September 4, 2009

Committing to Plants for a Frontyard Design

Next spring I have plans to make some major changes in my front yard landscape. Although I posted in June and in March about plans for hardscaping and borders, I needed more time to decide on a planting plan. How do you arrange many favorite plants in a coherent plan? How do you create a well-designed feel without being stiff, and a feeling of personality without being chaotic? Here is my attempt.

It's hard to believe that this little piece of paper is the big result of two years of mad plant buying and trialing, hours of musing on color schemes, a college degree in horticulture and 16 years of gardening. This design includes many favorite plants for my Spokane climate in a color scheme that I'm pretty confident will work (but I have no problem transplanting later if it doesn't). The drawing is less messy than it would be if I wasn't posting it and less polished than what a professional would do, but hopefully it conveys the information (click on it to enlarge). My apologies for the photo quality, as I don't have a scanner to upload the drawing perfectly.

Photos in this post represent the color scheme and show some of the plants included in the design. At the top of the post is the much-beloved Nepeta 'Walker's Low' (catmint), and right above this paragraph is a baby Juniper 'Blue Star'. I've had to push myself to make more space for evergreens that will have presence during the 6 months when nothing else is growing.

Other shrubby evergreens include the dark green laurel 'Otto Luyken', variegated green/white/pink euonymus 'Emerald Gaiety' and grey-leaved lavender 'Hidcote'. Perennial liriope 'Big Blue' (pictured above) and penstemon 'Elfin Pink' (leaves pictured below) are also evergreen, though I don't know how good the foliage will look after our winter beats it up. I've also included space for large rocks, which will give further structure during the winter.

The color scheme is miles away from what I planned when we first moved in; I laugh to read my fussy posts about planning a perfectly pink color scheme and then panicking when it didn't work. All right, maybe my posts are all fussy. Anyway, the color scheme now includes the various leaf colors mentioned in the previous paragraph, plus flowers in light to medium shades of blue-violet, pink and peach.

A friend who gardens and quilts told me that when designing a quilt, you're supposed to include one color that doesn't really match, just to add some vivacity. I guess 'Elfin Pink' penstemon does that for me. In the picture above, you can see that the vivid flowers on the penstemon stalk are quite different from the light pink rose in the background. After the initial panic that the color was NOT what the catalog showed, I decided that I liked it. Then I went a step further and ordered similarly-colored dahlias, which are also a big step because I used to detest dahlias. But really, how could you detest this flower?

Another breakthrough came when I decided to accept the fact that most of my daylilies were peachy-pink or just peach, instead of true pink. I now like the way this orange sherbet 'Autumn Wood' fits into the big picture. Although I'm allowing myself to include 8 different daylilies in the design - which is probably too many for a small yard - I'm planting each in a group of three to reduce the chaos. The similar foliage will blend together when they're out of bloom. In a few years I might edit to keep just the best bloomers from the bunch.

Opening the door to peachy-pink allowed me to add one of my favorite roses, 'Abraham Darby'. Experts at the local rosarium assured me that I wouldn't have a problem with rose rust here. I'm following David Austin's advice to plant in groups of three, so I'll have a large clump of Abe and another of the pure pink 'Eglantyne', shown below.

Since most grasses make me sneeze and give me a rash, I've had to be creative to add linear elements. The corkscrew rush pictured below is technically a grass (genus Juncus) and does produce some pollen, but the leaves are smooth and don't make my arms itch when I brush them. Several upright clumps of lance-shaped siberian iris foliage will fill in for upright grasses, plus I'll have periwinkle flowers from them in June.

Other perennials include geranium 'Rozzanne' (pictured below), creeping phlox, tall and dwarf bearded iris, and irish moss. I included one 'Fine Line' buckthorn to create a living column that will draw visitors toward the front door. I'm really excited about this newly introduced shrub and hope that I can find a plant at a local nursery next year.

As in past posts, I have to thank fellow garden bloggers for expanding my plant-selection horizons, helping me define and refine my gardening style, and offering encouragement and advice (did you see 'Susan's steps' on the design, Susan?). I also need to thank Daffodil Planter for making time to see my garden while she was in town last week. It felt like an honor to show this witty, classy lady around my yard. She was overly generous with her compliments of my young landscape, but I certainly enjoyed it! You garden bloggers are great.

**PS - You'll notice that sun-loving plants are placed all around the trees. This is because my trees are all babies and don't make much shade yet. As they grow and cast more shade, I'll replace some of the current plants with hostas and hellebores.


  1. It's going to be beautiful! I wish I could take everything out and start from scratch sometimes, this time with an actual plan. You've really picked some beautiful plants to use. 'Abraham' has been great here all summer, no sign of disease and it just keeps blooming. I think you had mentioned growing it before, so you know how great it smells. It'll be fun to see your plan come to life. I see Susan even got the steps named after her :)

  2. VW, A new plan is always fun...I am not brave enough to take it all out and start over! I am sorry to hear about your allergy, that is not fun and as you say, it makes finding linear plants a challenge. Just when I read itchy and pollen I began to sneeze! The power of suggestion...NO, I was outside for a few minutes! Somethings in the air! Have a good weekend. gail

  3. You've got some of my favorite plants. I believe it took you a couple of years to get to this point. It took me over 4 years to complete my yard and I'm a professional landscape designer. I'm happy now.
    Shirley Bovshow

  4. Gardens are so made to be changed and adjusted that it only makes sense to open the door to new and different plants. What a treat it always is to meet other bloggers too!

  5. Your designs are inspiring. You must be very disciplined. I could stick to the plan until I went shopping, found a new plant that I couldn't live without, and then had to find a spot to plant it!! Great plan VW. (and wonderful blooms!)

  6. Good luck with the roses.

    I've only started planting Catmint this last couple of years, why did I wait so long, it's like the 'universal' plant that gels everything.

    Irish moss, is that the plant known as 'mind your own business'?

    Nice plan- such discipline....

  7. VW, Gosh, thanks for the compliment! It was such fun to meet you and see your wonderful garden. Folks, the garden and VW are even lovelier in real life than on the blog!

    I thought of you when the new Scheepers catalog came yesterday with the tulip 'Apricot Beauty' and blue hyacinths on the cover. Looked so much like your color scheme.

    Muchisimas gracias!

  8. VW~~ We are great, aren't we? That includes you too, VW! I must say you are a much more disciplined designer than I am. You must have that knack for visualizing the finished scheme--a talent I seriously lack. I have to get out and "Just do it" and make alterations as are necessary. Rarely does a plant stay in its original place! But this is the fun part of gardening.

    Do you know the Ramnus or Buckthorn is deciduous? Four months of bare, upright branches. Could be beautiful or eyesore. I'll surely be interested to see the garden as it unfolds.

  9. Janet, I don't know that I'm so disciplined. I still have holding areas in the backyard for impulse buys!
    Grace, I do know that the buckthorn is deciduous. But I've read that the leaves of evergreen columnar hollies and boxwoods look really beat up in a zone 5 winter unless protected from wind, and my front yard is windy. I don't like the columnar yews or barberries available, either. And the super-tall, super-allergenic columnar junipers aren't a good option for me. So we'll see how the buckthorn does. If I need to rip it out, at least there's only 1 in the design.
    DP - see, you are overly generous with compliments!

  10. If your readers are interested in finding out more about usda hardiness zones, there is an interactive version of the plant hardiness map online at

  11. I have come across your blog, checking on the colours of the clematis already growing in my garden. I could not quite credit how you have so many of my favourites in your lot!I will keep looking at your lot! I am in Britain and would not have expected so much in common

  12. I just discovered your blog (while searching for double hellebores) and wish I had found this BEFORE I began redesigning my gardens! What an inspiration! I look forward to exploring your site more! Happy gardening!


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