Houses haven't always had foundation plantings. The practice of planting evergreen shrubs around the base of a house became popular when builders started using concrete block for foundations instead of brick or stone. Concrete block was cheaper and easier to install but wasn't very attractive. So foundation plantings as we know them evolved primarily as a way to hide part of the house.
But foundation plantings also serve another role—even when there is nothing to hide. Without some kind of planting around the foundation, many houses would simply look like big boxes set down on a flat surface—what is sometimes called "plop architecture." Foundation plantings help soften that look, tying a house to the surrounding landscape and giving it a sense of belonging. Foundation plants can also help a house feel less imposing, especially large houses. Trees, shrubs and vines break up broad expanses of wall and offer intimate details—such as the perfume of a rose or the delicate tracery of a Japanese maple leaf—that can be appreciated up close. Plants can draw your eye to a door, bay window or other architectural feature. And their greenery gives a sense of life and vitality to a house. In essence, foundation plantings can make a house more inviting.
The act of placing plants around the base of a house is a little like dressing a person. Some homes can get away with a short skirt of plant material but most look best with a little more cover—perhaps a mix of larger shrubs and even a few trees. How we go about cloaking our homes depends a lot on their shape, size and architectural style. Some are complemented by a casual arrangement of loose plantings; others are best suited to a tailored look—evenly trimmed hedges with matching architectural accessories.
Though it is common to simply plant a row of evergreens from one end of the house to the other, foundation plantings are more interesting if they feature a variety of plants—both evergreen and deciduous—and range in height from creeping ground covers to upright trees. We especially love creating mixed borders with shrubs, small trees and perennials that provide color, texture and fragrance. And since these plantings attract birds and butterflies to the yard, we also love tucking in small water features where we can!