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:


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, cute, but…

Fragrance in the Garden

I’m sitting here in the living room doing some computer work, and intermittently something distracts me. I’ve just realized it’s fragrance!

I went outside an hour ago just to get some air, and was drawn into the garden by the scent of the Daphne odora, across from the front steps. Beside the front steps is Skimmia japonica, and it was actually the Skimmia that attracted me. So I cut off a few stems and put them in a vase here a few feet away from where I’m working. And carried on working.

Every few minutes I’d raise my head–obviously distracted by something, but not really thinking of it–then go back to work. Until I realized I was subconsciously noticing the beautiful scent of the Skimmia.


Just a few branches cut from Skimmia leaving the shrub looking untouched.

What and Where to Plant

You can’t overestimate the value of fragrance in either the garden or the house. (Admittedly, you have to be careful about fragrance in the house. Hyacinths out in the flower border will be delightful; in the house might make your eyes weep!)

The key to fragrance in the garden is to plant your sweet-smelling flowers and shrubs where they will be brushed against, or otherwise appreciated close enough to actually smell them.

For example, if you plant creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum , not Thymus vulgaris, which despite the vulgar name is actually the eating variety) you really want it to be underfoot. Walking on it (perfectly tolerant of walking on, but maybe not playing soccer on) will release those delicious aromatic oils. Do be careful of the bees that also love it…


Plants and Stones blog–click to link

I have Sarcococca confusa on the other side of the front steps, and as I come in from the car, I brush past it. Sarcococca (or Sweetbox) blooms in January, and the surprise of the garden giving such extravagance in the middle of winter makes it one of the more valuable shrubs around. And perfect for coastal BC, where it’s shade loving, evergreen, and pretty much maintenance-free.


Fragrant Sweet Box by my front door. I brush by it on the way to and from the car.


It’s difficult to tell from the picture, but the flowers are almost invisible, yet they deliver disproportional sweet scent.

How have you incorporated fragrance in your garden? How would you like to incorporate fragrance in your garden? Leave a comment…