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Committing to Plants for a Frontyard Design

Posted Sep 04 2009 9:51am

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.
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