Options for adding interest and a welcoming entrance
Story and Photos by J.D. Willoughby
Bursts of color, unique statuary, and even trailing vines can liven up the most boring curb. We often focus on the garden beds around the house and maybe the sidewalk to the front door, but rarely create a welcoming feel close to the actual curb. The mailbox is often the only thing marking the entrance to our homes.
There are many options when it comes to curb appeal, but one of the easiest and most attractive ways to create it is with raised beds. Whether your entry is flat or on a slope, a raised bed edged with stone, brick, or pavers around the mailbox and along the sidewalk will add interest in a small area. Alternatively, the raised bed could be in the lawn space on one or both sides of the end of the driveway. Adjustable in size, height, and texture, there are plenty of options to fit your style.
There are plenty of ways to add appeal beyond the foundation plantings of the home.
The first step to installing a raised bed is levelling the ground. Be sure to remove the turf no matter what kind of garden you’re creating. Flatten the soil with a tamper to make a sturdy base for the foundation of the raised bed.
Select stones of uniform width and set them so they are touching end to end. Be sure they are steady and don’t wobble. Add soil to the area and gently press it down until the soil level reaches the top of the bottom layer of stones, bricks, or pavers. Use extra soil to stabilize the next layer of stones or pavers if they are irregularly shaped. Repeat until the bed reaches the desired height. Before planting, be sure to water the soil with the shower setting on a water wand or hand sprayer. Allow the soil to settle and then add more until it reaches the proper level.
If the raised bed is on a slope, make the backside of the garden level with the top of the slope. Alternatively, the garden will be just as colorful and attractive if planted directly on the slope. Be mindful to select low-maintenance plants for a sloped area, as it can be difficult to weed and water.
Another option is to create small, colorful garden spots along the front walk and driveway. Rarely does a linear design add character, so steer clear of straight lines. Without raised beds, the gardens may bleed into the lawn area, so be sure to edge them with something to help define the spaces. While symmetrical gardens on each side of the driveway might be appealing, asymmetry can be a bit more interesting. Consider different plants with different textures in each garden, but use the same color pallette in both. If the gardens around your home are more formal, symmetry may be more important. Either way, the gardens will have similar constraints and requirements.
There are a few things to consider when planting at a curb, particularly what types of plants can be supported. Xeriscapes are some of the most versatile and low-maintenance gardens once established. If there is no hose and carting water in cans or buckets isn’t appealing, consider planting drought-tolerant species that will thrive with whatever precipitation they receive.
Another important consideration is sunlight. Many curbside areas are in full sun so will need hardy, sun-loving plants. If your curbside garden is in shade or part sun, choose plants appropriately.
Being adjacent to the curb means plants will also receive the reflected heat from hard surfaces. The soil in these areas will also heat up earlier than in other areas, so plants here will likely leaf out slightly earlier.
If you live in an area with harsh winters, your garden area may be exposed to road salts. Plants such as ‘Moonbeam’ tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’), various ornamental grasses, bee balm (Monarda spp.), winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) are all tolerant of salt, drought, and heat, as well as loving full sun.
While xeriscapes are excellent choices for curbside gardens, there are other plants that will thrive. If you’d like to stick to a simple color pallette and have problems with deer, ornamental sage (Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’, aka ‘Mainacht’), ‘Kim’s Knee High’ purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Kim’s Knee High’), and pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is a great combination. Alternatively, the upright habit of bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) will serve as a terrific backdrop for the tickseed.
Of course, annuals also can be just as appealing and allow for changing color palettes. Try to clump flower types together and consider the structures as well. For instance, Cosmos and sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) are a good pairing, but African daisies (Osteospermum spp.) and Celosia also make a cheery combination.
There are plenty of ways to add appeal beyond the foundation plantings of the home. Whether it’s a raised bed or level with the lawn, symmetrical or asymmetrical, a curbside garden will add interest to the landscape and a welcoming entrance.
SOILS IN THE CURBSIDE GARDEN
With all the choices for garden soil, selecting the correct growing medium for new plants can be a daunting task. Raised beds are easier because they do not need to rely on existing soils to make a proper mix. Use a garden soil with compost for these beds to provide adequate nutrients for new plants.
Curbside gardens that are not in raised beds will need special considerations because of their exposure to road salts, lack of access to moisture, and increased heat. Former turf areas will need to be tilled to about 8 inches with compost. Mulch is important for any curbside garden to contain moisture and insulate the roots.