Real Estate

How NOT to landscape

From straight lines to inharmonious colors, designer cites common landscaping errors

I used to hate my front yard. It was boring and scruffy, and it needed pizzazz. I spent months trying to figure out why my yard was a dud and several more months analyzing what makes a "successful" yard.

My husband and I finally redesigned our front and back yards based on the landscaping "do's and don'ts" I uncovered in my quest to create our ideal garden. Our work has not only increased the value of our home and pleased our neighbors but also given us many hours of enjoyment.

If you want an attractive front yard that enhances your home and reflects your creativity, avoid these common landscaping errors:

Straight walkways and planting beds. A ruler-straight walkway leading directly to your front door, with planting beds parallel to your home's foundation, is just plain boring! A curving walkway provides more visual interest and softens the boxy shape of your home and property. Planting beds with curved borders gently guide the eye around the yard and look more natural and inviting.

No theme. Plunking plants in the ground without consideration for how they will look next to each other, or without considering the soil and lighting environment they prefer is guaranteed to give your garden a choppy look and plants that will not thrive. (One of the least attractive yards I've seen had tall palm trees planted next to several pine trees and a handful of rose bushes. Yikes!) It helps to pick a theme (i.e., Mediterranean, tropical, alpine, herbs, butterfly attracters, etc.) that suits the architecture of your home and the sun exposure of your yard. When you select plants at the nursery, place them next to each other for visual compatibility and carefully read the space and lighting requirements on the tags.

No color scheme. Some color combinations clash, too many colors can give your yard a cluttered look, and not having enough blooming color can make your yard boring. Use tried-and-true color schemes: Go monochromatic -- select one color and its variations, such as purple, lilac, pale purple and eggplant-colored flowers. Another scheme, one in which you plant related or analogous colors, such as yellows, golds, oranges and reds, will give your yard a harmonious feel. A complementary scheme, one in which you select colors opposite each other on the color wheel, such as purple and yellow or blue and orange, will give your yard a more dynamic look. Remember to select colors that harmonize with your home's paint color. Select plants so that you will have some blooming color during each season.

Hanging onto scraggly, unhealthy or overgrown plants. Most everyone I know cannot bring him/herself to release plants that need to be put out of their misery. Brown leaves, misshapen limbs and sparse foliage do not add beauty to your landscape. Overgrown junipers and yews planted 35 years ago can dominate your yard and give it a dated look. Remove offenders and replace with appropriate plantings.

Plants lined up in a row. Bushes planted in military-like line-ups look unnatural and rigid. Group or cluster plants, with the tallest toward the rear and those of lesser height in front. Leave a little space between groupings and plant a ground cover to unite them. Repeat combinations throughout the yard so that there is an overall cohesion. Place yard ornaments, such as bird baths or sundials, amongst one or two of the groupings.

Shrubs and trees blocking passage. Do you have to turn sideways to pass through parallel hedges on your front walk? Do you have to duck to avoid low branches on your way to your front door? Your home will look more inviting and well-maintained if you trim overgrown shrubs.

Dangerous walkways and paths. Repair uneven sections of cement and loose bricks. You'll make it safe for your visitors, and your yard will look well-maintained.

A cluttered front porch. Keep your entry simple and inviting. Stash kid's toys and gardening supplies; remove spent potted plants, and make sure your welcome mat is fresh looking. If you have space for furniture, use solid wood or heavy metal furnishings -- keep plastic or aluminum furniture for backyard use.

House number problems. I hate it when I can't find a house because the numbers can't be read from the street! Place your house numbers in one or two prominent locations. House numbers in italic type or placed in a stair-step fashion are passé. Invest in large-sized (5-inch to 8-inch) numbers and position them horizontally or vertically.

No personality. A professionally designed and installed landscape can still look dull. The gardens I appreciate most have sparkle and creative touches; they express the character of the inhabitants. Display a sculpture or ornament, place one or two unusual plants in your yard, or arrange some antique furniture on your front porch.

Covering vast expanses of yard with red lava or white quartz rocks. Trust me on this one. If you have this kind of material in your yard, get rid of it, and if you're thinking of putting it in, don't!

Kit Davey is a Redwood City interior designer who redecorates using what you already own. Email her at, call her at 650-367-7370 or visit her website at

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