Hide "eyesore" foundations with eye-pleasing plants!

The Plant Man column for publication week of 11/02/03 - 11/08/03 (696 words)
The Plant Man by Steve Jones www.landsteward.org
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 description:
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 via e-mail.
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 leaves.
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 little research!
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org where you can also subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter.

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