Curb appeal is important. We always talk about making a good first impression, and the front of your house is many people’s first impression of you and your family. Curb appeal is also vitally important when it’s time to sell your home. While most people that I meet have many back yard landscape ideas, most aren’t as good at coming up with front yard landscaping ideas.
This article will try to pull together a few pointers to help you figure out just what to do with your front yard.
Table of Contents
Where to Begin?
Where you begin depends on where you are right now. If you are starting from scratch and you have a bare front yard, congratulations, and I hope that you are enjoying your new home. But, if you are like most people, you already have a front yard landscape, and you think it needs an update.
I’ll run through my thought process on front yard landscapes, and you can jump in wherever you feel is appropriate for your situation.
An excellent way to figure out what you want to do in your front yard is to look at some other examples. One of the easiest ways to d this is by searching online for front yard pictures that you like. This is very easy to do, and iunno time, you will likely have many ideas.
The second easiest way and probably better way is to drive around neighborhoods in your area and see what others have done. Checking out the local front yards will help because you know that if they are doing it in their front yard, you can do it in yours. It doesn’t help you to download a bunch of landscape pics with plants that can’t grow in your zone, so looking locally for ideas is often easier.
I am not suggesting that you copy anyone; I’m just saying that it is a great way to start putting together a list of features that catch your eye. You can write down a list, but the easiest is probably to take a picture of the components that you like
Pat Attention to Specifics
Every house that you pass will give you a first impression. Some will be good, and some will be bad. When you come to a good one, take note of which aspect caught your eye. Was it the way that the plants were placed? Was it the curve of the front walk or the driveway’s style? If you do this for a while, you will start to realize what you like. Maybe you like brick curving walkways. Perhaps you like large trees bordering the house, or perhaps it’s the flower beds that catch your eye. Whatever it is, figure it out.
This will be easier if you are looking at homes similar in design to your own. Not that you can’t take ideas from any yard, but it will be easier for you to picture it in your yard if the house is of a similar design.
Looking it Over
Once that you have a bunch of ideas of which landscape aspects catch your eye, you need to figure out how to implement them in your front yard.
Standing Out in the Road
Stand out in the road in front of your house and lake a long hard look. If you live on a busy street, it may be better to take a picture so that you can take time to examine the details without worrying about getting run over.
Which aspects of your front yard are appealing and which ones are terrible. If you have a brand new house and have no landscape at all, the house will stick out like a sore thumb. It will likely be very unappealing and might feel stark and bare. If your landscape is twenty years old, it is likely that it is a bit overgrown and messy.
Many times, landscapers and homeowners alike plant for the moment rather than for the future. They plant trees and shrubs that look good when they put them in, but ten or twenty years down the road, everything is growing on top of everything. Many homes have trees that are obscuring their most attractive features, or they have large overgrown shrubs blocking the window and groundcovers growing over the walkways.
Clearing the Slate?
If you have a new home, you are likely starting with a clean slate, but if you have a mature landscape, you certainly do not. A pet peeve of mine is that many landscape companies make it a standard practice to completely start over with a landscape. They often suggest to homeowners that they tear it all out and start over.
Why would they do this? Doesn’t it seem very wasteful to you? It certainly is wasteful in most situations, but the new landscaper wants this to be an easy and profitable job. If they wipe the slate clean, they can install one of their cookie-cutter designs that work on every house in the neighborhood. They get paid for all of the labor for tearing out perfectly good plants, and then they get paid for installing all new plants. This is about profits, not about you or your yard.
Most of the time, starting with a clean slate is completely foolish. Most of the time, some of the existing landscape is just fine, and we can plan around it. I would only recommend clearing your front yard landscape as the last resort. When you have looked at it from a few angles, and there is just nothing good about what you have in your front yard, and you plan to change way too many aspects to save anything, then you may need to wipe it clean, but this is rare.
Pick and Choose
Sometimes, with an old overgrown landscape, it helps to remove some of the obvious things that need to go. By picking out some of the worst offending features and getting rid of them, you may be able to more clearly see what you need to do to move forward.
I want to caution you to consider the lifespan and value of any plant material that you may be thinking about removing. Cutting down a mature tree is a big decision that cannot be reversed. Trees take lifetimes to grow to maturity, so first, figure out if that tree can stay and be pruned before you decide to cut it down. Pulling out some overgrown juniper shrubs that have been rubbing on the front windows for the last few years is a whole other story.
Some multi-stemmed, suckering plants, such as dogwood and lilac, can be cut right down to the ground, and they will grow again from the base. These plants are very easy to rejuvenate and can often be re-used in a landscape.
Having landscaped for so many years, I can envision the re-worked landscape without removing the bad stuff first, but for a homeowner new to doing their own landscape work, uncluttering the front yard may be the best way to start.
The New Dream
Once you have some favorite aspects picked out and you have removed some of your old clutter, it is time to pull together the dream. Plan out your ultimate front yard landscape without any concern for budget. Just plan your dream and price it out. I find it easier to dream big and cut it back if need be rather than the other way around.
As you plan out your new landscape, it will help you to walk up and down your street and in and out of your driveway a few times to get a feel for how the new landscape will look. As you view it from different angles, inset the favorite aspects that you want to implement in your mind’s eye and try to get a feel for how they will affect the yard’s overall look and feel.
You will feel a bit silly at first, and it isn’t easy to do for many people, but it will help you get a feel for your new plans before you actually begin.
Things To Consider
When planning your front yard landscape, you need to consider certain things. Landscapes are rarely only viewed from one direction, and they are very seldom viewed from above. Having site plans drawn for landscaping is often a big waste of time and done only to make it easier on the landscaper and not the homeowner.
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen homeowners surprised by their landscape layout because it looks totally different than what they thought they were getting from their plan they had seen. Even when standing in the yard with the plan in hand, many homeowners couldn’t even tell you what goes where.
If you need a plant to keep your thoughts or your landscaper’s thoughts straight, that is fine, but I would highly recommend walking the yard and painting or staking out the major elements so that you can truly get a feel for them. Seeing things in your yard and seeing them on paper are two entirely different things.
Landscaping is about flow, continuity, and contrast. You want to draw a viewer’s eye in a way that gives them the overall best impression of your home and yard. Maybe there is a part of the front yard that should be blocked, and maybe there is a part that should be highlighted.
Framing beautiful windows with plants can be very attractive, but plants growing up over the window sills almost always looks ugly. Plants softening the edges of hardscapes and blending different landscape features look great, while plants growing together and covering up key features just look messy.
For curb appeal, it should look inviting. For large front yards, groups of trees blocking some of the house from the road with a winding driveway leading to the house may add intrigue, while a large, thick stand of brush in a small front yard will look unkept and will usually give a bad first impression.
A walkway that flows from the front door toward the road looks inviting, while a yard where you can’t see the walk at all makes the front door seem to just stand alone in whatever bed or lawn might be in front of it.
Most tall houses look better, with some tall landscape plantings tying them down at the corners. In contrast, short houses look better with smaller plants. Everything typically looks best in scale. A huge tree up close to almost any home is a bit much, while a sizeable towering tree out in the yard might make it look more stately.
Think of your front yard as a piece of artwork. Paintings usually have symmetry so that they don’t look really heavy on one side and light on the other. Your front yard is the same. If you have tall trees and a tall section of house on the left, then you will need something substantial on the right side to help balance it off. It doesn’t necessarily need to be done with larger trees. A fountain, a colorful and full garden bed, or some outcropping stone might help balance the look.
Don’t forget about blank spaces. Blank spaces in our landscapes are essential to add interest and contrast. At a distance, extensive beds of green plants will just look like a green mass, even if they appear very different close-up. Part of your job when designing the front yard landscape is to design so that it looks good from afar as well as close up. Speaking of blank spaces, it often looks nice to break up huge blank walls with some plant material, tying the front of your house down into the beds with some layering from tall in the back to short in the front.
Adding some basic low volt landscape lighting to your front yard will bring the place alive at night. Don’t go overboard with lighting; a little goes a long way. Also, lay it all out above ground and live with it a few days before you bury any wiring. You want to be able to go out into the front yard at night and move the fixtures around to get just the look that you want. Once you are sure that it looks right from the road and the lights aren’t shining in your eyes when you are inside the house at night, then you can bury the wires.
Take Your Time
Part of the luxury of doing your front yard landscape yourself is to be able to take your time. Landscapers aren’t pressuring you to make decisions; you can decide at your own pace. Take out a few things and add a few things. Change the big stuff first. If you are definitely changing the front walkway or steps, then get that part done and work your way out from there. Plan a bit, plant a bit, and take a look at what you’ve got. Don’t be afraid to move things around if they don’t feel right and continually back up to see what it looks like from the street.
With a bit of advanced planning, some research, and some design ingenuity, you will be able to create the front yard landscape of your dreams at a fraction of the cost of hiring it done.
Good luck and have fun!