Saturday, February 21, 2009

Best Foot Forward?

Admit it. We gardeners like to show off our best work right in the front where everyone can see it, don't we? Yet, my front foundation bed has been a bit of a frustration in this regard. After four years I’m still not happy with it. (It does look much better now than it did in this early photo.)
Maybe it’s “gardener’s block”—I don’t know. But I’ve struggled with what to put in here. Part of the problem is that I want fairly constant color, since it’s in the front. However, it's tough to find shade-loving perennials that will provide the bold color I desire. I’ve been filling in with impatiens and begonias for now, but eventually hope to have a mix of perennials that will take turns providing interest. Without the annuals, this bed would be a dark, shadowy hole most of the summer. 

The other problem is that everything I have put in is still pretty small. If I can just be patient, I think it will look better some day. Here’s what I have so far. In the center is a chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’). It has pretty white flowers in spring, followed by red leaves in the fall. In winter its red berries stand out beautifully against the snow. It will eventually reach four feet by eight feet, which will help fill out the bed.
At either end are the two catawbiense rhododendrons I mentioned in my last post, one a ‘Nova Zembla’, with huge, velvety-red buds that open to deep pink, and ‘Boursault’, which is lavender-pink. They provide a nice jolt of color in the spring, along with a smattering of tulips and other bulbs, and their large, evergreen leaves make a nice backdrop the rest of the year.

Scattered in between are a few other small shrubs, including dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’), bird’s nest spruce (Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’), and an ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea. The hydrangea took a couple years to settle in, but is doing well now, though my alkaline soil makes it look more like its cousin, the pink-tinged ‘Blushing Bride.’
When we moved here, there was a dwarf Alberta spruce in the center (which I pulled out after half of it turned brown) and three globe arborvitaes. I think there had been a fourth arborvitae at one time, two on each side of the spruce. (I kept one of the three leftovers where it was, and moved one elsewhere; the third died the second year we were here.) Existing trees on each end are paper birch and Amur maple. There’s also a huge green ash on the parkway nearby, and full-grown Austrian pine and Colorado blue spruce to one side, which quickly slurp up any moisture this area gets.
I’ve kept the variegated hostas left by Mr. Previous Owner, and have added a couple of golden ones, as well as Heuchera ‘Green Spice.’ Three ‘Bridal Veil’ astilbes will move to a moister location in the spring. They have not thrived here.
I planted a soft pink, thornless ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ climbing rose at the partly sunny, southeast corner of the garage, since she is supposed to do fine in low-light conditions, but I think she died back to the root stock last winter: She came in short and shrubby instead of tall and leggy, and never bloomed. I’ll probably replace her in the spring. Next to the rose is a deep red ‘Niobe’ clematis, which also does well with limited sun.

I guess I’m happy with most of what is here now, but have many gaps to fill. Now if spring would just hurry up and get here so I can go to work!


  1. Sounds like you've got a lot of great plants in there. It is hard to wait for those little guys to grow and give the impact we want. I have a good amount of shade too in my backyard. The pink flowering currant gives a lot of great color in the spring. I have several clematis that do well in shade too. My hellebores have done great in drier shade as well. I think it's looking great, and once you get some warmer weather you can enjoy getting out there with them!

  2. Thanks, Catherine! I'll have to check out the flowering currant. I'm not familiar with it. And hellebores are certainly one plant I'd love to have more of. Thanks for the ideas!

  3. Ah, I could see how the challenge might be those rather low windows, which you probably don't want to obstruct. Nice color choices, though... I agree with Catherine, Hellebores are great for dry shade and bloom for months. There are also many different structures and colors to choose from. Fun post, I have to admit my back looks better than my front (garden)... But I'm also working on it.

  4. Sounds like a lot of nice choices for your front foundation plantings.

    I'm not in love with our foundation beds at all - overgrown yews and burning bushes pruned into unnatural shapes. I'm still trying to convince my husband to let me rip them out!

  5. Hi, Town Mouse--You're right about the low windows, although they are the garage windows and they're usually full of cobwebs and dead bugs. It might be just as well to cover them a bit... :)

    Thanks, garden girl--I hear you on those overgrown yews and unnaturally pruned shapes. Our neighborhood was built in the 70s so we have lots of 35-year-old yews around here. We yanked out a bunch at our old house that were wrapped around the foundation like an evergreen collar. All green, all the time. :) I still have a row of yews under my living room window here that I'd love to replace "some day"... I hope you can get your hubby to go along with your plans!


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