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Year 2 Plans for the New Front Garden: The Side Slope

February 3, 2016

lower garden site1The addition on the front of my house, completed last spring, created an opportunity for a whole new front garden. This is a big project, and I am approaching it as a five-year plan. In year one (2015), I got the hardscape in place on the upper level and created four relatively small flower beds around that hardscape.

I have a more ambitious set of planting areas scheduled for 2016: a large area I am calling the “side slope” which slopes down from the walkways and retaining wall to the driveway, and a 20’ long x 12’ deep “fragrant garden” outside my new bedroom. I have been thinking about the design for both these garden areas, but I am focusing first on planning for the side slope.

side slopeBecause the walkways and retaining wall are parallel to the house but the driveway is not, the side slope is an awkward wedge shape. It is roughly 30’ long , and its depth ranges from about 16’ at the wide end of the wedge (where it borders a flight of steps up from the driveway) to 4’ at the corner of the L-shaped retaining wall. As its name indicates, this planting area is also sloped – steeply from the walkways and retaining wall at the top to the driveway at the bottom and more gradually from the top of the stairs to the far end of the retaining wall.


Above is an approximate diagram of the side slope. (This image is not true to size.) I want to plant this in a fairly casual style, with a mixture of shrubs, perennials, and grasses, and with plants that can provide a fairly large, architectural presence. Except for the edges, many parts of this garden area will be difficult to maintain (because of the slope), so it is important to choose tried-and-true easy care plants that are happy to grow in my garden and to use groundcovers to minimize the need for weeding.

My first-ever rose will fill the narrow end of the wedge. I chose ‘Therese Bugnet’ because it is an unfussy and very hardy hybrid rugosa. I will give structure to this large amorphous space with three strong horizontal bands of plants (indicated by the blue lines) that will converge at the rose bush. For the top band, I am planning to use a mixture of Baptisia (B. australis or B. x ‘Purple Smoke) and peonies. These plants are good companions for one another, and will provide a nice transition from the Patio Border, which is planted in peonies. For the middle band, I am planning on using Amsonia (either A. tabernaemontana or A. hubrichtii), punctuated with several plants of ornamental grass (probably Panicum). I haven’t decided what to use for the bottom band along the driveway. One possibility is more of my endless supply of Geranium x ‘Biokovo,’ an easy groundcover with lovely flowers in late spring and foliage that looks good almost year round. If I do use Biokovo, I will likely break up the horizontal band with clumps of some compatible foliage plant.

I plan to plant shrubs in the large spaces on either side of the middle band at the wide end of the wedge, bordering the stairway up from the driveway to the house entrance area. These will provide needed mass and help to balance the large sprawling rhododendron that dominates the back slope, on the other side of that stairway. I have not yet decided on the plants for the rest of the side slope, but informal drifts and clusters of plants between the horizontal bands will keep the planting from looking too regimented. These will almost surely include easy-care plants that grow readily in other parts of my garden: daylilies, Siberian irises, hardy geranium, tradescantia, and balloon flower.

I still have a lot of thinking and design work to do on this new garden area, but I expect to complete the planning for the side slope in time to begin preparing the soil and planting in May and June.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2016 12:02 am

    I love your garden design, really spectacular; having fragrant plants outside the bedroom window will be so amazing.

    • February 7, 2016 10:06 pm

      Charlie, I have to tackle the design for the fragrant garden next. I have begun a list of plants to include. I’m looking forward to those wonderful scents wafting into my bedroom through open windows on warm summer nights.

  2. February 4, 2016 12:57 pm

    I got stuck on the phrase “planted in peonies” for awhile, paralyzed by pure envy. Your plan sounds like a good one.

    • February 7, 2016 10:07 pm

      Kris, We always want what we can’t have. I could trade you some agapanthus envy for your peony envy (although I realize it doesn’t have the same Freudian ring to it).

  3. February 4, 2016 1:37 pm

    You are so methodical—I admire that!

    • February 7, 2016 10:08 pm

      LOL, Carolyn, Methodical bordering on OCD. I may as well make a virtue of it. 🙂

  4. February 4, 2016 5:11 pm

    formal stripes in one section, can have its own sparkle, set against more naturalistic planting in the rest of the garden.

    • February 7, 2016 10:11 pm

      Diana, My goal with the horizontal bands is mostly to make this awkwardly shaped piece of land a bit more legible as garden. By the time I went to bed after posting this, I had figured out that I don’t need a band across the top, because the retaining wall provides a strong horizontal element. I think the middle band is the one that really counts, dividing the slope into upper and lower sections.

  5. February 5, 2016 11:01 pm

    The combination of Baptisia and peonies with ‘Therese Bugnet’ is going to be beautiful.

    • February 7, 2016 10:17 pm

      Sweetbay, I’m not sure they’ll all bloom at the same time, but the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens show roses in bloom in June, and both the Baptisia and the peonies bloom here in the second half of June, so I have hope.

  6. Kim (You are not alone) permalink
    February 7, 2016 8:10 am

    How amazing! I wish you much beauty and success. As a child, my mom had landscaping blueprints drawn up by some guy and I remember carrying the rolled up paper around the house with me — I was so fascinated with the look of the layout. (She only carried out about 30% of the plans over the years.) [P.S. testing again to see if this ends up in Spam.]

    • February 7, 2016 10:18 pm

      Kim, I didn’t have to rescue this from spam, so maybe you have solved your problem.

      • Kim (You are not alone) permalink
        February 7, 2016 11:16 pm

        That’s wonderful! Little by little, my account seems to be functioning.

  7. February 7, 2016 11:02 am

    Hello Jean, how exciting – I’m looking forwards to seeing this planted up and developing over the course of this year (and the subsequent ones). I hope the scented plants outside the bedroom window will do their thing in the summer and fill your head and dreams with the most spectacular fragrance.

    • February 7, 2016 10:21 pm

      Sunil, I’m very excited to get to work on the fragrant garden. I love the idea of having delicious scents wafting in through the bedroom window on soft summer night breezes. I’m not sure I can get both these large areas prepared and planted in the same year. I guess it will depend on how early the spring is, how late the frost comes, and how healthy my back is. 😉

  8. February 7, 2016 5:11 pm

    Your day lilies ought to grow well on the slope while providing adequate soil retention.

    • February 7, 2016 10:25 pm

      Allan, Daylilies, tradescantia, siberian irises and balloon flowers are all plants that are already growing successfully on the back slope, in very similar conditions. I may also try to keep some of the wild strawberries already growing in this area in place as a groundcover.

  9. debsgarden permalink
    February 7, 2016 6:44 pm

    Baptisia and peonies? Of course! I have some baptisia and have been trying to think of a good companion for it. I also have wanted to find a place for peonies, a favorite from childhood. But somehow I never made the connection. Thank you! Your plans look great. I look forward to seeing the results!

    • February 7, 2016 10:27 pm

      Deb, I first saw Baptisia and peonies blooming together beside the parking lot at a local natural food store and was immediately smitten by the combination. I’m continuing to work on these plans, which is a fun activity for snowy winter days.

  10. February 9, 2016 3:16 pm

    Jean, this sounds great! The only thing I might suggest is that you have more plants for mid-summer to fall, maybe Aster oblongifolius, Phlox pilosa, and a shorter variety of Helenium.

    • February 10, 2016 8:56 pm

      Thanks for the suggestions, Jason, but I want to stick with plants that have already demonstrated their eagerness to grow in my conditions. Actually, the balloon flowers and daylilies, and liatris will all bloom mid-summer to fall. In cool summers, some of the hardy geraniums and the tradescantia will also bloom into fall.

  11. February 10, 2016 1:50 pm

    Jean – I love thinking of all those peonies and the baptisia. It sounds like a beautiful combination. I am looking forward seeing the plants go in and take hold. Therese Bugnet is a beautiful and hardy rose. If you need another such rose I can recommend Thomas Affleck which is the same size and equally hardy, but blooms all summer and well into the fall.

    • February 10, 2016 8:57 pm

      Pat, Thanks for the tip about Thomas Affleck. I used Peter Kukielski’s recommendations in Roses Without Chemicals as a starting point for choosing roses.

  12. February 14, 2016 6:58 pm

    Jean I was looking forward to seeing your new plans…and what a fabulous bunch of bushes for color.


  1. Mental Gardening | Stepping Into The Future
  2. Progress on the Side Slope Design | Jean's Garden

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