Framing an entrance

Tonight we present you with yet another episode of “Looking back on how John f’ed up in the garden this year”:  
I have a garden design dilemma. 
Whenever I am planning a garden around an entrance way (and by “planning” I mean, planting without thinking) , I feel the need to “frame” said entrance or “bookend” the entrance with the same tree/shrub. It seems like the only viable option if I want the garden to look balanced and in sync.  
I’ve done this successfully in the past, but quite often, the strategy backfires. And looking back on this year, it failed miserably.
Example #1 – Below, you’ll see that there is a Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’ to the left of the landing that looks OK,  but the one on the right … not so much:      

Obviously, it makes the entrance way look completely out of balance, but I had no choice because the Hibiscus on the right was brutally destroyed/chowed down on in early summer:

So “a chopping” I went:

The obsessive part of me could not handle how this looked while hanging in the backyard, so I eventually moved both of the Hibiscus to another part of the yard. I figured I could survive this tragedy knowing that the back deck was still “framed” by the two large arborvitae (more on that in a few).

Example #2 – Below is a photo of the entrance from my driveway to the backyard. In a moment of panic (why I don’t recall) I planted two Caryopteris ‘Sunshine Blue’ at the front of this entrance. Once again, you can see that the shrub on the left gave up and threw in the towel once it hit three inches in height:      

Yet the one on the right thrived:

As much as it pained me to do it, I left this mess as is. But rest assured, they are both coming out this spring as we do the transplant dance once the ground is no longer frozen.

Example #3 – Remember the aforementioned Arborvitaes? Well that didn’t work out so well either.

Here they are looking OK late in the summer:

And then one got hit by the dreaded bagworm:

And the other nearly ripped out by Superstorm Sandy:

Losing the Arborvitaes may be a blessing in disguise but that is besides the point.

Even if the plants chosen to frame an entrance survive and thrive, if one is larger or fuller than the other, it can defeat the purpose of attempting to frame in the first place. It’s a roll of the dice that they will develop and grow together in perfect harmony.

That is why I am going to attempt to NOT match “like plants” in these examples above next spring. I will still attempt to frame, but with varying plants and a little creativity. Hopefully it will still look and feel similar, without having to be the perfect match. Does that even make an ounce of sense?

Feel free to offer up advice, we are always accepting feedback free of charge.


12 thoughts on “Framing an entrance

  1. Lisa

    YES! I totally feel your pain. My front entrance was becoming very unbalanced with a thriving young boxwood on one side and a gigantic hosta on the other. They were alright for a while, but as the boxwood got taller the shape, color, texture and size were so far out of balance it was becoming an eyesore! I moved the hosta this summer and replaced it with a pineapple guava! I’m probably going to lose it because it’s not really supposed to live here (I’m on the Jersey Shore) but it’s a foundation planting in full sun so maybe I’ve micro-climated (?haha) my way out of that. The shape and texture should match the boxwood better and I may end up ditching the boxwood in a year or so to replace it with something else. I also am a fan of the transplant dance. 🙂

  2. Gatsbys Gardens

    I do a few like plants here and there just to tie both sides into the look. But, I have different plants on each side of my entrance. My front area faces east so it even receives different amounts of sun and shade on each side.


  3. Laurrie

    The “one on each side” look is too stiff for the relaxed look of your place. You will be a lot happier with a creative mix of plants that aren’t mirror images of each other. Nature had to go to some extremes to teach you this concept, but you got it now! I’ll be interested to see what you plant.

  4. Gaia Gardener:

    I totally agree with Laurrie. Maybe a small flowering tree on one side, counterbalanced by a medium-large shrub on the other side, with small shrubs and perennials or grasses/sedges (maybe groundcovers) providing the continuity….

  5. Angie

    I tend to agree with both of the above – similar coloured flowers would perhaps help towards the balance you want to achieve. You could also get the symmetry you are after by having pots on either side of your steps with seaonal planting – which could easily be propagated to keep them going over the years.
    What about a couple of wooden obelisks painted to match your paintwork with different climbing roses on either side. The obelisks being the ‘frame’ rather than the plant itself.

  6. Florida Farm Girl

    My two cents. I think you’re just looking for balance, not necessarily matchy-matchy stuff. So go ahead and plant a variety of things but using similar heights. Besides, you’re always tougher on yourself than anyone else would ever be.

  7. Sarah/ Galloping Horse Garden

    As someone who is a complete disaster at garden design, I thoroughly enjoyed this post (and believe me, I’m laughing with you, not at you). Plants certainly do have a mind of their own. Look on the bright side – your survivors look spectacular!

  8. allan becker

    A transitional height is missing between the tall cedars and the other shrubs and perennials in the beds that flank the stairs and veranda railings. The result is a visual imbalance and tension. You did not f up. You simply omitted a step in the garden’s design. There’s always next spring to remedy the situation. Florida Farm Girl reminds us that you are much too hard on yourself but I submit that such an attitude – whether real or contrived – gives your blog its uniqueness.

  9. Taylor

    I might suggest planting small trees or large shurbs on one or both sides of the steps. The garden plantings don’t really lend to the formal appearance of those arborvitae, something with multiple season interest would be good. My thoughts would be Leatherleaf Viburnum, hardy Southern Magnolia, Star Magnolia, Serviceberry, Japanese Maple (‘Bloodgood’ is great choice), or some unique dwarf/weeping conifer. Mix and match!

    If you go with something a little larger, you could create a shade garden as well in a few years, which I don’t recall seeing. Shade gardening is a fun challenge!

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