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