Need help with front beds landscape design

weedyacresAugust 19, 2012

We need to up the curb appeal of our house, which we're trying to sell. The inside of the house is completely remodeled and we've got fantastic views to the lake out back, but the front is blah (and drought-stricken) and doesn't match the inside. So we need to take it up a notch, make it look lush and inviting, soften the square-ish brick facade, and make potential buyers eager to see if the inside is as nice as the outside. :-)

Here's the raw material, from several views.

Here's a drawing of the existing beds.

Lamp post bed: 3-year old azalea, some rabbit-eaten asian lillies, and the only petunias that didn't die off in the heat. Thinking about moving the plants and turning this into grass.

Left bed: purple coneflowers under the window, purple irises in front of that, an azalea near the sidewalk, dianthus around the front edge and a random mum or aster tossed into the mix.

Right bed: More coneflowers, a few irises, a couple mums, and dianthus in front border. I'm thinking about enlarging this bed to match the LH one more, and planting a tree in it, then moving the azaleas to be underneath it.

There are tulips in all the beds as well. House front faces directly east, so has full morning sun.

I haven't yet developed a good design sense for flower beds, though there's certainly stuff that appeals to me more than others. I'd like a design that will appeal through all the seasons, since our house may be on the market for a while and we're heading into fall and winter. If you can help me with size and spacing of things, I think I can get help from a local nursery (or friends with lots of plants they'll let us dig up) with what would be appropriate. Though I'm certainly open to any specific plant suggestions you can provide. We also have lots of boulders of various sizes available.

I love stuff with color, dislike boring green bushes, junipers, and spruce. Would like color through all the seasons. But ultimately we're selling the place, so I'm willing to put stuff in that I don't particularly like if it'll be generally appealing to others. We're in the midwest, zone 6.

Thanks for any help!

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The trouble in planting with some "unknown others" in mind is there is no guage in what appeals to others. Deadhead the spent BES's or coneflowers. When the Asiatic lilies in the lamppost bed are browned out later in the season, dig them up and put them right back in in a cluster. If you expect the dianthus to return next season - sometimes they're a crapshoot - group them since they're not terribly effective dotted along the edge.

Look into miniature (real miniatures, not only those listed as "dwarf") conifers - tend to be slow growing, good as anchors, vertical interest backdrops, vignette staples...

I'm not advocating just throwing anything in there, but the boring creeping juniper covers empty space and stays green or blue or yellow depending on the variety. Maybe I'm not like all people in the housing market, but I'd relish the empty spaces so I could put my own stamp on them. I suppose "curb appeal" is what initially arrests lookers - but what it does beyond that is hard to say.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 11:43AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

If the house is currently listed for sale, I don't see any point in adding any 'permanent' plants. You'd probably be best off doing something like adding pots of fall mums, and seasonal decoration displays as appropriate until the house sells. That would add some color and interest without adding plantings that, perhaps, a new owner might not like in the longer run.

Will you be able to water anything you do put there, given that you seem to be saying that the existing plants didn't get enough water? Stressed plants are not going to make an appealing picture, no matter what they are....

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 11:57AM
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If the goal for landscaping this house is to add to your resale value in the near future, I agree with the others who infer that you will never be able to achieve a universally appealing, "lush and inviting" garden in such an abbreviated amount of time. Instead, my inclination would be to expand on duluth's blank slate idea.

You have a Federal Colonial style house which usually calls for formal straight edges and balanced plantings. And that would be which most potential buyers would be expecting here. Unfortunately, the serpentine curves that have already been installed are too contemporary, clashing with rather that complementing the architectural style. I would try to minimize that. Expand the right-sided garden near the front door so that it echoes the shape of the left-sided one. Modify the amorphous bed closest to the street so that it is more squared, narrow and runs in a linear fashion in front of the house. At the far end of that garden, echo with another matching lamp post. Centre a shortish, inexpensive run of black iron decorative fencing between the two to create a courtyard effect. Fill all beds with black-dyed mulch to create apparent richness and depth. Plant a balanced scheme of low, tight, pyramidal conifers and some red-twigged flowering shrubs (?hydrangea) appropriate for your zone in the "fenced" garden - however, consciously avoid a dot-dash-dot kind of pattern. Treat the two beds under the windows similarly with a few conifers selected for compactness and perhaps some carefully placed boulders. Arrange tall urns on either side of the door with mirroring groups of easily replaced annuals or seasonal arrangements, as woody suggests. Lastly, on the blank side wall, I would erect a significantly sized black square trellis, in much the same pattern as the front windows, and start an ivy.

By focusing on a few well constructed and deeply saturated hardscape elements and less on neglected looking herbaceous material, you can achieve an illusion of potential without looking bare. Good luck with your sale :)

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 4:43PM
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I don't think a picture that is plain, simple and somewhat empty will discourage a potential buyer as much as the appearance of neglect. The tree branches that are too low for a person to walk upright below them--especially directly in front of the house--appear neglected to me. Raising them up a little and adding some head clearance would look better for the house. What jumps out at closer range is the dead foliage and flower heads. Those should be removed as quickly as they form. As already said, there's not much point in adding permanent woody plant material when it has no time to be anything other than small and lonely. What would make a difference is seasonal color in the form of flowers... especially annuals... not a skinny line or a tiny spot, but some masses. Some of my pictures are little rough, but you can glean the idea and improve on site.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 10:50AM
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Thanks for the input so far. Answers to some of your questions:
-We have done our best to water. I'm out of town during the week, and DH sometimes is, but when he's home he waters daily. But we had a month plus of >100 temps and the watering only partially offset that. We have had a few rains in the past 2 weeks, and temps are back in the 80s-90s, so things have greened back up a bit and the worst seems to be over.
-Those 2 trees are actually quite a ways from the house. There's a circle drive in between them and the front beds/lawn.
-The dianthus have been pretty good about coming back each year, though not all of them, so I've replanted to fill in.
-Good point about "well cared-for" trumping "filled up and lush." But we've still got sporadic stuff (like 2 surviving petunias) that isn't helping with the overall feel.

Last night I went to check out what's available plant-wise since we're getting late in the season and pickings are slimmer. My thoughts:
-Transplant dianthus from the back yard to fill in the front beds and make them more of a mass planting like the green stuff Yardvark drew.
-Mass mums in the more central area that Yardvark made yellow.
-Potentially one or two crape myrtles in the left bed, where the azalea is now and/or in the empty space to the left of the rock. I love crape myrtles.
-A tree--or possibly another crape myrtle in the front of the expanded left bed.
-There's lots of lantana available. Don't know if there's a good spot for that, or if I should bother this late in the season.

Here's a rough draft plan. Feedback welcome.

My other concern is what to do to keep the beds looking nice through the winter, since I've mostly got perennials that will die off. Our house is in the top 10% price-wise, and things are moving slow around here, so it wouldn't be a surprise if we're here through then. I'm thinking of getting a couple dwarf alberta spruces to put in urns by the front door. What else can I do to keep the beds from looking completely morose? I personally like the whole "spring back to life from nothing" look, but I am trying to sell a house here. :-)

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 4:04PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Find a nursery that deals in 'fall annuals'. Ornamental kale, pansies - things like that. Depending on what sort of winter you have, that may get you through until April. Otherwise, a mundane planting of junipers is probably your best bet.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 4:38PM
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OK, how'd we do?

Summary of the changes:
-Removed lamppost bed and replaced it with grass, transplanting everything in it to other places in the beds.
-Moved all azaleas to the north side of the house
-Planted crape myrtles on LH and RH side of the walkway to the door (also put one on the LH corner of the garage)
-Enlarged RH bed, added lilac tree, bench, mums, and pansies
-Added pots with evergreens on either side of the door
-Consolidated plantings in the LH bed (grouped dianthus, daylilies), added burning bush (great fall color)
-Deadheaded coneflowers
-Added another round of mulch

Amazingly (to me), we were able to do all of this for about $400. The tree was $82 (end of season clearance), the bench was a $25 CL find, and tis the season for $2 quarts of mums. We re-used the edging stones.

Plus we came up with an idea for "hillbilly sod" to fill in the front. We've got 7 acres, no? So we just used the tractor to pull some sod out of the back 40 and bring it up front. We did that on the front edge of the "erosion problem" area as well, to hold the dirt in.

Still plan to paint the front door black--DH is completely sold on it. And there's still a blank spot on the back side of the bench. I'm thinking of perhaps thinning out the irises and planting some back there. Eventually the tree will shade them out, but that's the next owner's fun.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 6:24PM
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Your hard work shows and you've made good improvements.

Agree front door should be painted.

Hope you'll find that buyer soon.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 6:34PM
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Weedyacres, it is definitely an improvement in my opinion. I like that on the right side you enlarged the bed, somewhat smoothed out its front edge, and added the tree. It seems a lot better proportionately. I also like that you ditched the foreground bed and added sod near the driveway. Once it heals a bit more, it will help the overall picture with looking tidy. I think that fits with your original goals. I still wish there was a small base of annuals or groundcover around the bottom of the lamp post to add another touch of interest.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 11:06AM
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