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Americans Introduced Foundation Planting

Americans introduced foundation planting.

We have all seen a foundation planting that has grown out of bounds.

It might be a rhododendrum that now reaches to the second floor window. Though planted with good intentions, the shrub now grows beyond its original purpose.

Foundation plantings appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is an American garden feature.

Lee Somerville writes in her book Vernacular Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Garden Making, “An interesting development that reflected national changes is seen in the gradual recommendation for foundation plantings – that is, the planting of a border close to the foundation of the house.”

The magazine Garden and Forest first mentioned foundation plantings in 1891, a point that Somerville notes from the work of garden historian Denise Wiles Adams in her book Restoring American Gardens.

Somerville quotes the Boston landscape architect Charles Eliot who suggested in the article connecting the house with the grounds “by massing shrubs along the bases of walls or piazzas.”

Thus foundation planting began and it looks like it will be around for a long time.

Here is a garden in Reno, Nevada that I visited last summer. [Below] Note the plants near the window.

This front yard in Reno, Nevada includes foundation planting.

Somerville writes, “At the 1902 Wisconsin State Horticultural Society meeting, F. E. Pease supported the idea [of foundation planting], suggesting that shrubs and plantings not cover the entire house or foundations but soften them.”

The WSHS discussed shrubs as well as perennial planting along the foundation.

The goal was simply to soften the look of the straight lines of the house to blend in with the contours of the landscape.

A worthy enough goal.

Much has happened with foundation planting since that early time when the idea was first proposed.

Today it is quite common to include foundation plantings in a residential design. It is however up to the homeowner to maintain them which usually means pruning to avoid that over-grown look.

Somerville notes that Wisconsin gardeners were way ahead in the inclusion of foundation plantings in the landscape.

She writes,”A review of the WSHS literature includes Wisconsin horticulturists may have been ahead of the national trend. The first mention of foundation planting at WSHS meetings by Charles Ramsdell in 1900, ten years before [Liberty Hyde] Bailey and nearly twenty years before the rest of the nation took notice.”



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