

Nagami kumquat -- if it's a semi-dwarf, it'll get about 12 feet; a dwarf will get about 6+.

Phormium 'Pink Stripe' -- Good one.

Punica granatum (Pomegranate) 'Wonderful' -- it does take work to keep it "neat" but aside from that, it's as low-maintenance as they come and it's rewarding.

Pittosporum tobira -- cliche shrub that makes an OUTSTANDING small tree -- in 20 YEARS.

Hemerocallis (Daylily) 'Stella d' Oro' -- there are MANY much better cultivars of Hemerocallis for California. SdO is whimpy here when it comes to bloom show.

For the tree to replace the Mimosa, we're considering a Crepe Myrtle -- CM's require lots of water early on and lots of pruning to get them to be the shape you want. MANY better trees.

Chinese Pistache -- I like.

Overall, the plant palette is a bit boring and hodge-podgey. Sounds like your designer/nurseryman is selling you plants he currently has in his nursery rather than what really fits your needs and wants.

Joe


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Sun, Sep 20, 09 at 17:05

Thanks, Joe, I appreciate your input.

By "boring", do you mean the plants are overly used? Since I like Agapanthus, roses, and Impatiens, I don't mind common plants. :-) We're looking for something to replace our big lawn and a tree that doesn't blanket the ENTIRE front yard with ugly beige cotton balls all summer long.

How is it hodge-podgey? He does repeat many of these plants on both sides of the driveway. Do you mean too many different plants, or different types?

Just curious what you mean... I'm not trying to argue. :-)

Jen


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

I have a Petite Plum and Petite Orchid CM just put in last fall and they did flower this year and very pretty but they also fried in July with the 3 week heat wave of 100+.
They are still alive but I didn't get out there as much as I should of to water.
I would use less types of plants of more of each. Use odd numbers for more natural look instead of symmetrical.
When I re-did my back slope I used numerous types and have replaced some with more of what did better. Just makes it easier to care for, remember what to do for everything and bigger splashes of color.


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

Jen, it seems to me that most of these plants get really, really big. Some of them get ratty and need quite a bit of pruning to look good, like the cistus, caryopteris, miscanthus, pennisetum...

Don't get the variegated pittosporum. It gets huge and it's not very pretty. I like pittosporum Tobira because it is bright green and lush, no litter, beautiful scented flowers, and you can shape it any way you like. I have one that's a tree and one that's a hedge plant. I also like the little Wheeler's Dwarf because of the lush looking leaves. You just have to mix them in with more unusual plants to avoid the parking-lot look.

Echium. Hmm- I don't want to insult anyone, but I think it always looks unkempt. It's also very large for a front yard.

Cistus purpureus is another monster. I could not keep it in bounds and it flopped and twisted. I do like them on freeways.

Caryopteris clandonensis is just beautiful, but it sounds like it has the same issues as cistus.

I wouldn't plant the miscanthus. Another monster. It only took two springs for it to get four feet tall, and it was on its way to eating everything in sight. Needs lots of space and it can take your finger off.

Pennisetum usually looks bad after a season unless you really cut it back, or at least mine did.

Eriogonum arborescens- is that St. Catherine's Lace? I fell in love with it at the Santa Barbara Botanical garden. In my garden it got HUGE very rapidly but it kept a really lovely shape. I thought it was a wonderful plant, if that's the same one. Watch out though-it was six feet tall and twelve feet wide when I tore it out. I would highly recommend this if it is St. Catherine's Lace, but put it in a spot where it can gracefully spread out without needing to be trimmed.

I love achillea "Moonstone". It has a long bloom period and it does not flop all over like most achilleas. It looks good all year. I think it would look very pretty with the yellow lantana.

I would not plant Stella de Oro here- like Joe says, there are so many daylilies that are prettier and do better. The really spectacular ones usually don't stand up well to our mid-summer sun (as I found out this year after spending way too much money on daylilies.) Take a look at Greenwood's Daylilies. They are very expensive, though, so you might want to purchase somewhere else. My sister in law grows a dark dramatic one called Acapulco Nights, and she is very happy with it.

Anigozanthos 'Harmony'and friends: my mom has hers where they are backlit by the sun, and oh, my, goodness- they are spectacular. She has the foliage blocked by other plants in front, so you just see glowing fuzzy pokers. The chartreuse one is especially striking. If the drainage is good, they are a really low maintenance high-bloom producing plant. (Mine always die.)

I plant yarrow and Lamb's Ears with my roses; I just give the roses a little extra drink. I like the Lamb's ears quite a bit- although I imagine they will have to be cleaned up every year.

I really love the phormiums, but especially the huge olive green ones, which are hard to find. They make the yard look lush and tropical.

You might also do a search for Jkom's garden. It's a beautiful example of a drought-tolerant flower garden.

Good luck with your new front yard.
Renee

Here is a link that might be useful: Greenwood Daylilies


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

  • Posted by hoovb z9 Southern CA (My Page) on
    Sun, Sep 20, 09 at 18:52

Phormiums do better in part shade here, and you are farther inland than I.

The Echium needs just the right spot to look good. I've seen it really thriving just once or twice, the rest of the time it looks dreadful.

Ditto on the day lily comments, there are way better ones than Stella for So Cal.

I would look at the 'Karl Foerster' grass instead of Miscanthus.

The bigger the Anigozanthos, the easier they are to grow.

No succulents? They are the ultimate no-care plants, and most are fairly low water as well...your list is full of shrubby billowy plants, some architectural shape via succulents would balance that.


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Sun, Sep 20, 09 at 21:55

Many thanks to all of you for your very helpful comments. You've confirmed many of my instincts about many of the plants.

We picked up an updated drawing today that includes the same plants without the hardscape features we previously wanted but have since eliminated to keep costs down. I counted the total number of plants --- more than 115 (+/- 1 or 2 that I may have overlooked). That does not include the lawn substitute, two CM trees, and a smaller Cercis tree.

Oh my....

We may have communicated the wrong ideas or words to describe what we want. We've received plans or ideas from 3 different designers; while all of them have some nice features and/or plants we like, none of them are exactly what we are looking more --- in fact they are more showy and expensive with too many plants.

We like:
-- Simple (not too busy but not sparse), low-maintenance, but nice, not too showy or very trendy.
-- Salvias and plants that are compatible with them (some like shade, some like sun, some like both, some like more water than others).
-- Plants that look good most of the year, not just a month or a few weeks before they flop and/or turn brown.
-- Trees that don't drop seeds and fruit

Our love of Salvias began when we spotted a S. leucantha (Mexican sage) at the nursery almost 15 years ago. My husband saw it, said "oooohh, what's that!", and I stroked the beautiful long fuzzy purple bloom. Now we have Salvias growing all over the front and back yards.

So, we've decided to go back to square one, and begin with the Salvia leucantha as the cornerstone of the new garden design. It may be very common but it's beautiful and meaningful to us. Then, add a handful of other plants we're currently growing and want to keep. And add some plants compatible with that list. I'd also like to leave some place for me to play -- I like to add specimen plants, bulbs, or annuals that I see and want to try. I don't want to be completely locked into someone else's plan, but I don't have the time or ability to design and plant the entire front yard myself.

As for the main tree: Joe, what others would you recommend instead of the crepe myrtle? Is the Chinese Pistache be an appropriate choice to add to our new back-to-square-one list?


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

I really like the salvias too Jen. Good choice. Most are approved by LA County fire also and drought tolerant. Don't forget the mexican sage gets whacked back each year, so surround it with others that are shorter to hide from the street view.
You might like Russian sage-perovskia atriplicifolia it is kind of similar to mexican sage in color and shape-spikes of flowers. But it also dies back in winter here. Bees love it.
Put in some salvia greggii and salvia microphylla and you'll have hummers everywhere.


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Sun, Sep 20, 09 at 22:35

Good point about the wacking back of the mexican sage, gobluedjm. I've considered Perovskia.... but the Mexican sage is our first love for plants with those long purple spikes. :-) We also grow S. chiapensis, S. greggii, S. microphylla, and the hummers are frequent visitors.


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

Jen:

Where do you live?

Joe


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Sun, Sep 20, 09 at 22:56

Joe: We live near Claremont.


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

Achillea tomentosa -- placed next to a rose, would it get too much water?
Possibly.

Caryopteris clandonensis -- I like this plant and have always considered it for our yard.
Nice plant. Attracts bees like crazy, but it is deciduous.

Echium -- I have seen this growing at work and it looks very pretty and dramatic at its best, but very floppy and open in the center at other times.
Which Echium? They get LARGE, if you are talking about E. fatuosum. They will easily occupy a 6-8' diameter area, but they are an absolutely stunning plant when in bloom and needs no summer water once established. Also attracts bees

Cistus purpureus -- I thought this was best in sandy soil... OK in clay?
Fine in clay as long as it's not watered much when established. Tends to get leggy without pruning.

Pittosporum variegata -- Can get 5-10' tall; he placed them next to a 4' split-rail fence. I think they are too big for this spot.
Depends upon if you want a taller screen and/or if you want to see the fence. They can be pruned easily.

Miscanthus variegata -- never grown a grass plant before...

Eriogonum arborescens -- CA native, sounds good
Nice plant. Blooms in mid-late summer for me, but occupies roughly about a

Lantana trailing 'gold' -- Good color, size; I like it.
and probably won't freeze in your zone.

Pennisetum variegata --

Phormium 'Maori Sunrise' -- reverts to Bronze; cool sun/lt. shade. Better variety: Phormium 'Flamingo'. Basically, I'd like a Phormium that grows to 4-5 feet and retains its color; I prefer the floppy variety over the upright.
'Jester' AKA 'Red Heart' is a good floppy variety.

Anigozanthos 'Harmony' -- This one is drawn into a spot with afternoon sun, but research says it prefers cool sun and lt. shade.

Lantana 'Irene' -- Love the color but when new tree grows up, this spot will get about half-sun.
1/2 sun is fine if it gets direct afternoon sun for 5-6 hrs.

Ceanothus horizontalis -- can reach 10' wide in 3 years; good for bank stabilization.
Tall ground cover, but will need some summer water until fully established (2-3 yrs)

Lagerstroemia 'Petite Plum' (crepe myrtle) -- Dwarf, erect, to 5-6' w/ deep plum purple flowers.
Deciduous, but good for late summer color. Likes heat.

Achillea millefolium -- Lots of nice varieties; which one?
Straight A. millefolium is the native one. It has white flowers. There are many cultivars/hybrids. It really depends on which color fits your tastes.

Anigozanthus 'Big Red' -- tall variety; love the color

Nagami kumquat -- we already have it growing in a large pot in the backyard; want to move it to the front yard next to the driveway. Wondering what the actual mature height will be grown in the ground.

Phormium 'Pink Stripe' -- aka 'Candy Stripe'; 5-6' tall. Wondering if it retains color well.

Punica granatum (Pomegranate) 'Wonderful' -- tolerant of clay soil but requires regular water and frequent sucker removal.
Also deciduous, but pretty.

Pittosporum tobira -- aka Japanese mockorange; can be grown as small understory tree.
Nice smallish/midsize multi-trunk tree/shrub but grows slowly. I would prefer Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)

Hemerocallis (Daylily) 'Stella d' Oro' -- common golden-yellow plant.
Yawn.......

You asked for opinions, these are mine.


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Mon, Sep 21, 09 at 0:14

Thanks Wanda, I appreciate you comments.

That's 3 strikes against the Stella d'Oro -- which matches my initial thoughts when I saw it in the design. He probably chose it for the color (golden yellow) to fit the general color scheme.


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

Oh Jenn, I understand. I have both in different parts in the back. It is probably wise to avoid attracting bees to your front area anyway.
It may help you to draw out on graph paper or even using Excel your plan and then you can consider sun, shade, water, height, growth potential for spacing, colors, 4 seasons etc. Thats what I did and am glad I did it.


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  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Mon, Sep 21, 09 at 1:42

Some plants I would recommend for a hot interior southern California garden that can look pretty good year round and give lots of color from both flowers and foliage would include some of the following.

Anigozanthus flavidus cultivars such as Harmony- this looks great year round.

Some brilliantly colorful long blooming perennials that I would recommend would include any of the various colors of Arctotis cultivars, Oenothera berlandierii, Lobelia laxiflora, Centaurea gymnocarpa, Limonium perezii.

Accent shrubby palms to consider might include two silvery foliaged palms such as Chamaerops humilis cerifera or Brahea armata, or for shaded areas species with tropical green foliage and colorful berries such as Chamaedorea radicalis and C. microspadix

Salvia clevelandii-a must have native for the fragrance of the foliage and interesting summer blue flowers.

Coleonema 'Sunset Gold'-great foliage color, fragrance, and lots of color contrast when used with darker foliaged companions.

Teucrium cussonii is a great low ground cover with long bloom season

Convolvulus mauritanicus is another very long blooming ground cover with gorgeous blue flowers

Lavandula species such as L. angustifolia, L. intermedia, L. stoechas, all work well when massed, and have long bloom periods and low water requirements

Erysimmon linifolium 'Bowles Mauve'- has a very long bloom season and makes a nice complement to the Lavenders

Cistus species-in general I don't much care for the Pepto-Bismol pink color, often too large size, and relatively short bloom season of most species and cultivars, this genus just seems very boring to me, especially when out of bloom and drought stressed.

Eriogonum grande rubescens-a stunning native with very vivid red flowers over long season with just occasional summer water

Mimulus aurantiacus-another semi-shrubby perennial which will stay in orange bloom nearly half the year with some supplemental irrigation

Grasses such as Eleymus condensatus 'Canyon Prince' for great vertical presence and soft blue foliage, or Muhlenbergia dumosa, M. pubescens, M. capillaris, Carex divulsa for the deep green foliage color and cast iron hardiness to sun or shade

Alstroemeria cultivars such as A. aurantiacum, A. 'Third Harmonic' and A. 'Sussex Gold' for nearly year round flowering

bulbs such as Scilla peruviana, Bulbinella robusta, Amaryllis belladonna, Tuhlbagia violacea, Kniphofia thomsonii and K. uvaria, Watsonia borbonica,

Succulents such as Beschorneria yuccoides, Bulbine frutescens, Agave celsii, Agave bracteosa, Agave 'Sharkskin', Aloe striata, Aloe camperii, Aloe castanea, A. vanbalenii, Dyckia brevifolia, Graptopetalum paraguayense, Graptoveria 'Fred Ives', Cotyledon orbiculata, Senecio serpens and S. mandraliscae,

All of these are fairly drought tolerant plants that have either a long season of interest, or look great year round, and will handle the heat of your local. Repeating plants in groups around the garden and playing off different forms and foliage textures will make a more interesting garden than one which depends on just flowers.

I'd also suggest that all those phormiums are less well adapted to hot inland locations than they are along the coast. A lot of them will burn foliage in heat waves if they don't get dappled shade in summer heat waves. The other thing with Phormiums is that many get both larger than stated and also tend to revert to duller foliage if stressed or not groomed periodically. Large clumping foliage plants that play a similar role to Phormiums might include things like Astelia chathamica of some of the newer shrubby non-trunking cordylines such as C. 'Cardinal' or c. 'Electric Pink' or 'Festival Grass' for vivid foliage colors that don't revert, and don't tend to get too big over time.

For a more interesting flowering tree, I might be tempted to try one of the Tabebuia species such as T. impetiginosa or T. chrysantha, Eriobotrya deflexa, Parkinsonia aculeata, Arbutus 'Marina', Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy', Cassia leptophylla, Bauhinia x blakeana, Acacia cognata, or Tristaniopsis laurina.

I might suggest switching to something other than Pittosporum tobira cultivars, although the P. tobira 'Wheeler's Dwarf' is also attractive massed in combination with taller/flowering neighbors, and the P. tobira variegata is lovely for shaded areas where you want a tall growing filler shrub, especially used with conifers such as Coast Redwoods or Pines, and can be kept pruned to 6 feet tall by across if pruned regularly. Other evergreen shrubs you might consider instead are things such as Euphorbia characias, Coprosma 'Evening Glow', Choisya ternata 'Sundance', Helleborus x argutifolius, Melaleuca incana and M. thymifolia, Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple'.


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

Just a few comments on the crepe myrtles. I cannot imagine three CM's in a 50x50 space. Seems like too many, and I don't think there is such a thing as a "medium" crepe myrtle. They grow to size.

As for fruit, etc., they bloom prolifically, then the flowers die and drop. Other times of the year they lose all their leaves and bark. So they are somewhat a litter-y tree, but we have 4 on lawn which is fine. But the one over the patio is a slight nuisance, so if it shades over a walkway you use often, you will be tracking in flowers for a month or so. All in all, I think the trees are beautiful and worth the trouble of sweeping a bit. Look at colors and pick a color you like.

Seems like our younger trees have an occasional sucker, but they are simple to clip off.


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Tue, Sep 22, 09 at 15:01

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'

I forgot to add that one to the list of plants on the plan. It's one we chose as a small accent tree, for down in front inside one of the borders (not in the lawn). I thought it would be a small tree, but then I read it can grow to 25', and some comments day it prefers afternoon shade in hot climates.

Can anyone comment on how this tree does in hot-summer climates (high temps in the 90s, handful of days about 100, occasionally a little more).


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

I have not seen a happy 'Forest Pansy' in any hot sunny situation. It grows very slowly, looks sparse and loses the purple color in the sun.

Chad


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

I concur with Chad -- at least for plants south of here.

There are lots of Forest Pansy's up this way that don't look too bad in full sun. A little sloppy in too much shade up here.

Joe


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Tue, Sep 22, 09 at 23:50

Thank you. Can you recommend a good small tree that stays small, thrives in all-day sun in clay soil, looks attractive all year?


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

Sure! The native Cercis occidentalis thrives in full sun in clay soil and looks attractive all year. It loses its leaves for a few months (late December to early March up here, probably less down there), but I don't consider that a drawback, since it makes for gorgeous fall color.


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RE: Opinions on plants for new front yard design

  • Posted by cowper z10/Sun15 SFBay (My Page) on
    Tue, Nov 17, 09 at 0:34

Hey Jenn,

I saw your message a few days ago and when you said you liked Mexican sage, it triggered my subconscious because I had a vision of your garden before drifting off to sleep the other night. So I must be seeing into the future, right?

Here's what I saw:

--Big beds of purple salvia in the mid-ground, with
--Helichrysum petiolare (licorice plant) in the background--chartreuse yumminess to set off all that purple
--and in the foreground, a mix of orange flowering perennials: lantana, coreopsis, gallardia.
--Also in the foreground: an occasional red flowering plant to augment the purple/chartreuse combo, like achillea "Paprika."

This is all stuff that likes full sun and will give you a lot of color. The helichrysum petiolare is frost-tender but that chartreuse is fabulous. If you wanted something taller you could go with Tagetes lemmoni (Mexican marigold) behind the Mexican sage, which creates an airy hedge and gives you an explosion of gorgeous orange flowers in the fall--mine is taking off right about now--when everything else slows down. And then in the front you could plant Mexican hat (Ratibida) with the paprika yarrow.

Ok, I'll stop now! Good luck!


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