Blank slate, curb appeal needed

stevsieNovember 21, 2010

We recently bought a 1950's rancher and have been focused on upgrading the inside (new bathroom, new kitchen floor, etc.), but want to tackle the "curb appeal" come spring and are looking for ideas. I know I want to widen the stairs and put up a railing in hopes of making the entrance more inviting, a new front door would help, too. We're pretty good at DIY projects, but not so good at landscaping design - where do we begin? Thanks in advance!

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I don't know what zone you are in for planting.

How do you want to use the front yard? Do you need a sitting area? Do you want to cut back on mowing the lawn? What are your summers like? Do you get water restrictions because of heat/sun and little rain?

It's hard to determine what to do.

Personally I always like a sitting area.

I use a garden hose to lay out a garden bed design before I dig and to see a true visual of what I want.

I also use MS Paint program and start with a basic layout of the house, front yard to the curb. Or you can use a pencil and paper.

My old house I had a similar front yard. I made a sitting area between the house and curb in a curved pattern to soften the look. I started small and the garden grew around me. You can shape the area for sitting first. If you want to leave grass underfoot where you sit, plant on digging out about 2 feet of grass completely. To save your back in the garden area you can outline that with the hose again and cut out a 2 foot outline. Instead of digging out all that grass you can either put down cardboard with topsoil and peatmoss mixed on top a good foot or so or you can take the grass on the inside, cut it into manageable sizes and flip the grass upsidedown and then put topsoil on top. The grass will die.

I grew tall plants next to my sitting area - purple coneflower, cosmos (grows fast if seeds scattered early spring). If you have neighbours who have perennial gardens and you get on well, ask if they are splitting any plants in the spring and would they mind if you could have some - if you don't have plants, you can offer some garden help in exchange. Most gardeners love to share plants.

In the middle height in the middle of the bed I'd plant a couple of limegreen low growing shrubs (odd numbers for like 3, 5, 7 work well for viewing). In the middle you can grow lavender, Seed calendula (once it finishes flower and before it goes to seed, deadhead for more flowers and save the seeds in the fall for next year....same with cosmos seeds). Finally around the edges of the garden I would plant some annuals for instant colour. In the fall start planting bulbs like daffodils, tulips, crocus etc for next spring. Start the garden not too wide and build on it every year. Don't forget to balance the front yard by adding some garden on the other side.

It's really all about what you want to use the front yard for and if you are planning to remove the lawn over a period of time for less mowing. Gardens help collect rain from filling the sewers and they invite more birds, chipmunks, squirrels into your yard for entertainment.

Those are some of my thoughts,
I hope it helps.


    Bookmark   November 21, 2010 at 6:09PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Oh, this looks very familiar. Red brick house, white trim, off-center foundation shrubs, small front porch, lawn sloping down to the left, maybe a walk-out basement too?

How do you feel about the foundation plantings you currently have?

If you're dissatisfied with the shrubs to the left of the front door, one reason may be because they were simply scattered along the front of the house without any pattern or reason. I'd feel better about them if they were centered (or grouped) under the windows or between the windows. (Most of my older foundation shrubs from the previous owners have the same problem, and now that I'm finally figuring out what I want to do in the foundation beds, all the badly-located shrubs will be moved or removed soon. Like you, I even have a shrub which was planted simply To Hide the Gas Meter, with no concern for its overall effect on the rest of the foundation landscaping.)

Have you thought about deepening the front beds so you can have some colorful annuals or perennials in front of the shrubs? Do you know what the shrubs are?

What direction does the house face?

I'm curious as to what's to the left and right of what we see in the photo. Also, is that a front walkway in the grass? Where is the garage/carport/parking area? Is there (or should there be) a walkway in that direction?

The shutters rather merge into the bricks. Have you thought about painting the shutters? Charcoal or black would go well with the bricks and shingles. [I imagine there are other ways to handle shutters for that color scheme, but I don't know them.] Or you could just remove the shutters.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2010 at 8:23PM
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Peggy, thank you for the suggestions! The front of the house gets a ton of morning sun, which can heat it up in the summer, so a tree/trees are needed. I can grow vegetables just fine but am brand new at landscape design, so I have no idea what plants will work here! What's the best way to find out?

missingtheobvious - yup, walk-out-basement. Most of the houses on our street started as the same house back in the fifties - they're changing, one-by-one, and ours is next. I hate the shrubs along the front and suspect I would hate them even if they were spaced properly . Surely we can do better than that! I'd love to deepen the front bed and do something with fewer straight lines (don't know what the shrubs are, but we'll be moving/removing them anyway).

There's no garage, but a small gravel driveway to the left of the photo. The "walkway" leading out of the house is falling apart and stops halfway into the yard! It needs to be pulled up and I'd like to put stepping stones down in it's place (they should curve towards the driveway, instead of straight out to the street, I think). To the right is a small (dying) tree that will need to go as well.

Re: the shutters, they need to be replaced and, yes - we're thinking of painting them black or dark green. Would removing them make the house look bare or the windows look small??

Lastly, I contacted the local university and plan to place an ad in the weekly architecture-school newsletter looking for an up-and-coming landscape architect to act as a consultant. Has anyone had any luck with this sort of thing?

You're all awesome, by the way. Thanks for your help!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2010 at 10:57PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I love Peggy's idea of designing the garden around herself. Too often we look at front yards as if they were 2D compositions rather than spaces to BE in. I personally design my front yard while sitting on my front steps, which is also where I mostly look at it from.

Pathways are another way of doing this; designing around where you GO.

Re finding a student... if you are paying you will get takers, but I'm not sure why you'd want a student especially unless for getting a lower rate or for free. I am not personally a huge fan of this approach but it may work. My guess is that there would be a trade-off though, and if you're getting work for free of course there should be, otherwise no one could ever make any money at it after graduating. For example, when you get dental work done at the university's dental school, you have to spend four times as long in the chair. In this case, you may need to give the student more leeway to follow his/her assignment or idea than you might give to someone you are paying to meet your needs.

If you don't want to pay for design, there are plenty of books in the library and hey, we're free :-)

I personally have a very strong bias against foundation planting unless it's absolutely necessary, and would look for some alternatives, depending - back to square one - on where you want to be in the yard and what you want to do there. Plan your open areas and surfaces and pathways first, plant around them. In fact, whatever you do, plants are always the last decisions you make, not the first.


    Bookmark   December 1, 2010 at 2:59AM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

A few suggestions. Replace the storm door with one that is full length glass. Or better yet remove it altogether and buy a steel weather tight front door. Paint it a color that gives contrast (green perhaps?).

If the photo was taken in the afternoon then you are facing south. I would put a shade tree in front of that picture window. Perhaps a large star magnolia. Don't plant a maple, the root system of a maple will make gardening in front impossible.

My goal would be to get rid of most of that lawn. You want the lawn to provide the space between the garden beds, not to be the prominent feature. As for what to plant, take a look at other properties in your area that you like, or go to a local arboretum and take notes. You can create a smaller version of what you like in your space. Remember to consider each space you create to be a separate "room." These are just my preferences. Yours may vary.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2010 at 2:24PM
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