Front Yard Landscaping - the plan and working with a landscape architect
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
This is pretty much what our house looked like when we moved in. I love the charming dormer windows and the two oak trees in the front are AMAZING. The landscaping was nothing special, but it wasn't awful, there were a mix of bushes, some azalea bushes, some annuals that would die off in the fall and come back in the spring and lots of random stuff mixed in. This project probably wouldn't have moved to the top of the list, but my mother who we bought this house with has always dreamed of beautiful landscaping. So while I would have been happy for the house to look like this for another few years she decided it was something she wanted to do right away. We hired Bay Area Design & Landscape to design it for us and we worked with Mardel, who we adored. I feel like I have pretty good sensibilities when it comes to design and even flowers (I've been a wedding florist as part of my planning business for the last five years), but when it comes to landscaping and plants that do well in the Texas heat... I was truly clueless. I can build a mean centerpiece, but sadly that knowledge doesn't translate to landscaping.
The first thing that happened was an initial consultation where we sat down with Mardel and went over our thoughts in general about the project- what plants we liked, what plants we didn't, and overall inspiration images. I knew I liked structure, but with a lot of organic flow as well, Mardel described this as an English garden look and that sounded exactly right. Here are some of the inspiration images that we pulled.
See how there is a ton of "wildness" and organic texture, but it's restrained by clean borders and hedges? Also, lots of flowers...and we weren't sure if this would work, but my mom and I both felt strongly about adding something like this...
Gah! So pretty right? Also very reminiscent of the trellis that Young House Love just put in at their old house!
Mardel actually called it an espalier which I suppose is the correct (and very fancy) term for it. I also mentioned a pretty plant I had seen around a neighbors tree that I loved the look of. I didn't know the name of it, but took this photo to show her...
Of course she knew immediately what it was called- snow in summer asian jasmine. It doesn't look like this all year, it seems to be green ground cover most of the year, but in late summer and early fall (right now!) it turns white and pink like that and is SO pretty!! I thought it would look lovely around our oak trees. And that was about all of the information we gave her. After this she asked us to spend a few days keeping an eye on the front yard and what it looks like at each time of day- morning, afternoon, and evening. Was it getting full sun? Mostly shade? Or full shade? So I set a few reminders on my calendar and every day for about a week I would run outside at random times to check on the yard. Our yard ended up being full sun in the morning with dappled shade the rest of the day, due to the oak trees. But this was important information for her to have to know what types of plants would do well in our yard. So if you are planning on doing anything similar this is an exercise I absolutely recommend!
Once she had all of that information we sat down with her a few weeks later to go over the design plan she had come up with.
My first thought about the plan was- it's SO pretty!! Having studied the art of drafting at design school I can appreciate the time and work that went into this! It's actually a combination of computer and hand rendering, but I love the hand rendered touches like the handwriting! We went through each part together so we could understand what it all meant- Her first idea was to leave the landscaping on the sides of the house intact and unchanged, this was to help out with the budget, you can see the area that she proposed no changes to hi-lighted in yellow below.
We had a couple different types of bushes on each side of the house and they are nothing special, but we have no problem with any of it and we of course were happy to cut the budget where we could to make room for some more special features. Next up were the shape of the beds, they were originally very skinny on the left side and much thicker on the right side, very unsymmetrical which you can kind of tell from this photo.
So Mardel's plan included evening that out and making things much more symmetrical. She also added new beds around the trees (we previously just had some dirt/mulch) and two rounded beds in the front of the yard at the sidewalk.
This already made the yard look so much more full! After that we discussed some things that are very important, but not necessarily super visible on the plan- and that's the black gravel and metal edging, I've hi-lighted here in yellow so you can see where she wanted to add it.
This is the area right where our roof ends and where the gutters are. Currently when it rains really hard (and we're in Houston so raining hard is not unusual at all) the gutters overflow and water sloshes out, especially if the gutters haven't been cleaned recently, and all of the mulch and dirt from the garden beds splashes up onto the front porch. It's something that was always annoying, but I assumed was just a part of life, I swept the porch, sometimes Kris would leaf blow it, and we'd move on...but this plan should put an end to that! It creates an area of gravel for drainage- there is also a metal edge that holds all of the gravel in and creates a strong barrier from the garden beds to hold ALL of that dirt and mulch in. It runs along the entire back of all of the landscaping so it's not going to be a visual feature or anything, but talk about function!
After that it was all about creating layers, Mardel said the key to getting that English garden look was creating layers- lush, organic flow paired with lots of structure. The first layer is a hedge of Pringles Dwarf Yew lining the back.
And if you are anything like me you just repeated pringles dwarf what?! And started picturing tiny keebler elves eating chips...so here's an image of that what that plant looks like!
It should make for a nice year round structured green hedge. The next layer is the Bloomathon Azalea going right in front of the yew. This will end up being one of the lush organic layers.
I'm really excited about this layer, several of our neighbors have azaleas and they went WILD in the spring and were insanely gorgeous. Year round they look like a green bush, but during the spring- they are really magical!
The third layer is another wild one, it's going to consist of foxtail fern, in my head all of these layers will sort of stair step and get gradually smaller, I think that's the intention and will obviously have to be maintained properly to keep them looking that way.
Here is what the foxtail fern looks like, I really like its vibrant green color and shape...even if it is slightly reminiscent of Sideshow Bob.
After that we get into the smaller flowers, this layer is near the front in some areas and is called Liriope Purple Explosion.
It reminds me a bit of lavender and is very wildflower-esque, which I think is a lovely addition for the English garden vibe.
Near the path is where we have something Mardel called "seasonal color"- this is the part of the bed that will be planted with annuals (the type of plants that die every season) and ideally swapped out in the spring and fall. They could be anything and should be fun to swap out, I'm already picturing how to plant different colors to match with theme parties we might be having that season because yes, I am insane. We also have some of the seasonal color areas in the front circle beds too.
The last "layer" is a small hedge of boxwood to kind of restrain everything. Again, that juxtaposition between the wild organic looking flowers and a heavy dose of structure is exactly what we were hoping for. Boxwood can grow to be quite large so these will obviously be cut and maintained to stay nice and short and not block any of the previous layers.
Oh and then we do have one more layer in the front beds- their back layer is going to consist of some pretty roses!
These are called drift rose sweet- and they are so pretty!
Mardel also added in 3 topiary trees to frame the main corners of the house.
The two trees on the right will be white Camelia.
And the one on the left will be a rose topiary.
Then we have those areas around the trees that I mentioned previously.
Of course, she put the snow in summer asian jasmine that I had fallen in love with at our neighbor's house. They aren't flowers, but the tips of the leaves turn white and pink and when you aren't super close they really do look like flowers.
Last, but certainly not least is probably the most exciting part of the whole plan! Below you can see two walls of our home, on the right we have the flat brick part of the side of the house, it's pretty much the first thing you see when you drive up to our home and this is where Mardel proposed adding an espalier (or X trellis).
Here's the inspiration photo she showed us and holy cow!! It's so beautiful!! Of course our house is red brick so it won't look quite the same, but I think it's going to be amazing!
And then if you noticed that other area the white arrow is pointing to- that is this wall right next to our front door.
And Mardel proposed another espalier (X trellis) here as well! This one is going to be a bit simpler and just be a large X, it's a much smaller piece of wall so I think it being visually simpler is a great call! Here is the inspiration image she showed us for this one.
So that's the plan, to say we are excited is an understatement! They actually started ripping everything out last week and I can't wait to see how it all turns out! Let me know if you have any questions about anything or if you've worked with a landscape architect before (I am so curious), give me all the details!
You can see the finished landscaping in this post right here!