Front Yard Landscaping Ideas: Tiny But Tidy

How to give a small front yard space panache.
Tiny Yard Landscaping

Tiny Yard Landscaping

Photo by: Image courtesy of Julie Orr Design

Image courtesy of Julie Orr Design

Black-eyed Susans and a vine covered garden bench give this tiny front yard casual charm. Designer Julie Orr used mulch and ornamental grasses to keep the yard low maintenance.

What small front yard gardens lack in size they make up for in their big opportunity to showcase creativity.

Although what constitutes “small” varies, experts say following basic landscaping and interior design concepts will help create a captivating front yard garden.

“Use a simple plant palette,” said Sierra Hart, director of design for Santa Rosa, California based Allen Land Design.

“Repeat key foundation plants in groupings and then choose one or two accent plants that punctuate a key transition, a dead corner or a particularly compelling view line.”

Allen Land Design turned a boring front yard into a stylish stone-scape by repeating design elements.  The yard features stone slab steps and patio landings with a stucco wall, curved steel walls and boulders for retaining.  

Terraced Front Yard Landscaping

Terraced Front Yard Landscaping

Photo by: Image courtesy of Allen Land Design

Image courtesy of Allen Land Design

This Santa Rosa, California home features stone slab steps and patio landings with a stucco wall, curved steel walls and boulders for retaining. The multi-level garden boasts a mixed Mediterranean palette of green-grey foliage, ornamental grasses and lavender and yellow flowers. Tall containers are used with Italian cypress for vertical interest.

Another Santa Rosa home had a large circular driveway that ate up most of the front yard.  Confronted with a sea of concrete separating thin patches of yard, Allen Land Design used cranes to bring in mature olive trees to soften the entrance to the home.

“That was the foundation for our landscape design,” said Hart. 

To soften the driveway they planted masses of lavender and bronze sedge.  Hart suggests using what she calls “swatches of color” to soften large hardscapes or driveways. Start with taller scrubs, she said, and then add an accent plant for visual impact, as they did with the lavender and bronze sedge.

Landscaping around a large driveway

Landscaping around a large driveway

Photo by: Image courtesy of Allen Land Design.

Image courtesy of Allen Land Design.

Confronted with a sea of concrete separating thin patches of yard, Allen Land Design used cranes to bring in mature olive trees to soften the entrance to the home.

“I don’t have a formula for how much color to plant.  It depends on the size of the yard.  But you need to feel like it’s a mass of color.  It’s almost like painting with a color palette.  You need to experience the color.”

Hart recommends using garden furniture, such as an antique bench to expand livable space to the outdoors.  “It gives you the feeling of being in an outdoor living room even in a small space,” she said.  For “flooring” spread gravel and stone, said Hart. 

One thing is absolutely essential for front yard design, said Marta Carlson, landscape designer for Professional Grounds in Virginia: take the change of seasons into account and anticipate how your yard will look throughout the year.  “Always have an evergreen foundation plant so there’s enough there in the winter time and perhaps install trees that could shade the house during the summer.”

Carlson suggests buying plants of various heights and size to create drama in the garden. 

Feel free to stray from the expected. Nell Barrett, a master gardener who lives in Westport, Connecticut, created a natural cottage garden for her front yard. Warm and welcoming, this garden stands out among the more formal front yards in this coastal community.  

“Most people want a formal garden,” said Barrett. But she took a different tack. “They want plants that keep their shape and have a little formality.  I like flowers and varieties.”

Barrett planted phlox, allium and roses to attract butterflies, and bee balm, trumpet vine and salvia to lure hummingbirds. Shade perennials, epimedium, astilbe, goatsbeard and a variety of ferns thrive in the damp soil.  

To make a small yard appear larger, provide good circulation and create a focal point, said Julie Orr of Julie Orr Design. Orr likes to use specimen trees to “anchor” small front yards.  “Trees we like to use in Northern California include crape myrtle, Muskogee and watermelon red.”  

Paul Verlander, of Florida's Verlander Landscape Architecture, said he likes to create a smooth transition from the street to the drive.  He added that it is important to provide “'landing areas” in a front yard, where you can greet and "send-off" your guests without spilling into the flowerbeds or crowding on a narrow walk.

When it comes to smaller front yards, Verlander cautions clients to not overdo it.  This includes too much wattage aimed up or too many path lights “It looks great from the curb, but it’s like being in a storefront window from inside,” he said. “The thing about lighting is you want to see the effect and not the source.”

“Lighting is the finishing touch, as it creates animation to the landscape in the evening hours as well as providing a safe passage along the walkway spaces.”

He suggests “moon beaming” by installing a light in a tree, facing down.  This can highlight a flowerbed below the tree. “You get the full moon effect every day.”

The key to maximizing the visual impact of a small front yard is to avoid minimizing design elements.  As with interior spaces, pick anchor pieces, whether a tree or an architectural element that wows.  Add flowers and ground cover to compliment your anchor.   Shed some light on the subject, making a bold statement in your small front yard.

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