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…

Garden Design–A Primer

So you’ve got this space, and you’d love to turn it into a sanctuary far from the madding crowd. A few keys to keep in mind when planning or renovating your garden are rest and roam: allow the eye to rest (i.e., not TOO busy, or pauses in the chaos), and provide a route for the eye to roam.

1. Connect the various parts of the garden through some kind of logical access-way: paths, gates, arbours, grassy openings. This gives a sense of continuity even though the areas may have very different functions.

2. Provide access to all parts of the garden. If you can’t easily walk there, you’re not seeing what’s there, you’re not checking out the health of the plants, and no one else will see it if you’re not seeing it.

repurposed pavers leading around the back of the shade garden so I can access it.

Repurposed pavers leading around the back of the shade garden so I can access it. Clever how the diamonds of the trellis above cast a matching shadow on the diamonds of the pavers below. I carefully planned it that way…:-)

3. Provide drifts of colour, not a smorgasbord of colour spots. Repeat colours or specific plants in various spots around the garden.

Rudbeckia fulgida

Rudbeckia fulgida with Hemerocallis fulva in the background. Both multiply and/or self seed, both very civil in their habits!

4. Include evergreens–shrubs such as broadleaf evergreens and conifers, and evergreen perennials.

Evergreen Stipa tenuissima complements growing bulbs

Evergreen Stipa tenuissima complements growing bulbs

5. Don’t try to FILL the spaces with COLOUR. Green is very restful, both for the soul and for the eye.

Bed of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria magus).

Bed of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria magus) in early morning.

6. Balance the size of the space with the size of the plantings. A monkey puzzle tree will not suit a 100 s.f. front yard. Know the mature size of your plants. (Remember, Google is your friend.)

7. Balance the “weight” of items, whether plantings or hardscapings, around a fixed point. For example, something tall and narrow on one side of the entrance might be balanced by something low and long on the other. Thanks to Sue from Not Another Gardening Blog for this useful illustration of asymmetrical balance:

Notice the asymmetrical UNbalance on the left, and the difference on the right, where the "weight" of the three shrubs in the left corner feels similar to the weight of the tree in the right corner.

Notice the asymmetrical UNbalance on the left, and the difference on the right, where the “weight” of the three shrubs in the left corner feels similar to the weight of the tree in the right corner.

8. Use vertical space: arbours with vines, artwork that is taller than the surrounding plantings, hanging baskets and window boxes.

Some of these ideas can be implemented right away, others may take a little more time. But none are difficult. Do you have areas in your garden that can be changed right away? Would you like to try something new to gain a little more structure in your garden? Post comments and/or questions, and I’ll try to answer or find you an answer.

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