Entryway Gardens: 3 Distinctive Designer Ideas

Entryway Gardens: 3 Distinctive Designer Ideas

Entryway Gardens: 3 Distinctive Designer Ideas
front yard and entry way with grasses, purple flowers, and shrubs

Photos by Monrovia: Doreen Wynja

You have no doubt driven through a neighborhood at one time or another and nearly slammed the brakes when you saw a front yard that was so compelling it made you stop and look. This is the magic that happens when house, hardscape, and horticulture come together to create a picture of visual cohesion (or a study in contrasts) with the end result an overall sense of happy harmony. It looks like someone lives there, everything is intentional and nothing is an afterthought.

We chatted with Robin Parsons of Spring Greenworks based in Seattle, WA about how to approach landscaping a front yard. For Robin, the choices you make in landscaping your front yard are all about making the most of what you have, infusing the space with what you love, and defining what you want to bring to the community around you.

Join us as we explore how plants can amplify the style and architecture of three very different homes. Plus, find Robin's top five tips for entryway garden design below. 

Entryway Garden Design: Three Ways

1. Plants Soften a Sleek Modern Design


Above: Olympic pavers and bioretention planters in soft, pale tones create a neutral backdrop that allows plants to shine. The lines of those elements intentionally mirror the strong horizontal planes of the house and provide a sense of privacy without interrupting the impact of the building. On the other side of the wall is a courtyard with yellow bamboo in a Corten steel planter that provides privacy as well as a relaxed feeling. 

The Style and Setting

This mesmerizing contemporary house is located on a high slope overlooking Puget Sound. Robin took her cues from the views when creating this natural front yard plantscape. Plants here have to do triple duty. "They need to add visual interest that is strong enough to stand up to the dominant architecture, tolerate extreme conditions of wind and drying, hot sun, and provide efficient stormwater mitigation and infiltration," she says.

Rather than create a typical "modern" garden with lots of right angles that you might find in such a setting, Robin instead created a warmed-up contemporary garden with shapely shrubs, billowy grasses, and a smattering of flowering perennials. This is a garden with movement and color that is lively year-round.

The Plant Palette

In the raised concrete planter to the left, native plants such as Kelsey’s dwarf redtwig dogwood and soft rush are interesting all the time, but especially so in fall. That is when the red foliage of the dogwood mirrors the Corten steel walls of the garage. More red was provided by the Japanese blood grass along the left side of the walkway. Along the pathway grasses including gray-green Elijah blue fescue, Fox Red curly sedge and Orange New Zealand sedge billow in the breezy location.

Bold forms and textures of fuss-free shrubs including privet honeysuckle, Georgia Petite Indian hawthorn, and Sky Pencil Japanese holly provide structure. To the left, Robin planted a pair of Ginkgo trees to add height and lit up the neutral sea of green with stands of Hidcote English lavender and purple agapanthus

For Robin, the challenge of working in demanding conditions while honoring surrounding views and the dynamic energy of the watefront location led to this stunning front yard garden that is open and airy while still providing privacy. 


Double ball topiary forms of Green Spire Euonymus in black planters are a bit of a visual surprise but serve a purpose, too. Looking through the front door you can see straight out to the water views beyond, so plants here were chosen for their softening effect and visual impact without blocking any of the front door views. 

Robin added a few groupings of natural stone boulders to this garden as a reference to the shoreline of the water below the property. "Rocks add so much geological character," she says. "They give a sense of age and make me feel like the property is more integrated with the environment." 

Get the Look

Georgia Petite
Indian Hawthorn

Improved selection prized for strong disease resistance, dense, compact growth habit and dark green foliage. White flowers and blue ornamental berries. Full sun. Up to 3' tall and wide. Zones 7 - 10. 


Kelsey's Dwarf 
Red-Osier Dogwood

Dwarf shrub with low, compact form and lush green foliage. Works well in mass plantings. Bare red stems provide seasonal color to dormant winterscapes.  Full sun. Up to 30" tall and wide. Zones 2 - 8. 

Blue Fescue

Icy-blue clumping ornamental grass holds up through the heat of summer. Buff-colored plumes create contrast. Use for edging borders or mass planting as a groundcover. Full sun. Up to 1' tall and wide. Zones 4 - 11. 

Sky Pencil 
Japanese Holly

Narrow, columnar form with year-round dark-green foliage. Leaves lack sharp points so ideal for decks, patios, or entryways as a vertical accent or privacy screening. Full sun. Up to 8' tall, 3' wide. Zones 5 - 9. 

New Zealand Sedge

Finely textured, bronze-green evergreen leaves age to electric orange in the cool season. Ideal for containers, massing in borders or spilling over rocks. Full sun. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 6 - 10. 

Midknight Blue® 

Tight clusters of dark violet-blue flowers appear on tall stalks with lush clumps of bright green, strap-like foliage. Mass for a dramatic effect. Full sun. Up to 2' tall, 3' wide. Flowers to 4' tall. Zones 6 - 11.

2. Pollinator Paradise Meets Spanish Style


Above:  Robin amped-up the Spanish influence by taking wrought iron metal work left over from the interior renovation and used it on the windows and to make custom windowboxes. She added a black wrought iron arch at the upper left to transition to the backyard.

The Style and Setting

This now lush garden was once a mass of rhododendrons that did nothing for the vintage Spanish-style 1920s bungalow. What was working was the wonderful tile on the stairs and the existing terracing on the slope. Keeping the good and yanking the not-so-good was Robin's starting place here. 

By employing a disciplined approach to layering in vintage elements, using a limited plant palette, and massing for impact, Robin created a garden that brings on the pollinators and amplifies the gracious charm of this wonderful vintage home. 

The Plant Palette

The homeowners wanted a garden that felt at home in this older neighborhood and had a cottage feel. Robin filled it with classic cottage garden plants such as English lavender, shrub roses, Russian sage, ornamental grasses, hydrangeas and shrubby olives. She took advantage of the gorgeous blue tile framing the door, pulling that color into the garden, making complimentary shades of purple the primary color of the garden. It all began to feel connected inside and out.

Robin installed plants along the pathway that would be allowed to tumble over onto the pavement. "As you brush by the flowers and foliage they release their fragrance, making the trip to the front door a sensory as well as visual experience," she says.

Taking a cue from the strong red hue of the tile roof, Robin brought that color down to earth with those impressive spiky, rosy flaxes. She flanked the tiled front door with large white containers and filled those with tons of colorful perennials. 


Large pots with a decidedly Mediterranean vibe flank the front door. Tucked to the side are lime-green dwarf hydrangeas (this is a panicle variety) and soft grasses, which are repeated in the pots. For Robin, when it comes to adding elements like pots, less is more. She opts for just a few larger vessels which become statements in the space. 

One of Robin's best pieces of advice (more below) is that when you find something thrives in your landscape, add more. Lots more. Case in point is his deep border of fragrant English lavender which she planted densely. This romantic plant is repeated throughout the landscape. 

Get the Look

Majestic Beauty® 
Fruitless Olive

Refined appearance to the upright, open crown of this superior evergreen patio or garden tree that does not produce messy mature fruit. Loves heat. Full sun. Up to 25' tall and wide. Zones 8 - 11

Blue Jean 
Baby Russian Sage

Shorter, compact variety with upright stems that resist flopping. Purple blooms come early midsummer and right into fall.  Great in mass plantings or as a single accent. Full sun. Up to 3' fall and wide. Zones 4 - 9

Little Lime® 
Hardy Hydrangea

Dwarf shrub with green summer flowers that turn pink in fall.  Excellent for use in mixed border or foundation plantings. Sturdy stems cut flower arrangements. Full sun. Up to 5' tall and wide. Zones: 3 - 9

Grace N' Grit™ 
White Shrub Rose

Upright bouquets of fully double, white roses on fuss-free shrubs. Own root with outstanding disease resistance, proven to thrive tough conditions. Full sun. Up to 5' tall and wide. Zones 4 - 9

Indigo Pearl™ 
New Zealand Flax

Sturdy, stiff leaves with dark plum centers and creamy pink outer edges stay upright for less flopping. Adds dramatic interest as an accent, specimen, or container plant. Full sun. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 8 - 11


Hardy with an attractive, compact crown with large, stiff, fan-like, green foliage and distinctive hairy black fibers covering its slender, graceful trunk. Full sun. Up to 30' tall, 10' wide crown. Zones 8 - 11

3. Color Spices Up a Classic Muted Plant Palette


Above: This beautiful traditional home needed color and lush plantings to help define to the front door. The front door is actually on the side of the house rather than facing the street. The bluestone path points the way but it is the muted red door that says "welcome."

Style and Setting

"This garden is set on a larger lot with a backyard designed for entertaining. I wanted to make the entry of this transitional farmhouse style residence lush and green but also classic and easy care," says Robin.  "There were a few existing trees near the house such as this witch hazel and beyond impressive stands of mature trees. We kept it simple so as not to compete with the views beyond."

Plant Palette

Painted in shades of green, this garden uses dwarf shrubs, spreading groundcovers, and a few ornamental grasses and ferns to create a space that allows the buttery yellow siding, classic pillars, and railings of this modern farmhouse to shine while adding softness and texture. When you have a limited plant palette, you have the opportunity to add jewel-like colors for maximum impact. Robin slipped red kangaroo paws into red glazed pots to create a triangle of bright contrasting color from door to ground. 

The homeowners have an extensive garden in the back of the house. So while this has plenty of allure, this low-maintenance front garden pretty much cares for itself. This is important to remember—we only have so much time and so many resources to devote to our yards. There is no shame in keeping it simple! (See the entire garden here.)


This classic configuration of matching pots really shine against the bluestone path. In addition to kangaroo paws, you will also spy gold creeping Jenny, red-leafed fountain grass and coleus. These pots look great for 8 months of the year. 

Peeking around the corner of the front entrance, a bed of dwarf flowering shrubs and an exuberant stand of maiden grass add easy care texture to the space. 

Get the Look

Petite Snow™ 
Crape Myrtle

Small, shrubby form and upright branching topped by a profusion of snowy white flowers in the heat of summer. Excellent massed in single-color plantings.  Full sun. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 7 - 9

Green Sheen 
Japanese Spurge

This improved selection with extra-glossy, bright green leaves spreads to form a dense carpet. Tiny white flowers begin to appear in the spring. Full to partial shade. Up to 10" tall and wide. Zones 4 - 8

Bush Ballad 
Kangaroo Paw

A profusion of bright, velvety, red blooms on elongated stalks branching out of clumps of bright green, sword-like foliage. Ideal for smaller beds and containers. Full sun. Up to 20" tall and wide. Zones 10-11, or grow as annual.

Photo by Ramm Botanicals

maiden grass


Clumping ornamental grass with fine-textured, silver-green blades that turn golden-bronze after first frost. Great specimen for adding texture to shrub borders. Full sun. Up to 8' tall, 5' wide. Zones 4 - 9

Creeping Jenny

Forms low mat of butter yellow leaves, bearing bright golden yellow flowers from late spring into summer. Excellent in pots. Full sun. reaches 2 to 4 in. tall, spreading 12 to 18 in. wide. Zones: 3 - 8

Male Fern

Western US native fern with long, leathery, emerald green fronds that are upright and stately. Produces a flush of new, deep green fronds each spring. Full shade. Up to 4' tall, 2' wide. Zones 4 - 8

Robin's Top 5 Tips for Designing Entryway Gardens

1. Study your architecture.

When you are first thinking about a new or updated front garden, take a step back and really study the architecture of your home. What are the dominant elements? Height? Long and linear? Style? Color? Materials? Views? Use these clues to cue your choices. 

2. Limit your plant palette.

It is tempting to use lots of different plants (after all, we are plant lovers) but your job will become easier if you limit yourself to just a few types. A mass of similar roses or lavender or hydrangeas for example are easier to care for over the season and can draw the eye away from a spot that is not currently in bloom. 

3. Plant for year-round appeal.

Speaking of which, plant for all seasons, not just the flowering ones! While there is no actual "design math" to fall back on, a good ratio is 60% evergreen and 40% flowering plants. For example, a bed that is fronted by a dense border of evergreen boxwood with a group of seasonally blooming roses behind will look good even during the non-flowering season. 

4. Learn from the neighbors.

What is working in the gardens around you? What is struggling or not thriving? Save yourself some heartache (and money) by avoiding these. Also, while it is convenient to shop at big box stores, it pays to make friends with your local garden center. They will help you understand and right the ship when something (invariably) goes wrong. 

5. Be honest with yourself about how much time and money you have to invest in your garden.

It is better to work with a garden designer to draw up an overall site plan and then work at developing the garden in stages as your resources allow. Starting with your front door can help define the style of your larger space.

If you want to start larger, think like designing a house. Start with the walls and move inward, solving problems as you go along. And solve those problems. Decorating around a problem is never a winning strategy in the long run! Not sure what to do first? It happens. Plant a few pots, watch how the light moves through your space, and grow from there. 

Learn More About Designing a Welcoming Front Yard

About the Designer

"My aspiration is to create modern gardens that inspire clients to enjoy more time outdoors."

Robin Parsons is an APLD professional landscape designer based in the Seattle, Washington area. Her company Spring Greenworks provides custom landscape design services for homeowners looking for beautiful, functional gardens and outdoor spaces. See more of her work here and here.

designer robin parsons
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2024-04-26 17:03:00