Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Story About Foundation Plantings

A Story About Foundation Plantings

My first house was a 1920’s colonial with a tiny lot with the worst set of foundation plantings I’ve ever seen on a house. In addition to planting inappropriate species, they were planted too close to each other and the house and were allowed to overgrow about twenty years too long. Especially troublesome were a couple of evergreen yews that were covering the windows and trimmed to an ugly shape that was not flattering to the cute house. They also severely restricted access to the front door. So what’s a new homeowner to do?

You guessed it, you get a couple of friends together on the hottest weekend of the year and decide to rip the suckers out. We started with what seemed like the least amount of work, putting a chain around the base of the plant and hooking it to my 1974 Volkswagen beetle. Then I got a running start and when the chain tightened the car leaped off the ground about 6 feet and stalled. Once my heartbeat slowed down below stroke speed, I checked the car to see that the rear end hadn’t been ripped out, unhooked the chain, put the car away and went to see how the yew was pulled out of the ground. Now you would think that having had a crushing 1500 lb. car with a whopping 65 horsepower going 20 mph play tug of war with it would have the yew looking pretty sad. As you can probably guess the plant hadn’t budged and in fact there wasn’t even any damage.

So next we took a handsaw, a particularly rusty and dull handsaw, and started cutting the trunks of the bush off about a foot from the ground. Once the entire bush was cut we discovered that first, the painters hadn’t painted behind the bush for about thirty years and in fact our gray house had once been a lovely mustard yellow, and second, the cutting of the upper part of the bush is the easy part – you’ve still got to get the roots out. Proceeding along we dug around the roots and with a combination of chopping with an axe and digging with a shovel finally got a 10’ diameter crater with the ugliest 300 lb chunk of gnarly yew roots anchored firmly in the center. By now it was getting dark, so we called it quits and started back on the project about three weeks later with sharp tools and an upcoming housewarming party deadline looming. The yew finally yielded to steel and muscle that day, but not before teaching us a very good lesson – choose the right foundation plant and take great pains to trim it and keep it looking right.

Foundation plants came about out of necessity. A pretty home would be built on a stone and mortar foundation and something was needed to hide it. In colonial times the foundation plants were a combination of things you could eat and things you could make stuff out of – such as herbs, vegetables, lilacs and if you could get seeds some strawflowers or sunflowers. Wild junipers and bayberries were also dug up and planted near the foundation for candle making. Current thinking on foundation plantings has evolved from this completely practical beginning. Today’s plantings are used as a design element to transition the eye from the low, soft, fine horizontal texture of the lawn to the hard, vertical form and scale of the home. They also can introduce seasonal colors and flowers and varying shades of green to bring the beauty of the outdoors right up to and sometimes into the home space.

If you’re a beginner gardener and putting in some foundation plants this fall do yourself a favor and remember two things: first, space the plants for their mature form and size, not their cute little form in the container at 1 year old; and second, this is New England and it snows here. Also good to remember is that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and that full sun exposure is south.

In the years when my first home was built, very formal, symmetrical, high-maintenance foundation plantings were de rigueur. In those days if you planted something on one side of the door you planted another one on the other side of the door and it had better have a conical shape and be an evergreen. Nowadays with many homes having multiple rooflines and irregular foundation shapes I like to combine a variety of shapes, sizes and textures not only to hide the foundation but also to tempt the senses. And even though I make fun of yews, I like to have a ratio of 1 evergreen to 3 deciduous plants, and yews do provide a consistent green color. However, please don’t trim them to unnatural shapes, select one with the right natural shape and give it a tuck and a trim once a year but for the most part let it be.

My all-time favorite foundation plant is andromeda. It is an evergreen shrub, grows to be about 4’ tall and 4’ around and has light green waxy foliage. It is one of the early blooming shrubs that lets you know that winter is over, and it has showy chains of white to golden flowers that cover the entire bush. Andromeda does not do well in shady locations and prefers very acidic soil, lots of peat moss (it’s native location is in the peat bogs of Europe) and lots of mulch. Never use any lime on it.

Another good plant is the dwarf rhododendron. They’re in the same family as azaleas (which are also good foundation plants) and have slightly larger evergreen leaves, will grow only about 3’ high and don’t require trimming until they’re about 50 years old. Their flower colors run the gamut from white to purple, and they also love acid soil. When planting them, place them in the hole about 2” higher than they were at the nursery, they tend to be planted too low. Also mulch heavily in the fall and it doesn’t hurt to spray on some anti-desiccant spray to keep the leaves from drying out in the winter winds.

Somewhere I heard that a home without foundation plants looks like a “doll house plunked down in the middle of a pool table” and I tend to agree. If you’re new to gardening planting some of these around your home can be one of the easiest most rewarding projects for your new home.

Top 7 Best Practices for Buyers

Top 7 Best Practices for Buyers

Here’s a list of my current best practices for BUYERS for the Spring Market 2014

1. Arrange for your mortgage financing up front before you even start to look for a home. Your mortgage broker will help you focus on your ideal price range, your maximum loan and whether there are any credit issues you should correct before buying. They will also prepare a “pre-approval” letter … which you will provide the seller when you are ready to make an offer.

2. Familiarize yourself with the purchase contract details and ask questions. Ask your agent to explain the process of negotiating and counter offers.

3. Use buyer representation. It is important to have an agent who owes his total loyalty to you. Discuss your representation options with your agent. If you are purchasing one of your agent’s company listings  make sure you understand what your agent can and cannot do for you.

4. Review the seller’s disclosure before you make an offer. Your offer should reflect your knowledge of the condition of the property. The seller’s disclosure will tell you of  any known repairs or conditions that would affect what you would be willing to pay. You should know this before you decide on an offering price. If you are unsure go back with the agent and look at the home after you have reviewed the disclosures. Also note, not all brokers use seller’s disclosures … doesn’t make sense to me but there are no state/national laws requiring disclosure. If they don’t use disclosures it doesn’t mean they are hiding anything but you would be wise to assume there are problems not readily visible on a quick walk-through and adjust your offer accordingly.

5. Ask the seller to provide a home warranty when you write the offer. This will cover you for some items that malfunction during the first year of ownership. Cash used for down payment, closing costs, and other home necessities can deplete your cash reserves. A home warranty will reduce the risk of a future drain if a warranted item needs repair that first year.

6. Get the property inspected by a licensed professional home inspector. They will let you know the true condition of what you are buying. Follow the inspector’s advice if he/she recommends that you have another expert inspect a troublesome item. During the inspection you should also ask your inspector to explain how to work or maintain appliances or systems in the home, they are a wonderful resource to help you learn “how to drive the house”.

7. Ask your buyer’s agent to prepare a market analysis of the property before you make the offer. A seller’s agent cannot do this for you. You should know what similar properties are selling for so that you don’t overbuy. Also, if the seller remains firm on his price, you will be able to tell if the value is really there.”

What I Like About Sudbury

What I Like About Sudbury

Sudbury, Massachusetts is a progressive town where history coexists peacefully with modern lifestyles. Located just shy of 20 miles from downtown Boston, (town shown in red on attached map) the town of 18,000+ residents is conveniently found halfway between the inner (Rt. 128) and outer (Rt. 495) beltways.Typical commutes for the townsfolk are 30 minutes.

 As it was incorporated as a Town in 1639, you can imagine there’s a lot of early American history in Sudbury. One of my favorite sources for the history of the town of Sudbury is hosted and written by the members of the Senior Center, have a look, you’ll find it interesting and informative.

For anyone who craves data and facts and figures, there’s a great wiki here. Knock yourself out.

Here’s some of the stuff you might want to know:

Shopping: You are 15 minutes to the shopping Mecca’s of Metrowest in Natick and Framingham. For really upscale you can go to Chestnut Hill in Brookline or Newbury Street in Boston in about half an hour.

Schools: 4 Elementary and 1 Middle – all outstanding. High School is regional, shared with the Town of Lincoln – also outstanding.

Restaurants & Markets: There are a number of fine restaurants in the town, a Starbucks, and a Dunkin Donuts. There’s also the original Sudbury Farms supermarket with a killer take-out/deli. Down the road a piece there’s a Whole Foods supermarket.

Taxes: Not cheap, but none of the towns around here are bargains, you do get a good value.

Transportation: You pretty much have to drive everywhere. There’s a commuter rail in Lincoln/Weston that takes you to North Station. There’s one in Framingham that takes you to South Station.

Religious Institutions: Currently there are Baptist, Catholic (2), Congregational, Episcopal, Church of New Jerusalem, Jewish (2), Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Unitarian, and Non-denominational parishes in town.

Hospitals: There are three excellent hospitals nearby: Emerson Hospital in Concord, Metrowest Medical Center in Framingham, and Marlborough Hospital in Marlborough. Obviously, some of the finest hospitals in the country are minutes away in Boston.

Government: Town form of government with three Selectmen and a professional Town Manager. One of the oldest continuously running Town Meetings in the US – if you’ve never sat through one you really should, it’s in March, and it’s really a tribute to the staying power of our democratic principles.

Overall Rating: It’s a really nice town and I like to live here.

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