Planting along a north facing garage wall - zone 5

We are trying to come up with a plan for planting a bed along a north facing garage wall along the front of our house. The garage is on the front of the house (road side), but it is a side entry garage, meaning the garage door is on the side, not the front facing the street. So now we have this large plain wall facing the street that guests must walk around to reach the front of the house from the driveway. There is a sidewalk that runs parrallel to the wall, leaving a 6' wide (x 26' long) bed. The garage wall is 24' long, two stories, peaks at the center about 24' above grade. The wall has two windows, each about 6' in from each end, leaving a 12' space between the windows. These windows are positioned kind of high, the bottom of the window is about 5' above grade. It is a big, tall, ugly, plain wall that needs some plantings to lessen its overpowering visual impact. My wife feels that we should plant something tall at each end, between the windows and the ends of the north facing wall, and also something tall in the 12' space between the windows. And conversely, plant shorter plants under each window. My wife was thinking about planting Emerald Green Arborvitaes at each end, between the windows and the wall ends. These will eventually get 10' to 15' tall and break up the straight edge of this garage wall She then wanted to plant something shorter like boxwoods or similar groupings under the windows. Then she wanted something taller between the windows, but she didn't have anything picked out yet. This taller tree/shrub would draw attention away from the big flat garage wall behind it. She then planned to fill in the areas between with various perrenials, grasses, rocks, etc, maybe a few annuals too. Due to the fact that this is a north facing wall, and will only get sun during the morning and evening, and shade during mid-day, the plants need to be somewhat shade tolerant. What do you gardening experts think? Any plant or grouping suggestions that would work well here? This is our first gardening project and could really use some good suggestions. thanks, Matt
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Unless you have a very formal setting, I would avoid planting a rigidly symmetrical plan with identical tall plants at the ends and in the middle. I would instead plant some groupings of taller plants (small trees and shrubs) on the ends with shorter shrubs and perennials in front of them. The plants in each grouping shouldn't all be repeated in each grouping. The focal point between the windows doesn't have to be a plant. You could install a trellis or some other structure to support a vine.Furthermore, the Emerald Green Arborvitae are deadly common and don't do that well in the shade. Eventually one or more will decline, leaving you with a rigid planting scheme that is ruined due to the loss of key plants. If you try to purchase a like-size replacement in 8 years, it will be very costly. Trying to break-up a long expanse by punctuating it with tall, cylindrical plants seems unnatural. I would replace the arborvitae with trees such as dogwood, crabapples, Japanese Maple, redbud, or magnolia. Instead of the boxwood, I would consider fothergilla, itea, azaleas, spirea, clethera, or other shrubs with multi-season interest that do well in your area.
Large garden centers often have landscape designers who will make a master plan for a nominal fee. They will usually credit the fee if you by the plants from them within a specified time. I would look around at commercial and residential installations in your area and take notes and pictures.
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only thing that would be symmetrical would be a single arborvitae at each end. We intended to use some other taller plantings in between the windows. The problem I see with your suggestions is the width of the bed being a limiting factor. The bed is only 6' between the sidewalk and the house. We figured the arborvitae which grows to 4' wide would fill this space nicely without growing into the house or out over the sidewalk. Also, we have several crabapples already. One out in the lawn, about 25' from the corner of the house, and another crab up close to the house in front of the dining room windows. This crab is only about 8 feet or so from the corner of this bed where we inteded to put the arborvitae. Another idea I had was to use larger flowering shrubs such as a Rose of Sharon shrub or possibly a fragrant viburnum. I like your suggestion of the trellis, and we too had thought of that also. But I don't think this trellis would get enough sun for any flowering vines such as clematis or similar. And I don't know of any flowering vines that are showy in shade. There is a large nursery that offers design services, which we may look into further. thanks for your suggestions. Matt
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Without seeing the site, it is hard to give good advice. I wouldn't limit the bed to one side of the walkway. If possible, I would let the walk bisect the bed, at least in one or two areas. You have to think outside the box sometimes. Of course the final selection of plant material has to please you, but the thought of framing the structure with arborvitae doesn't appeal to me. The best reason for using that particular plant is that it is a fast grower, but it sounds like a done deal.
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Matt wrote:

What zone are you in? Your description sounds just like my garage arrangement. We've got red barberries under the windows. Not only do they provide good color, they deter anyone from trying to climb into the windows which is important when you have windows so far from the main part of the house.
Good luck, Laura B.
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