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Why We’re Landscaping the Front Yard at Tree House

These are the plans for our front yard landscaping project at our Michigan Tree House, from building a berm to choosing perennials.

A wide view of our front yard at our Michigan Tree House | via Yellow Brick Home
Our Michigan Tree House

Why Landscape the Front Yard?

For years, we’ve focused our exterior upkeep on the backyard, wraparound deck, and perhaps my favorite outdoor Tree House project – the cute little Shed That Could. With those projects behind us, we could finally turn our attention to the front yard! This project has been a long time coming, as we’ve been daydreaming all the ways to maximize this space while highlighting the nature that surrounds the home.

A view of our Michigan home from the street, colored with fall foliage | via Yellow Brick Home

That said, a recent snafu had us considering this project more urgently, after a tangle of ivy on the left side of our property began to choke out the big pine tree closest to the house (see above). After our landscaping team removed the ivy, they realized how tangled it was to the scrub that divided our home and our neighbor’s home. As they began to peel back the layers, we were left with a HUGE gap that removed most of the greenery. As it turned out, the foliage that separated the two properties was mostly invasive species.

Here’s a closer look facing the scrub between our home and our neighbor’s home, after the ivy was removed. You can see that it’s mostly low invasive ground cover and/or weeds that have turned into tiny trees:

Sad invasive species between the two properties | via Yellow Brick Home

One of the only actual trees, below on the left, had to be cut in an unfortunate way to remove a big chunk of the foliage tangle. Below on the right, you can see the scrub beginning to creep into the side yard, which leads to our backyard.

Sad invasive species between the two properties | via Yellow Brick Home

Finding the Landscaping Team

We’ve worked with CR Lawn Service for years, a landscaping team local to southwest Michigan, to help us with weekly lawn maintenance (mostly a mow, surface level weed removal, and spring clean up). They referred us to Lani at Rootbound Design to help us with a plan. Lani has been an absolute dream to work with (an understatement, really!), and we would recommend her to anyone in the area. Lani would help us come up with a plan, and CR Lawn would complete the work with her overseeing the project from start to finish.

Our Wish List

The front yard has always been underutilized, but we’ve always enjoyed the deep expanse of green. It’s ALL grass from the deck to the big maple tree where we hung a web swing. So while that is nice, it leaves little in terms of seating for adults, who would like to be closer to the kids while they play. We had a big list of wishes, such as:

  • a gas fire pit for shorter and less smoky hangouts than our wood burning pit (located in the back yard). We bought this fireplace and these Polywood loveseats.
  • outcroppings to encircle the fire area
  • perennial native plants for interest
  • tall plantings to bring back the privacy
  • evergreens for year round color
  • a low split rail fence for visual separation between the yard and road

The First Plan

The first plan came back, and we were in love. It incorporated ev-er-y-thing we asked for, from low, colorful perennials to bushy rhododendron and a thick row of arborvitae.

Landscaping design plan | via Yellow Brick Home

These are the plants that would show variation in color and height year-round, and would require low maintenance based on our location (zone 6).

The problem? It was far outside our budget! Although Lani knew our budget, once the quote came back from CR for their portion of the work, we quickly went above and beyond the price we had in mind, which hovered around $10,000 from start to finish. The biggest culprit was the row of stone outcroppings, which swallowed the entire budget. So, needless to say, we nixed that. And we’re okay with it.

The Final Plan (for Now)

There were second and third plans, too, mostly variations in plants and playing with the shape where the landscape meets the grass. Not only did we nix the stone outcropping, but we cut back on the number of trees, and after a heart to heart with Lani, we agreed that we may need to do this project in phases – which would include some of our own DIY muscles.

The most obvious difference between this plan and the first is that this plan is mostly black and white, with a few areas colored in:

Landscaping design plan | via Yellow Brick Home

The areas that are colored in on the plan above are what we’re tackling now. The rest of the plan is something we’ll tackle in the spring of 2023 and into next fall, which incudes everything from ferns to hostas to the lower ground cover. This brought us back to budget, while also allowing us to keep our gas fireplace!

These are the plants that are being planted this fall, which gives us a solid base to grow upon. From 1-5, we have 1) Green Giant Arborvitae, 2) Inkberry Holly, 3) Flowering Dogwood, 4) Nannyberry, and 5) Rhododendron.

We will tackle ALL the mulching, but the final price that brought us to $10k still included edging, gravel, the fireplace, the addition of a berm (for height) and planting of the main components. In the spring, we can either hire CR to come back and help us complete a large portion of the work, or we can decide to plant ourselves. We’re not sure where we’ll land with that just yet, but we know we’ll need to put in some sweat equity to fully realize our vision!

And the Landscaping Work Has Begun!

Within a few hours, they leveled the scrub, and we could see what we were working with:

Landscaping work has begun! Clearing work for the berm | via Yellow Brick Home

You can see below where Lani and team sprayed the shape of the landscape, which was then edged.

Creating landscape lines | via Yellow Brick Home
Creating a path from front yard to back | via Yellow Brick Home
How the berm looks with a wide view | via Yellow Brick Home

The berm is 18″ tall and allows for additional height while providing a natural visual separation between the two properties. The taller trees are planted directly onto the berm, and the mid-height and lower plants will continue to trail down the easement of the berm. It’s really tough to see, but there are a handful of twiggy Nannyberry planted in the middle section of the berm. We can’t wait to see them pop in the spring!

A close up of the berm | via Yellow Brick Home
Walking path with rhododendron | via Yellow Brick Home

Since these photos were taken, gravel has been laid in the fire pit and along the walking path (I’m weirdly excited about the walking path), but not much else will really happen until this coming spring. The split rail fence will be installed in the spring as well. And you know we’ll share progress as it happens in Stories @yellowbrickhome, and we’ll touch base once we dig into Phase 2 of this project!

Like outdoor projects? See our small urban front yard, how we DIYed a wood burning fire pit, how we installed an underground downspout, a budget shed makeover and a DIY rope swing!

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  • lak12.6.22 - 7:58 AM

    Love that when necessary you consult and work with experts!  Your front yard is a testament to consulting those who know.  Love that you continue to work on what you can to save a buck when needed, like the rest of us!  Can’t wait to see this take shape.  Love all the drawings in the photos, especially the first plan, however I get that when over budget we all make choices.  Thanks, love your blog!  PS the cased opening door looks great!ReplyCancel

  • Michelle12.6.22 - 11:47 AM

    Those nannyberries will be flourishing in no time!  Thanks for sharing the multiple versions of the project, so we can see that everyone makes choices to fit their budget.  It’s helpful to keep in mind when we’re planning our own projects and we need multiple revisions to match our vision to our budget.ReplyCancel

    • Kim12.6.22 - 12:33 PM

      Love hearing this! Lani was sure to pick plants that would really fill out and close the gap. We cannot wait to see what starts to bloom come spring!ReplyCancel

  • Sam12.6.22 - 2:25 PM

    The plans look great! Just an idea – I know it wasn’t in your list of perennials, but brunnera is a great easy and tough perennial that grows pretty fast and is so easy to divide over time so that you get more plants for your money. I bought one plant at adams and son 5 years ago and have made divisions or taken off small bits at least 7 times. [The same can be done with hostas, but more infrequently or not at all if you want them to grow big.] https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/brunnera-macrophylla-jack-frost/ReplyCancel

    • Kim12.6.22 - 3:19 PM

      Ooh, that’s a great tip, thank you! Adams and Sons (and Daughter!) is the BEST.ReplyCancel

  • gigi12.7.22 - 8:24 AM

    did you talk to your neighbors about the change or was all of that shrub on your property?ReplyCancel

    • Kim12.7.22 - 10:31 AM

      We did! It was mostly on our property, although the berm is half/half now. They offered to pay for half of the demolition (about $1,000), and they may plant whatever they’d like on their side.ReplyCancel

  • Emme12.7.22 - 11:22 AM

    I love seeing people’s landscaping plans! So exciting to see progress. I have a small front yard and also got sticker shock when it came to landscaping. Most designers I called wanted $10,000 to come up with a plan and tear out everything including an expensive Japanese maple I’d been carefully shaping for a clean slate. That was before anything was put in. Decided I’ll go the 100% DIY route with some library books. ReplyCancel

    • Rachel12.9.22 - 2:03 PM

      Hi! I just moved into a house in April that had its yard and landscaping fairly neglected. I wanted to keep what’s healthy and then add a lot of native plants to improve the habitat possibilities. I don’t know much about landscaping and plants, but I also didn’t want to pay the $10,000 type price tag. I also know that sometimes big landscaping companies don’t have real gardeners, arborists, or landscape designers/architects; they have guys who like to use machines, put in hardscape, and dig holes.
      So I looked around in my area and found a local woman with excellent credentials and work , but who doesn’t do any of the labor herself. She just charges a fee to come up with plans. I liked this idea because there wouldn’t be any expectation that I would be buying from her or sticking to a timeline of work completion or anything like that. She came out to my house for an hour the first time, walking the property, measuring, taking pictures, and talking to me about what I wanted. I emailed with her before that just to give her an idea of my thoughts. 
      She then gave me a first draft plan, on which I gave her feedback about what I liked/didn’t like. We then talked a few more times when she had questions, and then she gave me a final, full plan. She came back to the house a second time after that to go over the final plan and see if I had questions. I loved what she did, and as part of her fee, she will give me advice on plant substitutions once I do the work, and recommendations on phasing. I plan to do some stuff myself, so that will be helpful.
      The bottom line is that I have a full, professional plan of my landscaping that was done by someone with no interest in telling me to put in expensive plants or anything like that. I can give that plan to someone who is good at using machines, digging holes, and following directions to help do the stuff I can’t/don’t want to do.  I can do the stuff I’m capable of doing (like pulling out boatloads of pachysandra) when I can.  All in all, the plan cost me $900, which isn’t cheap, but which seemed very reasonable for the amount of time she spent with me, the quality of the work, and her future services.
      It might be worth a look to see if you have someone near you who could do something similar!ReplyCancel

      • Kim12.9.22 - 5:10 PM

        This is such great feedback, Rachel! Thank you for chiming in. I hope others will find this comment valuable as I have!ReplyCancel

  • Vanessa12.15.22 - 7:15 PM

    Very niceReplyCancel

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