Landscape Plants Suited For The Modern House


Most people agree that the architectural features of a home influence its landscape plantings, the garden and even the landscape lighting used. Colonial, Tudor, Victorian, Spanish and even nondescript architectures have served as a basis for our home designs for many years. Garden plantings about such homes universally include more or less heavy foundation groupings of shrubs and evergreens which may or may not do the house justice, these may be for privacy or just not be the right style.

Modern architecture is simple, uncluttered and strictly functional – every line has a definite purpose, and much of the landscape designs follow that simplicity even in walkways. The modern one-story house naturally spreads out to accommodate as many rooms as those with upper stories. With the garage attached and with both service and living quarters all on one floor, the modern house is apt to be designed with irregular angles. Then, to differentiate further the modern style from the previously conventional architecture, there are the glass walls and the tremendous window areas that open the rooms to the out-of-doors on to patios and decks.

Designs Are Functional

The change to modern architecture has brought about a change in landscape design and in the plantings near the house.

Gone now are the old so-called foundation plantings. As the design of the house is functional, so must be the design of the plantings. If plants are used at the house, they are placed there to relieve any possible feeling of stiffness, to soften an angle or perhaps to conceal a slight difference in ground level area. The low rambling type of house demands plantings that are appropriate and in scale. Any plant used in conjunction with the modern house must have in itself good structural lines with a character that befits the clean-cut architecture.

A selection of plant material for the modern house does not necessarily include only new and high-priced plants, although it must be admitted that new, and hence more costly, plants are often a good investment. The plant may be well known or not, but it must have good form. For instance, if the yellow of forsythia is wanted for part of a Spring-time garden display from a picture window, the common Forsythia suspensa, with its rangy, unpredictable habits of growth, would not be appropriate. Rather, one of the upright forsythias, such as Forsythia intermedia would be preferred. Superior to older forsythias is the Lynwood Gold Forsythia, with erect branches that become covered with the showiest of yellow blossoms in the early Spring.

Use Low Evergreens

Evergreens are very effective in both Summer and Winter when used to complement the surroundings of the modern house. Moreover, once planted, they require little attention, so that these plants are desirable where upkeep time is a factor in selecting landscape plant materials. Since the dominating lines of modern architecture are horizontal, evergreens near the house will follow the established pattern by forming a long, low planting. Tall or highly “shaped” evergreens are to be avoided for they mar and confuse the effect of simplicity.

An extremely versatile evergreen plant useful for many situations is the Euonymus fortunei regents. It will grow in sun or shade, and can be trained to grow as a vine or as a shrub. Its shiny foliage is very attractive, and in addition the plants bear bright berries in the Fall. If color is desired with the evergreen foliage, low hybrid rhododendrons can be selected to form a neat planting, providing the acid soil requirement is met. The dwarf varieties of juniper, spruce and yew make splendid evergreen plantings, and should be chosen to accommodate one’s taste, pocketbook and soil conditions. Junipers need sun and plenty of room in which to spread.

Some Low Shrubs

Deciduous shrubs will fill the need for a variety of color and texture during different seasons of the year. Small, well-shaped shrubs will be found most suitable to fit in with a planting layout for a home of modern architecture. Among the cotoneasters, C. diraricafa and C. apiculata are both low enough to serve many purposes. Viburnums are usually too large and straggly in their growth to conform to the needs of a modern home, but Viburnum carlcephalum is an exception. It grows as tall as six feet, but can be kept lower by judicious pruning. Its flower clusters are white and delightfully fragrant. Clethra alnifalia roses, a pink form of pepper-bush now available, is neat and low growing, and is best planted in a moist soil.

An attractive outdoor living room

Hedges are most decorative in a modern planting where their long drawn-out lines are in keeping with the horizontal character of the house. Evergreen hedges might be formed with hatfield yew, Taxus media hatfieldi, or Canadian hemlock, Tsuga canarictisis. Deciduous shrubs that make neat hedges are Viburnum opulus nanum, a dwarf variety that reaches about two feet, and Enonymus alatwi compadus, also a dwarf form. Neither of these hedges requires clipping – an important advantage to remember. The euonymus hedge turns fire-red in the Fall when its spectacular color is a bright addition to the landscape. There is a new dwarf barberry of the red-leaved type called Crimson Pygmy. This is expected to become popular as a low shrub, as its color and form are both attractive.

Small Trees in Demand

Of course, trees are essential around a modern house, both for shade and appearance. Too often the planting of trees is neglected, with the result that the house lacks a proper setting. Within immediate range of the modern house, low-growing trees are proportionately correct. The pink and white dogwoods, crab apples or hawthorns have character and beauty, and may be placed at strategic points of vantage. In the background, and for distant shade oaks, elms and maples are sound trees worthy of consideration. The European white birch, Betula pendula is graceful in growth and tall enough to be used as an ornamental background tree.


Many of the modern houses are closely associated with outdoor living terraces and patios. These terraces will be enhanced by low, colorful flower borders. lers. Bedding plants backed by a slightly higher hedge will enclose a terrace without cutting off its view. A compact planting of the gay floribunda roses tivill be attractive near a sunny terrace, whereas masses of the bright tuberous-rooted begonias will add vivid flowers to the shady terrace.

The modern terrace will often be sheltered or screened on one or more sides by a wall which may need a discreet planting to avert monotony and bareness. Ivy, euonymus or ampelopsis vines will slowly cover a wall. Perhaps more modern in effect than it creeping vine will be an espaliered tree, such as laburnum, Magnolia grandiflora, pyracantha or any of the fruit trees suitable for this purpose. In the North these espaliered plants may need extra protection from Winter weather.

Vines Provide Shade

Some terraces may be covered overhead by vines as a protection from the hot Summer sun. In the Spring and Fall when the leaves are off, the heat of the sun will be appreciated on the terrace. Either the purple or the white wisterias, with their drooping flower clusters, are effective in the Spring. The fleece vine, Polygonum auberli, with feathery white flowers in the late Summer, makes a good cover, and is quick growing. For shade, grapevines are picturesque, and will adequately cover the popular terrace.

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