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Design Dilemma
Design Dilemma

Need Landscaping Help

francesca_sfFebruary 18, 2013
We have a blank slate for this small front yard with one restriction: the city-owned Chinese pistache tree can't be removed. Drought tolerant plants in this San Francisco Bay climate Zone 9b (low temps 25 - 30F; high temps rarely above 86F) would be ideal. The house faces east; the soil is sandy and well draining.

Do you have a suggestion for a modern minimalist design to harmonize with the newly renovated interior? Much appreciated!
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Great looking house! I'm not that familiar with what will grow in your area (I'm in the cold NE). But I would think some sort of green vine with a delicate appearance (baby tears, sweet autumn clematis) on the wall next to driveway. If adequate sun, one or two big blowsy tan grasses at the left property border and/or the left side of driveway near the street. Large silver or black Neutra style house numbers. Bluestone or similar pavers for the walkway -- I'd probably eliminate the straight line to the street by enlarging the entry paved area, and connect it to the driveway. If there's sufficient budget, stamped concrete or pavers for the driveway.
3 Likes    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 1:05PM
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Take photos of your home from all four corners and each side. Take them to your local (not a national chain) nursery. Learn what plants are native to your geographical location. Native plants should need little to no water once they are established. The horticulturalist on staff will be able to answer all of your questions.
    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 1:08PM
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Sweet Caroline Garden Design
Here is a minimalist design I've doodled. Ornamental grasses or tropical plants that resemble them are excellent in such designs. Colorful sedum or cacti could be planted with them for interesting color and texture. For the blank wall on the front and the right side , a colorful flowering vine would soften its starkness. Do take your photo to the local garden center for advice.
9 Likes    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 3:26PM
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Thank you for your suggestions mjlb and eztia. Sweet Caroline - I love your doodle! I was actually thinking of having 3 large planters where you have the 3 plants in the ground. A broad leaf, energetic plant like an agave attenuata. Unfortunately, once or twice a year the temp's plummet and it would kill that lovely plant. So I was thinking of a sago palm or dasylirion longissimum.

For ground cover, I was originally thinking of a carpet-like ground cover such as dymondia, but a mix of sedum, as you say, would give more color and texture. Your creative suggestion of a vine on the wall is intriguing. On the other side of the driveway, there's a 16" x 20' long strip. I was thinking of knee-high grass plants which would enjoy hot mid-day sun. Can't wait 'til winter is over to start planting!
    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 3:54PM
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Sweet Caroline Garden Design
I think pots would look odd when you can easily plant in the ground. Surely you have a plant in your warm climate that will thrive even in winter. We have tropical gardens here in N.C. and we're much colder than you are. Here's a beautiful sedum planting in San Diego :
debora carl landscape design · More Info
6 Likes    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 5:56PM
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Pamela Bateman Garden Design
I don't know if you want a flowering ground cover but one of my favorites is Ajuga 'Catlin's Giant' planted with Stachys ~ Lamb's ears. A nice flowering plant/vine for the wall is Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin'. Along the narrow strip you should consider Limonium perezii ~Statice. Sorry, but I always like a few flowers in the garden!
    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 6:01PM
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You might be able to espalier a fig tree on that wall by the driveway.

FWIW, the Brits have things like banana trees which are highly marginal for the climate they wrap them in burlap when it gets cold. If you want something that will only have to survive a few weeks of too cold, you might try buying small and wrapping when the temps are due to drop. If you wrap elegantly with colored rope, you might even make a Christmas-tree like bundle out of your palm.

I'd recommend bulbs, too. Many bulbs evolved to emerge and flower in wet spring and then disappear and hibernate in the hot, dry summer. Ones native to Turkey might be right for your climate.

Kniphofia and Montbretia/crocosmia might add some sculptural flowers to your grasses. I'm not the source for what's right for your climate though. If you want advice for dealing with short summers and very cold winters. . .
    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 12:10AM
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The pistachio tree is lovely. Head over to the library and sign up with a local xeriscape garden group. You will learn so much and make new friends who may even give you hardy cuttings for your area. You will learn to consider how much time you actually have to garden and can plant accordingly. As a city dweller, you may want to consider incorporating rock hardscape that also protects your tree and home from vehicles. Above all else be inspiring to your neighbors, they will keep up with you and the neighborhood improves.
    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 1:24AM
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Sweet Caroline, Love the debora carl landscape photo - I have it bookmarked!

Pamela, I love the combination you have suggested. Purple - yum - my favorite color, with such a soft background of silver gray green.

Sigrid, I will look into Turkey natives - never would have thought of that, and red hot pokers. You have understood exactly what we're seeking - sculptural elements.

auroraborealus - xeriscape group - yes! rock scape - yes! and inspire neighbrs - yes! Those poor neighbors have had to look at "the dirt patch" for awhile. We want to reward them with a great landscape.

Of course with so many ideas, the key will be "pruning" the ideas down to achieve a minimalist interpretation of nature.

Thank you everyone!
1 Like    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 11:03AM
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remove the formal walk- have pavers lead you to the door. and have green or small stones between the path..driveway is so large...how about stone or gravel..
    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 11:08AM
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garage door should be painted the same as the garage..and you should have an accent color on the front door..bright and bold. Love your house thought !
    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 11:09AM
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Here is a SF house with xeriscaping - I love it! I can see a red or yellow door on your home and try to neutralize the garage door so it blends in.
Meadow Planting · More Info
1 Like    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 11:50AM
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To go with the formal minimalist look and stay low-maintenance, use succulents and ornamental grasses. Go to your local water company and ask for a list of recommended xeriscaping plants to select from, and get a copy of Sunset Western Gardens book. If that book says it will grow in your zone, it will grow.

Take a walk through Golden Gate Park and look at what's growing. There are many agaves and aloes that will survive there: There is a spectacular garden of them near the conservatory, tall flowering ones, short sprawling ones, etc.

Don't worry about the spikes at the end of agave leaves: snip them off if the plant is near a path.
1 Like    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 3:42AM
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I would suggest a vine growing up the blank wall next to the front door. And painting the front door a brilliant color. Yes, pain the garage to math the wall so it gets hidden. Love the ideas for no lawn, xeriscaping, just plants and a nicer walkway to the front door. here are some ideas from houzz.
Birch Skirt · More Info
Carmel Highlands · More Info
Windsor Companies · More Info

Traditional Landscape design by Minneapolis Landscape Architect Windsor Companies
Traditional Landscape design by Minneapolis Landscape Architect Heidi's Lifestyle Gardens
Traditional Landscape design by Toronto Landscape Contractors Flowers in the Front Yard
    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 4:15AM
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Vida Flora Design
I'd start by painting the front door and columns above a great dark shade. Then go a shade or two darker with the same color for the garage door. Place some oversized house numbers on a painted plank framed with metal or bordered with a frame the same color as the doors.

Add several tall, very large rectilinear pots to the right of the tree from IAP properties with some large ornamental grasses, Chondropetalum or dramatic succulents with nice form that contrast the branches of the tree. Add drip irrigation to the pots & treat them as annual plantings that need to be refreshed seasonally. This will extend your front entry, making it feel large and welcoming. Make the rest of the planting low maintenance. If your location is windy, use that to your advantage with plants that are sturdy and allow for movement within their forms.

Play with a paving grid pattern that takes the design in a more horizontal pattern rather than shooting straight towards the street. You've got a great start with the lines of the house -- work with them when choosing the paving and hardscape layout, then soften with plants.

Add a few low-voltage lights to capture the tree shadow against the house at night and highlight the unusual roof pattern that differeniates your architecture from adjacent properties.

Don't be afraid to be bold with this small space, it will be more than the icing on the cake for your home. Good luck!
1 Like    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 5:35AM
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David L. Anderson Decorative Painting
The exterior is great. So simple. Triangular shapes mirror the triangle of the yard. I would keep the landscaping to a minimum.
    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 6:21AM
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High Tech Turf & Trees
I agree with Carolyn Choi, that ornamental grasses and succulents would be wonderful. Any possibility you'd consider removing much of the Hardscape, by creating just two "strips" of paving stones to drive on instead of the actual full width driveway? You could even embed more xeriscape groundcover between them (just below and between "stone" grade to protect them). If this matched the walkway, all of them could "appear" to widen and narrow, (and even curve) to break up the straight lines AND add step out areas, etc.. Drip or mist irrigation could be safely run thru this as well. A small pergola with sloping lines to complement your roof lines, could also hold vines and add even more dimension. Landscapemakeover.biz
    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 6:22AM
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Wow! I never expected so many thoughtful and generous responses! I will study each suggestion in detail and come up with a plan of action. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to help. I'm heading up to Flora Grubb Gardens today. Anyone have a favorite place to buy plants in the Bay Area?
    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 8:41AM
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Pamela Bateman Garden Design
Orchard Nursery in Lafayette, California is the best nursery in Northern California in my opinion. Great staff and wonderful plants. It is worth a trip to the East Bay. Tell them Houzz and Pamela Bateman sent you.
1 Like    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 8:55AM
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First I would go outside and stand across the street and look at your home. Make a note as to where the sun is on your yard. Try to record how long the sun shines in one different parts of your yard. What type of leaves does the tree have, how much shade does it cast and how wide.

Now let's talk about your house color. For an area that is sunny, I think I would if it was my house paint the house a different color. I am thinking a pretty cream or beige, or if you love gray a much lighter gray. All the trim around the house I would paint white (not a sun glazing white) but a soft white. I would get a pretty wooden front door with a large oval with a pretty design in the center (this will help with privacy). I would stain the door a in the middle light color. I would put black handles if you paint your house a light gray or brown if you paint it cream or beige. I would get a garage door that prehaps look like the wood on the door but not wood for cost. I would include openings at the top of the garage doors (or should I say, windows). Frankly, I would get rid of the walkway to make the yard bigger. If you must have a walkway I would let it curve from the driveway outlining it with plants. I would get drought tolerance hedges. Start from the beginning of your door to the end meeting your driveway.

That spot between your garage and door that is a rectangle I would put a large pot and plant a tree. Whatever house color you select put your pot as an accent color, something that will give your house a "pop". That long wall that I guess face your street I would put trees (you know the ones you can use for privacy) but be careful select the ones that will get a certian height and will not cause damage to your foundation. I would set them like every five ft apart and in the center of each repeat the hedges you outlined your walkway with. In front of the hedges and trees in one long row, I would put pernnials. I would include flowers with blooms and pretty leaves but will tolerant the sun there and can be in sun and shade. Put you a nice border that outline that whole flower/tree area. If you include sprinklers you on a timer you don't have to water yourself.

I would extend the sprinklers to the yard. I would really put some heat tolerant grass because now your yard is bigger. Under that tree for summer setting I would put a small bench for setting. I would put an up light to hit that tree at night, the trees and hedges I first mention and the tree between the garage and the front door. At the end of your driveway on both side I would put fountain grass outlined by half circles. I would put mulch/rocks around the grasses.

Now for your driveway, I would consider staining the walkway and the driveway to match each other. I would carefully select a stain to match the color of your house. You can outline the side of your driveway with the same hedges you used to outline the curving walkway, just continue the hedges all the way down to the end of the walkway.

There is a large wall next to your garage look like part of your house if this is your house I would continue the color there if not find your property line and I would plant the same trees on your property line like the ones on the wall of your house I suggested and include flowering plants. Don't forget to add rocks/mulch or add edging and put grass in the front. This is a good spot to put a small fountain. I really don't like the top of your home with all the windows and those stripes of wood I would remove. I would either make that top a complete triangle with one center window making all sides the same height or if it is not necessary, I would remove it altogether.

Well, I am coming to the end of this suggested design. Now I would put numbers if you don't like the ideal of the tree in a pot, I would put large numbers in a pop color with a light so they can be seen at night. Put lights over your garage have a skill carpenter to put them inside a frame so they are hidden from street. Put a pretty outdoor mat in front of your your door. You will be amazed at how your home will look. If you like plant a circle of your favorite low growing plants around your tree in the center. Be careful though you don't want to have a bench there and the plants attract bees, you will spend your time waving the bees away. Good Luck!
    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 9:03AM
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I would blanket it with lavendar and rosemary and sit outside and smell the loveliness all day. Actually, though, if that tree leafs out in the spring and summer, you might not have enough sun for my fragrant fantasy garden. In that case, a combination of aesthetically pleasing rocks, pebbles and succulents would be pretty, like others have suggested.
    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 3:15PM
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These are some awesome ideas, but I have two caveats for you. 1. If you are considering an ivy growing on your house, think about whether the ivy "suckers" will in any way damage your house (neighbors down the street thought it was a great idea--until it wasn't). 2. If you are considering ornamental grasses, please consider their ultimate height. Our next door neighbors have three planted close together that have gotten totally out of control. They're about 10' tall and 15' across and right by my driveway. I can't see that direction to back out so I have to listen for traffic and back very slowly. (She uses a walker and he uses a wheelchair--their gardening days are over.)

I particularly like the idea of painting your front door a bright welcoming color--right now, it's hard to find.
    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 3:41PM
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Polly Jones
Maybe you could plant a tree in your backyard to the rear of the garage. The neighbors roof behind your house is very distracting to the beautiful lines of the roof on your house. As for the front yard plant Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass) and plant only this grass in all of the area.
    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 3:56PM
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Urban Oasis
Though Mexican feather grass is lovely, it is very invasive and will set it's seeds everywhere. I would use it sparingly. What about making big stripes of color with plants? Here they use Blue Oat Grass, Phormium Tenax atropurpurea and Mexican Feather Grass. You could also substitute Acorus for the Mexican Feather Grass. Phormium Tenax will get tall so you could substitute that with Carnival Grass or Dwarf Fountain Grass. It will look beautiful and have low water and maintenance requirements.
1 Like    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 5:24PM
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Urban Oasis
Also do something with your street number at the front of your yard. (Btw kangaroo paws would be another choice against the house.)
2 Likes    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 5:35PM
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Hi. Great entrance. I would go for the "desert" look. Grasses, cacti, sucullents, aloes all different heights and textures but with a repetative theme. For the blank wall I would install a series of trelisses to break the monotony. The local nursery will help you choose the suitable plants. Good luck.
    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 2:51AM
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Vida Flora Design
For budget-friendly fun, consider starting small with your plants, especially the perennials that will grow fairly quickly. Visit Annie's Annuals online or in person in Richmond for some great small plants. Take a day trip down Highway One to the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum where you can see mature specimens of some great natives as well as Australian/New Zealand introductions, and purchase one and five gallons from their gift shop.
    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 8:13AM
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Pamela Bateman Garden Design
Yes, Annie's Annuals is a great nursery too. Lots of great ideas have been posted.
    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 4:54PM
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High Tech Turf & Trees
A couple of quick questions.... Do you plan on living in the house? How many square feet is it? Would extra outdoor entertainment areas be of interest? How large is the back yard? Any possibility you'd consider creating an enclosed or partly enclosed courtyard in the front left yard? If so, what type of living space do you have immediately behind the front left wall. Easy to see where I'm going with this. The pistache is a wonderful tree, and could be enclosed or at least "visually enclosed" with hardscape or low fencing, pavers, etc.. not sure if you're still looking for input..... cheers!
    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 5:34PM
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Xeriscape is the way to go. Use textures of leaves and color of plants to pop interest.
    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 5:39PM
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More great ideas! I'll be combing through in great detail for the curbside area as well as some of the areas within the walls. jagarrou's idea of a fragrant garden might work well in our atrium. We used to have a small daphne in the atrium that filled the whole house with its delicate scent in January and February. Love the idea of lavender and rosemary! Thank you everyone!
    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 7:26PM
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Galleria Place
IF you need gardening supplies or decor, visit our store.
    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 7:30PM
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