June 8, 2009

GGW Design Workshop: VW's Front Yard

Last week I wandered over to Gardening Gone Wild’s website and noticed their design workshop for June was on front yards. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time pondering over design solutions for my own moderately small front yard, some of which have been shared in a previous post. But I decided to revisit these ideas to participate in the GGW workshop. Here are some of my design constraints and current ideas on how to deal with them.

1. My garage is giant and dwarfs the non-garage side of the house. Almost everyone approaches our house from the garage side, which makes it even more obtrusive. Thankfully, blogger and designer Susan suggested a great plan: remove the railings from our cramped front porch and stretch the steps across the entire front of the porch. I also plan to widen the steps and pour a 3’ wide concrete path/strip along the front/bottom of the steps. This will pull the non-garage side forward to better balance the house. The photo below shows the porch as it was when we moved in. By now almost all the original plants have been transplanted or thrown out.

2. Blogger and designer Billy suggested adding a path from sidewalk to porch to honor guests instead of having them walk up the driveway. Although I love the idea, I’m deciding against it because: 1) we have a massive driveway already and I want more plants instead of more hardscaping, 2) we park in the garage, so guests almost always just park in the driveway, 3) I want what remains of the lawn to flow smoothly across the front. So I’ll add stepping stones through the flower beds instead.

3. Speaking of the beds – I’m expanding them all. I’ll have two beds stretched across the front – one along the porch, and another along the sidewalk. The porch bed, slightly bermed and filled with shrubs and perennials, will add a sense of enclosure to the porch area. The sidewalk bed, anchored by a new flowering cherry tree at the west end, will camouflage the neighborhood mailboxes. Someday neighbors will collect their mail under the shade of a lovely tree, surrounded by roses and other blooms, and I won’t notice the mailbox backsides as much from my front window (see above picture). As mentioned before, the lawn between the beds will flow across the front as a pathway to the side and backyard.

4. RE the lawn – I’ve read plenty of anti-lawn rants, and I would be less likely to keep my lawn if I lived in thirsty California or the Southwest. But we have enough water around here to irrigate, thanks to our dreadfully long and snowy winters. My house is part of a neighborhood. Landscape designers often ignore the rest of the neighborhood when designing a front yard, but unity IS a design principle. Having a bit of lawn helps my yard fit into the neighborhood, and I think my river of lawn will be pretty.

5. Invasive aspen trees on the east of our driveway were already sending up babies all around. They were removed this spring and a well-behaved flowering cherry tree planted instead, which balances the matching tree on the other end of the front yard. There isn’t much I can do about the utility boxes and poles clustered there, but plantings around them will help reduce their visual impact.

6. Also on the east side of the house, I plan to remove the rest of the grass, create a stone path for access to the utility meters, and plant the remaining area with shrubs and perennials that echo the rest of the front yard plantings. The 'Blue Angel' hosta above will be part of the design.

7. Nearly every house in our neighborhood has curbing around their beds. It’s less attractive than other edging, but it does make a clean line around the beds and slows the grass down. So I’ll probably have more curbing poured around the enlarged beds. It will match all the concrete in my driveway, LOL. In our harsh winter climate, affordable and durable hardscaping options are limited. Hopefully plain concrete in our driveway and in front of the porch will be OK as long as the plantings surrounding it are beautiful. Will you really notice the curbing much when you're busy looking at gorgeous plants like my 'Walker's Low' nepeta in the above picture?

8. Color is IMPORTANT to me. My design seems to be revolving around my beloved pink English roses (Eglantyne - see above photo), which are really hard to match and which change color from warmer to cooler pink throughout the season. I also decided that I don’t want drifts of white in my yard during the summer. Six months of winter snow are enough, thank you very much (bye-bye candytuft, hello creeping phlox). I’m currently thinking of a light pink-warm peach-cool lavender scheme. Think pink roses and ‘Visions Light Pink’ geranium, plus ‘Apricot Sparkles’ daylilies and peach ‘Scion’ dwarf iris, plus ‘Walker’s Low’ nepeta and ‘Just Because’ Siberian iris (among other plants). I also decided to add some steely-blue foliage in the form of ‘Blue Star’ juniper and blue hostas.

9. Evergreens are essential for the aforementioned six months of winter. I will keep the ‘Otto Luyken’ laurels for their dark glossy leaves (pictured above), though I decided that their flowers are ugly. I’ll also keep ‘Emerald Gaeity’ euonymus around. Though it looks tattered in winter - what doesn't around here? - it's really beautiful right now (see picture below). And I’m excited to add several steely-blue ‘Blue Star’ junipers for more winter interest. I've always loved that shrub and am glad to find a place for it in my design.

10. Outdoor lighting is another project for down the road. Maybe we’ll uplight the trees, or go the easy route with solar-powered lights artfully placed around the beds. We also have plenty of ideas on how to beautify the exterior of the home itself (shutters, paint, etc), but I won’t detail those here.

I’d better stop this long post now. You can see that I’ve been greatly helped by other garden bloggers - thanks everyone! As I mentioned in my other front yard post, it will take many years and quite a budget to carry this all out. But I’m perfectly agreeable to the extended timeline, as it gives me time to continue to evaluate my plans and incorporate new ideas. Take joy in the journey, right?

Added May 28, 2014 - We landscaped the front yard in 2010 and by now it is starting to fill in well.  Below are some photos from today showing the progress.

The catmints are blooming profusely while most everything else is still green.  The rosebushes have buds ready to open soon.  Daylilies will provide color in midsummer after I cut the catmint back, and then in fall the catmint and roses will bloom again along with plenty of autumn crocus and colchicum.

This shot is the view looking northwest.  Unfortunately the homes in my neighborhood are very close together, and that is my neighbor's window.  As the trees mature I hope our homes will feel more separated.  The two 'Kwanzan' cherry trees we planted by the street died, though the one by the house (which wasn't grafted, unlike the dead ones) has survived.  It hasn't bloomed much though as our bottom-of-the-valley frosts zap the buds each spring.  I replaced the dead trees with 'Hearththrob' Korean dogwoods.  You can see one on the left.

This is the southeast corner of the garage, where a 'Green Tower' boxwood and a clematis on a trellis block the view of our garbage cans.  I had hoped by now to have a wisteria trained up this corner and growing over the garage, but I killed the 'Blue Moon' wisteria planted here.  I have now adjusted the sprinklers to make sure it gets plenty of water and need to buy another one.

Finally, this is the west side of the front yard.  It is my favorite part of the garden right now, as it has filled in very well and has a cheerful color scheme.  Now we're just waiting for the backyard, which was landscaped last year, to mature a bit more.


  1. I like the ideas so far for the changes. Like the Otto Luyken, not so sure on the Euonymus. We get Euonymus scale here in Virginia, so that shrub is not on the favored list. Lawns are a place for your eye to rest before it moves on to the next garden. ;-)

  2. VW ... I love seeing before and after pictures and especially with a shake up in the design department. Your plants and trees are going to grow up GORGEOUS ! Funny enough I dedicated a post to Walker's Low as a perfect work horse plant yet looking beautiful ! Glad to see you using it in your garden beds like that girl !

  3. I can't wait to see it all take shape. It looks like you have good bones to work with. Have fun and remember to post lots of pics of the progress!

  4. VW,

    Good work. One other addition you might think about to break-up/add some garden to the large driveway space: containers in front of each column of the garage, either tall standing containers or hanging containers.

    -Heirloom Gardener

  5. What do you mean "a ridiculous amount of time pondering design solutions"? That's just crazy talk! You can't spend too much time planning.

    Your ideas sound great, and you are right to stay true to your neighborhood and region, despite the attempts of Billy and me to turn your garden into a California showpiece. Your plant palette sounds lovely - similar to colors I often gravitate towards. Only one last piece of unsolicited advice - if you have space, consider adding a bronze foliage accent, like a Bronze Baby Phormium (if they do well in your area). It will really pop the rest of your palette.

  6. VW, I don't think you've put enough thought into this design ;-)

    Really wonderful to see the various spots and your plans for them. I salute you!

    My tiny suggestions: 1) consider painting the garage doors to match the house, 2) 'Apricot Beauty' tulips, 3) apricot digitalis (was on Tulips in the Woods). I am a pink/lavender person and am drawn often to peach/apricot now. A few posts ago there was a pretty apricot rose and discussion on my blog if you want to check it out.

  7. I enjoyed reading this post. I garden in our front yard, but don't think it could be called landscaping. I'll have to check out the other posts. Like you, we have a variety of projects we need to tackle over time.

  8. I like the curbing around the flower beds. I think they are attractive and easy to maintain.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.