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An American could use some British wisdom in creating a proper border

Hello--

I'm new here, but I've become a recent fan of Gardeners' World, and after a recent trip to Scotland, where I fell in love with so many gardens I saw, both public and private, I've become convinced I would like to bring a corner of the U.K. here into my garden in the Midwest of America. 

I want to begin with a pesky sliver of unsightly lawn at my front door. As you can see in the photo, it's an odd shape, though I've always enjoyed the sweep of my front walk. The star of the show, at least beginning in August, and going into September, is this crape myrtle. I'm in USDA Hardiness Zone 5, so depending on how cold the winter is, I frequently have to treat like a perennial, and cut it back hard to the ground, but it always bounces back vigorously. I love this bush, and certainly want to create a border that complements it at this time of the year, though I'm keen on bringing other colors than just pink/fuschia during earlier parts of the season.

This gets full sun probably 8-10 hours of the day during the summer, and the soil is very heavy and dense with clay close to the house (as the result of construction of the house, which left lots of clay around the foundations.) But any moisture that is retained is countered by the beating hot sun that shines down on this part of my yard every day in the summer. 

You can see how cars have stepped over the edge of the concrete from both my neighbor and me, and I plan to put some paving stones about 6-8 inches wide along the edge of the driveway to remedy that problem. 

I've been researching the sorts of schemes I'd like--the elements I've been thinking about including are ornamental grasses close to the crape myrtle and in the middle. I think Joe Pye Weed would be a nice addition, and I love many of the achillea/yarrow offerings. I'd like it to be airy--and I can't have too much height close to the end of the driveway, since to be safe, we need to see over any plantings to avoid running over anyone walking down the sidewalk! 

I imagine some softening, rounding low growing plants along the edge of the walk, and I would incorporate those on the right side of the front walk too. I want to put a border on the right side of the path as well. I've included a photo of the walk from my steps. It all looks a bit dismal I think.

As to colors, despite how much the crape myrtle "pops," and how bold it is, I generally would like more muted colors. I'm thinking some purple/crimson tinged ornamental grasses would be lovely here. Now, I do love Purple Sensation Allium, and would like to incorporate that as well...but what I'm learning is that simple is best and being confronted with so many choices is daunting!

Measurements: 19 feet long, and 8 feet wide at it's widest. The middle point is 6 feet wide. I am measuring the length and width not from the crape myrtle, but from the end of the steps. 

Anyway, if anyone has some ideas, I'm all ears! I think there are plenty of possibilities here. I'm just a bit intimidated by landscaping gardening. I'm more of a vegetable sort of fellow. So any help would be appreciated!


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  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 30,004
    The first thing you need to do is take up the grass and improve the soil.   Fork it over removing any weed roots and big stones.  Then pile on loads of fibrous material such as well-rotted manure from a reliable organic source (some weed killers allowed on pasture are persistent and will harm your new plants), some well-rotted garden compost, spent planting compost and so on.   Leave that over autumn for the soil organisms to work it in over winter.   In spring, once the snow has gone and the soilis warming up, rake it over and plant.

    Have a look at this website for plants for Zone 5 - https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/gardening-by-zone/zone-5/zone-5-gardening.htm   You'll find many which are traditional plants for UK mixed border planting so it's up to you to choose according to colour, form and height and also flowering times so you extend teh season of interest form spring to autumn.  Don't forget to include some spring bulbs for an early show.
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • KT53KT53 Posts: 8,944
    Former President Trump had some interesting thoughts on creating a proper border.  Sorry, childish I know but I couldn't resist. :D
  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 5,681
    I'm going to redirect you to another American, actually, because he's created a fantastic garden out on the front of his house similarly to how you intend to. He draws inspiration from European gardeners especially Piet Oudolf, but uses some native USA plants that are uncommon here (Vernonia springs to mind). http://www.rhonestreetgardens.com/?m=1
    "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour". 
  • KT53 said:
    Former President Trump had some interesting thoughts on creating a proper border.  Sorry, childish I know but I couldn't resist. :D
    But of course, it was a horrible failure! Which is just one more reason why this American is looking to British wisdom instead of American--we do some things very well, but borders aren't not among them! :-)
  • Loxley said:
    I'm going to redirect you to another American, actually, because he's created a fantastic garden out on the front of his house similarly to how you intend to. He draws inspiration from European gardeners especially Piet Oudolf, but uses some native USA plants that are uncommon here (Vernonia springs to mind). http://www.rhonestreetgardens.com/?m=1
    Thanks for the link--it is very much in keeping with what I have in mind, but I'll probably be a bit more subdued, at least to begin with. It is a riotous garden, full of energy, to say the least! Much more interesting than my dreary front lawn. 

    Baby steps...or maybe it's time to "go big or go home", as Americans tend to say!
  • MarlorenaMarlorena Posts: 8,620
    Hello,
    A Zone 5 winter is unknown territory for me, we tend to hover between 7-9 here.  I'm in eastern England, I get dry summers often for long periods.  Currently in drought, but got some heavy rain the other day which flooded part of the garden but it quickly drains.  First decent rain in 6 months.  All my front garden is planted for drought conditions as I cannot water it.  It's been gardened for 12 years from nothing. There was no soil, just rubble, stones and gravel. Each plant I put in - with difficulty - I just added some compost.  It drains freely, and is very suitable for things like Lavenders. I have lots of those.

    What you have there is what I would call a ''patch of grass'', not a lawn as such.  There are several options I would consider depending on age, tastes and garden ability - how much you want to put in.
    One option for me would be to keep it quite simple.  Remove grass, lay a weed membrane and simply cover that with decorative gravel, and that's it.  Here I might put a pot or two in the middle with a rose in it or something.. in your climate I think pots would need removing for winter.

    Another option would be to remove grass, amend soil with compost, but I wouldn't want to mound it up too much, trying to keep the soil level with the paths, otherwise it can look like you've buried somebody.. 
    Then I might plant either, one single variety of plant, all the same colour in a block, or one variety of plant but using a kaleidoscope of colours.  I'm thinking American Phlox paniculata for instance.
    A variety I love is 'Purple Flame' ['Barfourteen'].  I use mildew resistance types, they flower all summer and enjoy my conditions.  I have 8 or 9 types and sometimes mix the colours.
    I also like to use an empty decorative pot, just placed on gravel.  I have no intention of planting it up, it doesn't have to be planted..

    Another option is to plant the whole area with different things, trying to co-ordinate English style, of which there are many different types today.  My favourite is the so called English cottage garden style with roses, but your ''patch'' is too small for that really.. but I think it's what may appeal to you. 
    An awkward shape for sure but I have areas like that here..  I'll post some pics following this just to give you an idea or two.  Some plants I grow would not survive zone 5, others may be invasive and banned in your location, some grasses for instance may be banned in the Midwest.. You would have to figure that out..
    I also use small sub-shrubs, some evergreen for winter interest..
    East Anglia, England
  • MarlorenaMarlorena Posts: 8,620
    .this bed is about 10' x 4' tapering at the top.. I grow a central feature Anthemis, with perennials and small shrubs.  I have a path on one side, and a road on the other. I have to be careful not to let things stray on the road too much..


    .. a longer stretch in the same area, all these are drought tolerant..

    ..the random pot in a gravel bed..

    ..I like Gaura's, Scabious and red Daylilies.. and grasses..

    ..this Achnatherum grass does well in dry conditions.. I also use Stips and Pennisetum..

    East Anglia, England
  • MarlorenaMarlorena Posts: 8,620
    Well I hope it's given you some ideas... Best of luck with your exciting project.. I'm sure you'll figure out what's best for you..
    East Anglia, England
  • Marlorena said:
    Well I hope it's given you some ideas... Best of luck with your exciting project.. I'm sure you'll figure out what's best for you..
    Thank you for your comprehensive feedback! Your borders look wonderful. And you've given me some excellent ideas. 
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