Goals of Front Yard Landscaping
In both front and backyard landscaping, landscape architects are engaged in defining outdoor space, establishing use areas that function independently but fit into the overall landscape picture. Where the goals of front yard landscaping differ from backyard treatments is in functionality.
In the privacy of a backyard, we are often asked to design multi-purpose environments that offer areas for quiet relaxation, for entertaining guests, and for play. In front yard landscaping, on the public side of the house, landscape architect Chad Talton says the primary goal is to augment the setting of the home, to showcase its attractiveness as viewed from the street. We aim to create an “arrival experience” by making the driveway and walkway approach appealing to guests as well as to the homeowners themselves.
Some owners want to make their house a showcase. In that case, I try to create curb appeal and focus views on the house. Other clients want privacy. They want the house to be secluded, but still want it to be presented beautifully. Chad Talton, Landscape Architect
Four Differentiating Principles of Front Yard Landscape Design
- Correct site conditions that interfere with the approach to the home or diminish its visual presentation
- Welcome guests by establishing arrival areas and parking, and by defining the walkway to the front entry
- Enhance curb appeal and make a statement by framing views of the home with trees and layered planting beds, and by establishing focal points in the mid-ground that lead the eye to home while complementing its architecture
- Create privacy & seclusion or a “buffer” from street activity by using any combination of low border beds and garden walls, taller plants for screening, or a gateway to the entry drive
To show you how one or more of these goals can drive a front yard landscaping project, we are going to take a quick walk through some projects that demonstrate how each of these four principles can be used to transform your front of home experience.
Creating Privacy & Seclusion Without Hiding the Home
These 3D renderings show the front yard landscaping concept for a newly constructed home on a large lot in McLean, Virginia. The client asked us to create a sanctuary for his family with walking paths throughout the entire property. He wanted the landscaping to protect his privacy but also wanted passersby to be able to enjoy views of the house from the street.
We designed a stone border wall and custom entry gate at the foot of the driveway. The masonry walls are low to the ground (about two feet high) with four feet of iron fencing on top. Access to the property is restricted, but views are not. You can see the house in the distance.
We also created an arrival experience for guests. Once past the entry, they will enter an open lawn area bordered by tall trees. Ahead, they will see a secondary low wall and gate that encloses the inner courtyard where, in addition to guest parking, is a small sitting area that overlooks the front lawn.
Because of the distance between the house and the street, we were able to define foreground and middle ground features that protect the privacy of the house and at the same time present intriguing glimpses of it from the street.
Enhancing Curb Appeal
The concept for this landscaping project in Chevy Chase was designed to remedy a tired, out of date front yard. We wanted to revive it, make it attractive and inviting once more.
There is a design rule that suggests that, rather than going straight to front door from the sidewalk, a front walkway set on a curving path will add visual interest. In this case, landscape architect Chad Talton defied the rule. The front door is so close to the street, it made sense to get to the point.
The architecture of the home is symmetrical and the plantings pick that up. The new front walkway flares at the sidewalk, inviting guests in. Two trees, on each side of the house, frame the view and softly mask the edges of the brick structure.
To reinforce his straight-forward approach to the home, Talton designed a new entry portico that makes a bold statement and draws the eye directly to the front door.
Welcoming Guests by Establishing an Arrival Area
Under this heading, we have two projects that improved the front yard arrival experience. The problem in both cases was the same: a poorly functioning driveway. But the solutions that led to the creation of welcoming arrival areas were entirely different
Arrival area example 1. This front yard landscape, in McLean, was constrained by a steep, awkwardly located driveway that did not line up with the front entry. Also, the front yard landscaping was unappealing and did nothing to accent the architecture of the house or guide visitors to the front door.
Landscape architect Howard Cohen undertook a radical change that involved excavating the entire front yard. He rebuilt the grade from street level up to the front door and installed a sweeping half-moon driveway flanked by low retaining walls and raised planting beds that lead the eye to the new front entry stairs. He added a half moon (or “eyebrow”) shaped portico above the front door to make it a strong focal point.
On the street side, he used excavated earth as a base for raised planting beds that provide attractive screening from street activity without obscuring views of this now welcoming front entry of the home.
In fact, the master plan for this landscape design project covered the entire property front yard, back, and side. If you’d like to dig into more detail about how the front yard landscaping differed from what was done in the backyard landscape at this home, read “Landscape Design Makes Welcoming Front Entry & Secluded Backyard Patio.”
Arrival area example 2. This Alexandria residence had a long driveway with no turnaround space for when guests dropped by. And it lacked a defined entry area leading to the front door.
The solution to the driveway problem became the anchor for this front of home landscape design. The driveway couldn’t be widened because it was too close to the property line. The only logical location for a parking pad/turnaround space was the opposite side of the driveway where the lot dropped off, sloping to the left. This required filling and leveling part of the slope.
Now a curved retaining wall undulates in line with the new front walkway connecting parking pad to the front entry. The new front yard design creatively resolved the functional problem (parking) while improving the curb appeal of the house with a new arrival area and garden that invites visitors to the front door.
At the front, we want to create an entry garden that serves as an outdoor foyer or courtyard. It’s designed to be its own unique space. We usually define that space with planting containers, low evergreens for definition and beds for annual rotations. Chad Talton
Correcting Site Conditions
For this project, we reshaped and redesigned the front yard landscape to remedy issues that interfered with the approach to the home.
There was a serious issue at this McLean house. The driveway shot straight up the right side of the lot. It was a long steep drive to the top and had no connection to the front door when you arrived there. Also, because of the way the builder placed the house on the lot, the perspective was distorted. Viewed from the street below, the height of the house was exaggerated and unflattering.
We replaced the original driveway with plantings along the lot line and moved the driveway entrance to the left side of the lot. We designed the new driveway to cut across the slope in a gracefully curving ascent from left to right. This made the approach to the home attractive and inviting. The new driveway makes a gentle ascent to the front door and is integrated into the front yard landscaping which features attractive retaining walls with planting beds along the base of each wall.
These projects each confronted a different set of aesthetic and practical problems. But all arrived at the same place: a visual composition that welcomes the owners home every day invites guests on special days and causes passersby slow down and to get a better look as they drive past.
Many of the problems presented in the example projects here are fairly common in Northern Virginia neighborhoods-especially the driveway and approach to home issues. But there’s no landscaping challenge that a little creative thinking can’t overcome.
If you’ve been thinking about investing in a landscape design project, our eBook: Expert Guide to Planning the Landscape Design of Your Dreams, is full of valuable information to help you get started.