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Front-yard design: three fresh ways to perk up the space outside your front door. (Garden & Outdoor Living).

Creating an inviting front yard can be a challenge, especially on a small lot that is exposed to the sidewalk and street traffic. But as the gateway to your house, this space deserves some careful consideration.

Rather then simply carpeting the soil with lawn and edging it with foundation plants, Westerners increasingly are rethinking their front yards in interesting ways. They make every square foot count by expanding outdoor living space; replacing lawns with low-maintenance, water-wise plants; or adding gracefully curved beds. Some gardeners with shady backyards are using sunny front yards for vegetable beds and fruit trees.

The following pages show three innovative approaches that people have taken to their street-facing spaces.

Reclaim it for outdoor living

What can you do with a front yard on a busy street corner? Plenty, as garden designer Doug Stapleton found out when he began developing his small front lot in a Seattle neighborhood.

Before the redesign, the space amounted to little more than lawn and foundation plantings, and it was wide-open to the street. Stapleton wanted to create places to sit outdoors. He also wanted a sense of enclosure without feeling fenced in, distant from the hubbub of the street yet open enough for him to greet passing neighbors while he gardened.

Stapleton began by stripping the yard of sod. Next he enclosed it with an open-grid cedar-and-copper fence atop a dry rock wall. He set two small, irregularly shaped patios at opposite ends of the yard; Pennsylvania blue-stone payers lie on a bed of 2 inches of gravel and 2 inches of sand with crushed rock between the stones.

Stapleton decided to rely mostly on leaf texture and color for interest, rather than flowers. He planted small-scale trees, perennials, shrubs, and ground covers to form the garden's backdrop.

Along the fence and rock wall, he combined low, flowering ground covers to create the effect of an alpine rock garden. Then he tucked in bulbs to pop up in spring. As the seasons change, a horticultural symphony progresses throughout the garden.

To come up with the plant combinations pictured here and on pages 86 and 87, Stapleton roams nurseries by section, from sun lovers to shade lovers, mixing and matching plants for foliage color, form, and texture. He's willing to experiment. What works stays put. What doesn't gets moved to a new spot.

And when Stapleton relaxes on his patio with a newspaper and a cool drink, he can really enjoy his front yard.

DESIGN: Doug Stapleton, Garden De sign, Seattle (206/706-9170)

Steven R. Lorton

Keep it simple

Because front gardens such as Doug Stapleton's are in full view of the neighborhood, they need regular maintenance to keep up their appearances. But the work doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming. Stapleton suggests these ways to simplify.

Make daily rounds in early morning or late afternoon to check out your plantings (keep clippers handy). Snip off any spent foliage and flowers. Pull weeds as soon as they appear. Prune errant branches. Make these little routines part of savoring your garden; that way, they never build up into huge chores.

Allow plants to naturalize. Many plants will spread and multiply if they are happy. They'll fill in plantings for you.

Do two annual cleanups. In early spring and again in late autumn, clean up garden debris. In fall, dig and divide any clumping perennials that need it; cut back others to keep growth compact.

Mulch. In late winter or early spring, top-dress garden beds with 2 to 4 inches of organic material such as compost. This feeds the plants, conserves water, protects roots in cold as well as scorching weather, and reduces weed germination.

Be generous. Share plants with friends and neighbors. Invite people in to look around and talk. That's half the fun, and you'll learn a lot too.

Plan it for low maintenance

When Don Terwilliger and Brian Capon travel, they seldom worry about their beautiful Mediterranean garden-they simply set the automatic irrigation timer, then go.

Terwilliger and Capon live in Del Mar, California, a beach community where the sun shines year-round and water is a limited resource. Their classic Mediterranean home is U-shaped, opening toward the street, with rooms leading into a courtyard that serves as an outdoor-living room.

The public space outside the courtyard is a waist-high garden bed (the home sits several feet above street level to escape potential flooding). To design the plantings, Capon drew on his own background as a professor emeritus of botany at California State University in Los Angeles; he's also a self-taught artist and the author of Botany for Gardeners: An Introduction and Guide (Timber Press, Portland, 1990; $30; 800/327-5680). He used Mediterranean and dry-climate plants such as lavender, salvia, santolina, and other plants that conserve moisture. "English gardens are lovely," Capon says, "but out of place in Southern California."

The garden requires little care. Weeding is minimal, because spaces between plants stay dry enough that weeds seldom sprout. Capon deadheads plants once a month, pruning out stray branches and keeping plants compact. He fertilizes once a year, at the beginning of the rainy season.

Even the courtyard pots--planted with bougainvillea, crotons, impatiens, pansies, pentas, and more--require little attention beyond regular irrigation with a watering can.

Nan Sterman

Easy-care tips

* Plant in zones. Fill the front yard--the public zone--with plants that need little supplemental water or care. Then spend your water and gardening time in your property's more private spaces--such as a courtyard or patio.

* Choose tough, unthirsty plants. See what grows easily in your region and climate with minimum fuss-native ferns, perhaps, or tough shrubs or cactus. Then fill the front yard with them.

* Establish points of interest. Brian Capon focused on leaf color and texture. Eye-catching succulents such as Aeonium, Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire', and Kalanchoe add punch to the foreground. Spiky bronze New Zealand flax (Phormium) grows in the background. Generous coral pink bougainvillea arches over the plantings.

* Install a drip-irrigation system. Run by an automatic timer, it'll do the watering for you.

Design beds for seasonal interest

A contemporary approach to planting beds along house foundations created an entirely new look for Bob and Suzette Ferguson's front yard in Oakland, California. Before the redesign, huge rhododendrons were jammed against the house and obscured lovely arched windows while darkening the home's interior. In their place, garden designers Shari and Richard Sullivan created a rich tapestry of plants that complements the house's style.

The Sullivans removed some of the lawn and expanded the planting bed out from the house, giving it a gentle curve and finishing it with a sinuous rock wall. To fill the bed, the Sullivans chose mostly shrubs and small trees that provide interesting color, texture, and form throughout the year.

Tall shrubs, including camellias, hydrangeas, and variegated weigela, were carefully positioned so they wouldn't completely block the windows. In front of the large shrubs are winter-blooming daphne and hellebores, ferns, 'Pia' dwarf hydrangeas, and a red laceleaf Japanese maple. 'Akebono' pink flowering cherries add spring color to the corners of the property.

For added summer color, Shari tucks tall ageratum, 'Bluebird' nemesia, calibrachoa, dahlias, and impatiens between the shrubs.

Fall brings its own magic when the orange and red dogwood, maple, and viburnum foliage set the garden aglow. With plants that provide year-round color, the Fergusons' garden now spans all seasons.

DESIGN: Shari and Richard Sullivan, Enchanting Planting, Orinda, GA (925/258-5500) - Lauren Bonar Swezey

Other front-yard accents

1. Plant vegetables. Mix them into borders of perennials, or create separate beds in a sunny area.

2. Dress up the mailbox. Consider enclosing it in a stone or wood column with a built-in light above.

3. Trellis the garage. Build a sturdy trellis over the garage and plant a climbing rose or wisteria at its base.

4. Build a berm. A mound of soil covered with plants can help provide privacy from the street.

5. Build an entry patio. Define it with low seat walls.

6. Add lighting. Flank the pathway with low night-lights.

7. Curve the entry path to enhance the journey to the front yard and create an unfolding view, For added interest, use flagstones and put plants such as creeping thyme between them.

8. Trellis the garden's entry. A trellis covered with a fragrant climbing rose is welcoming.

9. Create a secret garden. In an area hidden by berms, trees, or hedges, place a few chairs or a lovely bench on a small paved patio.

10. Plant in layers. A well-mannered tree, several shrubs below it, and ground covers enhance privacy.
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Author:Chai, Julie
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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