The Plant Man column
for publication week of 11/02/03 - 11/08/03
The Plant Man
by Steve Jones
Hide "eyesore" foundations with eye-pleasing plants!
Does this sound familiar? You find a home that seems ideal for you
and your family. Great location. Attractive design. Nice sized lot. In
fact it would be perfect if it were not for just one little thing that
seems to attract your eye like a magnet! Whatever that "little thing"
is, it stands out like a sore thumb spoiling your enjoyment of the
remaining 99 percent.
I was reminded of this when I read a recent e-mail from a reader named
Roger. In his case it all started when he and his wife had an addition
built on to their existing home. He gave me a fairly thorough
The room has southern exposure and has an area 15 ft. long and 22
inches wide where they're planning to create a rock garden. In
Roger's case, the "sore thumb" is the foundation area of the new
addition, which he told me is approximately 12" high. He added that
the east end of the area
gets adequate (4-5 hours) sunshine per day in the growing season,
whereas the west end only gets about 1-2 hours of sun due to an
adjacent 80 ft. oak tree.
Roger wants to find some kind of landscaping solution that will work
for the entire area of the foundation but has had very limited success
planting annuals in this area. Why? Because of the variation in
exposure to sunlight, the plants at the east end are tall and lush and
hide the foundation. But the west end is another story. The
foundation there is exposed due to the diminished amount of sunlight
falling on the plants.
Roger asked me for some ideas. If you have a similar area, with
dramatically different exposure to sunlight, you might find my
suggestions useful, too!
First of all, I suggested that Roger plant some ornamental grasses
quite close to the foundation to act as a backdrop. This will soften
the harshness of the brick or cement and will be very pleasing to the
eye from late spring through summer and winter. The only time the
foundation will be briefly exposed is in the spring when he cuts the
grasses down to the ground to allow for new growth.
As for the foreground, I'd consider Hypericum calycinum. This plant
has a wide tolerance for soil and moisture types and would work
particularly well in conjunction with the rock garden that Roger is
planning. Yes, it WILL do better in the area exposed to more sunlight,
but the grasses behind it won't allow the difference to be so obvious.
Hypericum is very attractive as a ground cover but the root system can
spread quite rapidly underground and can be a bit invasive. If that
doesn't bother you, Hypericum would be a very appealing addition to
the foundation area.
Hostas also spring to mind. Regular readers know that I've discussed
them several times in previous columns about groundcover. You can find
all my archived columns and other related articles at
www.landsteward.org and of course you're always welcome to contact me
A pleasant contrast to the Hypericum and Hostas would be some Elephant
Ears. There are several varieties that I like, including Black Magic,
Giant Upright and Dwarf Fallax. The latter is a particular favorite of
mine and thrives in both light and shade. You can easily recognize
Fallax from the silver streak down the center of its velvety green
An ideal evergreen for this type of landscaping challenge would be
Mugho Pine, sometimes known as Swiss Mountain Pine. Unlike the more
familiar pine trees, this variety is a low-growing, spreading plant
and would look delightful in the rock garden that Roger is planning to
build in front of the foundation.
For every man-made eyesore, it seems that Nature is able to provide us
with an aesthetically pleasing solution, if we're willing to do a
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and
additional information, including archived columns, visit
www.landsteward.org where you can also subscribe to Steve's free