Ann24
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Bed width/depth?

Hi everyone,

We recently purchased a home with a bit of an odd yard. Almost the entire yard is slanted, and the previous owner has removed all flower/shrub beds and planted grass all the way to the house foundation. My plan is to create stairs down the slope, but I want to leave enough space between house foundation and stairs so I can plant shrubs (or something!) along the stairs down the slope. My main question is how much space to leave?

I'm a very novice at this, so I am not really sure yet what plants to put in along the house. The area is facing North East (zone 8A, Pacific NW, US) and does not get much sun since it's shaded by the house most of the day. Plants that come to mind are things like Hostas, but I'm hoping to mix it up with other shade tolerant plants - not sure if a Hydrangea will survive there, but that would be a nice one. The plants have to be 'kind' to the house foundation too. All thoughts on what plants to consider, and how wide to make my bed, is greatly appreciated! :D

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ElizabethB
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Joined: Sat Nov 24, 2012 5:53 am
Location: Lafayette, LA

Re: Bed width/depth?

Hi Ann

Welcome to the forum.

I had a landscaping business for 10 years and still do some consulting work.

The biggest mistake home owners make is poor planning. You are going into winter so this is not the best time to install landscaping. Spend your winter planning and researching plants. Install your beds in the spring.

You need a few tools.

A long tape measure
A large pad of 1/4" to 1' scale graph paper. Get the big sheets - 8 1/2" x 11" is not large enough.
Architect ruler
Scaled plant template - 1/4" to 1' the office supply stores sometimes have them if not a University book store will have it and of course on line

Start by measuring the front of your home. Make a scale drawing. Make sure to annotate windows, doors, water supply, electrical supply and any hardscapes - side walks and driveways. Pay attention to power lines. Also look for utility meters.

You will need to contact your community planning department and ask to have someone go to your house and mark where any and all underground utilities are located. There is no charge for this service. If you do not have that done and you inadvertently damage or break a utility feed you will face very heavy fines. In my community the fine is $50K.

Once you have the basic information and have made a scale drawing you can start planning your beds. On sloped land terracing is a great idea.

You said you live in the Pacific NW. Does that mean lots of rain and humidity?

One thing that I am absolutely nuts about is not putting a bed right up against a structure.
- soil and mulch against a structure rings the dinner bell for termites
- rain will splash dirt onto the house
- plants that close to the house will encourage mold and mildew growth
- Water run off from the roof at the drip line will damage your plants and erode the soil

Create a gravel barrier from the house to 6" outside of the drip line. You do not need any retention against the house but you do need steel edging between the gravel and the soil. Line the space with commercial quality landscape fabric. I am not a fan of landscape fabric but you need it for this application. The fabric will keep the gravel from sinking into the ground. Do not use pea gravel. It will wash away. Use a mixed aggregate. Around here it is called road gravel.

Convert the measurement of the front of your house where your beds will be to inches. Multiply that by the measurement from the house to 6" outside of the drip line. Multiply by 4" - depth of gravel you need. You have cubic inches. Divide by 12 and you have cubic feet. divide by 27 and you have cubic yards. When I was actively landscaping a typical job took about 2 cubic yards - give or take. Of course there were exceptions.

In addition to addressing the issues I listed it is very attractive, clean and provides you with maintenance access to the back side of the bed.

The front of the gravel barrier should be a straight line as it will be the back side of your first terrace. About the only time you will hear me say straight line when referring to landscaping.

The back side of your first terrace will start at the edging of your gravel barrier. The depth of your terrace from back to front will depend on what you will be planting. The second biggest mistake home owners make is creating beds that are too shallow. Bigger is better.

You have to decide what you will use as a retaining wall. It needs to have soft curves. No more straight lines.

I visited Washington state a long time ago in the spring. I was struck speechless by the beauty of the Peonies, Rhododendrons and Hostas. I can grow Hosta in south Louisiana but they are shade plants and do not get anywhere near as large or beautiful as they do in cooler climates. Rhodendrons and peonies just don't like the deep south.

Remember I said research plants? Rhododendrons are stunning specimen plants but like our Crape Myrtles they can get very large. Select smaller varieties and make sure to plant allowing for mature size. That is why you need the plant template. When you draw in your plants draw them in at mature size not nursery size.

Since this is the front of your house you do need some evergreen structure. You can use taller plants on the outside corners - kind of an anchor for the bed. Across the front you want plants that are lower growing and will not block the view of the house or block your view from inside the house. Your specimen plants on the corners can be planted singly. Your other shrubs should be planted in odd numbers and staggered - No Straight Lines. These plants are the skeleton of your bed. Fill in with perennials and annuals to add color, texture and visual interest.

I have no idea how deep your front yard is. You may only have room for one deep (back to front) terrace. Create your first, primary terrace. If you have room you can front it with a smaller terrace planted with perennials and annuals. Do tuck in a few herbs.

Pictures of your house would be helpful.

Another major consideration - irrigation. Unfortunately most homes have only one water faucet on the front of the house. I used Poly Drip irrigation systems. Both drip and spray. I frequently had to deal with only one faucet and beds divided by a sidewalk. How to get the irrigation system to the other side? I used high pressure hose nozzles - very large - to bore under the sidewalk and make room for the irrigation hose to pass under the side walk to the other side. VERY messy job. I put splitters on the faucet and installed battery powered timers. One for each side of the bed.

I know that this is a lot of information. Take your time. Plan and research, plan and research and plan some more.

Feel free to PM if you have specific questions.

When I read questions like yours I want to jump on a plane and actually work with you.

You may want to consider hiring a landscape contractor as a consultant. You do the installation work but work with the landscaper on planning, design and resources. As a landscaper my high ticket jobs were reworking DIY projects. It cost the home owners a lot more for me to fix their mistakes than it would have cost them to hire me in the first place. The consulting work that I still do is what I call "Sweat Equity Plans". I provide the client with drawings, a detailed material list with cost estimates and suggestion on where to obtain the material at the best cost. I also give them a list of the tools that they will need. The client provides the sweat - labor. I charge about $500 for a set of plans. That includes an initial visit to the client's home to measure and to evaluate their needs and wants, the plans and material list and 4 hours of on sight supervision. The client can hire me for more supervision at an additional cost.

Post some pictures and PM if you want.

Good luck.
Elizabeth - or Your Majesty

Living and growing in Lafayette, La.

When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant. ~Author Unknown

Ann24
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Re: Bed width/depth?

Wow, that was an incredible response. Thank you!! I'm not sure I'm attaching the image correctly so I will try to do this first, then comment on your response. Also, sorry, I wasn't clear in my question that this is for my side yard, which is our only fenced in/private area of the property. Let's see if the image shows up! :)

[img]
650995-13-alt.jpg
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Ann24
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Joined: Mon Oct 06, 2014 3:22 pm

Re: Bed width/depth?

Ah! I see the image, hopefully you do too! :) The space I'm trying to work out a solution for is along that slanted concrete foundation. The picture is probably taken around 10am, because it will become shaded by house later.

I completely get the issue with planting along the house - it does make me nervous. And I did not even think about the 'drip line' - learned something right there! It's just that it's such a narrow and small yard, that if I leave it bare it will look quite dull, given that drip line + 6" gets me out in what feels like the middle of the yard! I tried to find images showing your concept, but did not find much. And I'm so unexperienced that I'm stuck on this visual of covering it with foliage - there may be a better way to approach this. I'm all ears! :)

My initial stab at drawing out something included 36" bed next to foundation and then 32" wide steps down - this would line up the steps so that the outside (closest to center of yard) aligns with patio supporting post. Then leave the grass on the other half for the dog, for now. Not very exciting or creative, but nor is the current 'look' :)

You have come up with a great business model - what you offer is probably very much needed. I have this 'thing' about wanting to be able to do things myself, mainly the creative part - I'm a Graphic Designer - but gardening is by far the hardest creative projects around. Things like what plants are going where, in what soil, when they are pretty, how to combine them... phew... I get overwhelmed just thinking about it! Thank you once again for your very, very thorough reply!

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ElizabethB
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Joined: Sat Nov 24, 2012 5:53 am
Location: Lafayette, LA

Re: Bed width/depth?

Nice. You still need the gravel barrier against the house also against the fence. A bed against the fence will rot it out in no time. That barrier can be 6". Just enough to keep the soil and mulch off of the fence. You will probably need steel edging on the back side of the fence barrier to keep the gravel from going under the fence into your neighbor's yard.

Create a deep (front to back) terrace on the house side. Since this is a side yard the evergreen structure is not as important although some evergreens would be nice. Odd numbers - staggered. Curved front. Create a shallower terrace on the fence side and fill with perennials and annuals. Have a pave stone walk way between the 2 terraces. Allow at least 3' and preferable 4' for your walk. Both terraces should have curved fronts and the walk should curve between them.

The previous advise on taking the winter to plan still stands. Don't box yourself in with the depth of the terraces. The plants should dictate the depth. You really do not have room for multiple terraces. One outside the drip line of the house and another very small one near the fence.

Exactly how much space do you have from the house to the fence? Also how deep is your eave? How drastic is the slope from the house to the fence? With that information I can give you more specific suggestions.

Good luck
Elizabeth - or Your Majesty

Living and growing in Lafayette, La.

When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant. ~Author Unknown

Ann24
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Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Oct 06, 2014 3:22 pm

Re: Bed width/depth?

Sorry for my late reply. I'm trying to make the most of this never ending sunshine so I've been outside as much as I can. Once again, thank you for all your thoughtful input.

I like the terraced idea very much. I'm on a very slim budget so I'm trying to do as much as I can myself otherwise I would love big rocks etc to make it more natural looking, as opposed to the concrete retaining wall blocks that's in there now. But, I may end up using those anyway for a few smaller tiers.

First I need to figure out how to make the gravel side. You mentioned preventing it from going up against fence - how about up against house? Is 6" still enough? I'm not sure what type of metal to use, and was thinking of that green fiberglass edging that you can buy on rolls, like 5" tall. Would that do it? Or does it need to be deeper?

I'm going to start digging out the area along the house for the stairs but figured it would be good to deal with the draining issue against the foundation at the same time. I've attached my first computer sketch - just to show drip lines etc. The wider part of the drip line has a gutter above it, and the more narrow drip line is where roof does not slant down towards lawn, if that makes sense? Not sure if it matters.

House to fence is only 18' 3" but 2' 6" of that is a deep ditch where we wanted to plant Emerald Green Arborvitaes, for privacy, as we are starring straight into the neighbors equally narrow yard, and living room.

Also added a photo of the tiny area above that slant I attached in last msg. Hope this makes sense! And thank you, thank you, thank you again for taking time to reply so in-depth to a complete stranger!
Sketch of slant
Sketch of slant
650995-14-alt.jpg

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