Designer Secrets for Year-Round Curb Appeal and Inviting Entryways

Designer Secrets for Year-Round Curb Appeal and Inviting Entryways

Top photo by Ryann Ford. Featured plant photos by Doreen Wynja

Homes with undeniable curb appeal make the best first impressions. Front yards that welcome visitors with enticing entryways and inviting plant combinations set the tone for the rest of your garden, too.  

We asked top garden designers and savvy homeowners from around the country to share their secrets to creating eye-catching entryways. In the six examples below, you'll find stunning curb appeal ideas that address common curb appeal challenges like competing entries, providing year-long interest, enhancing specific home styles, designing on a small lot in the city, and replacing a water-hungry lawn with a gorgeous waterwise garden. 

This waterwise front garden in Austin, TX welcomes visitors to the front door with a color palette that moves from cool to warm as you approach the entry. 

Competing Entries? Lead with Color

Design Advice:

The main challenge of designing this front garden in Bainbridge Island, WA was properly dealing with the home's competing entries. The red door seen at the end of the driveway is the side door, so designer Tish Treherne needed to encourage visitors to continue around the corner to the front entry. "The only way was to try and lead the eye down the path with plants." Tish uses golds, silvery blues, reds, and the gray of boulders to entice visitors down the path and towards the front entry door. 

driveway up to gray house with green landscaping
gray house with stairs, small tree and small shrubs

Overview of Key Plants:

(Above) Autumn Moor Grass (Sesleria atumnalis), Gulf Stream Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica), Japanese Maple trees (Acer palmatum), Thunderhead Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii), and silvery Holly-Leaved Hellebores (Helleborus argutifolius) on the left of the drive direct visitors around the curve. 'Bevan's Variety' Geranium (Geranium mactorrhizum), 'Cape Blanco' Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium), Gaultheria shallon, and more maples on the right of the drive beckon you to the pathway past the red side door and to the front entry door. 

(left) Another look at the Gulf Stream Heavenly Bamboo, Japanese maple tree, 'Concorde' Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), Thunderhead Japanese Black Pine, and Holly-Leaved Hellebores on the front-left side of the drive. This photo was taken from the stairs that lead to the back gate. 

Photo and Design: Tish Treherne of Bliss Garden Design

pathway with rocks and green landscaping

(Above) The bright gold of Golden Variegated Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus), pinks of 'Pink Frost' hellebores (Helleborus x ballardiae), and blue of Elegens Hosta (Hosta sieboldiana), and the height of green and red Japanese maples, as well as smart hardscape, lead visitors down the path to the front door. 

6 Key Plants From This Garden

Bloodgood
Japanese Maple

Hardy Japanese maple with burgundy foliage that turns a bright scarlet in fall. Red-black bark provides winter interest. Up to 20' tall by 15' wide. Zones 5-8.

Gulf Stream
Heavenly Bamboo

A colorful evergreen shrub that's perfect for low-maintenance entries. New leaves are scarlet red, mature to blue-green and turn red as temperatures cool. 3' tall and wide. Zones 6-11

Elegans
Hosta

A large, bold variety with seersuckered, silvery blue-green leaves. Resistant to slug damage. Up to 2.5' tall by 4' wide. Zones 3-8

Pink Frost Hellebore

Long-lasting white, pink, and deep-rose flowers bloom in late winter and early spring. Burgundy stems and leathery, frosted leaves provide color all year long. Up to 15" tall by 24" wide. Zones 5-9.

Cape Blanco Stonecrop

This low-growing groundcover has silvery leaves and bright yellow flowers that light up pathways, borders, and rock gardens. Up to 4" tall by 24" wide. Zones 5-9. 

All Gold Japanese Forest Grass

The golden-yellow foliage adds graceful, bright color to shady areas. Slowly spreads to form a clump. Up to 18" tall and wide. Zones 4-9

Balancing Shade and Sun for Year-Round Beauty

Design Advice:  

Phoebe McKay, the owner of this beautiful front yard in Buffalo, NY, decided to replace her lawn with perennials in 2005. When planning her front garden, she said "it was important to me to have something green in the garden during the winter months. I wanted the garden to have some depth." Junipers and boxwoods provide evergreen structures during the cold New York winters. 

She was also dealing with the challenge of having half of her garden shaded by large trees, and the other half in full sun.  McKay uses partial shade classics like ferns, hostas, heuchera, and astilbes in her shaded space, and colorful sun-loving perennials like daylilies, rudbeckia, and lavender where her yard receives more sunshine. 

red house with lanscaped front yard
red house with colorful front landscape
daylilies, phlox, lavender, and black eyed susans

Overview of Key Plants:

(Above left) McKay chose a plant palette of white, pink, lavender, and purple for her walkway to complement the red and green trim of the house. She accomplishes this with Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Annabelle Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Lavender (Lavendula), Stonecrop (Sedum), Coral Bells (Heuchera), and Hosta.

(Above right) The shady side of the front garden has a verdant mix of Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), Heuchera, Fern (Polystichum), Hosta, Golden Euonymus (Euonymus japonicus), and Astilbe.

(Left) The full-sun hellstrip garden (between the sidewalk and street) features Daylily (Hemerocallis), Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum × superbum), Phlox, and Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) for a bright pop of color. 

Photo: Matthew Benson

Design: Homeowner Phoebe McKay

3 Key Sun-Loving Plants to Get This Look

Provence French Lavender

Fragrant and evergreen, with abundant purple flowers. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 5 - 9

Goldsturm Black-Eyed Susans

A hardy, bright perennial that is tolerant of heat, humidity, and clay soil. Up to 26" tall by 24" wide. Zones 3 - 9

Golden Triumph Boxwood

Hardy, low-growing. and compact variety with yellow margins that light up the evergreen leaves. Up to 3' tall by 4' wide. Zones 5 - 9

3 Key Shade Plants to Get This Look

Soft Shield Fern

This cold-hardy fern looks lush and tropical in a shady woodland garden. The fine-feathered, dark-green leaves work as a great contrast to bold foliage. Up to 3' tall and wide. Zones 5-9.

Frosty Ribbons® Hosta

Light up a shady front garden with this bold foliage plant. The lush green leaves that shimmer with creamy variegation. Up to 24" tall by 36" wide. Zones 4-8.

GRANDE™ Black Heuchera

Dark burgandy leaves and a large, neat mounded habit makes a big impact in a shady garden. Up to 22" wide by 18" wide. Zones 4-9.

Porch Perfect Palette: Keep It Simple

Design Advice:

Call this cottage style with a southwest twist—the design goes perfectly with the white adobe house and terracotta tiles of this Southern California home. The simple color palette of terracotta, gold, and green looks striking against the white plaster. Terracotta jug containers and a large green urn reflect the color palette of the plants. The bronze and gold magnolia leaves bring together the green and terracotta color palette masterfully. 

white house entryway with terra cotta containers

Overview of Key Plants: 

A pair of golden yellow of evergreen lantana shrubs (Lantana camara) frames the entry, while foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus) adds a unique upright dimension. A dwarf magnolia tree (Magnolia grandiflora) in a large container and a series of olive trees (Olea europaea) just off the frame to the right offer stately architecture, privacy, and a simple yet impressive dimension of color. 

Photo:Ray Kachatorian

3 Key Plants to Get This Look

Foxtail
Fern

A beautiful, structural choice for containers with a unique upright habit that features fine, soft leaves and a bright green color. Up to 2' tall by 3' wide. Zones 9-11

Little Gem 
Dwarf  Southern Magnolia

This naturally small and narrow magnolia tree is perfect for large containers and narrow entryway spaces.  Up to 25' tall by 15' wide. Zones 7-9. 

Sunburst™
Spreading Lantana

Covered in bright, showy golden flowers all year long, this sprawling evergreen shrub is perfect for softening the edges of front paths and stairs. Up to 3' tall by 8' wide. Zones 9-11.

A Cool-to-Warm Waterwise Lawn Alternative

Design Advice:

Austin-based designer, B. Jane, presents us with another gorgeous example of leading with color. The magic of this waterwise front yard lies in the subtle colors and textures that lead you to a warm and inviting front entry.

The silvery low-growing lawn alternative, silver ponyfoot (a Texas native), and cool blue agave lead the eye to the warmer tones of the muhly grasses, shrubs, and the cinnamon crape myrtle bark, which brings you right up to the wood of the front stairs and orange front door. The crape myrtle stands sentry beside the entry, welcoming visitors with lush blooms in the summer, and bright foliage color in the winter. 

blue house with succulents, grasses and trees

Overview of Key Plants:

Designer B. Jane replaced the water-hungry front lawn with a silvery, waterwise, and low-growing groundcover, Silver Ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea). The extraordinary shape of the line of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) is partially screened by muhly grass (Muhlenbergia), inviting visitors to walk forward on the path for a better view. Agaves large and small add striking structure and cool tones. Tha palette starts cool and becomes warmer as you near the door, where a crape myrtle tree (Lagerstroemia indica) is tucked to the right of the entry, and a live oak stands tall on the left.

Photo: Ryann Ford

Design: B. Jane Gardens

3 Key Plants to Get This Look

Natchez
Crape Myrtle

Panicles of soft, white flowers bloom all summer, and glossy dark-green leaves turn orange-red in fall. Up to 20' tall and wide. Zones 6-9

Santa-Rita Tubac™ Prickly Pear

Succulent pads are blue-gray in warm weather and turn a rich purple in cool weather. Bright yellow flowers bloom on the edges. Forms clumps 4' tall by 6' wide. Zones 8-11.

Blue Glow Agave

Blue-green leaves have distinctive yellow-edged, red margins. Leaves form a single, symmetrical and slow-growing rosette. Up to 18" tall by 14" wide. Zones 8-11.

Reflecting the Home in the Garden

Design Advice: 

This turn-of-the-century home was built in 1905 on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. Homeowner and retired landscape architect Barbara Burgam wanted the front garden to reflect the architecture and time period of the painstakingly renovated home.  Burgam says her front cottage garden is “a thing of joy and beauty because every single day there’s something blooming from March to September.” 

"We wanted things to have great foliage to carry the garden through the season," says Burgam of this lush front oasis. A curved brick pathway leads you to a welcoming front entry, where flowering hydrangeas, large terracotta containers, and a fragrant daphne welcome you to the stately historic home. As you follow the path, you're greeted with the mingled colors and textures of various perennials, grasses, groundcovers, and shrubs. 

brown home with cottage garden in front yard

Overview of Key Plants:

Annabelle hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) soften the foundation of the home in the background. Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis), which Barbara says "looks good all year long," lines the gentle curve of the brick pathway, while peonies (Paeonia) grow right behind. Rodgersia and Umbrella Plant (Darmeria) are tucked into the garden, as well. The bright yellows of perennials like Blacke-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) and Leopard Plant (Lingularia) offer pops of color. The fine foliage of fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum)softens the edge of a large shrub, and the soft purple of bellflower (Campanula carpatica) beckons you forward on the path. 

Photo: Susan Gilmore

Design: The homeowner, Barbara Burgam, and two of her landscape architect classmates, Frank Fitzgerald and Fred Rozumalski, worked together to select plants and design water-efficient spaces. 

3 Key Plants to Get This Look

Seaside Serenade® Bar Harbor Hydrangea

A more compact form of the beloved Annabelle hydrangea, with large white flower heads held on strong stems. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 3-8.

Thriller
Lady's Mantle

Ideal for moist soils; vivid golden-yellow flowers held on stems in open, airy sprays above shiny, gray-green leaves. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 3-9

Deep Blue Clips
Bellflower

Fast-and-low growing bellflower that brings deep purple-blue color to pathways and borders all season long. Up to 8" tall by 12" wide. Zones 4-9.

Form and Texture Add Drama to a Small City Garden

Design Advice: 

Designer Lisa Port of Banyon Tree Design creates many small gardens in the city of Seattle, but this particular design stands out, “This is the only time I’ve ever used an angular style, and it really created some interesting shapes. Looking down on it from the 2nd-floor window offers a great view of the funky angular patio, bamboo containers, and fence.” You can see the contemporary ingenuity of the design in the photo below, which features the narrow path leading to the front door of this split-lot house in the city. 

Port created a serene oasis in the middle of a vibrant pedestrian area in the city with an ingenious mix of structure, sound, and color. A  fence with horizontal slats and a line of potted bamboos create a dense privacy screen. The black, modern containers are set at angles to play off of the angular shape of the patio. A simple plant palette of yellows and blues creates continuity in the small space, and a bubbling basalt dish rock fountain gently masks the noise of the busy passersby. 

entrance to house with fountain, grass, bamboos and tree

Overview of Key Plants:

The owners of this home wanted a low-maintenance space to rest and relax, so the garden consists of many evergreen plants that require little care. The yellow lupine behind the fountain is the only flower found in the garden, but smart plant choices created a space with quite a bit of color. Port's yellow and blue plant palette includes a compact cypress and Acorus (sweet flag) around the fountain, and Leptinella groundcover beneath the potted bamboo. A Sarcococca (sweet box) greets you as you take the step to the front door.  

Photo: Ken Gutmaker

Design: Lisa Port of Banyon Tree Design

3 Key Plants to Get This Look

Golden Variegated
Sweet Flag

Golden grass-like leaves brighten pathways in shady spaces. Up to 10" tall by 6" wide Zones 5 - 11

Golden Goddess
Bamboo

A non-invasive bamboo with a graceful form that looks great in a container. Up to10' tall and wide. Zones 8-10

Jade Waves™ Fernspray
False Cypress

A compact variety with a pyramidal form and fern-like foliage. Up to 8' tall by 4' wide. Zones 4 - 8

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