A good foundation

Normally pictures of the front foundation border are avoided.  This area qualifies as one of my least favorite views probably because the plantings do little to set off or relate to the house.  They’re kind of a mess come to think of it, but believe it or not they’ve come a long way <click here to see>.  Our visit starts with a stroll up the front walk past the welcome squirrel and edging by the ‘Tiger Eyes’ cutleaf sumac, which threatens to engulf all visitors.

tiger eyes cutleaf sumac

Which is too much?  The overwhelming yellow, the tacky lamp décor, or the too-red petunias?

The right side of the house is fronted by the porch, and in front of the porch is a pretty generic planting of evergreens and hostas.  They do a great job of being green and covering up the beds which house my favorite snowdrops and corydalis earlier in the year.

phlox and rudbeckia

Of course a rudbeckia would show up here as well.  This is one of the completely perennial and later blooming R. fulgens types, and I make an effort each spring of ripping it out only to have a few stray shoots  survive anyway.  btw, The pink of the phlox ‘Laura’ with the gold of the rudbeckia is one of my least favorite color combos.

The left side of the house is my problem bed.  I tried ironing out a few of its problems earlier this year but it still makes me raise an eyebrow each time I pass.  My first after-vacation task was to pull up all the massive crabgrass plants which were taking over, and while doing this I couldn’t help but wonder why I can’t show this same resolve against the inappropriately large sunflowers which sprout up each year (in my defense I did rip most out… but once they get past a certain size it just seems wrong to yank them).

weeding crabgrass

Weeding crabgrass in August.  What gardener doesn’t know this story?

If I could only get visitors to crawl around on their hands and knees I think the impression this bed makes would be infinitely improved.

gray and red in a mixed border

The low view: Larger evergreen would probably do a better job of connecting the house to these beds, but a couple agastache, a verbascum, stray sumac suckers and a bunch of other stuff are a lot more interesting 🙂

I like how the blue fescue is filling in along the edge, it goes well enough with everything and seems to be doing ok.  I wish it would do better, but I haven’t yet cracked the fescue code on what really makes it clump up and fill in.

pepper masquerade seedlings

For some reason peppers seemed like a good  candidate for a foundation planting this year.  Last summer I bought a single ‘Masquerade’ ornamental pepper and these are its seedlings.  The purple fruits should go to yellow then orange then red as they mature, but a few plants are starting out yellow, and I don’t know what they have planned. 

My unknown biennial eryngium turned out to be a perennial and is back for another show this summer.  If you can avoid the masses of wasps and bees the flowers attract it’s really a pleasant all summer cloud of blue-grey.

water wise plants

The mix of colors at this end of the border almost looks tasteful if you ignore the sunflowers peeking in on the right. 

Most of the plantings here are haphazard and either work or fail by luck, but the pairing of the blue fescue and pinkish ‘bon bon’ sedum was intentional.  I’m pleased with the contrast of the sedum coming up out of the fescue and it’s just what I was hoping for… as long as you overlook the sorta sparseness of the fescue.

sedum 'bon bon' with blue fescue

Sedum ‘bon bon’ with blue fescue and iris pallida aureo-variegata.

Things which didn’t work out quite as well were the cobweb thistles which drowned in our rainy July and the variegated St. Augustine grass which looks just a little too weedy.  I know it’s me though since I’ve seen it growing awesomely elsewhere and as a result I’m considering digging it up and trying it elsewhere, like in a pot… maybe even scissor trimming it for a neat little pot o’lawn 🙂

variegated st Augustine grass

Variegated st Augustine grass, ‘Alabama sunset’ coleus, more sumac, and an up and coming cardoon seedling.

Now off to the backyard!  My fingers are crossed we can get around the whole house by September 😉

The Foundation Planting

Our latest arctic blast has got me going through old pictures, and I found a few that have been sitting around for a while.  They’re all about the bed along the front of the house, and they all relate to a redesign I attempted this past spring.  Let me know what you think!

The house we live in now was built by my wife’s grandparents in the late 1950’s, and is probably still considered stylish by many.  Unfortunately we don’t share that retro-Italianate taste in ranches and set about to change things up while remodeling.  This was our front view circa spring 2009, not long after we moved in.retro landscapingThe combination of toddler, new baby, and home renovations is a fun mix, and outside changes were mostly put onto the back burner,  but that summer I did manage to get out the salmon colored edging and covered the colorful red bark mulch with a more natural shade.  I’m not saying it looked better, but at least it’s a little less sterile looking.Summer 2009If I was forced to give an answer I would probably say I hate the orangey color of our brick.  We’re stuck with it though, and since there’s not much of a design flair in me the collector gene took over, and all the cuttings and divisions I collected easily found a home in the vacant mulch beds.  By 2011 the mess was spreading and in an attempt to reign in the disorder I consulted with the ‘can’t beat em join em” theory.  I tried to embrace the orange by entering into a red phase.  I figured if I planted an even brighter scarlet then perhaps it would be bright enough to distract viewers from the orange brick…. or maybe I was trying to offend the neighbors, I don’t know- but I would like to challenge anyone out there to show me an example of red salvia used tastefully 🙂Late August 2011

Maybe Secretly I delighted in reds and chartreuse, and I think I still do….. just not in the front bed highlighting the orange brick.  This lovely combo has been saved and moved to the tropical bed to face down the already-overwhelmingly tasteful white vinyl privacy fencing there…. I’m not sure it looks much better there, but at least I’m sparing the neighbors from this assault of color. (fyi the hummingbirds loved it)the landscape's red phase

Now what to do?  The next year I had no enthusiasm for the bed without my lovely coleus and salvia.  A few perennials filled in to give it a fuller look, but it still lacks something.  The blue spruce was getting too big for under the window, and the Chamaecyparis too tall….. and I was getting tired of trimming the silly pompom juniper. Fall 2012So late that fall I laid out a bed expansion.  Truth be told I over estimated the space available for tulips, so after lining out the new border I dug tulips in all around in the lawn and then left the grass for spring removal.  Dec 2012That spring as the tulips came up through the overturned sod, I finished digging under the rest of the grass.digging under the turf

Moving the spruce was no picnic, and I almost thought it would die (considering how many roots I cut) but I think it will be much better off in the new position, and give a nice anchor to the end of the bed.  Fortunately for me, just when the shrub moving started to get too back-breaking, a buddy stopped by to help.a friend stops by

Soooo, here’s the finished product.  I moved a small paperbark maple over a few feet to be included in the bed, lined it with blues fescue divisions, and placed three tiny holly bushes where the spruce was.  Against all other urges I tried to limit the plant choices and plant in groups.  The curve is a little odd, but I’ll work on that during the next expansion 😉the "finished" product

With mulch applied and tulips blooming, it didn’t look half bad, but to be honest I still didn’t like it.  (one of the reasons you rarely see pictures of this border)foundation planting with tulips

I do like the yucca “color guard”.  It and the blue fescue seem to be a nice fit for this border.yucca colorguard with blue fescueBlues, yellows , and greens seem to complement the house better than all the loud mixed up flower colors.  For a couple weeks I didn’t mind this look, even as the tulip foliage yellowed and died off.  But then boredom and excess plants struck, and I was back to my old ways of sneaking in a few new plants here and there. dying foliage of tulips

Red cabbage wasn’t the worst color to add, but maybe it was just a little inappropriate for a front yard foundation planting.  Coleus crept in again, and the sunflower seedlings looked so innocent in the early summer…. but the lavender with the yucca and blue fescue kept it respectable.red cabbage in the border

Sunflower explosion.  Still better than my red experiment, but not yet the look I was going for.  midsummer abundance

Maybe annuals are just not a good choice for this bed.  I’ll rethink it next year and maybe skip the dahlias too 🙂   For now I’ll use the excuse that they distract you from the too-small hollies planted under the window…. better to be distracted than to be downright bored I think….  By the way those hollies better get growing, I want them nice and big and prickly by the time my little daughter starts to consider things like sneaking out a window or meeting some Romeo who comes by throwing pebbles.too much color again

The border last month (before winter and winter boredom hit).December 2013

Four things:  bigger plants, get rid of the grasses, remove the tall evergreen, and stick to a mellow color palette…. and of course expand the bed just a few more feet 🙂  Any other suggestions?  I know there will be some good ones and I’m looking forward to hearing them as well as hearing some more criticism.  I can take it, and I’m hoping it will get me back on the path that leads to me finally liking this bed!