Make an Entrance

Boost the value and appeal of your home with a front yard makeover. 
Charlie Thigpen

This yard's amazing transformation proves it is possible to breathe new life into an older house. Owners Matt and Teresa Lux and their son, Drew, have lived in their cozy neighborhood for nine years. The couple had updated the interior to fit their style and needs, but the tired landscape remained dull and uninviting. They knew it was time to dress up the exterior.

The Luxes needed additional parking and a new entrance. A single strip of concrete driveway was the only off-street parking, and every time one of them needed to leave, they had to jockey cars. The old foundation plantings consisted of a row of tired, overpruned azaleas. The family wanted colorful plantings that would entice guests to the front door. Matt and Teresa needed a landscape plan that would better utilize their small lot.

Getting Started
The front porch had a dated wooden railing that made the small space seem confining. Teresa removed the old railing, giving the area an open feel. The porch is elevated only about 30 inches above ground level, so there wasn't any need to put up a new railing. (Check codes in your area before removing railings.) The Luxes enjoy sitting on their front porch, which now has an unobstructed view.

Hardscape First
Walkways, steps, patios, porches, arbors, parking surfaces, or anything else structural in the landscape is called hardscape. Adding these features should be done first, because it often involves heavy machinery or some type of construction that could damage plants. Using a small front-end loader, a contractor scooped out an area next to the drive for the new parking court. A stonemason built a low wall around the perimeter of the parking area. He also added wide, flaring steps that lead to a gracious flagstone landing and walk.

Seeing the large parking area scared the Luxes at first. At 24 feet wide and 22 feet deep, it was kind of intimidating. But the spacious parking pad easily accommodates two vehicles and makes maneuvering simple. Crushed stone forms an inexpensive, hard-packed surface. It cost around $50, which is a fraction of the cost of concrete or asphalt. Flat stones placed in the gravel help break up the large expanse and also serve as a walkway to the landing.

Prepare Soil Before Planting
With the hardscape complete, it was time to remove the old plantings. The scraggly azaleas were pulled out and thrown away. The new beds' lines were mapped out in the yard with spray paint. (If you prefer not to use spray paint, you can lay a garden hose on the ground to outline planting areas.) Then new topsoil was tilled into the existing soil in the planting areas and raked smooth.

Large Plants First
When installing shrubs, put in the bigger ones first; then work smaller specimens around them. The Luxes chose two 'Natchez' crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) to frame the front porch. These white-flowering trees offer long-lasting color throughout the summer, and their beautiful cinnamon-colored trunks provide year-round interest. Eventually, the trees will grow tall enough to shade the porch and walk. A large 8-foot-tall wax myrtle anchors the right corner of the house. The big evergreen helps to soften the structure so it doesn't look too boxy.

A staggered row of dwarf Burford hollies (Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii Nana') creates a hedge between the Luxes' property and their neighbor's. In time, these sturdy evergreens will become a dark green buffer.

 

Seasonal Shrubs
Forsythia, spirea, and nandina also work well in the landscape. Forsythia (Forsythia intermedia) is a wide, sprawling shrub that produces a profusion of yellow blooms in late February and early March. Van Houtte spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei) provides flowers from mid- to late-spring. Its flat clusters of white blooms line long, arching branches. Finally, nandina (Nandina domestica) has bunches of tiny pink to white blooms in late spring or early summer. The flowers aren't showy, but nandina produces bundles of radiant red berries in winter that sparkle when most shrubs are dormant. These three old-fashioned plants are easy to grow and help provide color through the seasons.

Color Where It Counts
Yellow lantana fills a sunny bed along the front walk. Small 4-inch sprigs planted in the spring quickly grew into knee-high mounds of golden blooms. This drought-tolerant, rambling ground cover creates a nice focal point all summer. A few white cleomes, or spider flowers, stand out in front of the dark green holly hedge. The annuals bloom throughout the hot summer and into fall. Planted under a crepe myrtle in partial sun, a small pocket of purple New Guinea hybrid impatiens creates a splash of color next to the steps.

A Little Turf
With the added flowers, shrubs, and parking area, there isn't a lot of room for grass. Two small patches of 'Z-52' Zoysia complete the new landscape. The turf quickly rooted in and shimmers green all summer long. Matt can easily cut the grass in a few minutes.

Finishing Touch
Containers in all shapes and sizes line the porch, steps, and landing. They add seasonal color and can be moved at will to put blooming plants in the spotlight. The larger pots are made of lightweight plastic foam. The containers were bright white when purchased, but brown wood stain was applied with an old cloth to give the exterior a more subtle, aged look. Red-flowering Dragon Wing hybrid begonias and orange Profusion Series zinnias provide colorful blooms in some of the planters. Showy foliage plants, such as chartreuse creeping Jenny, variegated ivy, and sedge, also brighten the entry. The planters catch your attention and guide you to the front door. They contribute plenty of personality to the design and help soften the hardscape.

Matt and Teresa are proud of the new landscape. The added plants seem to embrace the old home and give it new life. Strangers walking down the sidewalk and driving down the street sometimes stop just to tell them how good their yard looks. First impressions mean a lot, and when visitors drive up to the Luxes' house, they feel welcome before they even get to the door.

Source Information:
Patio furniture was purchased from Summer Classics, (205) 663-1688 or www.summerclassics.com.