Whole Home Resource
The Whole Home
A Face Lift that Lasts
Our seemingly never-ending interior renovation is now so far along that I’ve some time to look dispassionately at the outside of the house and have decided we need more of what is generally called “curb appeal.” Since we live on a private dirt road that overused term is a misnomer.
Nonetheless, I’m thinking of how we can improve the front of our simple Cape. I did broach the idea of adding a gabled dormer over the front door. Since my husband reshingled last year, he’s vetoed cutting a big expensive hole in his new roof.
I’m now considering inexpensive options that don’t require a great deal of maintenance. Some of these ideas I’ve already put into effect, others I’d like to try. There could be an idea here for you.
I moved beyond foundation plantings and into the yard. Consider creating a small herb garden with a birdbath. Hardy herbs such as sage, oregano, chives, marjoram, lavender, bee balm, and thymes produce the first year and are easy to care for. They hate being overwatered, and if you don’t consume them all, you’ll have lavender flowers.
I really want a pathway to my front door. Since I have no source of free stones, I’m considering stepping stones of tumbled concrete pavers. They look much more real than they did some years ago. When I install this (I should say, when my husband does) it will curve to the driveway and be at least two feet wide. I recently saw a pathway that was only one-foot wide and had a right angle in the middle.
I’ve always wanted an allée of small trees. However, this is an investment in time and pruning, and not really practical on our small property. And I know that if one tree succumbs to winter there’ll be an awkward hole.
A hardier alternative is to line my walkway with blueberry bushes. Blueberries are a four-season plant. The twigs are red in spring, in the summer there are berries to snag on the way to the door, red leaves in the fall, and winter interest. Blueberries thrive in bad soils, don’t need protection from the snow, and require very little pruning.
Keep in mind the size of your house when making landscaping decisions. A large house will need large-scale plantings. Fortunately it’s not necessary to invest in large trees. With more time than money, patience is a valuable virtue. You can plant small trees if you choose natives best suited to our conditions. Water well and often, fertilize in the spring and they’ll grow with you. And if you decide later you chose the wrong spot, the tree will be easier to move or cause less angst if you decide to cut it.
Don’t plant an arborvitae that will eventually overpower a small house. Consider a less common option even if it’s more costly. If you must have one of these giants, give it room to grow. And, as the photo shows, it’s a mistake to plant too close to the eaves!
We’ve planted more than 60 shrubs and trees on our ½ acre property in the last 10 years. We’ve also cut down and ruthlessly pruned others-including an overgrown arborvitae. When you buy a house, you inherit both some one else’s ideas and their neglect. We’re watching the old butternut in our front yard die a slow death from an incurable blight. I’m also engaged in an ongoing battle with Japanese knotweed and multi-flora rose, both invasive plants.
I continue to make mistakes in landscaping. My relatively expensive bayberry broke under heavy snows because I didn’t protect it. A lovely bush is now a bunch of small sticks. The heather garden I started is temperamental and shows no signs of someday living up to my expectations.
I planted bulbs underneath the rhododendrons and will never see blooms. The rhodies themselves were here when we bought the house and although I would never have planted them, I haven’t the heart to displace them.
There’s a young spruce tree we’ll have to cut because it’s too close to another. And the two peach trees I keep coaxing from year to year are pathetically not what I envisioned. But I’ll tie myself to those trees before I let my husband cut them (at least this spring.) Someday I’ll learn to be more ruthless.
I fell in love with this use of a simple trellis to disguise an undistinguished building or a windowless wall. As the photo shows, it can be striking even before the plants have matured. The small tree is a Japanese maple, but an elderberry would be hardier, and it’s half as expensive. I’m now looking for a place to plant an elderberry.
If you don’t want to reface your house in trellis, buy a small, unfinished trellis and paint it a bright color. Add a climbing rose. They’re low maintenance, hardy, and in two years you’ll have a plant with long-lasting blooms.
Attach the trellis to metal stakes and keep soil away from the wood. If the trellis is in front of a house wall, protect the wall by leaving room between the two for air flow, and keep the foliage pruned away from the wall.
The least expensive option for home improvement is always paint. A simple project is to paint your front door a color you love. Just make sure it’s a color that works with the décor inside when the door is open.
This spring we’ll be repainting trim and windows. I made a mistake when I insisted on the classic dark green for the windows. Strong sun is an effective paint stripper. Now our choice is to repaint too often or switch to a lighter color. It should be an easy decision. It’s not.
We’re not fans of lawn decorations, more (for my husband) to mow around. However, in a nod to our rural upbringings, we do have one of one of those planters made out of an old tire. It’s in an out-of-the-way spot. In fact, it’s so out of the way, it might even appear to be my neighbor’s tire planter.