Where would you start? Pruning the overgrown rhododendrons and camellias? Removing towering, diseased conifers? Hauling away a pampas grass the size of a Volkswagen?
Well maybe, but the biggest problem was actually the driveway, assuming you drove a vehicle larger than a Mini cooper.
Besides some areas that were crumbling away, it was extremely difficult if not impossible to navigate the existing U-shaped driveway without at least a three point turn and reversing back out of the garage was equally challenging so that was actually where my design had to begin – with improved vehicular access and parking.
Good design has to go hand in hand with function so I always begin by assessing the inherent challenges and figuring out how to solve them, as much as I may already be dreaming about which trees to add!
The second problem was privacy. There needed to be a buffer from the street, a separation of private and public spaces within the property and some screening from neighbors without appearing to be un-neighborly! Fences would solve part of the problem but they needed to look fabulous and not turn this large front garden into a fortress.
Finally the overgrown landscape clearly needed to be addressed, saving what I could but not being afraid to remove several large conifers that were too close to the driveway, as well as the aforementioned unruly pampas grass and a thicket of ivy and cotoneaster.
The Design Criteria
I always work with the clients to determine their preferred design style, even while taking some cues from the contemporary architecture of this newly remodeled home. In this case I was asked to create a relatively 'naturalistic' planting style with a focus on foliage and texture over flowers (my sort of garden!) Note that naturalistic does not have to mean using only native plants. Rather the request here was to have something that had some Pacific Northwest flair with conifers, maples and boulders but to broaden the plant palette without it appearing overdone. Although one of the homeowners is a keen gardener it was important that this front garden was lower maintenance so that gardening time was primarily focused in the private rear garden areas (I'll show you that before/after another time). It also needs to be drought tolerant although we have installed a drip irrigation system to help establish the new plantings for the first couple of years.
This garden won't be used for entertainment or even as a casual seating area for the homeowners. It is simply the front entrance to the home, a foliage picture frame of sorts, so my aim was to have it tidy but also show an artistic flair (the interior of the home is beautiful and one of the homeowners is a fiber artist). It needed to say 'Welcome' and set the tone for what would be revealed. This wasn't the place for a meandering path through the beds or a semi-secluded bench for example.
The Plan – on Paper
The driveway was repaired and expanded by 10' at the turnaround to allow better access and a dedicated parking area was established near the home's entrance. You can see where the original brick and gravel driveway edge was on the plan. There is additional parking to the west of the home behind a new wide gate. However budget did not allow for a concrete pour so for now these additional areas are compacted gravel.
A low wall and contemporary styled fencing (the fence and gate were designed by the homeowners and their general contractor) addressed many of the privacy issues. Rather than create a barricade between this home and the neighbor, the fence transitioned to a deep border of layered evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs that will quickly fill in.
Tall vertical grasses were added to create a buffer at the roadside; or at least they will be tall and vertical next year!
These Karl Foerster feather reed grasses (Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster) will grow to 5' tall and over 2' wide, their tan plumes lasting well into winter even if it snows. I had originally planned a double row but we reduced this to a single row as the homeowners were concerned about visibility when pulling out of their driveway. Good call!
One of my favorite features is an allee of river birch (Betula nigra 'Heritage') that marks the main entrance, the trees zigzagging down the driveway. With their attractive peeling bark and soft green leaves that turn to gold in fall these will be a year round highlight.
'After' – the Winter Version
I always hesitate to show 'after' photos when the design has been installed in winter because it looks a mere shadow of what I know is to come. Yet this is the reality and probably something that is helpful for you to see. The plants are all well spaced to allow for growth although we will be adding a few more grasses as temporary fillers.
I draw the design for suggested ten year growth so there will always be 'gaps'. These can be filled with annuals or inexpensive perennials and grasses when homeowners want a fuller look straight away without compromising the overall design or heath of maturing trees and shrubs.
Even in winter you can see there is a good framework of evergreen foliage with the existing Rhododendron and camellia, the new Niagara Falls pine (Pinus strobus 'Niagara Falls')and Excelsa cedars (Thuja plicata 'Excelsa') to the bold David viburnum (Viburnum davidii), variegated Lemon Beauty box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida 'Lemon Beauty') and blue oat grasses (Helictotrichon sempervirens).
To help you visualize the garden as it will mature here are all the plants;
Shades of Green and Gold
Accents of Burgundy, Blue and Copper
Not shown is the Katsura Japanese maple which opens in 'sunset' shades before maturing to green and turning fiery orange and gold in fall.
Also offering blooms but not photographed is the David viburnum, existing rhododendron and existing camellia.
So within this naturalistic planting their is an underlying attention to the details of color and texture. No one plant screams "Look at ME!" yet there is a horticultural fugue being played as first one section of the plant palette is highlighted, the theme then being taken up by a second group and then a third.
Acting as anchors throughout the borders are boulders of varying sizes. These help keep vehicles where they should be but also create planting pockets for specimens such as the weeping pine which will grow to around 6-8' wide and drape gracefully over the stone.
Lighting has been added which I have yet to see but the home owners tell me looks stunning! The river birch are all lit as well as the house sign and a golden spirit smoke bush which will grow to become a glorious splash of sunshine against the darker evergreens at the head of the driveway.
A cluster of containers by the side entrance marks the transition and says 'welcome'. These were planted last summer and will be refreshed and trimmed in spring but really help to bring the garden right up to the gate, connecting visitors with the garden.
What do the homeowners think?
"We are surprised and delighted with how our new landscape has improved the street appeal and resolved the challenging tight turn around. So nice to get rid of the unkempt woodsy look…
This was the final piece to our major home remodel project; it finally feels complete!"
Installed by the talented crew at Berg's Landscaping
Is it time to rethink your front garden?