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Foundation Fundamentals

I learned the term “foundation planting” in my first landscape design class.

To me, the term seemed almost mystical.   A foundation, after all, should be the basis of everything.

I was a bit disappointed to find that a foundation planting simply referred to the plants located around the foundation of a house.  In many cases the plants were used to camouflage unsightly things that might be lying on the ground under a house.  So… many foundations were just like the skirt of a double-wide trailer.

Since most houses now are built on slabs, a foundation planting is not absolutely necessary.  I choose to use one in front of my house because it helps the building blend in with the rest of the garden and softens the box-like appearance of the structure.

I had some difficulty selecting plants for the site.  My front yard is very small and as I have previously disclosed, the soil is terrible compacted clay.  I was determined to use as many plants as possible from my tiny overgrown nursery.  This was a great idea because some wonderfully interesting plants lurked there.  But here was a definite possibility that the resulting beds might look more like a hodge podge than a carefully conceived design.

Four years down the road, I am very happy with my planting choices.   I repeated enough plants that the design is not totally busy.  I arranged the plants so that the texture of each would play well off the others.  This gives me an interesting planting year round.

The area in front of my “picture window” is my favorite part of the planing.  Here, a trio of ‘Miss Patricia’ hollies provide evergreen leaves and red winter fruit.   The window is framed on the other side by a ‘Tamukeyama’ threadleaf Japanese maple.  The maple is beautiful in all seasons but particularly so in autumn when foliage turns brilliant orange-red.

The front layers of this bed include a mounding ‘Taylor’s Rudolph’ yaupon holly.  This selection is supposed to bear glossy red fruit and hopefully will do so this winter for the first time.  A dwarf huckleberry (Vacinium darrowii) was planted too close behind the yaupon and so it seems to erupt from the center of the holly.

My front foundation planting is a study in texture with 'Miss Patricia' holly, dwarf huckleberry, 'Taylor's Rudolph' yaupon, 'Tamukeyama' Japanese maple and 'Peachie's Pick' stokes aster.

Right now the huckleberry has tiny tasty blue fruit.  For the rest of the year, I admire the fine textured foliage particularly when the lovely pastel new leaves are present.

 

What a treat to be able to linger and graze on sweet little huckleberries on my way to work!

Of course every landscape bed needs some herbaceous groundcovers.   I chose to use ‘Peachie’s Pick’ stokes aster (Stokesia laevis ‘Peachie’s Pick’) throughout my foundation beds.  Many years ago we procured this plant from my friend Peachie Saxon and sold it at our old nursery Flowerplace Plant Farm.  After the nursery closed we shared our stock with Kim Hawks at Niche Gardens and the plant entered into the nursery mainstream.  I love this selection because it has sturdy stems that seldom flop.  It will rebloom if deadheaded.  And since it is evergreen, it functions somewhat like monkeygrass in the winter.  Pollinators love it too.

St Francis loves the fact that 'Peachie's Pick' attracts all sorts of pollinators.

I love my foundation planting.  It has an abundance of evergreens, plants with beautiful foliage, wildflowers and tasty berries.   There is always something interesting to see – no matter what the season.

As a result, the Rules for Foundation Plantings that I have devised go something like this:

  1. Use plenty of texture.
  2. Plan for seasonal interest.
  3. Use repetition to keep things from being too busy.
  4. Plant things that you love because you are likely to walk past every day.
  5. Stop to smell the flowers, admire the butterflies or eat the berries.

The bed, by the way, is adjacent to my gravel drive.  The petrified wood border that separated the bed from the gravel is a nice touch as well.

 

A Strong Foundation

Right now the giant leopard plant is blooming beside my front door and the purple gazing ball echos the 'Tameukeyama' maple's fall color.

I taught a Landscape Design class for quite a few years.

We always spent a good bit of time discussing the foundation planting.

I still remember the first time I heard that term.   A “foundation planting” must be the basis of all landscaping, I thought.  It sounded important and mysterious…

But actually the term just referred to a planting that bordered the foundation of a house.

On older houses, the foundation planting served the purpose of hiding the unsightly things that might accumulate in the crawl space under a house – much like the skirt on a trailer.

A couple of years before I moved into my present residence, I decided that my then rental house needed a foundation planting redo.

For inspiration – I reviewed all the “rules” that I once taught all my eager design students.

The giant leopard plant offers interesting foliage texture all year long and surprises me with a bouquet of early winter daisies.

Rule #1 – Always accent the front door using a plant with striking form, texture or color or an attractive hard feature.

Rule #2 – Clearly define the edges of the bed.

Rule #3 – Plan for interest in all seasons since you will be likely enter the house in this area almost every day of the year.

Rule #4 – Repeat plants arranging them in masses or small groups.

Then – I modified the list and added a few new rules.

Rule #5 –  Incorporate native plants.

Rule # 6 – Paint your house a color that will serve as a nice backdrop for the plants.

Rule #7 – Use plants or yard art that has sentimental value.

And last but not least, Rule #8 – use the plants that have been sitting around in your nursery instead of going out to buy new ones.

So I followed the Eight Rules and have been pleased with the results.

The 'Miss Patricia' holly, 'Rosa's Blush' dwarf blueberry and 'Taylor's Rudolph' dwarf yaupon are evergreen and variable in hue.

The plants closest to the front sidewalk have strong features.  The giant leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’) has large glossy leaves 24-7.  I also appreciate the fact that it blooms in early winter when little else is in flower.  The ‘Tameukeyama’ Japanese maple has extremely fine textured foliage, intense red-purple fall color and a striking growth habit.

Just in case two accents weren’t enough, I perched my favorite purple gazing ball on top of my husband’s grandmother’s bird bath pedestal to serve as a third.

Next to the maple, I grouped a trio of fruiting plants.  Darrow’s dwarf blueberry (Vaccinium darrowii ‘Rosa’s Blush’) is a lovely shade of gray green with pastel pink growing tips.   Dangling white blossoms are precursors to a crop of tiny blueberries.   My two hollies – ‘Miss Patricia’ and ‘Taylor’s Rudolph’  are not quite so precocious.  I’m hoping they will begin to produce red holly berries in the next year or so.  Right now I have to be content with the deep green foliage they offer.

The bed is bordered with small pieces of petrified wood gifted by my friend, Peter Loos and carpeted with a planting of native Louisiana phlox.  I think that the plants are quite striking in front of the background colors I have chosen for the house.

And 99% of this planting originated in my little backyard nursery.   Many of the plants were gifts from nursery friends or souvenirs of vacations.  Others were propagated from cuttings or seed.  Many had sentimental value.

It was wonderfully liberating to get them all in the ground so that I could really live with them as landscape plants.

And so that I had enough space in the nursery to start a new plant collection!

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