5 Elements to Designing Curb Appeal

5 Elements to Designing Curb Appeal

What really constitutes”curb appeal”? Is it just making the front of the house look nice? Is it just a sales tactic, like baking bread or lighting a fragrant candle?

In looking through pages and pages of Houzz pictures, I’ve determined the following 5 (of course) landscaping elements  that are essential to curb appeal:

Welcome

I’ve written about this before, so I won’t completely repeat myself. I’ll just say, make sure your guests/visitors feel welcome to approach your front door.

1. Where is the entrance?

Sometimes it’s just not clear how one is supposed to approach the house. It may be a fence that surrounds the site and you have to look for the gate. It could be plantings that obscure  the path. Not infrequently there isn’t actually a path, other than from right by the garage or carport, so you have to drive right in to find the entrance.

From this angle you can see the tiny entry path, but from right in front it's just a lot of tall grass and cedar hedging.

From this angle you can see the tiny entry path, but from right in front it’s just a lot of tall grass and cedar hedging.

Take pity on your poor guests or observers, and signpost the entrance. Build a path if there isn’t one, plant some identifying feature plants by the gate if it’s hard to find, or remove those feature plants if they’re hiding the entrance. People shouldn’t have to ask “How do I get in?”

This lovely Japanese Maple is a little too low for most people. Better to move the entry path than trim the shapely tree.

This lovely Japanese Maple is a little too low for most people. Better to move the entry path than trim the shapely tree.

2. Tactile Texture

This is where the plant-lover in me starts to get excited. Our 5 senses  are all integral in creating enjoyment. Vision has been addressed in the first section (can you see the way in?), and taste we’ll leave for a future post on the fruit and vegetable patch. But touch, that’s one sense we can capitalize on in the entrance garden. Lamb’s Ear is soft and fuzzy; Sedum spectabilis has leathery leaves; Mexican feather grass begs to be stroked or brushed like a ponytail!

Stipa tenuissima. Photo credit.

Stipa tenuissima. Photo credit.

Even sharp things are attractive to the curious–who doesn’t like to check if houseleek leaves or Bear’s Breeches flowers (Acanthus) are really sharp to the touch? (I’d recommend against checking out the Bear’s Breeches…)

Just make sure you don’t have to brush by those sharp spiky things.

3. Fragrant

This one is a no brainer. Some fragrant plants just barely need to be brushed against to release their fragrance, many don’t even need that. If your entryway is in moderate shade, the surprise sweetness of February-blooming Sarcococca (called Sweet Box for a good reason) will delight passers-by. Plant fragrant foliage plants (such as Artemisia, Oregano, or Lavender) so the perfume isn’t limited to a short-lived blooming period.

You may notice that people sense smells differently. For example, I’m not at all fond of lavender or oriental lilies. ( I’m definitely in the minority in the case of lavender, not so much with oriental lilies.) Some find the smell of Ladies’ Mantle or Boxwood unpleasant (cat pee, I’m afraid…), or hyacinths too strong. Give some thought to which might be the best in your own situation.

4. Water feature

Yes, we’re experiencing with our vision again, but the real beauty of water is in the sound it makes as it tumbles over rocks. If you’re thinking of installing some kind of water feature, consider putting it in the front where visitors will appreciate it right away–and then maybe add seats to encourage guests to linger longer.

5. Pretty from all angles

As much you’ll want your front yard to look great for passers-by and visitors, how much more should you want it to look good to your own eye, from the viewpoint you’ll be viewing it? Do you view your garden from the front windows? Or from a mid-garden patio? Or from a veranda? Make sure you don’t hide the beauty of this new design from your preferred viewpoint. Shrubs that create a backdrop when viewed from the street might be too high to see over when viewed from the front porch. A lovely little Japanese Maple that balances the plantings around the new pondless waterfall may completely hide that waterfall from another angle–your angle!

On the other hand, your preferred viewing spot may be quite high up, giving you almost a bird’s eye view of the garden. Will it look one-dimensional from above, or will the layering still be obvious?

Last pictures

A few more local pictures to analyze:

Yes, you can certainly see where the front door is, and there's nothing painful to brush by, nothing unpleasant to smell, but somehow, this garden just doesn't work!

Yes, you can certainly see where the front door is, and there’s nothing painful to brush by, nothing unpleasant to smell, but somehow, this garden just doesn’t work! Think of how big your chosen plants will get at maturity! And think about BALANCE.

Another unbalanced front garden.

Another badly balanced front yard. Not to mention squeezing  between those two egg-shaped junipers to get in the front gate.

A lot of work went into these topiary'd trees--and to what purpose?

A lot of work went into these topiary’d trees–and to what purpose? Click on any pictures for larger view.

Uh,

Uh, cute, but…

Create a Welcoming Entryway

5 Ways to Create a Welcoming Entryway

People approach your house in one of only two ways: either they drive up or they walk up. And if they drive up, they still walk to the door. How will you make that approach both welcoming and personal?  If you’re ready to make some changes, and are not sensitive to criticism, try asking friends what they think about your entryway.

1. Open and Airy.

Many homes were landscaped by the builder with foundation shrubs that soon outgrow the space allocated to them. As a result there will be large-to-huge shrubs/trees competing for space with you and your guests around the front door.

This may take more remediation that just a little pruning. Most Rhodos are pretty tolerant of moving. The cedar desperately needs "limbing up".

This may take more remediation that just a little pruning. Most Rhodos are pretty tolerant of moving. The cedar desperately needs “limbing up”.

This tends to make the site feel quite oppressive, and you may remember as I do the fear of walking into spider webs strung from one shrub to another across the walkway. You may be able to prune that shrub back to a shadow of its former self, but there’s a good chance that before long it will have grown back, and even larger than it was at first. When you look at websites to check the mature size of chosen plants, you can safely add 20-50% to the height they give. That rhodo that was planted 10 years ago, and still looked perfect 5 years ago, is now fighting you when you walk up the stairs to the front door. The pyracantha (thornbush) practically takes an eye out when you walk on the path, so you have to skirt it to escape serious injury. You’ve begun to grow accustomed to all the little idiosyncrasies of your site, but your guests aren’t so fortunate.

I love this Houzz picture of a house in San Francisco, but can you see what will happen to those birches in 5 years’ time?

2. Wide and deep

How wide is wide enough? Two people should be able to walk/stand side-by-side (not clutching each other). The path to the front door should be no narrower than 4′, and the landing deep enough for two to stand at the door and not be knocked off the step when the door (3′) is opened.

Not only is the concrete walkway too narrow, the depth of the laurel hedge is a good 4'. There are better ways to plant a hedge.

Not only is this concrete walkway too narrow, the depth of the laurel hedge is a good 4′. There are better ways to plant a hedge.

3. Good circulation

How do you get from the street to the front door? How do you get from the car to the front door? Is the front door the door that most people will commonly use? Is there another route to the front door that may be/should be/shouldn’t be/isn’t being used? How would you like to correct this circulation? The main things here are making the walk from “somewhere” to the house entrance obvious and exclusive, and unless your house is architecturally formal, don’t use straight lines to do it. You might line the edges of a concrete pathway with little low shrubs or ornamental grasses, creating a mini “allee”. If there isn’t a clear convenient connection between the driveway and the front entrance, make one, and preferably make it  similar to or the same as whatever other pathways exist–they fulfill the same function, so should look like they do. Still at least 4′ wide. My own front door is almost at the east edge of the house, only 3′ from the edge of the driveway. So the path up to the front door is in fact the driveway. But I added a little swoosh of a concrete pad to connect the two.

Six years ago.

Six years ago.

Today

Today. Winter. Had to edit out some of the winter mess.

4. Public/Private Balance

No one wants to feel like they’re living in a fishbowl, but that doesn’t mean you have to erect some kind of barrier all around the perimeter. If the only open space in fence or hedge to enter the property is the front walk or the driveway, you might as well post a sign saying KEEP OUT (in upper case).

Wow!

Wow!

On the other hand, shorter shrubs, below eye level, or deciduous shrubs that are only dense half the year, give a sense of privacy without completely blocking the view in or out. Tall-ish grasses will serve in the same way.

5. Lighting

Be judicious about lighting. It should serve a function, or it’s just light pollution. Or “garden art”.

This front yard is lined with gratuitous solar lights. In fact, here in coastal BC, we seldom have enough sunlight to make these tiny solar panels work. Not sure what the point of the lights are in this yard.

This front yard is lined with gratuitous solar lights. In fact, here in coastal BC, we seldom have enough sunlight to make these tiny solar panels work. Not sure what the point of the lights are in this yard.

Lights for your entryway should be shining down onto the walkway and steps for safety purposes. Lights that shine upwards not only don’t do what they’re there for, but they are blinding to the people walking beside them. Landscape lighting has a different function; some focused spotlights will shine up into trees for dramatic effect, but we still need to be conscious of overuse.

For the front door, a motion sensor light that has two phases (very low light for security, and brighter to guide you or your guests to the door) is a great idea, as long as the brighter phase isn’t blindingly bright–as mine is.

Create Your Welcoming Entryway: Five quick fixes will make a big difference to your visitors’ “first impression”. How many of these can you see yourself implementing?

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