Now that Spring is in the air, we're turning our attention back to the sad, unplanted areas in the front of our house. These areas are comprised of a whopping two urns and the small space around our newly planted city tree. What these areas lack in size, they need to make up for in impact, and that's why we feel choosing the right border for our flower bed is so important. 

When we purchased our 1880s Victorian back in 2003, a large, majestic tree graced the front of our house with its presence. It's massive limbs and full branches provided cool shade in the summer, and added a softness to what is a very stark and hard lined house. 

Sadly, this tree fell victim to disease and rot, and for safety's sake, had to be removed by the city back in the fall of 2010. After seeing how hollow the trunk was once the tree was removed, we were glad the tree hadn't crashed through the front of our house in a storm, or dropped one of its massive limbs on a pedestrian.

After a lot of constant nagging gentle reminders (more on the tree saga in this post), the city planted a tree in its place, and we're excited to finally finish the area with a border and flowers. So here's what we have to work with now. 

Here's a closer look at the area around our new tree. If you really look, you might see a couple of things we expect to challenge our beautification efforts. 

Can you spot them? We fully expect the water meter, the mess of tree roots left from the old tree that once stood in this location, and the lack of curb on the street side to make planting and border installation a real pain. For starters, we can't build the dirt up very high or we'll cover the water meter. Second of all, the gnarly tree roots will impede our ability to easily  create a flat and level surface on which to install the flower bed border. And finally, without a curb on the street side of the area, keeping dirt in the area will be on ongoing battle. But like all DIY projects, we'll just have to work through these challenges one by one until we get the desired results. 

Before we get to the back breaking, dirty step of the project though, let's have a little fun with dreaming up a design! Now that we've started paying attention to what other homes and businesses around town are doing, we've realized there are so many flower bed border options to choose from. So let's take a look at some of the other styles in and around our neighborhood.

It seems a lot of homes and businesses use a wood surround for their beds. I suppose this is the least expensive of the options, and is relatively easy to install.

Although the wood borders look pretty nice right after installation, they don't seem to stand the test of time. Here's a look at a border that has seen better days.

Another approach is to use something like loosely placed stones or slate to form a more natural looking border around the planted area.

Another option is to use horizontal brick placed side to side as the surround. This look surely fits with the Old Town aesthetic, but personally I think the non-mortared brick tends to look a little sloppy. I'm also worried it won't look great against our concrete sidewalk. 

On the other hand, a mortared brick flower bed can look neat and orderly, and will surely stand the test of time (and the beating from foot traffic -- both the canine and back-from-the-bar kinds), but it's one of the most difficult from a DIY perspective.

Another option could be the use of another stone as a border. We've seen this approach with granite blocks all around Old Town lately. At first I didn't like it, but as I see it more, I have to admit it's growing on me. If the bed is filled in with plants, this could be a nice option. 

A few weeks ago we noticed a new style of fencing the homeowners along Queen and North St. Asaph streets have been installing. This fencing is much higher and would surely keep dogs and people from trampling our plantings, but it is a bit of a departure from other more typical approaches. I do like it, and consider it a front runner.

The last option, and my personal favorite, is the use of a higher iron or metal fencing, possibly in conjunction with a nice brick border. This photo was taken in DC around the Penn Quarter/China Town area. Maybe it's the lush plantings, but this look I find to be both inviting and finished.

This ironwork is actually the standard DC flower bed surround in the style and design you see all around the area.

At this point it's a bit of a toss up as to how we proceed. I could also see checking out a few salvage yards for some lower garden cast iron borders. No matter what we end up doing, I think it will surely look better than what we have right now, but we need a plan to move forward with.

We would love it if you weighed in with your opinions. What's your preference from our photos? And are we missing something obvious that we should actually be doing? It's great to hear your ideas as they always tend to get our creative juices flowing.

Comments 13


Maureen Brady Johnson
4/4/2012 at 12:12 PM
I like the low wrought iron best. One tip of advice: buy perennials for most of your plantings and fill in every year with annuals. You can change the color palette every year! Also, be careful to choose plants that fit the sunlight in that area. Nothing like planting Hosta in a sunny bed and having it toast in the bright sun.
Thanks for the advice Mrs. J. The front of the house gets a pretty good amount of sun from about noon until just before sunset, so we'll have to keep that in mind.
Maureen Brady Johnson
4/4/2012 at 12:15 PM
PS to the other advice I gave you...choose a really nice ground cover cloth. It will keep the weeds at bay.
4/4/2012 at 3:18 PM
Oooh, I love the last option! It would be a nice nod to your great cast iron stairs.
I think we're leaning that way. I'm trying to locate where we can get this style of rail from.
Karin K
4/4/2012 at 4:19 PM
I vote for the lower wrought iron and brick combo as well. I also like the mortared brick. As for covering the water meter - I have found it to be very useful to cover ours, just with mulch, because then I can tell when they aren't reading it! Whenever they estimate our reading, the bill is crazy high. Plus, some areas have switched to remote-read systems and don't even have to open the lid.
That's a very good point on the water meter. We might need to do something similar.
4/5/2012 at 4:45 AM
I like the lower cast iron ones, the high ones are a bit too much I think. I also quite like the wooden ones, both old and new actually. xox
4/5/2012 at 11:09 AM
We are having the same debate right now about our front yard flower bed! We're leaning toward lower cast iron, as well, although the style will have to be simple, since our home is a Second Empire style with a very simple front iron railing. I will let you know if I find anything interesting!
Emily B
4/5/2012 at 2:16 PM
Hey! My favorite is the tall iron. I'm not sure if I would plant any other flowers in the bed though. The same thing happened to my husband and me 3 years ago. We lost the city tree right in front of our house and it was replaced by a small cherry tree. It looked so dinky when it was first planted that I kept adding flowers. None of them made it through the summer though. I tried again in year 2 and still nothing lasted. I think the tree was drinking all of their water. This year, I just mulched and it doesn't look so bad. :)
4/17/2012 at 12:00 PM
Definitely agree - I love the last one!
threadbndr (karla)
4/18/2012 at 11:20 AM
Either the mortared brick or the brick and short iron (especially if you can play off the styling of the steps).

Since my foundation is local quarried rough limestone, that's what I'm using for the planting beds in front of my house. It's always good to echo another element in the house/landscape.
I couldn't agree with you more about repeating elements in design. My favorite look is the brick and short iron by far, but the bricks look like they'll be nearly impossible with all of the tree roots, cement and lack of curb on the street side. It's looking like we may have to "settle" for just iron....but we'll keep you posted.
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