Help needed with curb appeal for our new house

lovetoshopApril 10, 2010


I regularly frequent the Kitchen and Home Decor forums on GW, but this is my first time over here in Landscape Design. Thank you for having me :)

We moved into our house less then 1 yr ago and need some help with the front of our house. When we moved in there were big palm trees in front of the windows and we removed them and put in the boxwood shrubs and agapanthas that you see in the pics. I would love to add some color since there is so much green. We do not want to take anything out, except the dying plant you see by the front walk way. (I would love to remove the palm tree by the sidewalk but my husband likes it and won't take it out).

Please tell me what to ADD to improve the look of our front yard. We are in Southern California. The house faces North East so the sun passes side to side, not front to back. I am a low maintaince kind of girl. I have 2 small kids so not a lot of time to be gardening, so please keep that in mind with your suggestions. I do like a somewhat manicured look. THANKS in advance for any help you can give to me!Here are pics of the front of the house:

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lovetoshop anyone out there? j/k
Maybe everyone is busy over the weekend, but please help! I want to get planting soooooon. :)

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 10:21PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Hi. I think everyone's still out gardening! (Or maybe collapsed in exhaustion after gardening, as I did.)

It's been too long since I lived in California, so I don't think I can offer much plant advice.

I'm sure that removing the palms from in front of the windows was a good choice. I'd be tempted to dig up and move the cluster-palm (probably the wrong term) because it's so close to the driveway and the sidewalk. How large will it grow? It rather hides the front door. How many feet to the left of the house is the property line? Could you move the cluster-palm way over to the left, and at least five or ten feet from the sidewalk? [Of course, I have no idea if they can be moved at that size.]

What color are the agapanthus when they bloom? I don't know how long their season is, so I wonder if you might get more color from something like a row of petunias. Another option would be to keep the agapanthus and expand the bed, planting something with a longer bloom season in front of the agapanthus.

Those are very handsome double doors you have, but in the first photo they're so dark! Would you consider painting them a lighter color? (Presumably white to match the window trim.) That would also make them stand out; as it is, they're just one more dark space in the line of dark garage doors....

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 11:10PM
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Re-considering the dark color of the front door was my first thought when I read curb appeal in your title. Curb appeal in this forum opens up more than the plants and beds shapes for suggestions, so don't be offended if this is not what you wnated to read. The door is to obscured by shadow which only highlights the garage door and the white driveway as being more important.

One other consideration, is the planting bed shape and size. Just because the former owner liked those beds, doesn't mean you have to be confined by them. It appears those stones can be lifted and moved.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 9:15AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

My first thought on reading your question was that you'd precluded the one thing I immediately thought of, which was to remove the camellia near the door. It unfortunately does not appear to be the dying plant you have your eye on. So I had to think about this one a bit. This forum is a little different from Home Dec, and some of the differences cause us to move a little slower!

Obviously the front of your house had the same effect on me as on Rhodium. I've included a link to a question recently posted here with similar problems although the house style is very different. You may be able to appreciate the effect of a blocking plant and a dark door if you see something similar on someone else's house. You may still decide not to change it, of course!

The palm by the driveway gives a little character in what seems to be a cookie cutter neighbourhood, so more power to you for keeping it.

Given that you don't have much time, the prime part of the look you're after - manicured - may be best achievable just by pruning those boxwoods. But for the colour objective, you either have the wrong plants in, or not enough plants. To add plants you pretty much have to add beds, which means adding work. You see again how your parameters have somewhat precluded helping you get what you want :-)

So I'm going to go around your parameters to make suggestions, and let you sort out which ones you do want to flex on if any. I would take out the camellia and put your decorative pot under your house number, not in the doorway. I would also paint the front door a brighter colour. Then I'd use the area next to the front door for your colour bed; it's small, but I think you'd enjoy it coming and going. Prune the boxwoods as well as the bushes to the left which are getting a bit shapeless, and maybe replace those grassy things in front of them with annuals or perennials that you like. Light coloured hostas would work in my zone and provide longer term interest than plants that have only flower interest.

If you really want more planting beds, I would add them out further in the yard, something like an island bed out toward the left corner.


Here is a link that might be useful: wanting a welcoming entry

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 10:08AM
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Thank you all for the suggestions. I appreciate any and all advice. I find trying to landscape much like trying to decorate my home...horribly paralizing! When we first moved into the house we considered taking the Camilia out, but felt bad taking out a perfectly nice plant that was growing so well. I could definity trim it back as well as trim/shape the boxwoods. I can't move the teracota pot by the front door because the step to our front door does not go all of the way over and someone is likly to trip and fall if I do not have a pot there. I do plan to put more colorful flowering plants in the pot to add some color. I bought a bunch of 1 gal impatients to plant between each boxwood to add color to the front bed. I will take a new pic when I am done and see what you think.

Oh, as for the front door. I know it looks dark in the pic but I really like how it matches the trim of the house and the garage door.

I am still very open to any and all tips. I am not offended and enjoy the new perspectives!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 10:01PM
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When looking at the pics. Is there a chance that you could widen the beds? They appear small to me. The Camilia is a nice accent plant. The shrubs at the bump out window appear too tight. Layering is good here but could use more room. Sometimes if you take a picture like you have, and they are good. Lovley home by the way. Look at the natural slope or terrain of the area and you will see the curves and potential for the space. The window is large but the planting is tight. Try to think in a more sweeping canvas. The lines are good, however could be larger. It is a common mistake. Shrubs are planted with the good intention that they will be pruned to keep thier shape and not go out of thier space. Well all roads are paved with good intentions now aren't they? With that said; Can you make the beds larger? When accomidating medium to large shrubs a 5' to 6' bed is ideal. Allowing for corner areas to become as large as 8' to 12', depending on the curve in some areas of the beds. This is not unreasonable when taking into considreation of the size of the home and property. Yes you lose lawn but that is not such a bad thing when considering the scope of mowing. The curb appeal is more enticing. And yes ,you will need to consider the cost of expanding the edging and the fill of ammending the current soil conditions, as well as mulch vs. rock mulch. If you have the dime then get a great finished look with the area developing into a great curb appeal. Otherwise, build the area and add as you can afford to. Example: Get the lines drawn by measuring. Use your garden hose to outline the area. Take pictures of these things as you go. Pay attention to sloping.(ie how would I build this area up vs. how whould I level off.) Most times you will want to gracefully use retainig wall on a slope that will bring the eye up. However plants can do this as well. Pay attention to the overall higth to to home and lot. Don't forget that accent perinnials will do the job along with the shrub plantings. In other words let the two give you the most bang for your buck no matter where you live and what you are trying to achive. Good luck you have a great home to get your desired results!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 3:26AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

If you want to remove the Camellia, don't feel guilty about it. There are thousands more being propagated as we speak, it is not a rare plant. It is programmed to grow rather large, and as its root system grows to support that potential size, it will be harder and harder to keep it to a manageable size each year. It is absolutely the wrong place for a plant of that size, and even of that nature; you can see it is already putting on the most growth where the light is - toward the door. Put it on craigslist for free if it will make you feel better. Not that you have to remove it, but you asked for advice :-)

I noticed the strange configuration of the step on both sides actually, but I see what you mean about the right posing particular danger. If you are amenable, you might consider simply correcting it by adding to the width of the step on both sides. We harp on the difference between decor and design from time to time, and the pot constitutes having to use decor to cover up bad design. In this case, improving on the design is easy, and that leaves you free to actually improve the decor.

It's true you could increase the size of the foundation bed and possibly improve the overall flow of the lot. Although the gravel is a bit of an odd touch, it seems to have a purpose, and I think that purpose would be better achieved it you were to continue it to the door. Your foundation bed could come out as far as the gravel does and fill the space to the left of it.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2010 at 1:03PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Camellias are probably not going to be happy with the very alkaline water in SoCal. Take it out, the craigslist suggestion is a good one.

If you don't want a lot of maintenance, use foliage for contrast and color. Plants that are similar in color but different species will add visual interest without upsetting your symmetry too much. Frankly, you will do much better with your landscaping if you get away from excessive forced symmetry - Nature is naturally unsymmetrical and plants will just not always cooperate with your ideal vision. Just 'go with the flow' and relax a little!

For example of plant mixing, yank the philodendron on the LH side, and replace it with a Loropetalum chinense 'Rubrum' - it's the purple shrub in the middle of this photo. Easy to prune, will take sun and lawn watering, lovely little fringe-y pink flowers once or twice a year. It has the mid-height you need to be on the corner of the house, gets about 3x3' fairly quickly and will hit 5x5 when much older. It takes shaping very well - the branches are so brittle I don't even use my pruners, just snap a branch off if it's leaning in the walkway (bare spots fill in amazingly fast).

On the other side once the camellia's gone, try something like a Magilla perilla. I can't grow them up in NorCal, but they would like your warmer weather and appreciate that little bit of shade from your overhang while giving them enough sun to be happy:

Because Magilla is not going to grow quite as large as the Loropetalum, I'd add a cluster of the new dwarf yellow-leaved agapanthus. They are not as hardy as the standard agapanthus, so again they will prefer your climate over mine.

I'd put at least five container plants of the agapanthus (yellow leaves, standard blue flower spikes) clustered fairly close together (they don't seem to grow very fast) in the space between your stepping stones and where the gravel starts. The yellow plants will contrast nicely with the Magilla, but the similar leaf shape will visually tie it with your standard agapanthus.

HTH, these are all low-maintenance plants.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2010 at 2:19PM
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What you have now, to my mind, projects a feel of quiet, understated elegance. You can easily spoil that impression by trying to "brighten" the presentation. I agree with your husband about the palm.

I'd check with the HOA before I started "improving" the coloration of the doors and whatnot. You may very well be limited to earth tones.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2010 at 6:35PM
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