Clear away crowded, overgrown shrubs to add curb appeal
The front entrance to our house is crowded and overgrown. The sidewalk is 36 inches wide and the brick steps at the front door are 48 inches wide. Do you have any suggestions for making a more open and inviting entry to our house?
— Dick and Kathleen, Sacramento, CA
Roger Cook replies: It's tough to offer a detailed design without walking the site, but I can give you some general impressions and ideas that should get you headed in the right direction.
The plantings at your en-trance are what people notice first, so let's start there. Although it appears they've been sheared twice each year to keep them in check, they've gotten so big they look like they want to eat the house. Also, the existing hedge is more like a wall—not very inviting. I'd remove them all. You can try to transplant some plants that are still attractively shaped, but most will have holes with no foliage, the result of overcrowded growing conditions. Hedges are among the hardest to transplant because they never seem to go back together and look as good as they did originally.
Once the area is clear, I'd put in a specimen tree that's naturally small in stature, possibly a dwarf variety, to provide a focal point. Then I'd plant the area with a few dwarf evergreens, deciduous flowering shrubs, and a ground cover that does well in your area. This simple combination would do a lot to open up the front of your house and make it appear more inviting.
Another thing I notice is the front walk itself: It follows a fairly shallow curve from the driveway. If it had a much fuller curve, that would create more space for the planting bed and make the front entrance even more appealing. If you make the new walk out of brick that matches or is similar to the brick on the existing stoop, it will read as front walk and not as driveway.
And don't forget the planting bed on the right side of the existing walk. I'd reshape it so it gently curves in to meet the new brick, instead of ending abruptly at the walk as it does now.