Foundation Planting?

In many neighborhoods it is a common sight —a shade-tolerant line of evergreen yews circling the front foundation of a house like a life preserver vest cinched up tight. Today, as we re-evaluate the functions of our landscapes, perhaps looking for ways to attract migrating birds like warblers or a fruit-eating pack of cedar wax wings, everything seems to be on the table, including those yews. It is true that birds, bees and butterflies need our help in providing food and shelter —either along a migration path or just simply to reproduce within the 30’ radius in which they reside. As we move into the exciting realm of naturalizing our landscapes, let’s take a look at that idea of a foundation planting and evaluate a few points on form and function.

Aesthetically speaking, a foundation planting is a designed feature made popular in the early part of the 20th century. It may have allowed a home to feel nested in a landscape or sheltered from a street view. It may have been meant to hide an unsightly structure or to offer a small garden feature near a doorway or view from a window. It created a contrast to the bright green carpet that dominated our landscapes and a visual gradient blending two flat linear planes (the lawn and our home’s facade). As we integrate native species and a more relaxed/naturalized style, incorporating spectacle (build it and they will come), function and natural tones, I say we move away from this mode of thinking, of clustering a thicket of dense planting materials around the base of our homes, and instead imagine one continuous landscape, one within which our infrastructure (house, patio and walkways) are set. 

So, here is a method to try when re-envisioning a garden or landscape (whether in the front or back of your house):

  • Do some mapping. Look at site conditions like low wet areas, hot sunny spots, a tree that casts some dense shade and prohibits much from growing underneath. If you have a base map printed from google earth view or other source, lay some trace paper down and block out these areas. You can also do this without a base map, but it may take a bit more skill to get proportions correct.
  • Now that you have your site conditions defined, visually lay your infrastructure down into that landscape. Add another layer of how you move through the landscape, views to and from your windows and doorways, things you may want to screen, etc.
  • With each step you can refine your planting plan based on all of these criteria so that you get a detailed composition and understanding of your space. Your landscape becomes one in which walkways travel through a garden instead of a separate planting on either side. Where instead of being boxed in by shrubs, a single species is added like an outcropping that draws the eye, creates some screening and diminishes that closed-in feeling. 
  • You can continue to add to your drawing until you get to finishing touches such as enhanced plantings to attract a certain butterfly or hummingbird, or heightening a seasonal display of flowers. Just remember —gardening is fun, so loosen up, be forgiving, and dig in.
If you want to explore these and other design methods, join us for Grow Wild! Native Gardening Series, or book a consultation and we can do this together :)
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