Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Moat in the Front of Our House

Thank you, thank you for all of the lovely comments on my Photoshop 'look into the future' of the front of our house.  I am pretty pleased with the way my plan should look when I get finished.  (IF I get finished)

A few of you mentioned growing roses on the porch, or modifying the design by doing something closer to the house, and I realized that I should do a post to clarify the unusual  layout of the front of our house.  From the driveway, the place looks like any other house where the grade goes straight to the house ... but take a few steps toward the porch, and the situation becomes more apparent.

We have stairs on each side of our porch that lead to the area that we call 'The Moat".

The retaining wall you see here was probably built by the family who remodeled our house in the 1930s or 40s.  The grade of the land was changed significantly at that time, and it allows access to underneath the front porch ... you can walk straight under the porch from one side of the house to the other.  Sometimes, we call the porch "The Drawbridge".

When we bought the house, The Moat was mostly a swamp.  Rainwater tended to run toward the house and end up in the moat, not a good situation for a house with a basement.  To remedy the situation, we dug a trench, installed drain tile and a surface drain, added a second drain line to carry the water from the downspouts, raised the grade on the south side of our house, and now our basement is significantly drier.  The timbers you see between the house and the wall show how much we raised the grade on this side of the house to correct the drainage.

Our house originally had a typical English basement.  I have doctored this photo of the north corner of the house to show you where the original grade line was before the moat was installed so long ago.    These smaller windows are in our laundry room, and they are the only basement windows that are still their original size.  (When the moat was built, the openings for the other windows in the basement were enlarged.)

Now that you can (hopefully) see the challenges of our front yard, I think you can clearly understand the difficulties we have had to overcome in designing the landscaping for the front of our house.  Though I would LOVE to put a climbing rose on the porch (White Cap would be PERFECT!), there's no soil anywhere near the porch to plant it in.

In this photo, I have outlined the retaining wall in red.  See how these windows are significantly longer than the originals on the other side of the house? 

Here is the view of the planter and retaining wall, looking from the left side of the above photo toward the porch.  It shows the stepped-down far end of the planter and brick wall that is the side of our brick stairs on the front porch. 

Imagine boxwoods planted in that long, empty space.

What's planted in that bed lined with cobblestones that you see in the photo above, you ask?  Roses, of course!  Next year, when the roses have a bit more size, they will be trained to wire on the wall of the house.

The roses are:  1. Reve d'Or,  2. Marechal Niel,  3.  Perle d'Or,  4. Alister Stella Gray.  This bed also has clumps of heirloom iris and a row of peonies dug long ago from The Husband's grandfather's garden.  These peonies have moved with us FOUR times ... who says you can't move peonies?

So, the plan is set.  This morning, the ground is dry enough to dig, and I plan to be outside (as soon as I have a good breakfast) digging holes for our new boxwood bushes.  Once the boxwoods are planted, it will be time to address the blank grassy area between the planters and the driveway.  We already have a beautiful stone walkway ... but it needs SOMETHING ... put on your thinking caps and see if there's anything that you can suggest.

This is a stitched photo showing both sides of the front walkway. 

It's a beautiful day for digging some holes!!


  1. Hello and it's the first time that I'm posting on your site, so I hope you don't mind my beginning by posting suggestions, but here it is:
    1. I would replace the 2 small stone pots with 2 stone pots at least 4 times their size, they look a bit out of proportion to me.
    2. I would plant 2 miscanthus sinensis gracillimus in the middle of the area between the bushes and the sidewalk.
    3.I would plant hydrangea macrophilla and paniculata to cover the space.
    4.Along the border I would plant 2 types of low growing, long flowering roses in similar colors. That way it will not be boring, but it will look fluent. Any colors you wish. Now to my mind comes Coco-Kordes and Apricot Clementina-Tantau.


  2. The moat is quite the challenge my friend. I think you have some great ideas! Looking forward to seeing you boxwoods planted!

  3. You do have a moat! Interesting and complex when it comes to landscaping!
    I have no ideas. I will wait to watch and see what miracle you weave!
    xo, misha

  4. This so reminds me of Galveston where they raised the soil after the hurricane of 1900. So many house have first floors partially hidden by the raised ground. You are doing a great job. I can't quite figure out the walkway area, but the first thing that came to mind was lavender lining the area - you might could make a big block of lavender between the brick bed and the driveway and put some rose bushes in the middle of the lavender. Hard to tell from this angle.

  5. If you hadn't posted those detailed photos, I would have never imagined what you are dealing with. I had no idea from just the front view.

  6. I loved your moat (an access into the basement) when I saw it, I'm sure you saw the love and appreciation of such a gorgeous house when I visted. Anyway, here is my advice...replace the stone pots with cast iron urns and pediments, to bring height at the entrance of the tall porch, it will actually bring it down a little. At first I was going to say line the walkway in a small boxwood, I have had great luck with Morris Dwarf, I have them around all my rose beds, and they take the sun very well. But I think you should leave it for a while. Live with it. It maybe too much with what is already going on in the front. Can't wait to see it!!! Donna

  7. Your house is lovely and seems to cry for symmetry. Enlarging the lower windows was a huge improvement. I am sure whatever you decide to plant will look terrific!


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