Front and Center: Curb Appeal Short-Cuts
How does the front of your house and yard look from the street? Is your eye drawn instinctively towards the front door area? Are there areas of the house or yard that distract your attention in an unfavorable way? Are there so many plants and shrubs on display that you don't know where to look? How would you rate your home and garden in terms of curb appeal?
Eric King of King Landscaping in Atlanta has some suggestions for what he calls "the purpose driven landscape." To bring order to your landscape, says King, follow three main principles: conceal, reveal and simplify.
His first recommendation is to stand in front of your home with your back to it and then spin around and take in the view. If your eye isn't immediately drawn to the front door area of your house—which is always the sweet spot— then something is probably off kilter. It could be an awkward architectural feature of the house or an air conditioning unit you are trying to conceal that is only making the problem worse.
If you're trying to hide or disguise something in your yard that you don't want people to notice such as a power utility box or a border chain link fence, there are simple solutions. Use plants and shrubs that don't call attention to themselves such as medium to fine textured evergreens. Among the worse case scenarios that King has seen are homeowners who plant pampas grass next to an electrical transformer or knockout roses up against an ugly fence. "They're really drawing attention to what they don't want people to see." Instead, King advises you to figure out what looks bad and "then hide it with just what is necessary."
You want to create curb appeal that draws your eye to the front door and the overall exterior beauty of your home. One way to do this is by reconsidering the trees and shrubbery in your yard, especially the ones next to your house. A simple rule of thumb is to keep plants lower than the window sill. You might have to prune them down. If your trees are tall, you might need to remove the lower limbs. You want to reveal windows and the most attractive architectural features of your home but this will require constant maintenance if you have shrubs or trees that need constant pruning. If you've planted wisely, your shrubs should grow to their proper height, should not require much pruning and should not hide key features. Adding color with seasonal flowers placed near the front door is another way to create your desired focal point. Sidewalks or paths that create big, sweeping curves toward the front door area add another strong visual element. Some homeowners might even want to add a fountain or welcoming patio area near their front door to lead the eye naturally to the main attraction.
Remove unnecessary clutter in your yard and beds. "The home is the star, not the landscape," King insists. If you have too many different types of specimen plants, growing in a variety of shapes and sizes, it is only going to create distraction. The recommendation is to "cut everything down low and let it start over and then prune it into a single mass. Don't create all these little topiaries." Even better, rip everything out and start over by planting a smaller number of plants but group them together so they will grow as a single mass. So, if you do have "a beautiful specimen plant like a Japanese maple, it really pops when the rest of the landscape is more simple."
Bobbie Schwartz of Bobbie's Green Thumb in Shaker Heights, Ohio has a similar aesthetic approach to landscape and home improvement upgrades. For a project in a Cleveland suburb, she transformed a client's front yard from a stark, unattractive space to a welcoming, ever-changing environment through the seasons that gave the home a brand new face. She did this by stripping the sod from the front lawn and removing the overgrown shrubbery in the beds. "The front walks," she noted, "were reconfigured into wide sweeps that now allow unfettered access from either side of the property to the front door while journeying through the landscape." New plantings were installed to create a low-maintenance, sustainable landscape. "I selected plants that would be tough enough to withstand the vagaries of Cleveland weather," Schwartz said, "and are drought resistant yet wet tolerant for short periods of time as well as varied in texture, form, height and seasons of interest. The final result is a lovely xeriscape that required less watering while rerouting runoff rain to heavily mulched areas.
These are the types of approaches you can apply to your own front view makeover. Keep the basic tenants of conceal, reveal and simplify in mind and you will create the desired purpose driven landscape.