Creative suggestions for landscaping a yard
June 7, 2012 8:14 PM   Subscribe

I have a house that needs creative landscaping—but I'm in over my head. Can you recommend inspiring photos or magazines or websites, or some guides to getting started choosing ground cover, hedges, flowers, etc, for a landscaping newb?

It's a one-story bring ranch house with some decrepit nandina plants beneath the front windows, and one rose bush that isn't doing so well. I have tried to study other houses in my neighborhood, but they're not very inspiring. And even when they are, I don't know what the various bushes and shrubs are called.

Given the simple, rectangular nature of the front of the house, I would love some ideas for bushes that are about waist-length that are especially striking or pretty or exotic and will otherwise distinguish the house from an otherwise stuck-in-the-60s style. I think once I see some good photos, blogs, etc, that help me understand the possibilities, I could go from there.. thanks!
posted by deern the headlice to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Get thee to houzz. The gardening articles are good, and they usually include some details about the plants (name, zone, etc.). Somehow I signed up for a weekly e-mail, so the articles just pop into my inbox. Pinterest can also be useful, but I don't have the knack for searching through it - it's just a rabbit-hole of moderately random clicking for me. TONS of pretty pictures are on Pinterest.

Though to be honest, I've had much better success at learning about landscaping, plants, etc. by checking out my local library. They have a bunch of books specific to my region (i.e. "Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota and Wisconsin" or "Home Landscaping for the Upper Midwest"). These books often have detailed garden bed plans sketched out with exact names of plants, variations for different amounts of light, etc. You may also want to check out your local university extension website to see what sort of plant varieties they recommend. They will include the best growing tips, too.
posted by Maarika at 8:52 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

it might help is we could know a general state/zone/region. even better would be images of the front of your house. How much shade to you have? Are there trees? Does your yard slope? What direction does the front of your house face? There will be a huge difference in answers without details. If you were in an area like I am, I would recommend some desert style xeriscaping. but you could be in MN for all we know. Help us out and I am sure you will get some amazing answers!

also, when you say '60's style, it would be helpful to know what that means for your particular region. atomic ranch? Or something different entirely? Help us help you :)
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 9:02 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know where you live and what kinds of plants would do well there, but here's what I did in the same situation:

1. Web searches for landscaping and copied photos that I liked. Pinterest is great. Better Homes and Gardens had lots of great garden plans. I copied lots of these.
2. Looked at tons of books on landscaping from the library, bookstore, and Home Depot. I purchased the Northeast Home Landscaping, but the same publisher offers other good regional books.

We finally got creative with the shape of our front garden and planted some shrubs, evergreens, perennials and some bulbs. It was pretty good, but some plants grew different sizes than I expected, making it a little unbalanced.

So two years later I finally looked around for landscape/garden designer (not a hardscape landscaper, but a gardener who knows and loves plants). She was $125 for an hour consultation and she was fantastic. Wish I had started with her! But it helped that I had done the work and the research first so I could suggest plants I liked and didn't like. (Save the photos you particularly like.) She suggested things I hadn't thought of and gave me good feedback on my ideas. And she confirmed that the shape of our garden was pretty good and gave me a boost of confidence to keep going.

Good luck and have fun with your project!
posted by LilBit at 9:04 PM on June 7, 2012

Response by poster: Oops, details - this house is in central North Carolina and looks very much like this. The front yard is flat and square but sits below street level by about 3'. That height is met with a very ugly cinder block retaining wall in the front yard. I'm trying to plant ivy above it so I can drape it over and cover it. Other than that, pretty plain.

I would go take pictures but it's after midnight here :/
posted by deern the headlice at 9:17 PM on June 7, 2012

Best answer: I always drool over the stuff Sunset magazine does. It's west coast-based but might be good for some ideas. Also, the house in your picture totally reminds me of the house owned by the couple who does the Young House Love blog and they've done a lot of DIY stuff.
posted by lovableiago at 10:08 PM on June 7, 2012

Best answer: I can't help too much with blogs and the like, but I can recommend visiting your local nurseries, botanic gardens, and wandering the more affluent areas of your town (take your camera with you) - sign up for garden tours too, it is the season for them, and they can be a gold mine of landscaping ideas.

For help on choosing plants that do well in your area, you really can't do better than your NC Extension office. If you explore the site you'll find tips on everything from site design to picking the right trees and shrubs.

Landscaping is a terrific project - good luck with yours!
posted by faineant at 10:14 PM on June 7, 2012

Houzz is amazing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:46 PM on June 7, 2012

Best answer: Instead of ivy, go with some other vine.. climbing hydrangea is nice, or clematis. Just a personal opinion. Ivy is so hard to control once it gets going and bland. You can also spruce up the wall by building some simple trellis against it.

But really, the best idea for picking out plants and shrubs is to go to a gardening center and buy something new every month or two months. You can see what is in bloom locally at that time of year so you can have a continuously blooming landscape - if that is your desire.

Doing that led me to go with inkberry shrubs instead of the traditional landscaper fallback of boxwood that everyone has. (inkberry flowers and has little black berries).

It really comes down to personal likes/dislikes. But the general recommendations is having a main 'anchor' plant or tree (Japanese maple, some kind of evergreen, weeping cherry, whatever..) and then stage plants radiating out from that in lowering height (forward) and waves of decreasing height (to the sides). Grouping of like plants for smaller hedge shrubs and down are important so they don't look like afterthoughts or orphans.
posted by rich at 5:18 AM on June 8, 2012

Check out the North Carolina Native Plant Society and learn about native plants that will thrive without watering, about non-native alien invasives, and about alien non-invasive ok stuff. I had a neighbor when I lived in Florida who was involved in the local native plant group, he gave me tons of advice and free plants.

Another group to check out is your local North Carolina Master Gardener group. Master gardener educational programs are sponsored by your state's cooperative extension, a free program originally designed to help farmers. Every state (AFAIK) has them.
posted by mareli at 5:38 AM on June 8, 2012

Nthing Master Gardeners, great group.
Also, avoid the dumb trap I've fallen into. I see an interesting plant and buy it, then wonder where to plant it, and finally end up with a hodgepodge of interesting plants with little relation to one another.
Instead, plan first, draw up the plan, and then shop to fulfill it. Done well, that usually will mean buying a number of each kind of plant, so as to create masses of certain colors or textures, rather than randomly one at a time. The ones you buy singly will probably be "specimen" plants like a big tree or a splash of color.
Good luck, this can be fun.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:02 AM on June 8, 2012

I looked at your house picture. One thing to think about is lawn alternatives. The link is just a google search. I am on the Wet Coast, so I have no idea of lawn alternative plants for your area, but it is really nice to avoid constant mowing and still find something else to sit on/play on/whatever. Especially since your lawn looks dead at this point, it is easy to go in a different direction without having to remove a strong lawn.
posted by Listener at 7:50 AM on June 8, 2012

Best answer: Yes! Lawns are so overrated! Renting a sod cutter makes grass removal SO much easier.

Perhaps check into some viburnums? They are beautiful shrubs. I like the Koreanspice viburnum because it smells fantastic in the spring -- somewhat like cloves. You may also like the Arrowood viburnum because it's got a more upright, formal habit and the berries are great for wildlife.

As a general design principle, it makes sense to repeat things in groups of three so you have some continuity.

If you have any space for small trees, Serviceberries are excellent. You get spring flowers, edible fruit in June, and beautiful red fall foliage. They get 15 to 20 feet tall.

Don't make "mulch volcanoes" around your trees and shrubs, but DO mulch around them. You just don't want a cone of mulch around the trunk. Roots will grow up and out into the mulch and strangle the trunk, plus mulch piled up next to the trunk causes insect and fungus problems.

You could also post a picture of your house to the GardenWeb forums and get feedback there.

Unless you want to commit to spraying your rose, replace it with a Knock Out rose. I've never had luck with any other varieties, mainly because roses are temperamental.
posted by Ostara at 9:23 AM on June 8, 2012

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