Fundamentals of Foundation Plantings

This article was written by Todd Phillippi and first appeared on Fine Gardening It was love and frustration that propelled me into landscape design. My love of gardening is a legacy from my grandparents. My frustration came about as a practicing architect when I observed many landscape plantings that were insensitive to a site's natural features, conflicted with architectural designs, or showcased only a limited repertoire of plants, often incorrectly placed on a site.

I decided to incorporate my knowledge and love of gardening into my architectural work. At first, I experimented with garden design at my home in Philadelphia, and eventually pursued formal training in horticulture. The focus of my work has since shifted to what I call "integrated design"—where a building, site layout, and plantings are designed as a unified entity. Perhaps the most visible aspect of this concept is the design of foundation plantings—the trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, and ground covers around a house that create a transition from the built environment to the terrain of the earth.

Foundation plants help to frame a house and anchor it to the site. With imaginative and harmonious planting schemes, the front yard of any home can become a dynamic garden space to be enjoyed rather than merely a static view to be observed.

When plantings are unified with a home, they create more than an attractive picture. They convey a welcoming impression to visitors, and an air of permanence and harmony.


A front garden is usually created within the framework of existing architectural and landscape features. To design foundation plantings that are appropriate for a house and its site, I begin by evaluating these elements. They include driveways, walks, streets, large trees, adjacent woodlands, fences, and hedges as well as the house itself. I also look for any areas that are undefined, such as an expanse of lawn on the side of the house that runs into a neighboring property. These open spaces might be ideal areas for new plantings...