Entry Gardens To Define Your Home

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A Blank Slate - Existing Front Yard
A Blank Slate - Existing Front Yard
This article is about how garden design effects the “feel” of your home. An entry garden can make a home feel more or less formal.  It can make an imposing home feel less or more imposing  and it can make a modest home feel more or less modest.  As you look at the computer renderings think about how one approach makes the home feel more or less welcoming, more or less prominent, closer or farther away.   The rendering tools I use are similar to the tools that some hair stylists or plastic surgeons use to help clients see what they would look like with different hairstyles or features.  Landscaping is a big investment in time and money — seeing the result before you start can help make your decisions more confident.

Please note that the purpose of these renderings is to choose the basic approach and not to select particular plants.  The plants in the renderings are simply representative of size and shape.

My client is looking to refresh the curb appeal of her home prior to an event that ls planned in about 1 year’s time.  The above is a rendering of my client’s current front yard.  The yard is bare with the exception of a dying, deciduous magnolia, a young volunteer wild Cherry, and a couple of foundation shrubs on the left side.  A 3 foot high slope is also largely bare.  Shade from the canopy of large oaks in the city “strip” and in adjoining yards provides too much shade for grass on the right side of the property.  My assignment is to suggest some treatments for the hill and for the yard.  They already have permission from the City to remove the dying magnolia and they are thinking of moving an accent tree to the right side to take advantage of the little bit of sun that reached the front yard.  The wife’s tastes run to informal gardens while her husband’s tend  toward the more formal and classical so I did renderings of both approaches.  Plus both higher and lower walls plus a rock garden to handle the slope up from the sidewalk.  The house, a colonial revival built 1913 is on a prominent street in Takoma Park Historic District in Maryland.

Center Walk; Low Wall
Center Walk; Low Wall
The first approach is to leave the center walk and to build a low stone wall to handle the slope — leaving room for a rock garden in front.

Entry Garder: Center Walk; Higher Wall
Entry Garder: Center Walk; Higher Wall
In the second alternative, we again, leave the center walk but tame the slope with a higher wall.  Notice that the second approach is a more formal treatment than the first.  It appears to bring the house closer to the viewer because of the foreshortened mid-ground.  However, the “arrival” comes sooner and in 2 parts.  In the first approach, arrival doesn’t occur until you step onto the porch.  In the second approach, the first arrival occurs at the top of the wall when you enter the entry garden, then a second arrival occurs when you step onto the porch.
Since we rarely see homes from dead-on, you can view the options from the left in the gallery, below.
In the next alternative, we make the entry garden — and the home — much less formal by replacing the straight, center sidewalk with a curved sidewalk.

Entry Garden - Curved Walk From Side, Mid Wall
Entry Garden - Curved Walk From Side, Mid Wall
Notice that the house looks less imposing and actually smaller when we change the walk to a curved walk starting from the left front corner.  I take informality a step further, below, by replacing the upright magnolia with a weeping cherry.

Entry Garden - The Weeping Form Brings Down Apparent Height of Home
Entry Garden - The Weeping Form Brings Down Apparent Height of Home
The shape of the tree not only adds additional informality but further brings down the apparent height of the home. The following two images depict the same side view as we’ve seen, above.  I also included a view from above since the change in the walk dramatically changes the
sense of the entry garden.  Again, the wall and distinct levels creates 2 separate arrivals.  The curved walk provides a more elegant entry garden with more sense of intrigue since you can’t see everything at once.  The asymmetrical approach also creates a greater sense of space and privacy from the street.

Curved Walk as Viewed From Top
Curved Walk as Viewed From Top

There isn’t a right answer to this problem.  The homeowner needs to think about which approach is more comfortable for them.  Either of the front sidewalk options preserves the importance of the home to the streetscape and the formality of the home.  The informal option fairly dramatically changes the feeling of the home — making it more personal and less public.  Each approach is right for different owners.

All images courtesy of Braitman Design/Build