Planning Your Outdoor Space Part IV-The Entrance
By Jerry Pence
(This article was first published in the May 2006 issue of The Gateway Gardener.)
The front yard is the showpiece to many landscapes. It is the part that faces the public and dresses up the front of your home. Curb appeal is a term often heard when speaking of the front yard space. One key factor to remember when dressing up for curb appeal is to consider the whole front yard, not just the narrow area immediately in front of the foundation of your house. The main purpose of the landscaping in the front yard is to draw people to your front door. We can solve this with both hardscapes and plantings.
To start with, look closely at the architecture of your house and think about what shapes or forms of plants will complement that architecture. For a long, low roof line, broader shapes may be appropriate, while for a roof with many peaks, more columnar plants may look better, repeating the peaks in the roof. Before even thinking about what the plant is, think about its shape, and then you can pick plants that fit the shape you are looking for. When drawing people to the front door, you can do that by adding color, changing textures or adding hardscape elements such as fountains or statuary.
By drawing attention to the front door, we don’t mean the door itself, but the general entrance area. By enlarging the area just outside your door to create a courtyard affect, you develop an area where people can gather, and you automatically draw attention to your entrance area. Adding color is the easy way and is often done with annuals near the front porch area. If you have a long walkway to your entrance area, consider using a plant with a coarse texture towards the end of the walk, as coarse textures make a plant appear closer and make the walk seem shorter. You can get the same result by using brighter colors at the end, which will stand out and make the entrance appear closer than it is. Avoid lining a long walkway with plants, as it only enhances the length of the walk itself.
The approach to the entrance is also very important. It is effective to make the journey to the entrance appear as an experience, causing people to walk “through” your landscape instead of next to it. By planting on both sides of a walk or planting overhanging trees, we can create this feeling of walking through the landscape. Imagine the feeling of walking somewhere underneath a canopy of trees, with plantings on both sides of you. Now imagine walking on a sidewalk with plantings on one side of you and no overhang of trees. There is quite a contrast of feeling there. One is warm and inviting, the other is rather cold and stark, causing you to get to the destination as quickly as possible. We are trying to create the former feeling, one of warmth and coziness.
Next, think about all of the landscapes you see that simply have “foundation plantings.” This was a common way to landscape when foundations were significantly higher and stood out. Today, foundations typically are much smaller, and there is often no functional or esthetic need for these foundation plantings, and they tend to limit the imagination and creativeness as to what else can happen in a front yard landscape. They also tend to limit us to a specified space of planting, usually around 4-5’ in front of the house.
The problem with landscaping like this is we can’t plant anything in a bed that size that won’t be dwarfed by the house itself. Because we also want to keep plantings below the bottoms of windows, we end up with plants that can’t get any higher than about 3’. Put that sized plant against a two-story home and we have an issue with scale.
By pulling beds out to the side and drawing them toward the street, we can expand our
planting possibilities and bring the house more in scale with the landscape. By planting more than the token one tree in the front yard or in the parkway, we can (in time) also make the house appear as if it were placed in a setting rather than arising out of the ground with no trees around! Mixing textures–putting fine-textured plants up against coarse textured plants–can create great interest in the landscape and direct the eye through the landscape. Planting in masses, using more of a few varieties rather than a few of a lot of varieties, will help to create unity in your landscape and can also direct the eye through the landscape. Framing the house with trees on each side also helps to keep the house in perspective.
Consider different design themes that might enhance your home more than the typical curvilinear or “natural’ bed shapes. Other themes include circular, diagonal, rectangular or arc and tangent. Depending on the architecture of your home or the layout of your lot, one of these themes might serve your home better.
When picking your plants, investigate the mature sizes and shapes of these plants. This could have a big effect on how much time you spend maintaining your landscape. Planting a dwarf burning bush underneath a window or just a few feet from a corner can be a future nightmare. Dwarf in this case means the plant still gets 10-15 high and just as wide. Ask a lot of questions – the more informed you are, the better decisions on plant choices you will make. Also, don’t forget about the area next to your driveway, which is also considered part of the front yard.
Jerry Pence is an award-winning designer and Vice-President, Design Management & Horticulture for a local property management company, where he oversees grounds for properties in St. Louis and Florida. He also has been an instructor in the Horticulture Department at St. Louis Community College at Meramec for 15 years.