Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Foundation Gardens

There is something good to be said about foundation gardens. From all I have read about foundation gardens, they began as a way to hide unsightly foundation walls many, many years ago. I think as time went on and gardening evolved, foundation gardens then became a way to "marry" the house to the land. Houses just stuck out in the middle of a plot of land with no transition space between the outdoors and the structure can be a little unsettling.

Foundation gardens also add curb appeal to your home. Curb appeal is very important if you want to sell your house for top dollar or even if you want a prospective buyer to take a second look. While at a party this year a neighbor of the hostess had commented she and her husband were at one point trying to sell their very nice custom built house. Every single prospective buyer who came by commented there was no shrubbery near the house, which swayed their opinion negatively when viewing the home. The couple took their home off the market and are waiting until better conditions but will probably add some kind of a foundation garden to it before they re-list it.

Around Clarksville we have many good builders who do try to landscape new homes. Unfortunately, most builder packages include the standard boxwoods or compacta holly, maybe an arborvitae or yew, and a few barberries. Sometimes there is a good mix but the standard package when the house is new is not always the ideal package for long term sustainability in the foundation garden. Boxwoods and arborvitae will outgrow their space, cover up windows and cause maintenance headaches. The homeowner then has no choice but to do nothing or remove the shrubs. Oftentimes, removing the shrubs is where the foundation landscape will stop. Many homeowners feel the expense and time to maintain a foundation garden are just too much and not worth it. I understand this point of view but want to give the homeowner a few options and another side to the coin.

Removing overgrown shrubs and letting nature take its course (usually in the form of grass) is certainly an option. But this option actually can require much more maintenance than a foundation garden. Grass has to be mowed and trimmed. Mowing, trimming and edging take up the most time in my garden. If a homeowner purchased a few ideal shrubs, bulbs or perennials and planted and sited them properly, mulched the bed once a year and occasionally pulled a few weeds then he or she would actually have LESS maintenance than maintaining grass all the way up to the house. The added value to the home would more than compensate for this little bit of maintenance and initial expense.

The key is in choosing the right plants the first time. If a window is only two feet above the ground why would you choose a barberry that will grow to 6 feet or a yew that can top out at 15? There are many good alternatives that grow only two feet tall-like Firepower Nandina or Euonymus microphylla. Each situation will require a different approach and a "one size fits all" approach will not work out in the long-term.

When we moved into our home six years ago we had the requisite boxwood and grass in front of the house. Nothing else. The boxwoods were way overgrown and covered the windows. I removed them and replanted them elsewhere in the landscape and changed out the shrubs. I like the layered and tiered effect and NO grass near the house. I have actually extended the foundation garden all the way around the house and now feel my house is "married" to the surrounding land quite nicely. The two pictures are of the side yard of my home which faces north. Hostas, camelias, hydrangeas, ferns and impatiens all do well on this side. This garden requires a cover of pine mulch every other year, and a yearly trim of the edging, and that is the only maintenance. Weeds don't even grow over here much because it is so shady. You can barely see the brick foundation wall but the best part is the way the house seems to be a part of my garden. Think about your house and your garden and customize the garden to be both functional and beautiful and a welcoming place to come home to each day.

in the garden....


  1. Only 1 picture came on my puter and an empty space. Love...Mom

  2. OH and btw I thought from the hump in the background on the right side it was Bailey Island but could'nt figure it for sure.

  3. I don't know why both pictures of the foundation garden did not come through. They are showing fine on my computer. It is just another picture from a different angle-you have seen it in person.

    Yes, Bailey Island from Ponzi's little road.

    Talk to you later.

  4. I SO need help with a foundation garden. We have alternating azaleas and yews lining our front porch. The azaleas are fine. The yews I would rather set fire to than look at or hedge-trim one more time. But I haven't dug them out because I've been pregnant, parenting and pregnant again for what seems like forever. And I don't know what I'd replace them with. Our brick house faces east. We need something pretty sizable, because our front porch is a couple feet up. Suggestions for what to fill in between the azaleas? Perennially speaking?

  5. Good thing I go back over things or I could not answer your question. Shra is great, married David Sparks years ago and lives on the Shore Road behind us. Thought you knew that. Rod died many. many years ago. Just up and dropped dead..heart attack. Big shock and a big loss for Harpswell. He was head selectman for several years and worked hard at it. Love...Mom

  6. Hi Jennifer,
    Your houses faces east-just like mine so I can help out I hope. A few questions, How big are the azaleas and what color are they? Do you prefer evergreen or deciduous, flowering or nonflowering? Formal or informal?

    I will give you a few options based on some assumptions and try to describe their use so you can select based on your desires. I am assuming the azaleas are about 4 feet tall or will grow that tall. If you want evergreen and a little informal with flowers then Abelia grandiflora "Little Richard" is a good foundation shrub. I have it in front of my house. It has been flowering since July with small white flowers which are attractive to butterflies. The foliage is attractive and I think it blends with azalea foliage nicely, I have it next to a pink azalea in my garden. It can grow to about 4x4 and this cultivar is one which will not overgrow according to reseach. No shearing needed like what is required by yews.

    Another beautiful shrub which is deciduous would of course be hydrangeas. They are not commonly used as a foundation plant in front of the house but will do great and I have seen them used to great effect in this way. The mopheads are good but the Annabelle hydragea is hard to beat and would blend with the azaleas. Annabelles are white whereas mopheads are usually blue. They bloom in early summer so they would pick up where the azaleas leave off in bloom. Hydrangeas would lose their leaves but the big everlasting hydrangea heads add texture and color to the foundation bed in the winter. Hydrangeas can be informal but planted amongst the azaleas I think they would give a welcoming feeling to your home that can be very inviting.

    For accent near your front door the 'Sky Pencil' Holly is a lovely holly which will punctuate your entrance and add interest. it can grow to 10 feet tall (slowly in my experience) and will stay less than 3 feet wide. It is an easy care holly that looks good year round. It can be used in formal or informal gardens.

    Deutzia gracilis is another beautiful shrub which blooms with white flowers about the same time as azaleas. It will grow to about 5feet tall by 5 feet wide. The flowers are absolutely gorgeous and this is a deciduous shrub. It would make a super statement with the azaleas. It is probably pretty informal.

    So here are a few alternatives to the yews. My suggestion would be to use more than one and site for specific interest but in a balanced way. If, for instance you choose annabelle hydrangeas try to plant in odd numbers and balance the plantings. I am not sure how large of an area you have but with a brick background and facing the east you are in very good shape for a beautiful foundation garden-no pruning required! Yews are actually really, really beautiful plants but shearing is something I will not do in my garden so if you can move them to where they can grow in their natural state, all the better for you and them! That will leave more time for parenting:) All of these plants are children friendly and will attract wildlife for them to enjoy. Hope this helps and let me know what you choose or if you need more help.

    Mom, I am sorry about Rod and I know it was a big shock to that small town. I am glad Sara is doing well. It has been more than thirty years since we lived there and I really don't remember them nor do I know David.