Foundation Plantings

I find most foundation plantings boring. A few tortured shrubs with some standard annuals plunked in front during the summer. Maybe some hanging baskets. Meh. Fine for a standard colonial maybe. I wanted something different.

shrub with butterfly

My inspirations were:

  • The front elevation of this house plan, with rocks and small evergreens.
  • A planting near our deck at our old house with a mixture of cotoneaster and fountain grass.
  • A hedge that I saw once that had layers of shrubs in different foliage colors, in this case green, purple, and yellow.

Hardscape and Overall Design

Hardscape includes a front porch and stairs, a sidewalk to the parking pad, and a side door into the garage. We curved the sidewalk for visual interest and to make it easier to snowblow. (You can’t see the side garage door in the photo below, which was clearly taken very early in the process!)

house without landscaping

We also have a downspout in the corner where the house meets the garage, with the sidewalk between it and the yard so we had to resolve that drainage issue. You can also see the side door to the garage in the photo below, which was taken a couple of years after the one above.

garage corner

We solved the drainage issue by running a pipe under the front porch and bringing it out in the middle front of the porch. We landscaped it with stones and called it our part-time pond, since it only had water in is after a heavy rain. It’s since grown in and is now just a rocky area with groundcover but it still solves the problem. The pond turned out to be both part-time and temporary. Digging out that “pond” resulted in a pile of dirt, so we added some stones and creeping phlox to duplicate a combination at the family cottage that we’ve always liked.

rock berm with phlox and stonecrop

Plant Selection

Below is the my original hand-drawn planting plan.

Since this is part of the landscape that we see everyday, year-round, I wanted to make sure it provided four season interest. And I wanted it to be lower maintenance as always.

spring crocus
autumn crocus

The growing season begins with spring crocus and ends with autumn crocus. I planned the bulbs carefully so there would be different things blooming over a long period of time. I started with a broad mix of bulbs but the tulips and some of the others died out. The daffodils, hyacinth, and crocus have hung in there, except the crocus that got crowded out by the juniper.

Evergreens and cotoneaster berries add winter interest. I added ornamental grass for the same reason but the type I chose seeds itself like crazy so I need to find a different variety. Goldflame spirea changes foliage color with the seasons and blooms in late spring-early summer.

I also wanted roses, but not fussy roses. I spent a lot of time researching and shopping for roses and discovered old roses that are grown on their own roots, not grafted, and a local Michigan company that grows these roses on their own roots. (They’ve since closed.)

bonica rose
Royal Bonica near the garage window. This rose is nearly perfect; it just lacks scent. It blooms nonstop spring to fall and isn’t too bothered by pests.
Rugosa rose
Fru Dagmar Hartop next to the front sidewalk. This doesn’t bloom as long as the Bonica but it does bloom for quite a while, plus the leaves turn gold in fall and it gets large red rose hips. It smells great and since it’s a rugosa rose it has fewer issues than other roses. It does have a LOT of thorns which makes it literally a pain to prune.
Louise Odier rose
Louise Odier rose from inside window
Louise Odier rose closeup

Louise Odier under the bedroom window. This is the least robust of the three though it’s beautiful during the short period when it blooms. I suspect it’s getting overcrowded by the bird’s nest spruce next to it.

How it’s changed over time

house without landscaping
Here’s what we started with, before even the driveway and lawn were in.
lawn with small plants
By the following spring, we had something resembling a lawn, and recognizable shrubs.
finished porch with larger plants
By the end of the summer the porch was finished. I used wave petunias to cover lots of ground.
close up on front of porch
In 2007 we had custom planter boxes and the shrubs were growing well, but still no bigger than the sedum Autumn Joy.
close up next to sidewalk
The groundcover was doing well too, and our one shade tree in the front yard, a river birch.
inside curve of sidewalk
Fast forward to 2011.
sidewalk area
Here it is in 2016. The mugho pines are dying and the cotoneasters have outgrown the bed.

What I learned

  • Forget the estimated size on carpet juniper and cotoneaster. Since new plants will sprout where the branches touch dirt and root, the effective size is endless. Which is why the juniper got pulled from one side of the sidewalk and will soon get removed, along with the cotoneaster, from the other side of the sidewalk. They just crowd out everything around them. 
  • Angelina stonecrop is very pretty and spreads widely. We started with a single plant and now it covers multiple square feet. It doesn’t seem to crowd out other plants, which makes it a nice ground cover.
  • Black fountain grass can be beautiful but does it like to seed itself! We are gradually removing it (and its various offspring) from the bed where we originally planted it and sequestering it in its own bed elsewhere in the yard. 
  • As the rugosa rose spread we removed suckers and started another bed elsewhere. 
  • The mugho pines were too large for the area and gradually succumbed to pests so they’re gone now. 
  • I got fed up with the juniper overtaking the area between the house and the sidewalk and we removed it all. It’s been replaced with extra perennials from elsewhere in the yard: Karl Foerster feather reed grass, Husker Red penstemon, and soon some sedum Autumn Joy. We also put a couple of coreopsis Moonbeam in. I love them but have trouble keeping them alive. Since pink is the dominant color (three roses and the spirea) I’ve decided on a pink, yellow, and white color scheme. 
sidewalk area redone

Our next move is to remove (or radically prune) the juniper and cotoneaster on the other side of the sidewalk to expose the decorative rocks and allow room for more interesting plants. I’m not sure what yet. Probably something fall blooming, maybe some berries for the winter?