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A Front Yard Makeover....

Posted by pixy306 none (My Page) on
Mon, Oct 1, 12 at 20:50

Hi! I'm looking for some help with what to plant in front of my house - it's desperately in need of a makeover...

The pic shows our house with a little photoshop work, showing where I'd like to take it... But I am lost with plants! I live in IL, so it's cold and snowy here much of the year. As bad as it looks now, you should see it when it snows! You can see the patch of grass in front that gets a lot of sunlight, pretty much everything else is shady. We have a huge maple in the front, you can see the branches overhead, pretty much shades the entire yard.
I'd LOVE suggestions!!!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

Here's what it actually looks like right now... At least it's not a field of dandelions like it was when we moved in, though!! :)


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

You'd be doing yourself a favor to remove low hanging branches from the maple to allow a clear view to the house face. For a lasting effect, take them off back to the main trunk, not just at the tips (but that would work temporarily.)

A SMALL tree at the corner would help "knit" the house to the ground. (What I'm showing I'd consider mature height.) If those are Yews at the window, you could cut them back drastically and re-shape the new growth as it returns. The scheme could be made more complex, or simplified to your taste. There are plenty of ways to adjust it. Colors not meant to be taken literally. The entrance would look better if the walk were widened. Adding brick soldier courses to outside edges is one possibility. That's an arbor along the garage wall.

I like the post and rail system you've added, but one thing I'd do differently is widen the opening just a little... to 5'. (It looks now to be 4.?')


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

It's suffering from a "window moustache" ... that chunk of greenery under the window. Get rid of it, or plant more of them. If it's what I think it is, it's going to need never-ending maintenance to keep them from covering the house.

1 - Widen the walk so it is as wide as the steps. Or wider. You have enough room for a nice entry area if you pave over in front of the entire entry niche. If you do that, make the steps wider, all across the front, and use the white railing and post to surround the entry area.

2 - Bring the landscaping more towards the street. You should be able to stand at the street and not feel like there is a green moat of grass in your way, and from the front window, see some pretty plants and a nicely framed view of the street.

3 - No shutters. They clearly can't cover the windows, they are just band-aids.

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Take some time and draw a site plan and investigate low-care plants for your area.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

  • Posted by catkim San Diego 10/24 (My Page) on
    Tue, Oct 2, 12 at 11:57

I actually appreciate the clean, modern look of your house as it is. The railings, posts, and shutters return the house to "cookie cutter" status, IMO. The greatest impact will come from replacing the developer sidewalk for a much wider, more modern look, perhaps in big, staggered concrete rectangles. Google that houzz site for inspiration. Secondly, I'd upgrade the light fixtures to better quality and more contemporary.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

Haha!! @lazygardens, "window moustache" had me cracking up!! Yes, those are yews under the window. I cut them waaaay back when we moved in, and as you can see, they eventually grew back, but it was like an ugly-dead-stick-moustache for about a year. I really don't like them, although I do like how they create something year round to look at.
@Yardvaark, I love the illustration you created. I see what you mean about "knitting it to the ground." I also love the arbor. The only downside I see is that I feel it will look so boring during the winter. (Which lasts a while here in Chicago!)
I had never thought about widening the sidewalk! It's funny that many people agreed about that! I like the idea of the pavers alongside it. The previous owner installed the sidewalk right before we moved in. It's a little hard to tell from the picture, but the steps are curved, like two big stacked semi circles.
@catkim, I'm so surprised that you prefer it as is! I feel as though the rails, and red door, etc. make it seem so much more inviting and cozy, although I can see how it could be fixed up to play up the "modern/contemporaryness" of it. It's a good reminder for me try to appreciate what I have, instead of wanting to toss everything out and start all over! (but I still don't like those yews very much...)


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

Here's with the entry widened a little, also probably a good idea for the next time we have to move a fridge or something in...
and for kicks, I'm letting you see where I was going with the landscaping... Yes, you may giggle... but not too hard...


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

  • Posted by catkim San Diego 10/24 (My Page) on
    Tue, Oct 2, 12 at 17:07

Pixy -- I like the house as it is, but agree with you completely about the yews! I am a fan of clean, modern lines, and your house is a fine example of simplicity. Well, okay, I'd get a more modern-style door... :-) Cozy feels cluttered to me.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

I'm trying every trick in the book to NOT allow a clear view from the street here. Yard is obsessed about limbing up trees. I like the softening effect of branches, pretty from the house and street.

Agree with catkim that changing out the walk,door and lights will make a great difference.......that and completely removing the mustaches.

How deep is your porch?? Railing would probably make it too skinny to comfortably use the chairs and your line of vision would be the horizontal rails. If you can, put the hose reel elsewhere. And for spring/summer/fall, one large pot on the left side of the porch...

lazygardens has some sound ideas for you also. Hope you like them.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

Pixy, widening the entrance at the stoop is an improvement over your original submission.

"The only downside I see is that I feel it will look so boring during the winter. (Which lasts a while here in Chicago!) "

I lived many years in Dekalb so know about winters that don't want to end. You should understand that a landscape "scheme" (the picture I submitted) is not a plan. It's not a call to plant literally what you think you see. It's an idea that shows shapes, relationships and organization in the hope of illustrating ways to enhance your property. I try to make it somewhat realistic looking, but by doing that I'm not suggesting exact plants. The actual plants that you use would produce the specific personality, flavor--winter interest--and pizzazz you seek according to the ideals you have. I showed yellow flowers, but you may prefer pink instead. The decisions are yours to make.

After seeing your scheme, I suspect that you think "winter interest" means evergreen. If so, I think you'd be passing on many opportunities for even greater winter interest and maybe sacrificing some Spring and Summer interest in the process. Berries, twiggy thickets, dried flowers, trunk structure, branching formations and such things are great sources of dormant season interest. As an example, in your yard I see a place where you could plant a Miscanthus which is a long lasting source or winter beauty and interest in Northern Illinois. The trellis could be partitioned for growing more than a single species of plant. You could grow something that's attractive in the warm season and something like bittersweet for fall and winter berries and twining vines. A groundcover could be evergreen. There are perennials that persist in a dried form with flowers and berries that can add considerable interest to the winter scene. A mass planting of them--which you could do--would be highly attractive. As well, incorporating early spring flowering bulbs adds interest and helps to make the winter seem less long. You might consider making visits to Morton Arboretum and Chicago Botanical Garden after it snows to see how many beautiful plants are still hanging around ... some even at their prime and glory. It will probably be an eye-opener. It's fun figuring out how to fit the plants you like into your yard so that they work together making a cohesive statement.

One thing that stands out to me as a big difference between our proposed landscape schemes is that mine is shown, more or less, at a mature state. Yours looks as if it was planted within the last year or two and has a fair way to go before reaching maturity. You might explore what it looks like grown out to its final conclusion. I suspect that much of what is visible now will be later engulfed in shrubbery.

I don't think there's anyone who disagrees that your Yew hedge is homely. But is it homely because it's Yews? Or homely because none of it's owners knew how to trim and shape it properly? Yews have been long considered one of Northern Illinois' better, most durable and tolerant evergreen shrubs. Unlike most of the other needle evergreens, Yews have the capability of re-growing from wood after being trimmed severely. If your intention is to have a hedge below the window, I'd reconsider replacing the Yews with an inferior plant, like Arborvitae or Juniper. Neither of those are as capable as Yews. Seeing your Yews now and knowing you confessed to cutting them "waaaay back," confirms in my mind that you do not yet grasp the concept of how to control shrubs to make them do what you want. Instead, you're inadvertently training them into miniature trees.

"... the softening effect of branches ..."

I wouldn't argue against the existence of the "softening effect." But that it's a good thing when it obscures positive features ...? In most cases it's an argument against pervasive neglect ... or just not knowing that hair in the eyes doesn't make the most face-flattering "do."


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

Thank you, for the thoughtful comments! I also live in the western burbs!

As for the homely yews... Did I trim them properly? Probably not. However, it's lucky that I saved it's life at all from my shovel-carrying-husband. I wanted to see if anything would come back, so I took about a foot off the top and the front (there are two.) The top obviously came back nicely (eventually) but the sides and the front remain dead-stick-like. I read online that you can cut them right back to 6 inches off the ground, but that seems terrifying, and potentially uglier!

When we moved in, there was nothing else planted anywhere. (Except for those dandelions...) Everything that is there is something that I recieved from local gardeners who were splitting or had extra, which is, I think, the biggest problem with how I've planted. I just keep taking leftovers from others, and putting them where I think they will do well/where I have room. I didn't start with a plan, and now I feel like it's all very thrown together. I don't think that leaving it for a few years would leave me with anything that looks very cohesive!

The side area was just demolished when we put up siding, but is usually kind of pretty from the street, however, it tries to try to lie on the sidewalk all the time, especially if it is rainy. My husband and I call it the "sidewalk comb-over." It kind of goes along with the "window moustache!"

The maple probably could be trimmed more, but to be honest, when I look out my window, I'd rather look at a beautiful tree than all my neighbor's houses! (I'm from Northern WI, originally, where pretty much everyone lives in the woods... Although I love my neighbors, I do miss the privacy!)

All that to say, I appreciate everybodies opinions and help - specifically in trying to define the spaces to fill - for some reason, this apsect is very difficult for me!


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

I like the porch rails and shutters you photoshopped in. Makes it look warm and friendly to me. I'm not wild about the evergreens you photoshopped in. They look disjointed and lonely being so far apart like that. I like the tree Yaardvark put at the end, but the arbor along the garage wall looks cluttered to me. I like your row of little ball bushes better there. From that angle, they look connected to each other.


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"As for the homely yews... Did I trim them properly?" No. First, you must have a vision of the final result and I'm guessing a hedge held high on stilts that covers part of the window is not it. You should have trimmed the Yews down to 6" and shaped the new growth properly as it returned. If you want a hedge below the windows, the good news is that the plants are still Yewsable! You might take a look at the discussion "can you make lemons out of lemonade?" to see how one would go about re-shaping a hedge of the exact same plant in a nearly identical situation. I didn't advise Katrina to cut as low as I'd advise in your case as her Yews weren't quite as bare at the bottom. The timing of it is also discussed. (See the link below and look for my entry 9/25 & after.)

"I just keep taking leftovers from others, and putting them where I think they will do well/where I have room. I didn't start with a plan, and now I feel like it's all very thrown together." What you described is GARDENING. But what you want & need is LANDSCAPING... planting that is purposely organized to be attractive and useful. Designing it begins with creating a PLAN, which you are working on here. In the process, think of the planting in its FULLY GROWN STATE. In the example you submitted, what plants would best make the 4' and 15" height shrubs that you are showing? Is the flat-against-the-face-of-the-house arrangement and single texture/color plant material optimal for creating greatest interest?

"... to be honest, when I look out my window, I'd rather look at a beautiful tree than all my neighbor's houses!" Contained in that statement is the thesis for a book or series of books. In the vast majority of the US, the de facto standard landscape style is one in which the private residence contributes a "public" side to a neighborhood "streetscape." In this scheme, the visual "quality of the neighborhood" depends on everyone contributing, more or less, to meet a minimum acceptable standard. The manifestation is the quintessential tree-lined street ... as of Mayberry or some idyllic place. It would be more common in other parts of the world--the UK for example--to see front yards that are walled or hedged in, separating them visually from the street, giving them privacy or a sense of it. However a person chooses to approach this issue, it should be a conscious decision born out in intentional actions. If one wants screening from the street, is allowing tree branches to hang so low as to impede one's own maintenance chores the best way to do it? Given that it leans toward looking unkempt, I think there are better ways. One must also reconcile the conflict of trying to "show off" one's home, yet keep "the outside" screened out. One compromise allows glimpses of the home while screening much of it off. The adage that "the grass is always greener on the other side" I suppose holds true here. There is a thrust in parts of the US (California mainly) toward adopting the landscape style which is popular in the UK. I'd bet that somewhere in the UK, there is a thrust toward adopting the US open-to-the-street style. The American style depends on everyone pulling their own weight and could become frustrating when their are "hold outs" who don't want to participate. But the Euro-style closed-to-street landscape scheme can make streets feel more like alleys. Sometimes very high class alleys! But nevertheless, alleys where the subliminal (but still obvious) visual statement is "keep out," not "welcome to our home". How one deals with this issue should consider the statement it makes and the long term impact.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tue, Sep 25, 12 at 10:58


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

Maybe once I love how the front of my house looks, I'll cut off all those bottom branches to show it off!

Yardvaark, I read the other thread, you're right, those bushes look like the same thing. Am I to understand that you would recommend trying to use the current yews instead of replacing them with something else? I feel with just two there that they'd have a hard time filling up the area shown in your drawing width wise?
The plants in the last idea that I submitted were maybe boxwood? However, that was NOT intended as what I thought was a good plan - I started playing around, and just couldn't think of what to do! The plan that you submitted is WAAAAY better! I love it! I'm still a little torn about the trellis - I can see what some mean by it being a little too cluttered, but on the other hand - I just like them! And, I drove by another house today that was similar to mine, and had the bushes as I had shown in the same spot, and it made the whole wall look very empty. I have some grape vine trimmings from my grandmother's house that might do well there. Even though they don't really bloom, they are sentimental... Is that a reason to plant something?
I have another little problem area. The picture shows up close - there is an ugly white pvc pipe that comes out of the ground right there, about 4 inches tall. Could I just extend the bed right to it, and then use ground cover to hide it? Would you change the angles of the rest of the bed if it were extended? Or is this why garden gnomes were invented? :)
One more random thought/question... We eat A LOT of veggies, and I've always wanted a garden, but the backyard is too shady to really support anything. Does anybody ever plant vegetables in the front? Like pretty ones that flower? Like instead of a basic ground cover, planting squashes or pumpkins or something like that? Maybe this is a silly question...


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

This from Yard (above) "... to be honest, when I look out my window, I'd rather look at a beautiful tree than all my neighbor's houses!" Contained in that statement is the thesis for a book or series of books. In the vast majority of the US, the de facto standard landscape style is one in which the private residence contributes a "public" side to a neighborhood "streetscape." In this scheme, the visual "quality of the neighborhood" depends on everyone contributing, more or less, to meet a minimum acceptable standard. The manifestation is the quintessential tree-lined street ... as of Mayberry or some idyllic place. It would be more common in other parts of the world--the UK for example--to see front yards that are walled or hedged in, separating them visually from the street, giving them privacy or a sense of it. However a person chooses to approach this issue, it should be a conscious decision born out in intentional actions. If one wants screening from the street, is allowing tree branches to hang so low as to impede one's own maintenance chores the best way to do it?

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Oh, for heaven's sake. If the OP likes to look into her tree branches, that's obviously her choice. And in this instance, one would have to be walking on stilts to have the branches impede maintenance.....that would be mowing, right?

I'm on a cul de sac, from my front door and rooms facing the street, my view is of only one home and it is the least attractive home in the neighborhood. I'm planting for privacy from that view.

There are many reasons for not limbing up as Yard advocates, on and on and on. Most importantly, PERSONAL CHOICE. Please, Yard, consider giving this a rest. I am not alone in this plea to you.

I may plant a magnolia grandiflora in the front. Would you say that should be limbed up. If you do, you know too little.

Pixy, my vote to gnome is a nay.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

"... with just two there that they'd have a hard time filling up the area shown in your drawing width wise?" As I look at your photo of the original I see that they are now the same width as the window. Why couldn't they be again?

"I can see what some mean by it being a little too cluttered... " I think it depends entirely HOW you create the trellis and what you choose to plant and how you train it. The original comment was based on the view shown in the photo. Normally, I don't like to crowd walkways with tall plantings, but the right of the walk is open to the lawn so I don't consider it a claustrophobia-producing situation. Also, one must take into account more than the view shown. Walk to the right and look back at the garage and you'll see a boring blank wall. The trellis takes care of it. (If I was making one for my own place, I'd make a trellis that hangs on posts and could be lifted off its hooks and laid down so that any maintenance to the wall, such as painting, could take place without needing to un-build the trellis.) For my taste, grape vine in that location would be a little rambunctious. I'd prefer something with pretty flowers... or winter interest since it's such a prominent position in the yard.

"Does anybody ever plant vegetables in the front?" Yes, they do. I would, too, but it requires vegetables that look decent so that leaves out many things. Veggie plants also tend to be short lived which could be an issue. Veggie gardens usually have some very rough looking days. I'm sure that you can find some things that qualify if you hunt for them.

To deal with the "ugly white pvc pipe" you must identify what it is and its purpose. It might be possible to relocate or conceal it.

@ Rosiew... "If the OP likes to look into her tree branches, that's obviously her choice." The gist of my message that it IS her choice. It should be a choice realized, not a neglected, unattended default state.

"There are many reasons for not limbing up as Yard advocates, on and on and on. Most importantly, PERSONAL CHOICE." Honestly, Rosiew, I don't get your antagonistic attitude about it because I'm not disagreeing that anyone can make the personal choices they wish to make. (By the way, personal choice without some concrete reasoning behind it is whim. If you think whim is the basis of landscape design we're in disagreement about that.) A person can decide to implement any bad idea they wish, but that doesn't make it an idea that others could advocate on a serious level. Screening might be a reason to leave limbs grow low. But usually there's a much better way to screen and it would be the rare case where low-hanging branches are the optimum method... especially in the typical front yard. I don't know who else you think you're speaking for, but anyone who wishes to make a case on any point can do it for themselves. And so far, not even you have tried to make an intelligent case--beyond whim--for maintaining low branches. As far as Magnolia g. in the front yard... I prefer them in the shrub form (with branches to the ground) but it requires a big yard for that to happen and most people don't have it.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

As far as the tree limbing mantra, rosiew can speak for me as well. I believe several other of us have mentioned this, but since our "whims" are based solely on what we like, what looks good to us (and maybe for reasons we don't even fully understand ourselves let alone care to articulate ad nauseum) we're dismissed.

Speaking just for me, the oxygen is being sucked out of this forum... not unlike times not too long ago when opening a thread was met with nothing but designs from an alternate universe.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

I agree with Duluth re oxygen sucked from this forum I'm afraid. I'm losing interest in participating in what is becoming a one-person forum. (And I note the absense of many former regulars...) The Paint technique can be useful (and I have now make use of it myself...) but things are getting repetitious. I'm sure posters who just wants a 'tell-me-what-to-do' answer are happy but those of us looking to discuss broader issues around the 'why' of things need to look elsewhere now. I miss laag - he was so good at identifying broad issues and talking about why something needed to be addressed (even if it wasn't what the OP was concerned about) and alternative ways to deal with it. I am currently taking another LD course at the University of Guelph, so most of my discussion time is now directed at the forum there.

Apologies to the OP for the diversion....


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

giving a thumbs up to the architectual facade renovation - It suggests a sense of small town charm to an otherwise bland common ranch, albeit quite a nice ranch.

There is so much that you can do landscape wise that will enhance the curb appeal of the house using a layered planting scheme with contrasting forms and textures.

I'd give the website houzz.com a look. Type in ranch home landscapes in their advanced search box and see the wonderful degree of creativity.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

@duluth "... (and maybe for reasons we don't even fully understand ourselves [about tree limbing up] let alone care to articulate ad nauseum) we're dismissed."

I don't think you're being "dismissed" at all. You're being disagreed with! I'm not sure in what forum you've articulated reasoning behind your love of low-hanging limbs. I've asked for it before and you chose to keep it to yourself then. Now you're claiming explaining it "ad nauseum." If that's true, tell where just one of those explanations is so us forum readers can see it. I'm interested in why you think low hanging limbs in yards and especially in front of houses are universally good.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Mon, Oct 8, 12 at 5:31

No one is claiming that low hanging branches in a front yard are universally good... What they are objecting to is being told over and over that such trees should always be limbed up so as not to hide the view of the house from the street. I'm with the group thinking that such limbing up is not always the ideal solution, and don't buy the sociological arguments presented that make the case for privacy in front yards as being anti-social or counter to prevailing all-American normative design values, or even more absurd, that they represent some British rather than American design aspect.

It strikes me as trying too hard to make a case, which in the end is really about personal choice and individual situations. I also fail to see how any of it is supported by facts on the ground, but instead seems to represent a rather bland suburban viewpoint of what proper residential landscape design should aspire to be.

I'd find it humorous that the point keeps being made repeatedly, we should get it by now, someone really likes limbed up trees in front gardens and multi-trunk small flowering trees and unobstructed sight lines directing one to the front door, and large sweeps of uniform curvilinear plantings with accent color at entries. Have I left anything out here? These sorts of broad brush recommendations strike me as painting by numbers; not my idea of individual design that responds to individual desires, a sense of regional place, or the significance of catering a design to the specific situation. Maybe that's just me, but the trend on threads these past few months seems to indicate that longer term posters with something to contribute in a less repetitive way have lost interest. Or maybe individual blogs have sucked all the air out of forums such as this, and it ain't ever coming back...

Just to play devil's advocate here, I include a link to a front garden that would seem to break all the supposed rules of proper design according to Yardvaark. The design basis was more about creating a pleasing view of the garden from the house and front porch rather than a wide open view of the house from the street. I leave it to each individual to decide whether it is attractive or anti-social, or met the design objectives to the detriment of neighborhood social values.

Here is a link that might be useful: Another viewpoint on front garden planting design


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

The information to limb up trees is for the OP, who is presumably, by the look of things, hearing it for the first time. All the other whining is an off-topic hi-jack and doesn't belong in the thread.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

bahia, thanks for sharing. When I see your posts, I dream of A) being wealthy and B)living in your area, could then have the gardens I dream about. There would be a huge learning curve for me because the plants you can use there are for the most part totally unfamiliar to me. Find them fascinating.

Sincerely hope you'll continue to add to this forum. We can learn much from you.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

Soooo....
Thanks to some of the helpful advice we received from this forum, we've made some changes to the front of our house...
- painted door red
- added shutters (originally wanted black, but found some for pretty cheap on craigslist, so figured dark brown was close enough...)
- added a brick inlay to both sides of the sidewalk to make it seem wider (never would have thought to do this on my own, but I LOVE the result!)
- added some plants, however, that is still a work in progress

Still to do...
- We are still thinking of adding front porch columns and rails... hubby has it in his mind that it needs to be done before we head out on vacation on WEDNESDAY... Ooofta...

- Oh yes, still need to limb the tree. Just haven't had time yet, but have all the info that I need to accomplish it! :)


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

The front door and brick lined walk look great. LOVE that red!

Re shutters: they can be painted. I use a really good quality exterior semi-gloss.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

Thank you, @rosiew! Took me forever to decide on the perfect red... Ended up being somewhat of a community event, as I was constantly outside staring at samples when neighbors would walk by! :)

Ya know, I had originally thought I would paint the shutters, but now that they are up, I think I prefer the dark brown - It still has the same darker look I was going for, but seems a little bit softer.

I do think I want to paint the light fixtures, though. I was thinking black for those, but when I went to pick up some paint, I couldn't decide on flat or glossy. (Ideally, I'd just pick out newer, updated ones, but it's probably not in the budget...) We should buy a new mail box, though - the one that's on there is ugly, rusty, and not a nice enough shape to bother repainting.

Thoughts on continuing with the front porch? yay or nay?


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

Budget can be met with some patience by looking on Craigslist. You know that!!

The porch looks like it might not be deep enough to comfortably seat you if the railing is put up. I like the rocker and the little chair. Another grownup chair would fit if you move the hose reel off the porch.......or is that something else.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

It looks great just the way it is. I really like it without the post and rails.


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It is fine now. A rail would make it look like you are in jail if you sit in the rocking chair. just too crowded.


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Too late... hubby was too excited, so the project is started!
Will post pics....


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

Finished project! Thanks everyone for the ideas and advice!


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It looks great! I love all the improvements you've made! You knew what you wanted and made it happen.


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RE: A Front Yard Makeover....

Returning to the original picture, one can see that it adds charm to the scene, and a sense of protection without hiding. The brick lined walk makes a big difference, too. I'm sure the neighbors are telling you nice things!


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