gmtoday_small.gif

 


Diggin’ In: Careful planning creates a no-fuss retirement home

November 21, 2016

The 10-year-old retirement home we purchased in Virginia Beach, Va., in February was tired and outdated — including the front and back yards.

After months of redoing the home’s interior, we focus on the exterior.

Looking to maximize use and enjoyment and minimize maintenance, we opt for pavers for a side yard walkway and backyard patio and all new shrubs for the front.

No-Fuss Shrubs. Larger-than-life hollies and other non-description shrubs planted 10 years ago hide the house and make it difficult, sometimes impossible, to get out of a vehicle parked on the driveway.

In Virginia Beach, Coastal Landscapes and Nursery — http://coastallandscapesandnursery.com — sends a crew and small machinery to remove the 10-foot hollies and other plants. Utility markings — http://va811.com/ or call 811 — are done to prevent any digging that accidentally hits utility lines.

"It’s important to refresh a landscape because overtime the constant pruning and shearing that plants endure creates an unnatural growth habit that leaves each plant with poor access to light," says John Ingram, a graduate of the landscape architecture program at Penn State University and landscape designer for Coastal Landscapes, which installs and redoes existing and new landscapes throughout Hampton Roads.

"This in turn creates interior and ground-level die off.

"A refreshed or new landscape adds curb appeal and is often a deciding factor when choosing a home."

With Ingram’s guidance, our goal in the new landscape is twofold. First, we want to avoid any possible annual pruning to keep the plants healthy and looking good. This goal is accomplished by choosing the right plant for the right place, a Master Gardener golden rule. Secondly, we want a cleaner, simpler landscape look, one that allows our home’s good structure — gabled roof lines, front porch, columns and attractive brick — to be front and center. This goal is accomplished by choosing plants that don’t swallow the house, or block the view of the front door and porch.

We also choose to put no foundation plants on the sides or back of the house — keep-it-simple landscaping that also means the house stays drier and cleaner. Mulch, especially heaping piles of it, and too many, too-large plants invite moisture, mold and insects.

The beds need no sculpting or soil added because they already have nice curvy lines and are raised for good drainage and appearance. Plants that we select include:

—Degroot arborvitae. One of these stately evergreens is placed at each front corner of the house, replacing giant hollies that littered the landscape. The narrow, tall plants reach four to five feet wide and maybe 20 feet tall (I am not above snipping out the top down the road, so the evergreen stays lower; careful snipping can be done so it is not seen. The sides should never need shearing). The rich green foliage takes on a purple cast in winter.

—Winter Gem boxwood. Three of these evergreens were placed in front of a bedroom window. The moderate grower will reach four to six feet tall and wide, but I plan to selectively hand prune each, not shear them, so the plants stay at their current size — about two feet wide and three feet tall. Winter Gem’s dense foliage does make it ideal for shearing as an attractive hedge.

—Baby Gem boxwood. Smaller than Winter Gem, Baby grows about three feet wide and tall. I hope to keep it about half that size because it’s planted in front of the porch.

—Gulf Stream nandina. This dwarf form of larger nandina red new growth and fall foliage with small white spring flowers. I’m hoping it seldom needs pruning, thanks to the front-of-bed room we have given it to flourish.

—Flirt nandina. The littlest of the smaller nandinas, this evergreen is a good low-growing ground cover, reaching one to two feet tall and wide with deep-red new growth. We used these in a front bed where their low-growing personality would not block views of the house, especially the front door.

—Mondo grass. These little tufts of a grass-like plant are ideal for groundcovers and spaces where you want a fuss-free plant. The plant also likes growing among pavers in a walkway. We used it as a space filler in a couple places in the beds and in a small bed between the walkway and front porch steps.

—Easy living pavers

An aggregate concrete patio stretches across the back of the rancher-style house. It’s rough on the feet and cracked from the weight of a former hot tub. At first, we think a wood deck would be the way to go. We don’t want composite wood because it marks too easily when chairs slide across it, and it’s prone to moss and mildew, facts we learned from our previous home.

But, the longer we think about it, the less inclined we are to do a wood deck because it needs annual power washing and frequent sealing or staining.

After months of evaluating the back yard, we decide on concrete pavers by Dominion Pavers, also based in Virginia Beach. Except for the cracked area, the existing patio serves as an underlayment for the new pavers. We expand the patio, going out several more feet, and add curved edges for a flowing look. A narrow side yard also gets pavers, giving us a nice walkway that wraps to the back yard space. All total, the pavers cover 1,200 square feet; furniture for the patio will be a spring purchase.

We choose Chatham Natural pavers in a James River tan that blends with the house’s exterior colors. Chatham Natural is a large three-piece paver with rounded edges that resemble natural flag stone. The seams are filled with a polymeric sand that hardens when moistened, and prevents any weed seeds from sprouting or any ants from making hills. Sweeping and hosing is all the care the patio should ever need.

"Pavers offer unlimited color possibilities and designs," says Chris Rupp, a project manager for Dominion Pavers.

"They have a 50-year or more life expectancy, don’t crack and are three times stronger than poured concrete."

 

 


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services