Over the years, I have gotten many requests from new homeowners or clients who have overgrown foundation gardens and need to renovate them, or create a completely new one. The foundation garden is the first part of the garden to be considered because it is closely situated around the house’s exterior and therefore has a direct connection with the visual appeal that the house transmits to the public. It frames a house, giving important accents to the architectural details and providing screening for other less visually desirable details such as utilities or air conditioning units located around the building.
In older houses, the foundation garden can be restructured, and sometimes the existing plant material can be reorganized, divided or transplanted to another area of the property where it can be used to solve problems such as screening of “bad views,” which is a problem that occurs very often. Frequently in new houses there is no foundation planting at all, or just some shrubs placed in front of the building. In this case, the whole structure has to be rethought. But in both cases a plan must be made to guarantee a successful garden. Without a plan, the final results can be very disappointing.
The style of the house and character of surrounding area (for example: village, woods, farm, fields or waterfront) can help determine the look to achieve in the garden. The understanding of the period of architecture when the house was built and the environment where the house sits will bring ideas for the structural and soft elements to be chosen, such as fences, walls, hedges, paths, flowers, shrubs and trees. This can be done in a formal and organized design or an informal and more ecological one.
A choice of the adequate plant material planted in masses helps to combine basic concepts of repetition of colors, textures, plants and shapes, unifying the design and giving simplicity, balance and interest to the foundation garden. I always suggest a mixed garden using evergreens, perennials, annuals, herbs and trees for a year-round balance.
Evergreens give winter color and define important architectural elements such as doors and borders. It is always important to remember that doors (especially the front door of the house) are focal points and should be well-framed to give easy access to them. (It is terrible when you have to search for a front door.)
Perennials and annuals give seasonal color, breaking the strong overall green of trees and lawn. Herbs are highly suggested; they are excellent companion plants because they protect many other varieties from diseases, for example lavender or nepeta. They can be located in edges or even placed in urns spreading a nice fragrance around the area. Trees that are well situated give drastically different depth and height.
Fences, hedges, walls and paths in the right scale and proportion with all the other elements give gardens good frame and shelter, making them very attractive. Stone walls with the appropriate sort of stone for the site are a very interesting element. They can stretch the eye view when you look to the front of the house.
Overall, the foundation garden frames a house, and no matter if it is a restoration or new creation, all elements must be considered and balanced to give not only structure but also grace and accent to the architectural design of the house.
Landscape designer, writer and lecturer, Frederico Azevedo is the founder of Unlimited Earth Care, Inc., providing high quality landscape design and maintenance to the Hamptons for 25 years. For more information, call 631-725-7551, or visit unlimitedearthcare.com.