Improving the View From the Curb
An attractive front yard improves the look of your home and makes visitors feel welcome
A great front yard may not change your life, but it can lift your spirits each time you come home. Simple things, like a pleasant walk to the front door and a bit of relief from street traffic, can make a big difference in how you think about your home.
Most homeowners don't start with an ideal yard. Far from it. Some inherit a virtually blank slate, and others get an outdated yard with a standard-issue narrow walkway, a ring of shrubs around the foundation, and maybe a stingy concrete slab at the door.
Making changes to these types of yards may seem daunting, but help is here. We found three homeowners who faced different problems but came up with equally successful projects.
Lush, Low-Water-Use Landscape
Starting from scratch, John and Jan Trimble created this flourishing landscape, which earned them the "Best New Xeriscape Award" (for low water use) from the city of Austin, Texas.
Challenge: "We wanted a xeriscape garden but with plenty of color and a profusion of greenery, not a desert look," John says. "And, wanting more time to travel, we decided on a low-maintenance garden," Jan adds. The chief challenge was the concretelike soil, known as caliche. Intense summer heat and deer were other problems they had to contend with.
Solution: First, the couple developed an overall plan, which called for professional help designing and installing the mortared limestone paths and sprinkler system. They decided to leave boulders to become features of the new landscape. The couple then turned to improving the soil. They mixed truckloads of compost and other organic amendments into the dense soil. They mounded the improved soil in raised planting beds to provide extra depth for plant roots. Twice a year, the Trimbles spread shredded bark mulch 3 inches deep over the soil surface, which helps the soil remain cool and retains moisture.
Wise plant choices are central to the success of any garden. Jan, then a beginning gardener, learned about drought-resistant plants from a local garden club. And she experimented. "I didn't have an exact planting plan. Instead I planted on an ad-hoc basis," she says. Among her many successes are shrubby perennials, including lantana, autumn sage (Salvia greggii), and Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha). They provide rich color, and the deer that regularly browse their yard leave them alone. The decision to limit the amount of turf and plant native, drought-resistant buffalo grass also saves water and reduces maintenance. This easy-care approach ensures that time spent in the yard is as pleasurable as possible.
Privacy and Parking
With help from a landscape designer, Tom Johnson and Barbara Chasnoff of Park Ridge, Illinois, were able to gain some privacy and space for parking by replacing their do-nothing front lawn.
Challenge: "Originally, the house stood out like a big gray shoe box," recalls Chasnoff. The couple wanted it to blend more with the surroundings. They also needed parking space because the house had no driveway, forcing guests to park on the busy street. Some buffering from that busy street and low maintenance were other top priorities. "We like to spend time outdoors, but we're not gardeners," says Chasnoff.
Solution: Landscape designer Tim Thoelecke of Garden Concepts in Glenview, Illinois, put every inch of the 23-foot-deep site to work. He eliminated the lawn and concrete walk and replaced them with an 11-foot-wide U-shaped driveway. "Now, people can park off the street, and they don't have to back out into heavy traffic," Thoelecke says. The dry-laid interlocking concrete pavers provide an easy-care surface compared with the lawn they replaced.
Thoelecke replaced the original foundation planting — a single row of clipped shrubs pressed against the house — with deep planting beds for a generous look more in scale with the house.
New plantings are simple, but hard-working. Amelanchier shrubs, shown here in spring flower, look good all year. Flowers are followed in early summer by purplish berries, and colorful fall foliage drops to reveal a striking silhouette in winter. The amelanchiers combine with lower-growing evergreens, ornamental grasses, and flowering bulbs to soften the transition from the house to the ground.
A planting bed by the sidewalk includes a bench and creates a sense of enclosure. In summer, ornamental grasses planted behind the bench grow tall enough to screen it from the street. "I frequently sit out on the bench or the front stoop simply to enjoy the yard," says Chasnoff.
Small Space, Big Garden
Homeowners Doug Mearns and Tom Mannion prove you don't need a big yard to make a big difference. They transformed their 30-by-100-foot front yard in Arlington, Virginia, into a gardener's dream. Granted, they had an advantage—Mannion is a professional landscape designer.
Challenge: "Our yard felt like it belonged to the street, not the house," says Mannion. That's what happens when the lawn bleeds into the street and neighboring yards, he explains.
The primary goals of their redesign were to reclaim the yard and make it welcoming to visitors. "We wanted a little privacy and a fun place to garden," Mannion says.
Solution: For the first order of business, they laid the new framework for the yard. They tore up the narrow stone path and created a 6-foot-wide walkway that gently curves from a new, matching stoop to the driveway. "I believe in wide walks," says Mannion. "They are more welcoming and people can walk side by side instead of single file."
The new paving is exposed aggregate concrete with a pea-gravel finish. Both the walk and stoop are edged with the same type of stone used on the house. "It's important to pick up something from the house and repeat it in the landscape," says Mannion. This unifies the house and garden.
Just as Mannion advises his clients, he shaped the lawn first and then formed the surrounding planting beds. "Don't simply plant in the lawn," he says, "or it loses its shape and becomes nothing more than strips of connecting greenery."
A small garden bed featuring azaleas, spring-blooming doublefile viburnums, and winter-blooming hellebores separates the lawn and the street. The plants screen the yard while offering people walking by a site to enjoy.
Mannion planted a number of colorful annual flowers and bulbs at the doorway to greet visitors as they arrive. "Replanting this limited area in spring and fall is a seasonal gardening chore that I enjoy, but I kept it small," Mannion explains. "An area that's too large would be too much work."
The garden during construction
3 Front Yard Tips From Landscape Pros
1. Choose plants that are in scale with your home.
Remember to consider the mature plant size, because large-growing trees and shrubs can hide windows and take over the entire yard. In the garden above, a deep planting bed features low-growing dwarf conifers that won't block the windows and won't need pruning to keep their shape.
2. Select a landscape style that is appropriate to your climate.
An informal desert-style landscape of cacti and succulents clearly complements a Southwestern stucco home and the surrounding terrain. The same style would look out of place with a rustic coastal cottage. Using plants native to the region, or from similar climates, helps complete the picture.
3. Pick landscaping materials that go with your house
Repeating an architectural
feature, structural materials or even decorative elements can help tie the house and garden together. The white picket fence and arbor complement the house trim and dormers.