The Cornerstones of Curb Appeal

Wait! Before you pull the car in your driveway, stop for a moment and study the place. The old adage about art could apply to curb appeal — we know it when we see it. What’s the verdict? Does your home have it? Getting curb appeal is largely a matter of elbow grease, and words won’t get the work done. That said, it sometimes pays to pause and remember the fundamentals that underlie the most appealing front yards.

Your house is the largest thing in your yard. Be sure your landscaping design reflects this.

Your house is the largest thing in your yard. Be sure your landscaping design reflects this.

“The most enormous thing in the garden is your house…”

– Leslie Land

The elephant in the landscape

The late Leslie Land, author and longtime gardening columnist for the New York Times, set out the foremost rule of landscaping for curb appeal: Remember the house. As Land once told Better Homes & Gardens, “Rule No. 1, and the one that I see ignored a lot, is that — far and away — the most enormous thing in the garden is your house. … You have this enormous design limitation, and you need to design for curb appeal based on the size and shape of your house and how it relates to the street.” From the colors and kinds of flowers and shrubs, to the size and style of elements such as fountains and arches, that elephant in the yard should be a determining factor.

Beyond Leslie Land’s No. 1 rule, useful guidelines include:

More is better

Colorful front yard

When planting flowers for curb appeal, aim to create masses of color, and pick plants that vary in height.

A few flowers planted here and a couple of coleus there won’t have much impact from the street. For landscaping that reads from a distance, think of beds that mass flowers and groupings that combine plants of varying heights.

But there is such a thing as too much

At a certain point, vines grow from charming to out of control, and shrubs can become behemoths that might haunt a person’s dreams. Shape, prune and, if necessary, remove. No one is obligated to live forever with a landscaping mistake.

Have a plan

There’s likely no need for architect-like detail, and any plan is better than none. Avoid wasted work and costly mistakes by sketching the yard as it is and as you would like it to be. Seeing it all on paper can help focus your efforts as you make changes.

Quick Tip

Think ahead

One of the best examples of the gardener’s art is a landscape that appeals year-round. With that in mind, envision your yard over a full 12 months. Come a frigid stretch or a hot, dry spell, what will add interest?

A curb appeal quiz

Answering these questions will point you in the right direction when improving curb appeal

Well-lit path to house at night

How does the path to your house look at night?

  • From the street, can you see a clear path to the porch? If not, it might be time to do some trimming or to remove sprawling shrubs.
  • Assess lighting at dusk. Is the path clearly lit? Replace burned out, broken or tipped over landscaping lights.
  • Do you have a special feature to highlight, such as a stone pillar or fountain? Give it a low-voltage or solar spotlight.
  • What’s missing from the porch? Boost color and texture with potted plants and hanging baskets. Hang a wreath to spruce up a lackluster front door. For an awkward empty space, consider adding a bench.
  • How’s the mailbox looking these days? Is it time for a new one or a fresh coat of paint? Does it look lonely, in need of plantings or a sturdier post?

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