Curb appeal is about creating a dramatic garden, filled with thriving plants that welcome you home. The front garden can be a jewel all...

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Curb appeal is about creating a dramatic garden, filled with thriving plants that welcome you home. The front garden can be a jewel all on its own, not just a setting for the house. There are many options for creating this jewel, from making just a few changes to a complete makeover.

To start, make an assessment of your front yard, looking at the elements, including the plantings and structures.

The entry path, how you get from the street to the door, is important in both function and appearance. Repair or replace a cracked entry walk.

If you are designing a new garden or reworking an old one, consider the layout. A path that leads straight from the sidewalk to the front door can work very well, but there are alternatives, such as a curving walk that meanders on its approach.

Also consider the surface underfoot. Plain concrete is classic; variations include concrete edged or banded with brick or stone. Stone walkways offer ultimate texture and color.

Defining spaces

Add a seating area in your front yard, especially if it is the only area with a view. Seating also can be added to capture sun or shade that you don’t have in another area. You may want to place the patio out of the main line of circulation and screen it from the street with a fence or hedge.

If your front yard slopes, create a level area for a terrace by building a stone wall that will also make an attractive feature and provide a strong edge to your garden.

Fences or hedges can also define the edge of the front yard. Repaint or restain an existing fence, or add a new one. Add a handcrafted gate to personalize the entry.

Rethink plantings

Plants are often the dominant element of a yard, and changes here can make a big difference.

Winter is a good time to move plants, so transplant those that are now in the wrong place.

Permanently remove the plants that have outgrown their space and are too large to easily transplant. Removing rambunctious plants is a way of reducing maintenance too; trying to keep a large plant to a confined space takes a lot of work.

When placing new trees in the front yard, consider that most homes look better if you cannot see the whole house at once. Use a tree or two to frame it and add some mystery, at the same time keeping a clear view of the front door so guests know where to go.

Fragrance is always welcoming, so plant something with a sweet aroma on the way to the door. For example, Viburnum x bodnantense blooms November through February with fragrant pink flowers that can grow to the size of a small tree.

Visit the neighbors

For ideas on what plants will grow well in your garden, walk around your neighborhood.

Make note if the plants are thriving in sun or shade, and put them in the same exposure in your garden. Planting the right plant in the right place is a key to successful gardening.

Variety is another key to good gardens. Choose foliage of varying sizes and textures, and place them so they contrast with each other.

To create year-round interest, add plants that bloom at different times throughout the year. Choose shrubs and trees that add intense color in the fall. Provide winter structure with conifers and broad-leafed evergreens.

Pots will dress up an entry garden and give instant results. Add an Italian feel with classic terra cotta. Other styles give an Asian or contemporary feel.

The front yard is the face we put forward to the world. Think of it as your gift to the street, not just for you to enjoy, but for all those who pass by.

Phil Wood has a degree in landscape architecture and designs and builds gardens. Send questions to thegardendesigner@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies.