Too often siting foundation plants is poorly done. Most homeowners, and even the so-called professionals seem to plant a lot of stuff, not giving much thought to repetition, color, texture or mass versus specimen planting. In this post I am going to cover and show you how easy it is to make an interesting arrangement of foundation plantings that will give curb appeal to your house.
The Most Common Shapes of Foundation Plants
There are many shapes of bushes and trees, but in the world of foundation plants I feel there are only six classical shapes that are most often used. (now look at illustration 1). They are #1 columnar, #2 pyramidal, #3 sphere / round, #4 spreading, #5 upright (which is a shorter version of columnar), and #6 mound. The six shapes can be seen on bushes and trees that when mature can be one foot tall to over 10 feet high, depending on the variety, their natural growth habits, and if you shear them or not.
Mass versus Specimen Planting is an important issue to address in all parts of gardening.
Specimen Plants are singular plants that have a special, desirable, or unique characteristic like extreme size, unusual color, interesting foliage texture, or odd shape (possibly a topiary) that you want to have few of, and see as focal points in a garden or part of your foundation planting.
Mass Plantings is the planting of 2, 3, 5, or 7 etc of the same plant so you see a large amount of the same thing, and the mass planting gives you a place for your eye to rest before looking at other plants in that area of your foundation garden.
Now look at illustrations 2A and 2B which show how the same amount of plants can go from being too busy to just right.
Illustration 2A represents 3 columnar / upright yews with 2 spreading yews planted between them. Notice how your eyes make many up and down movements as they look across 2A. It is like looking at many different specimen plants. In Illustration 2B the same elements have been repositioned so you now have the two small spreading yews on the ends and the three upright / columnar yews grouped together in the center. Notice how the movement in 2B is much calmer than the movement produced by the arrangement in 2A.
When picking plants for your foundation garden you want to have plants with different length needles, different sized and shaped leaves, and possibly foliage colors for the best results. You don’t want to put (let’s say) two pyramidal yews, with three columnar / upright yews, and have two spreading yews somewhere between them. Even if you make a great arrangement of yew items, you would have too much of the same yew texture.
Illustration 3A show a row of foundation plants making a simple arrangement, that if extended would flank and mirror itself on both sides of a front porch. In illustration 3A the pyramidal shaped plant on the left is made with yew that has short and flat dark evergreen needle. Next to that, working toward the porch, and used on both sides of the porch, are boxwood with their small and shiny dark evergreen leaves. Finally closest to the porch on both sides you have a pair of hydrangea which looses their large leaves in Winter, just showing their many branches. This arrangement is made up of foundation plants that are pyramidal, spreading / upright (depending on trimming), and mound forming.
Finally Illustration 3A shows some design concepts that are important to laying out foundation plants. First of all the arrangement is made up of different shaped foundation plants. Secondly: the plants have different sizes of needle and leaves. Third: the planting shows repetition of plant materials. Fourth: and very important, the arrangement is high on the ends, lower at the middle and not low or too high closest to the porch. The full arrangement going across the front of this house is making a shape that I am calling a SMILE. When siting foundation plants you don’t want to chop up the facade of your house into many individual pieces, but frame it with plantings that lead your eye across the front (and sometimes sides or back) of your home.
Now look at illustration 3B. 3B shows where to position foundation plants if space allows. Instead of lining up the end foundation plant(s) at the corner(s) of your house, plant it / them out further at the spot where the front and sides (or even back and sides) of your house meet each other. Look at the red arrows on the illustration. By positioning your end (or first) foundation plant that way, you elongate your foundation planting scheme, which suggests length to your house’s facade.
When picking foundation plants, foliage colors
should can also be addressed. In the gardening world green is the predominant foliage color, but blue-green, chartreuse, burgundy (green-black, plum and red-black) and gray are also found. Colored foliage should be classified as a specimen, as it draws you eye toward it. Colored foliage can highlight architectural features on your house. If you have a slate roof with burgundy or purple colors in it, or burgundy shutters or front door, burgundy specimen foundation plants will help to move the burgundy color along and tie everything together.
Putting the Right Foundation Plant in the Right place..
When siting foundation plants you want to place them so they enhance your home’s facade, not overpower it. You don’t want the plants to be more of a focal point than your house’s facade, unless your house is ugly and you want to divert interest away from it.
Now lets look at photos / illustration 4. Illustration 4 shows six examples of the wrong way of siting foundation plants. Remember earlier in this post, when I said you don’t want to chop up the front of your house into pieces with foundation plants? Each of the front facades of these houses are chopped up into pieces by the columnar / pyramidal shaped plantings place in front of them. These photos show the right plants in the wrong locations. By just moving the foundation plant to the ends of the main facades of each house, the evergreens would have beautifully framing the houses.
Illustration 5A (and many of the following illustrations) shows the smile I talked about earlier (higher on the ends, and somewhat lower toward the middle). The lines and arrows that go across the bottoms of the illustrations were put there to help you to see how the same plants were used for shape and repetition of variety of plant. Illustration 5A shows pyramidal, with spreading and mounding (just like I showed in illustration 3A).
Now in Illustration 5B we take the same house and shows how two dwarf trees (that when mature will only grow up to the eves of the porch) are positioned at the ends of the porch. Their taller growth habit makes the high ends of the smile. Two pyramidal yews were placed on either side of the porch, but because the yews are not that tall and you have the height of the trees that frame the ends of the house, the yews don’t seem to cut the movement that runs across the front of the house. Your eyes seem to sweep across the front of the house easily without being stopped by the yew.
Illustration 5C shows four pyramidal yews (the same size) planted in front of the house. I like this planting the least. The pyramidal yews seem to cut up and segment the house’s facade; they also seem to become the focal point of the illustration, verses the front facade of the building. As with illustration 5B, if taller pyramidal plantings were placed at the ends of the house, the two pyramidal yew planting along the porch would be just fine.
Illustrations 6A and 6B takes the planting patterns a little further. In illustrations 5A-5C I showed you some ideas for planting a single row of plants across the front of the house. In illustrations 6A and 6B a second row of smaller bushes is put in front of the foundation plants planted closest to the facade of the house. Notice, by following the lines across the bottoms of the illustrations, how the same plants were repetitively planted for diverse shapes, and possibly as specimens, across the front of the house.
It’s easy to plant foundation plants in front of a house with a symmetrically balanced facade, but many houses are not shaped that way. The next illustrations show ways of planting foundation plants in front of houses that have asymmetric facades or many roof lines coming together.
Illustration 7A shows a house with gabled roof lines coming off the house in different directions and at different heights. With a house like that try to look to see if you can find some symmetry in it. Looking at the photo of the house, notice how to the left of the front door are two windows. Next look at how two windows are also to the right of the front door. In illustration 7A, I took the spaces that are both to the left and right of the two sets of windows (as seen in the illustration) and started planting my smile there with taller / higher type plantings. By punctuating the facade of the house there with the taller plantings, the porch, entryway and two sets of windows are framed, but the house is not chopped up into pieces.
Illustration 7B shows a house with two gabled roof lines on the front facade. Here again, I looked to see where the symmetry was, and it is where the ends of the eves line up with each other on both sides of the front of the house. At that point I added the taller plantings to frame the house and added another planting, using the same plant type, close to the side steps on the left to work the same plant materials and shapes around the building. Notice on the left side wall leading from the front facade to the side entry porch how a dwarf tree was planted to fill in the empty space where you have no window(s) on that part of the house.
Illustration 7C shows a house with two different directed roof lines. In this one, looking at the illustration, I used the main gable end, positioned on the front facade of this house, and looked to see where it symmetrically ended and planted my taller framing plants there.
Illustration 8A shows a house with many different roof lines coming off of a house with a two and a half story center. The natural place to punctuate the facade with taller shaped plants is at the ends of each place where the roof lines change, as I have shown in the illustration. Also notice how in my illustration how mound and spreading or upright shaped plants are also repetitively placed across the front of this house.
Illustrations 8B shows a house with one long sweeping roof line. Looking at this house, I looked for the symmetry of the front of the house, and it was created by the two sets of windows that are both to the left and right of the covered front porch. At that point I thought two dwarf trees should be placed to frame and soften the front of the house; they also are the tall elements creating the smile. The tree used on the left also has a way of filling in the large expanse of empty wall that looks to be between the main house and garage area. Columnar plantings were used at the far ends of the house and pyramidal plantings frame the ends of the covered porch. Also notice the repetitive use of mound shaped and spreading / upright shaped plantings.
Illustrations 9A-9C show how plantings of dwarf trees with growth habits that are not too tall or too wide can help fill in blank walls around a house.
Illustration 9A Shows how two matched trees are planted along the side of a house as a facade softening agent. Two shorter pyramidal bushes and a repetitive planting of many of the same kind of spreading bushes tie everything together and finish off the look.
Illustration 9B shows how two dwarf trees are planted to the left of a house’s entrance that has a window to its right. Besides filling in the large expanse of empty wall space, you are, with the volume of the trees, “making” / counterbalancing the front door and window with plant materials (two trees). Notice how two mounding bushes are added to the ends of the house for symmetry.
Illustration 9C Shows how one dwarf tree is placed to the right of the front porch with entry door. In this case, like the house in 9B, the tree is counterbalancing the front porch. The tree is about the same size as the width and height of the front porch.
When thinking about planting trees close to a house, the best place to find them is at better garden centers in your area; big box national hardware stores with garden centers might have some, but your choices will be limited. Tell the people at the garden center what you are thinking about doing and have them show you the dwarf trees that they think would work best in your climate. Know up front how much space you have to work with. You don’t want to plant a tree that grows 10′ to 15′ wide in a place where you only have 8′ or 10 feet of space for the plant to grow in. Also know which side of your house the plant will be eventually sited. You don’t want to plant a dwarf tree that needs full sun (6 plus hours of direct sunlight daily) on the north side of your house which gets no direct sun. Take some pictures of the side of the house you are going to plant the tree on showing the full width of that side of the house and the height of the roof line. By doing that the garden center will be able to isolate the right tree to fit your spot.
When planting trees by your house don’t plant them in the direct area where your sewer, septic or water pipes come into your house.
Drive around upscale new developments in your area, and look at how the professionals have sited foundation plants. Even the professionals don’t always get it completely right, but you will see a lot of the concepts I’ve covered in this post. Even if you live in a tiny cottage, still go and look at how the higher priced homes have been planted. You might not be able to do a full display like they have, but you might be able to isolate part of a grand design and adapt it to your own foundation garden planting scheme.
Another thing I want you do is to take a picture of your house, blow it up, and then print out a few copies of it. With a marker or pen, using the concepts I’ve covered in this post, start drawing the shapes of the six classic foundation plants on your house’s picture until you come up with a planting scheme that you like. When I started making the drawings for this post, I drew out a few different planting options until I ended up with what I thought I would be presenting to you.
Another thing I want you to do is to measure the exact length and width of the space where your foundation plants will be sited. When going shopping for bushes, look carefully at the tags to see how wide and tall a bush or tree will be at maturity. Knowing how wide each plant will be at maturity, space them out so in five or ten years, when they have matured, they will have formed nice shapes and are not all growing too close together. Too often people look at a small plant in a container and think they need more planting product than they really have to buy. A smallish plant put in the ground today, in three to five years might double or even triple its size.
So there you have it, some ideas that I hope inspired you on planting foundation plants. I’ve written some other posts that I feel will also be of help, they are listed below.
Companion Posts ..Distance Foundation Plant from your House when Planting 5-3-2012, Putting Foundation Plants across the front of your House 10-21-2013, Some ideas about Planting Trees by your House for Curb Appeal 4-26-2012, Growing a Topiary from an Upright Yew 6-15-2011, Looking at Evergreen in the Garden 1-31-2012