Opinions needed on front yard landscaping plan

stephf(5a)January 2, 2013

Hi everyone!

This is my first time posting in the landscaping forum. Now that the holidays are over, I am looking forward to planning the landscaping for my front yard.

We bought this house this past summer and now that most of the work is done on the inside, this is the year for the outside.

I fell in love with this BHG garden plan the second I laid eyes on it:

I think it would suit the style of our house wonderfully, and we already have 2 trees planted close to the sidewalk. As you can see though, there is one major difference. Our "front door" does not face the road. The door leading into the vesibule points towards the driveway. As much as I would like to open up the vestibule and turn it into a covered porch with a front door that actually faces, I don't know, FRONT, my husband disagrees. Even if I can convince him to do this in the future, I don't think it's in the cards for this year, so I would like a way to make it work as it is. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to modify the BHG plan to fit with our awkward vestibule?

Your help is much appreciated!

**Edited to resize photo**

This post was edited by stephf on Thu, Jan 3, 13 at 13:30

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If you post any more pictures (which would be a good idea), I'd suggest you make them much larger as little detail can be seen in the nearly thumbnail size posted. Since it's the only way readers can observe the conditions, size matters. Additional views would be helpful, too. Looks like there's a good bit going on at the foundation and left side of lot, but can't tell what.

Rather than "adapt" a plan, I think it's a better idea to incorporate its desirable features in a custom-from-start plan. Maybe that's a different way of saying the same thing. The plan that will work the best is one that is built around your home's features. Not sure exactly what you're in love with in the BHG plan, but one negative aspect of it is the centrally located small tree. The hypothetical view is misleading since it seems to be taken from an upstairs window of the house across the street. It allows the centrally featured entrance area to be seen. In real life, a small tree in that location would completely obliterate the view of this central, key architectural feature. It seems to me that such a feature is something to "play up," not hide. You probably have a much better possible place in which to locate a small tree.

Another feature of the BHG plan that I think could be improved to your advantage is for you to incorporate a strip of very low plant material adjacent to the public walk, rather than have shrubs & perennials (that might get a little tall) immediately adjacent to the walk. Close, they might seem to "nip at the heels" of passersby. Especially for a public walk I prefer a sense of spaciousness as opposed to one tending toward confinement. "Low plantings" could be a strip of grass ... or groundcover ... or mat forming perennial plants ... whatever suits your taste. Since your existing trees would be best incorporated into the island/peninsula landscape bed (as opposed to being located in a grassed area) and they are already set back from the public walk, it would be easy to have room for low plantings between such bed and the walk.

It could be a cute yard and still easy to maintain because of the relatively small size.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 11:34AM
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I've edited my original post to resize the photos. I hope that will help a little bit. Unfortunately it's the only photo I have, and right now everything is under about 2ft of snow, so current photos wouldn't help.

Regarding the plantings that are in the above photo, all of the plants close to the house were removed last summer. The only ones that remain are the 2 trees close to the street, and the perennials under the cedar hedge to the left (and that's only because I didn't get that far last summer), so we're pretty close to working with a blank slate.

I couldn't tell you something specific that I love about the BHG plan, it just evokes a feeling in me that screams "this is home". I like the softness of the curves and the varying heights of the plants. I like how includes the entire front yard in a big cohesive plan instead of just a foundation garden and a garden bed around a tree. It's all connected, and I like that. With respect to the tree in the centre of the yard, I see what you are saying, but I actually really like it. I think it adds some interest to walking up the pathway (that I will actually hopefully have one day). And while I want my home to look good, I want the landscaping to be more for me and my family to enjoy (both from the inside of our house as well as the outside) than for people walking or driving by.

We were going to "customize" the plan to bring the plantings back from the sidewalk a bit. Lots of people walk their dogs down our street and well, you know. I have a vision, I'm just drawing a blank when it comes to the fact that our front door is not where it's "supposed" to be. So any help with that aspect would be great!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 1:47PM
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This is a quick sketch of what I envision for my front yard. The front door is on the right side of the vestibule, facing the driveway. There is a walkway behind where the shrubbery (likely hydrangeas) would be, leading to the door. In front of the hydrangeas are boxwood, and in front of the boxwood I would plant a low growing flowering ground cover. The squigly lines on the house are ivy and I figured I could plant climbing roses to climb up the front of the vestibule below the window. There is a pathway that goes down the side of the house (opposite side of where the driveway is) and I would like to highlight the pathway with an arbour and possibly extend the pathway into the front yard. As you can see in the sketch, the pathway is leading to nothing because I have no idea what to do in that entire centre portion of the yard. Possibly a small patio with a bistro set or just a garden bench??? Oh, and I'd like to plant a smaller, multi-trunk tree at the corner of the house where the arbour would be.

I've outlined where the beds would follow the perimeter of the property, but I haven't added any plants to them yet. Also, I just threw the wrought iron fence in there for kicks. I'm not completely sold on it and could probably be talked out of it very easily.

Another thing to note about our front yard is that our well is there. In the sketch it is located between the pathway and the garden on the left hand side and I've put an urn on top. I would rather incorporate it into the plan than pretend it's not there or try to hide it. I find that when people try to hide their wells, it usually makes it more obvious.

Hopefully this will help you understand where I'm going with this and where I'm having trouble.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 4:25PM
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"With respect to the tree in the centre of the yard, I see what you are saying, but I actually really like it." "I think it adds some interest to walking up the pathway..." I notice it does not show up in your sketch. Couldn't we presume that every thing you add to the front yard would add some form of interest? So there'd be no shortage of opportunities to create interest. The idea of placing in "interesting" thing in a place where it would diminish the much greater interest of a major architectural feature (the exterior of the vestibule ... especially its roof) seems counterproductive.

"And while I want my home to look good, I want the landscaping to be more for me and my family to enjoy (both from the inside of our house as well as the outside) than for people walking or driving by." What does this mean? How would you and your family appreciate or use the landscaping such that a compromise is called for in the view from the street? Unless you're trying to screen the front yard for privacy (which I don't think you are since it doesn't show in either sketch you've submitted,) why would a compromise be necessary? I've heard this "either/or" theory promoted at prior times but find that the reasoning behind it seems generally an unexplained mystery. I question if--without specific qualifications--it is a reasonable goal to have. If it is, it needs definition and "tightening up." Soft curves, varying plant heights and a cohesive quality with connected plantings are easily achievable in a landscape plan. These traits of the BHG plan could easily be incorporated into whatever landscape you install. I do not see that the door facing the drive creates an insurmountable, or difficult obstacle. Creating interest at the entrance AREA, and ALONG THE PATHWAY to it, would do a great deal to signify where the door is and direct the the viewer's focus. Your recent sketch, by creating a grass path to the vestibule street-facing front wall, suggests that it's the point of entry, so it's misleading.

In my sketch I'm suggesting a possible bed configuration, without showing plants (taking it a step at a time.) The dashed line represents the alternate scheme of taking the bed all the way to the public walk. The trees (in white) are what it seems you have near the house. For clarity, not showing canopy of street trees; only trunk locations. Though I'm not showing it, an arbor would be a nice feature to signify the entrance to the side yard pathway. Just don't make an arbor too small.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 1:10AM
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1. The centre tree doesn't show up in my sketch because, as I've said, I have no idea what the centre of the yard should look like at all. You'll notice that nothing shows up in the centre portion of the sketch. That's not because I don't want anything there in real life, it's because I'm drawing a complete blank. I disagree that adding anything to a yard creates interest. Cookie cutter McMansions have stuff in their yard and I don't find them interesting at all.

2. You don't know what it means to want to enjoy your landscaping from the inside as well as outside? Really? Well let's put it this way then. When I look out my front window I would rather see a tree than the dumpy looking house across the street. The reality is, we spend more time inside than we do outside. I care more about how I feel about my yard when I'm looking out my window than I do about some stranger walking down my street.

3. I am relieved that you see the vestibule as something that creates architectrual interest. I personally think it's just plain ugly.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 9:59AM
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If you are less concerned about how the house looks from the street, why did you take the picture from the street and why are you focussed on a sketch that also looks at the house from the street, and why did you sketch it from the street inward? I'm not trying to be troll, but it does not make sense to me. Most people take pictures the same way they view things.

Most people do like the presentation of their house, if not to the people on the street, certainly to their arriving guests and to themselves as they come home from a long day at work. It is OK.

There are a few things about the BHG sketch which help make it "homey" that you may be missing. The first is that it has a visible front door. When a door is visible on a house it is somewhat the equivalent of a face on a person - when it is looking at you, you want to look at it (and not get caught looking somewhere else). It draws you into the middle or heart of the composition. The sketch adds to that by putting a tree in front of the door with a skewed perspective that allows you to look over it and adding weight to the middle with a low center of gravity to balance the composition of the DRAWING rather than the landscape. You have to know that if you were standing in front of that landscape you'd be looking at a tree with two ends of a house visible to either side and no door to be seen.

The second thing is a psychological response that people get when they see a place that is made for people to be. This is very real and as much a good design tool in a landscape as it is in a sketch. It is the area of lawn to the left of the front door - you want to be there and it draws you in and you stay there. That is reinforced with an arbor going who knows where. The arbor is not there to make you feel like you want to go through it, but to strengthen the space that the area of lawn is holding.

The 800 pound gorilla that is missing from both your snapshot and the BHG sketch is the driveway. BHG left it out and you have a truck and trailer (not saying that you did it on purpose) that is framing the front yard. The empty driveway acts in a similar manner as the patch of grass - the viewers see it, subconsciously, as a human space and project themselves into it if it is more powerful than another space. Unlike the lawn area on the left, the driveway does not have the supporting plantings or other elements to contain you there - you just blow through that part of the composition and don't come back.

If you truly are more concerned with looking from the inside out, you should be taking your photos looking outward and start to draw up your concepts in the same manner.

The biggest challenge is that your landscape currently flows, like most of ours, out into the street. My belief is that you want to build space in your front yard that is separate from the street. You don't have to make a solid screen to do it, but you can combine several elements that can incrementally overcome the power of the street (sounds kind of urban militantish). You can build background, middle ground, and foreground and strengthen that layering with vertical layering as well.

It would be easier to describe if you provide a picture looking outward from the house.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 2:58PM
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laag already said much of what I see here. There are clues the OP can use in doing the design from studying the artwork of the BHG drawing and why it is attractive. First the drawing was done by a skilled artist. Part of what I would note is easier to see if one squinces ....

Note that there are three well defined areas based on general light, contrast, and color. All these areas are balanced in scale to each other, both as a drawing and as a size within the landscape.

The artist uses drak shade at the base of plants to outline and reenforce the separation. Hard edges in the landscape would do the same.

Suttle use of similar light and color provides a lead to the house entrance.

People are made comfortable by knowing where they belong. The landscape design clearly indicates what is alotted to people and what area belongs to the plants. And there is a good balance to the size of the two.

Hold to these concepts as you modify the design to your situation and you will probably like the result.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 3:44PM
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"I disagree that adding anything to a yard creates interest." "...SOME FORM of interest" means that each thing added beyond the bare dirt of the lot adds VARYING DEGREES of interest. How successful is the final result depends entirely on the skill of the designer. But each thing added is an OPPORTUNITY TO ADD INTEREST ... to improve the conditions. If, Stephf, you think that the vestibule is an ugly feature that needs complete screening, I disagree that you're making the best of a design opportunity. Even if your house needs a vestibule remodel in order to improve it, it doesn't seem that you'd want to completely screen the finished remodel.

"You don't know what it means to want to enjoy your landscaping from the inside as well as outside? Really?" I'm not sure how you arrived at that interpretation, but I did not make that claim. I'm simply questioning your intimation that IF the landscaping is a success when viewed from the street, that it CAN'T be a success if viewed from the house or drive area. One viewpoint does not necessarily mutually exclude the other. I'm certain it's possible to create a landscape that is attractive when viewed from the street AND from inside the home--or from any viewpoint--simultaneously. So the idea of diminishing the importance of any one view--without a specific, prescribed need, seems unnecessary. If there are off-site views that need screening, it would be important for you to point them out. Even though the BHG drawing uses unrealistic perspective (in order to show what otherwise couldn't be seen) it's hardly an example of a landscape in which the view from the street is considered less important. It's the opposite with the primary orientation toward the street.

An improvement or not?

    Bookmark   January 5, 2013 at 1:10AM
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You can try to hit a home run at adding interest or you can do it in increments.

Going back to the notion that when you add a feature that people know is designed for people to be in or on, it sucks you in.

The focus of the original picture was the house - more specifically the two windows on the vestibule. That is high up and at eye level of that photo.

This is two increments - a small patio that you may never go on and a bench that you may never sit on. Bear with me, this is to illustrate a concept rather than telling you to do this ...

You now become focused on the patio in front of the bench. There is no planting to strengthen the space ... that would be the next increment. There is nothing behind the bench to separate it from the house, yet another increment.

The same concepts can be applied and move that "place you want to be" anywhere on that property unless some other factors over power it. In that case, you mitigate the other factors as much as possible and reinforce what you are trying to accomplish any way that you can (ie, maybe a walkway that leads in, plantings that build space, fencing, ...).

The BHG plan draws you into the landscape using similar techniques. Some people will look at the frosting and copy it without noticing the real ingredients of the cake.

Enhance the possitive, mitigate the negative and you'll win every time.

The two trees are not doing you any favors where they are ... that can be overcome, but why start at a disadvantage?

    Bookmark   January 5, 2013 at 2:41PM
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Thank you Laag for your thoughtful response. I definitely have some things to think about.

I do have a pretty good idea of what I would like to do now, I just have to wait for spring to arrive!

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 10:04AM
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I think it is not really a good idea to put a tree in the middle of those two trees you can just plant some bush which will serve as a trail to your door.

Here is a link that might be useful: Castlerock Landscape

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 10:31PM
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