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Foundation plantings — an important part of the landscape

There are a few considerations before deciding what you may or may not want to use

Bishop’s goutweed looks effective along a north-facing foundation in a raised bed, and a wagon wheel adds interest.

Foundation plantings are an important feature, and as they are located near a house, help to transition the house into the landscape.

Typically shrubs and pyramidal trees have been used as foundation plants, but some homeowners may be reluctant to use these, fearing that the roots will harm the foundation or the constant watering will cause moisture problems in the foundation or lower level of the house. These reservations have some merit; it is wise to keep trees and shrubs several feet away from the house. When they reach their mature size they will be close enough to the house even with their trunks being several feet away from the foundation. The constant rubbing of tree branches against the siding of the house will not do it any good either.

Trees or shrubs have enough substance and size to provide plantings in scale with the size of the home, but they need not be used along all parts of the foundation. Perhaps because of the above reasons or there simply might not be space for them, then alternative plans must be used. There might be a sidewalk just a couple of feet from the house, allowing no room for large plants, or there might be large windows allowing light into the lower level of the house that the homeowner does not want reduced.

When other choices are necessary, one method is to use xeri­scaping techniques. This method works well against a south-facing foundation where the heat is intense and any moisture soon evaporates. Landscape fabric is laid down and then some kind of decorative mulch like bark chips or shredded bark is put on top of it. River rock or some other kind of stone or gravel is another alternative and will require less maintenance, but something needs to be placed on top of the mulch to create interest.

For those who are no longer able to care for plants, inanimate objects such as pieces of driftwood or several large interesting rocks could be used. Or how about some old farming pieces such as cogs, wheels and implement seats for a rural-style landscape, or maybe a large ceramic piece? The idea is to take away the bareness of the mulch without making the area look cluttered, so keep it simple.

A gardener might use a few large containers of plants sitting on the mulch and these would be easy to look after. When using containers in this way, it is imperative that they are sitting absolutely level — nothing is more distracting than a row of containers that are not sitting level. For a unified effect the containers should be identical, or at least be made of the same material and be the same colour.

If plants are going to be put in the ground against a south-facing foundation, they must be chosen carefully. They must be able to endure hot temperatures — not only will they get the full force of direct sun but there will be heat reflected onto them from the foundation itself. African daisies, portulaca, petunias, vinca and marigolds are possible choices. To prevent excess moisture from running down against the foundation, the soil can be drawn up higher along the wall so that water runs away from the foundation toward the plants when they are watered.

If the wall is not south facing, there will be more plant options. In front of a north-facing foundation, a ground cover such as bishop’s goutweed could be used instead of a mulch — acting as a living mulch. Containers or decorative objects could still be placed on it although the containers would have to be tall or placed on pedestals to ensure they are visible above the plants, and the decorative objects would have to be of a suitable size so as not to be overwhelmed by the goutweed.

Along an east- or west-facing foundation, living ground covers such as creeping Jenny or stonecrop could be used. These would also work along a south-facing foundation as both are quite drought tolerant and can endure high temperatures. A few taller perennials (such as tulips and peonies) might be planted here and there along the wall as many will have no trouble growing up through the living mulch. Small shrubs such as barberry might also be used.

Like other areas of the garden, designing unique foundation plantings can be a fun creative process for the gardener.

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