Help me with my front yard

epark102(z6 MA)April 10, 2011

Hi all,

My house is fairly new and it is one of those narrow tall house, close to the neighbors with not much yard to play with.

I'd like to make it more curb-appeal and less cookie-cutter-ish with some colors. I would like to make the house less narrow. I don't care too much for evergreens as it gets totally covered by snow anyway during winter. I would rather have some nice colors during spring-fall.

The picture below looks a bit worse right now as nothing has started blooming yet though I am definitely looking to improve. I have a couple of roses, azalea, tree peonies and aster in the front that blooms throughout spring and summer.

As for the ugly green box, I don't know what to do with it. We cannot plant any trees or shrubs in front as it has to be accessible. I think planting some perennials might be okay as they can be bent or cut if the box needs to be accessed. (There was no single need to access the box in last three years)

On the right side near foundation, I have this dwarf evergreen that looks funny with the house. I am dying to replace it with something better. Behind that is a young lilac bush.

I am willing to start from scratch and looking forward to getting your creative ideas. Please help me give some life to my house.



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karinl(BC Z8)

I think there is scope here. But to start with, I think the scraggly treeish thing on the left of the house is working against you because it is too close to the house. Are you willing to remove that, assuming it is yours? I'm not clear on where your property lines are.

I actually think the little evergreen is adorable, it's true it looks hilarious now but depending on what it is, it may eventually work well. But again, it matters how much space you've got, so let us know.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 2:01AM
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epark102(z6 MA)

Hi KarinL,

The scraggly treeish thing on the left (I think you are referring to the one in the middle of grass?) is a Japanese maple tree and it's actually our neighbors. It's pretty much on the border of our property line. The property lines are more or less in the middle of the houses, so we don't much much space to play with. Joy of living in the city....

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 9:07AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

No, I'm referring to the 6-trunked one that is almost half as tall as the house.

You actually have lots of room to do some nice landscaping to mitigate the house's "Presence." (I have two feet on either side of my house :-)) But such big stuff crammed at the foundation isn't helping.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 3:37PM
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epark102(z6 MA)

Oh, that scraggly thing. :) Yes, it is ours. It's about 10-15 feet away from the house foundation. There are actually four of those along the white fence in the back of the house.
I think I would be okay to remove them. It does provide some good shade in summer but I would be open to hear ideas.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 4:03PM
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It looks like a zoning setback driven house design. If that is the case, expansion of structure to mitigate it will be very limited.

How much land do you have to either side of the house and what are the front and side setback requirements?

Many towns in MA do not include masonry such as steps and retaining walls as "building structure" when applying zoning setbacks, so you might have some option there. Also, some do not include roof overhang which gives you some mitigation options. It also looks like you have some room on the right to left to the zoning setback since there appears to be a jog farther back on the house.

Wrapping the first floor hip roof around to the left side of the house with decking below could help (not both sides). Another stone retaining wall could level out your side yard a bit by coming across the front about half way up and halfway back on the stairs and then return back to the corner of the foundation. Enclosing the bottom of the new porch section, adding a tree off to the right of the transformer in front of the wall, a row of medium shrubs along the top of the wall in front of the porch section, and a visually strong column on the corner of the porch.This all adds visual weight and width to the bottom of the house. A half section of white picket fence coming toward the street with a full section going to the right lot line will also help (don't put a tall corner plant there), a small tree at least 5 feet in front of that fence and 4' off of the back of the driveway wall (single trunk broad crown) would go a long way.

That's a lot of effort, a lot of money, and a lot of stuff, but it is one way to do it.

.... consider white shutters and railings on the steps to reduce the amount of vertical lines reinforcing the verticality of the house.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 10:24PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Laag, that's quite a prescription! What if construction is not on the menu?

I am thinking that is one lovely stone wall and that it also is a good line to emphasize to enforce the impression of distance from house to street. Maybe a planting of the same plant all along it, both sides, like a little boxwood hedge but with perennials?

Also, that tree must then be in the back yard. Unfortunate placement as it looks to be beside the house from this angle, and visually it squishes the house, makes it taller, though I guess only from this angle. The rest of the plantings at the side should, I think be right at the property line to make the side yard look as commodious as possible.


    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 11:03AM
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Construction might not be in the mix, but the architecture is 100% of the issue. Changing parts of that has a bigger effect than a few plants on a a narrow three story building with a drive under garage. ... bandaides on a shark bite, so to speak.
Short of that, removal of vertical sriping is the next step. Introduction of horizontal lines extending the base of the house is next. Introducing high (elevated) competition in front of the wider base helps even more as long as it is wide at the top.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 5:37PM
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epark102(z6 MA)

Thanks everyone for your input. Though sounds interesting, I am afraid that construction might be out of our price range.

KarinL, do you have any suggestion for perennial version of 'boxwood hedge'?

I also liked the idea of a privacy panel to hide the ugly green utility box. Unfortunately, I cannot plant any tree or shrub in front as it's a law to keep it accessible. Tall perennials or annuals should be okay as long as we can bend them to open the box. Do you think something like morning glory with tall privacy panel would work?

I will keep in mind for a tall tree on the left side of the stair too.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 3:06PM
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I would paint your door red. Benjamin Moore Classic Burgandy is a nice color for a door.

On the left I would mix in some low ornamental grasses with some perennials for a border.

That's all I got.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 10:17AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think that Laag was suggesting painting the shutters and railings a lighter colour to de-emphasize the upright lines and rectangles, so I suspect painting the door dark would actually make the tallness problem worse.

I've got nothing on hiding the box, but what's often been pointed out on the forum is that the harder you try to hide something, the more you end up drawing attention to it. I suspect once you get the garden going, and plant your perennials in front of the box, it will hardly stand out.

For a perennial hedge, something that has been suggested for a similar application was Sedum of the Autumn Joy type. Any low-growing, clump-forming perennial would do the job.

I think as you get a few things in and then stand back and evaluate the effect, you will find that the task seems more do-able. Some things you can plan all the way through from the start, others you have to feel your way and trial-and-error a bit. This might be the latter type as success will be determined by when you feel better about the space.


    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 11:08AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I rather like the look of the house - and the stone wall. The utility box is certainly unattractive though! I wonder if you could adapt something we did to hide/distract ones attention from our air conditioner? I made a three-sided screen that sits on 4"x6" pavers so it's easy to lift it out of the way when access to the a/c is needed for servicing. In order not to block the air flow, the screen chosen was one that had a high transparency for air flow. I added copper pipes to the screen to be decorative and pick up on the nearby copper fence and gate. Ditto the paint color/copper for the post tops. My goal was not to hide the a/c entirely, rather it was to distract your eyes a bit so the a/c was not the first thing you focussed on. Once the perennials grew up around it, the a/c virtually disappeared but it reamins easily accessible for servicing. I think you could do the same sort of thing for that box. Since you don't have to worry about not blocking air flow, you'd have lots of freedom to get creative - but keep it simple too.

What we did:

The screen:

In place as viewed through the copper fence:

Once the plantings join the scene:

Easy to build something like that for your situation....

    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 12:26PM
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epark102(z6 MA)

Thank you all for your ideas.
It was very helpful.

Woodyoak, your screen and garden is lovely. I might do a similar thing to hide my HVAC fans.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 10:28AM
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