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Creating Beautiful Entrances

This spring I challenge you to step back from your garden and try to see what others see as they enter. Set out one day and take a long walk around your neighborhood or property, taking at least 30 minutes. This is enough time to clear your head and start to simply enjoy your surroundings, then head back home. As you get closer try not to focus on your house and garden—try looking at other houses or the other side of the street. Look straight down as you are walking if you have to. When you get to where a guest would be getting out of their car to visit your house, quickly look up. What did you see and how did it make you feel?

I took myself through this process several years ago because I was getting the feeling that my front entrance just wasn’t all it could be. Separating myself from the garden I see every day and clearing my thoughts helped me focus on potential problem areas and deal with them more objectively.

What did I see? I first focused on the old metal handrail near the first two steps as you enter from the sidewalk. Then all I could see was a big white house with all sorts of plants. My evaluation—not good. This wasn’t what I wanted others to feel when visiting my home.

Create balance

I shared this revelation with my husband and gardening partner and we set out to fix it. We concluded that the old pipe handrail had to be replaced with one that was simple but more historically correct for our style house. Next we addressed the collection of plants. There were simply too many varieties of plants in too little space. What we needed was more balance. This was easily achieved by adding one or more larger groupings of the same plant.

We wanted to keep the feeling of a natural landscape, so we compromised. First we planted a more traditional plant, a dwarf form of southern magnolia, ‘Little Gem,’ on the corner of the house. The dark blue-green color is perfect to offset all the white and it won’t outgrow our house. Then we added a mass planting of feather reed grass in the part of the yard closest to the street. This 3- to 4-foot tall soft ornamental grass gave us a feeling of enclosure without planting a hedge, and the depth we needed from a larger group of plants. A small group of hakonechloa grass was added as a sidewalk border closest to the house. Its yellow-striped leaves lead you to enter through the back yard if you choose.

Simplify with mass plantings

Not planting one of everything is one of the simplest things one can do to have a more visually pleasing landscape. When spring fever hits and you have the urge to buy one of every beautiful plant in the garden center, pinch yourself and pick the one you like best. Then buy five, 10, maybe even 15 of them if you have the space, and plant them in one large group.

But what if you have lots of groupings of the same variety and color, like boxwoods or taxus? These largely evergreen plantings provide the opposite situation. You may need to open up some areas by adding color with perennial flowers, small flowering trees, or deciduous flowering shrubs.

Coordinate home & garden

Keep in mind, too, that the plants you choose should always reflect the style of the home, both inside and outside, to achieve a truly balanced space. I use my own yard as an example because we made so many design mistakes early on. We allowed our enthusiasm for gardening to outweigh our focus on the style of house, the urban setting we now lived in, and the interior decorating style.

Entering our homes and gardens should always be a beautiful and positive experience. When spring fever hits and it’s a beautiful day, it never hurts to stop and take a long walk.

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