Revamping the Foundation Planting

It’s been a week since I said I would show the new garden, so I guess you’ve noticed I’m dragging my feet. To tell the truth, it’s been a lot harder to pull my thoughts together than I expected and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because shade gardening is a new medium for me and I’m not confident in my vision.

In fact, more than anything, I’m flying by the seat of my pants. After spending a lot of time reading about shade gardens and going through my photo library to pinpoint what I like about them, I’ve put all that aside to follow my instincts.

So, here we go!

Foundation planting before renovation, September 2010

Foundation planting before renovation, September 2010

As you can see, the areas on either side of the front door are relatively small because the sweeping driveway adjoins the front stoop. As you look to the right of the door, the “before” planting included Trachelospermum jasminoides (Confederate jasmine) on the wall, Loropetalum chinense (Chinese fringe) under the windows, a Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon) and a hodgepodge of roses and sun-loving perennials at the front of the bed, an Acer japonicum (fullmoon Japanese maple) in the right corner, and an abundance of weeds, especially pokeweed, which I soon discovered has a very long tap root.

After renovation, April 2013.

After renovation, April 2013.

In the revamp, I chose to focus on texture, rather than color or bloom. I made this choice, in part, because my gut told me the hardscape needed to be softened and the house, which looked like it floated on a sea of asphalt, could be better grounded. Since lawn was impractical, Ophiopogon japonicus (mondo grass) was the logical solution.

Two of the original plants, the Confederate jasmine and the fullmoon Japanese maple, were utilized in the new design and give it instant maturity. In addition to the ornamental grass, a pool of Dryopteris erythrosora (autumn fern) was planted under the maple, three stately Buxus sempervirens (common boxwood) were added in front of the windows, and a Fatsia japonica (fatsia or Japanese aralia) was planted at the corner of the house.

Finally, for feature interest, Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’ was added near the stoop. This hybrid grows well in the South and will bloom in summer with 6-foot tall stalks of white flowers with hood-like purple bracts.

Last month, I commissioned two identical metal trellises for either side of the windows. One will replace the plastic support under the Confederate jasmine and the other will provide a frame for ‘Applejack’, a shade-tolerant Buck rose that can be grown as a short climber. ‘Applejack’, lightly fragrant with the scent of apples and cloves, has perky pink single blooms.

Though the garden is shady, this area does get some hot sun in the middle of the day. I’m not sure the rose will be a success, but figure it’s worth a try.

Initially, I planned to add Aspidistra elatior (cast iron plant) behind the boxwood shrubs. Now, however, I’m afraid they would be sunburned. (What do you think? Do you have a suggestion for an alternative?) If I don’t come up with something interesting, I may plant more mondo grass.

Dry creek bed, in progress, March 2012.

Dry creek bed, in progress, March 2012.

One other thing that may have caught your eye is the dry creek bed. When I cleared the bed, I found a drainage grate in the center of the space. Knowing I would always struggle to keep the grate open if storm water flowed over a mulched bed, I decided to make life easy by channeling the water. The dry creek works like a charm, adds an extra point of interest, and relaxes the formality of the planting scheme.

Left of stoop prior to renovation, September 2010.

Left of stoop prior to renovation, September 2010.

Similar changes were made to the left side of the front stoop. There is one noticeable difference, however. A ‘Jane’ magnolia, too large and spreading under the eaves of the house, was replaced by an upright Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese stewartia).

Front stoop, April 2013.

Front stoop, April 2013.

The stoop itself is ornamented with a collection of ceramic pots that are planted with seasonal ornamentals, a birdbath, and a wicker rocker.

September 2010

September 2010

Glorious spring, 2012.

Glorious spring, 2012.

21 thoughts on “Revamping the Foundation Planting

  1. Will

    Oh, Marian! How wonderful! There’s so much to love, from the glorious bones of the “before,” to the plant choices, to those wonderful pots on the stoop. But I think my favorite thing is your introduction to this piece; I knew I was going to like this whole project and your writing about it once you acknowledged you were entering new territory with a shady garden. So often a writer with your skills and knowledge and experience will write from that perspective of expertise – and it certainly is a way for us readers to get a handle on some of that knowledge. Here, however, that rich background and substantial experience in both design and plants is put to use to solve utterly different problems. As a reader I can actually feel the questions and frustrations you were facing, and I can grasp the process by which you resolve those issues. For me, a far more instructive and engaging way of learning. And not to mention the so-lovely results. All just wonderful!

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair

      Will, your enthusiasm is a cool balm to my fevered anxiety! Though I know plant collectors will look at this and question its formality, I have to admit it suits my sensibilities. But then, if I’m not gardening for myself, what’s the point?

      Reply
  2. Debra Strange

    WOW! You took something that was essentially mush and gave it structure and a flowing sense of direction. I’m looking forward to seeing how the garden keeps growing.

    Reply
  3. Susan Temple

    What about one of the Leucothoe to plant with your boxwood. Generally grows 3 – 4 T and 4 – 6 W. Girard’s Rainbow has white, pink, and copper new growth. Has fragrant small white flowers. Or Sarcococca. It’s similar to the Leucothoe.

    >>> Hortitopia 4/3/2013 10:18 PM >>>

    Marian St.Clair posted: “It’s been a week since I said I would show the new garden, so I guess you’ve noticed I’m dragging my feet. To tell the truth, it’s been a lot harder to pull my thoughts together than I expected and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because shade gardening “

    Reply
  4. Marian St.Clair

    Thanks, Debra. As you know, structure is my thing! I’m trying hard, though, to think about plants and to add those that raise the bar with interesting foliage and/or blooms. In the foundation planting, I think the rose, acanthus, stewartia, fatsia, and the existing fullmoon maple all contribute to this goal.

    Reply
  5. Evelyn

    I’m wondering if painting the picture window behind the boxwoods would add a subtle interest…?
    Marvelous work in progress!

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Evelyn–what color do you visualize? It would have been nice if the brick window ledge was left unpainted but I’ve never considered painting the window trim.

      Reply
  6. Barbara Ziegler

    I love what you have done to your front yard. Can’t wait to see the trellises. Perhaps after the trellises are up you could move your bird bath over under the Maple tree. It might form a nice triangle.The rocks give it beautiful texture
    and a good focal interest. Maybe some of that feeling could be introduced into the other side.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s