Don’t hold back when creating curb appeal

Story and Photos by Richelle Stafne

One way to know you have curb appeal is when passersby stop to photograph or discuss “what you’ve got going on” or when cars slow down or stop in front of your home to admire or capture an image with their cell phone. In the real estate market, curb appeal can make or break the sale of a home. The actual definition is slightly different, meaning the appeal of a house as seen from the street. For the purposes of this article, curb appeal is the attractive elements of garden design that are sited near the road, sidewalk, curb, or driveway. 

Removing all turf between a fenced yard and the sidewalk creates an opportunity to plant ornamental grasses, shrubs, evergreens, flowering perennials, and colorful annuals. Be sure to consider if you want any traditional “turf” for canine friends (whose responsible owners remove their messes).

The area where curb appeal will present itself depends on the size and location of the home. For example, home lots in town may include a sidewalk and narrow band of green space before the curb and road. Rural homes may have a larger expanse of lawn that grow right up to a ditch or roadway, with no sidewalk or curb. 

Sections of fence that are more of a floral backdrop (especially for photography) can also be an indicator for others to respect the garden border, especially in areas where officially installed fences and gates are not allowed.

The most commonly thought of element of curb appeal is that bit of landscaping around a mailbox. A flowering vine growing up a bit of lattice paired with colorful seasonal flowers welcomes not only the mailman, but also greets neighbors with plantings reflecting the latest holiday, season, or a favorite sports team. Add a garden flag and your mailbox area is dressed to impress.

This green space between the sidewalk and road provides shaded beauty with no mowing required. Note: Curbside gardens should not obstruct motorist visibility, emergency vehicle access, parked car doors opening, and pedestrian safety.

Curbside gardening is a great way to engage neighbors and the community. I am much more likely to have neighbors stop and draw me into a conversation when I am out working in my “curbside” gardens. With limited sunny areas in the rear garden, much of my full-sun gardening takes place curbside. One bed I have been working on a few years is a butterfly/pollinator garden. This bed was established in an area near the road with terrible soil that was left after the land was scraped and leveled for the roadway. I began planting fruit crops such as kumquat, raspberry, blueberry, and pomegranate, and then filled in with native and non-native flowering vines, grasses, and perennials. Mulched with pine straw and leaves, it began to take shape. Solar lights, water dishes for wildlife, and a garden flag pulled the theme together. When a tall hedge of Photinia needed drastic pruning, the left over limbs were used to create a “semi-fence.” In other words, a partial fence that gives visual appeal to a flower garden, but does not keep anything in or out as in the standard definition of “fence.” Neighbors began saying nice things and that helped to validate the “curb appeal.” 

Curb appeal isn’t just for homeowners. Businesses, parks, and apartment complexes can all benefit from curb appeal. Adding electrical or solar pathway lights can add beauty and safety to a curbside bed of evergreen vines, flowering perennials, and colorful annual foliage plants.

Short sections of fencing are one of my favorite architectural elements for curbside appeal. It’s a great way to get around some pesky homeowners’ association rules about front yard fencing, while still developing an attractive ambience. Fences that match the style or colors of the home will help to create complementary flow. Fence sections can also support tall cut flowers or provide a place for vines, such as Passiflora or Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) to ramble along.

A low wall of brick flanked with evergreen perennials and flowering shrubs adds value, prestige, and long-term beauty. Designed appropriately, it can add an element of mystery about what lies beyond. Create less mystery by having a brick mason design the wall with “peep” holes.

Coordinating the colors and species of flowers planted curbside with those displayed along the front of the house in beds or planters and those grown in hanging baskets along the porch or garage will create visual repetition and congruity. Plants that are allowed to gently grow over the boundary between sidewalk and garden will soften the edges, but frequent pruning to keep them in bounds is a must.

If you live in town, check the city codes to find out if there are rules about planting the green strip of grass that grows between the sidewalk and the curb of the road. On one hand, I have seen some fabulous plantings that incorporate small trees, perennials, and grasses for a “no-mow” zone. On the other hand, one must consider places where leashed dogs will have space to potty and how easily passengers can exit/enter parked vehicles if the entire space is planted with ornamentals. 

Where parking is not a concern, landscaping the alleyway border can make an often-forgotten area of the landscape pop with interest, feel safer, and invite neighbors to stop and say hello.

Use caution if planting high-valued specimen plants, such as a weeping tree or a sculpture curbside. Only you will be able to best judge the safety of your neighborhood and its susceptibility to theft. I myself have been a victim of having a garden sculpture stolen under cover of darkness. One tip is placing outdoor lighting on prized elements as well as signs indicating video surveillance nearby.

Adding a simple stone sculpture to an informal curbside border helps send a message to passersby that, “Yes, this garden is intentionally for your viewing pleasure.” Landscaping both sides of the fence is more welcoming and visually appealing.

For many years, edible landscaping has been growing popularity in, even in the front yard. Of course there are those persnickety neighborhoods that have a very narrow idea of what a lawn and garden should and should not look like. If you don’t mind others partaking of your bounty, consider installing a “pick your own” herb garden. This might include Italian herbs, whimsically repurposed pasta tongs, an Italian garden flag, and small sign that welcomes passersby to harvest fresh basil, oregano, or fennel for tonight’s spaghetti dinner. Another idea is a curbside cocktail garden. Once again, neighbors are encouraged to snip fresh cuttings from a variety of mints, basils, and other herbs to liven up those after-work mojitos, juleps, and tonics. You might even include a hand-painted cocktail recipe on a sign in the garden along with a garden flag displaying images of cocktails or front porch happy hours. As most gardeners know, placing some plants such as these where others are encouraged to take cuttings will help to keep the plants attractive, healthy, and within bounds.

Done right, you may find neighbors inspired by your curb appeal installing similar gardens “out front” for all the world to enjoy. But don’t worry: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.




Simple ideas to add curbside appeal
A garden scarecrow to welcome passersby with seasonal changes of clothing.
Recycled garden sculpture, such as a bottle tree, kinetic wind spinner, or wind chimes.
Floral backdrop of repurposed fence sections created from pruned limbs, antique fencing, or colorfully painted household cabinets or doors. 
Inviting garden bench where walkers/joggers might rest and enjoy your curbside garden.
Neighborhood lending book cabinet (aka little free libraries, but alas, be sure there isn’t a city code preventing their display).
Bird feeder(s) and birdbath 
Certification signs for wildlife and/or pollinator habitat gardens.

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