Landscaping can be overwhelming. To simplify things, recall your high school English teacher: “Good stories start with an outline.” In other words, setting up a gorgeous front yard requires a plan.
Start by identifying two things: 1) the parts of your outdoor space that need a little TLC; and 2) the areas that would make nice focal points. Is that your mailbox? Your front steps? A fence? A porch? Amping up your home’s front yard — and thus, its curb-appeal — doesn’t require a landscape design degree. All it takes is a little patience, a bit of effort, and a few gardening and home improvement hacks. Below is the best of the latter.
Delight the senses with sound by installing a fountain.
Gardens should appeal to all the senses. That means making sure that you have verdant and abundant garden beds filled with colorful and healthy blooms that check all the boxes — sight, smell, touch, sound (all those pollinators are surely attracting chirping birds and buzzing bees), and even taste, depending on what you’re growing! But you can also add an extra layer of excitement for your eyes and ears with something that doesn’t require a single scoop of fertilizer. Add a charming water feature to your yard and enjoy the serenity that comes with the sound of trickling water.
But let’s not get too Zen. When you have a treasure-filled garden, you want a more-is-more water feature: something chippy, with a lot of patina, and even more personality thanks to a ring of roses around it. Can’t find exactly what you’re looking for? Converting some of your favorite finds into a whimsical water feature isn’t all that hard. It will go a long way in making a statement. It can also save you a lot of money. On average, it costs about $3,000 to install a traditional fountain. But you can buy a pump on Amazon for $20 and get to work on your own homemade version by pairing a showstopper — sculpture, ironwork, or signage — with a home-spun base that could include flower pots, troughs, buckets, and barrels.
Choosing Flowers for Your Fountain
One thing to consider when you add a fountain: How much shade does it create and how much water splashes out? You will want to be mindful of both for the health and safety of the flowers below. If you’re adding a large water feature that casts a large shadow and spills quite a bit, circle it with varieties that thrive near water. Some examples are Japanese iris (Iris ensata), dogwood (Cornus florida), or Siberian iris (Iris sibirica). And if you want to add an extra splash of color around your water feature, surround it with decorative rocks, pottery, or colorful bottles. Add a mix of bright annual flowers like petunias and pansies. These will shine bright right on through to the first frost.
Highlight a focal point with a fence.
Everyone knows a white picket fence has come to symbolize things like the American Dream and “happily ever after.” So a white picket fence surrounded by flowering shrubs, bounteous foliage, and plentiful petals is sure to make the curb appeal of your home-sweet-home even, well, sweeter. But the beauty of pretty plantings is that they will make any fence — whether it’s white picket, rough hewn, wrought iron — feel a little more joyful. When considering what you want to plant, keep in mind that the space between slats means that plants will be visible from both sides of the fence. Make picks you’d like to see from both the street and the front door. Then consider your goals. Is the fence maybe not in the best shape or do you want color to contrast with a crisp white?
Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), lavender (Lavendula), and roses (Rosa) can add color and cover some ground. If you’re in the market for a more classic look, try planting dahlias (Dahlia ‘Franz Kafka’) or foxgloves (Digitalis). You can also spice up a so-so gate with architectural details like an arbor or archway covered in climbing roses (Rosa setigera) or a lush ivy (Hedera). A host of annuals including pansies (Viola), purple lobelia (Lobelia), and begonias (Begonia), as well as bulbs like tulips (Tulipa) and daffodils (Narcissus) can also be counted on to bring a punch of seasonal color.
As always, choose plants that are appropriate for the soil and amount of sun or shade the area provides. Plant things that have similar maintenance needs to make life easier. And just to be safe, don’t plant anything that typically attracts bees too close to the gate entrance. The last thing you want is company to arrive with a bee in their bonnet.
Make over your mailbox with bright colors.
Taking on a landscaping job is expensive and hard work. One of the best ways to start small and still get a bang for your buck is to add a little hale and hue to your hardscapes. Take the mailbox, for example. Surely it could use a little sprucing up? Because most mailboxes are often so close to the road, you’ll need to take a few things into consideration.
As with all planting, you’ll need to assess how much direct sunlight the area gets throughout the day. But you should also take care to choose hardy plants that can tolerate footsteps and the fumes from passing cars. To make delivery a little easier on your mailman, avoid picking flowers that attract bees. And if your mailbox is far from a water source, it makes sense to look into some drought-tolerant blooms. If you’re going to mix it up and go with multiple varieties, choose plants with similar watering needs.
While options abound, if you’ve got a mailbox in a sunny area, you might consider tough-as-nails perennials like daylilies (Hemerocallis), purple verbena (Verbena bonariensis) and tickseed (Coreopsis). For a burst of beautiful ground cover, try creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) — it grows in almost any kind of soil and can handle full sun to partial shade. Add a little vine action with clematis or some sweet-smelling, drought-tolerant greenery with rosemary. From there, you can add in extra color with annuals such as pinks (Dianthus), geraniums (Pelargonium), and snapdragons (Antirrhinum). Once you’ve planted, don’t forget to create an edge to keep weeds away. And should your house have a mail slot or a wall-mounted mailbox, don’t despair. Put up a flag, and use these ideas for flagpoles!
Step up your stairs with shrubs, perennials, and seasonal decor.
One of the main goals of front-yard beautification is improving walk-up, including, well, the very things you walk up: an outdoor flight of stairs. Whether you’ve got a long way to go from the street or just a few steps that lead the way up to the house, these hardscapes can benefit from soft touches. Consider making your stairs more attractive — and more visible — to passersby with containers and a host of other seasonal accessories. You can also make some in-ground improvements, but you’ll have to figure out what flowers will grow in different kinds of soil and how to arrange and care for them on a slope.
As you begin designing the slopes adjacent to your stairwell, choose plants that have deep roots, do well in full sun, and thrive in soil with excellent drainage and the dry conditions that are common around an abundance of stone or concrete. Due to runoff and gravity, the plantings at the bottom of the slope should thrive in very wet soil. Consider shrubs, tough perennials like daylilies, or ornamental grasses around the edges of the flight of stairs to stop soil from eroding around the steps.
Make sure to leave enough room for the plants to grow and widen without crowding the stairs. From there, you can fill in with a mix of plantings in various heights. Start with the smallest near the bottom and grow taller as you go up. Some people like to plant a pair of trees on either side of the top stair. Or if it’s simplicity you’re after, you can simply plant a flowering vine with interesting foliage at the base of the stairwell. It will eventually cover the entirety of the slope.
Plants in the Right Places
In order to help sustain moisture and finish the beds, add shredded bark as your mulch. It’s less likely to be displaced during heavy rains. You may also want to invest in soaker hoses to make sure that all your plants are watered efficiently and effectively. You don’t want your upper plants to suffer from dehydration while a torrent of water rolls down the hill. Adding some substantial rocks or a large boulder at the bottom of the slope will also help prevent the soil from washing away.
But don’t stop there! What about the risers and treads of the stairs? Sure, you’ve seen weeds pop up here and there but can you beautify the concrete? Yep! You can convert the actual hardscape into a place for landscaping by planting creepers in the various cracks and open spaces that dot your treads.
When picking flowers for those spots, consider varieties that do well in shade and can tolerate the heat of the day and cooler temps at night. You’ll also need to choose plants that will stay low enough that they won’t trip or impede anyone’s progress as they walk up or down the stairs. Some stare-worthy stair enhancements include low growers like thyme, pinks, and creeping jenny.
As you start planting, remember to add well-draining compost or a soil mix to help ensure that your bordering picks have the best chance to survive and thrive, especially since they’re often hiding ho-hum hardscapes.
A version of this article appeared in our partner magazine Fabulous Flowers.
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