Before & After: Creating an Inviting Entry Garden

Who needs a sign that says "KEEP OUT!" when your front garden requires a machete to reach the door?

BEFORE: overgrown shrubs engulfed rather than framed the home

As I carefully navigated my way past the mature stand of bamboo, keeping a watchful eye out for any lurking pandas, I could understand why I had been called to this lovely home in Redmond, Washington.

BEFORE: the dark entryway feels claustrophobic, not least of all because of the imposing bamboo on both sides of the path.


The Problems

BEFORE: the very antithesis to a welcoming entryway.

  • Overgrown shrubs had created a tunnel-like entry that felt claustrophobic and unwelcoming
  • The front door wasn't visible even from the street.
  • A window was now obscured by tall bamboo
  • Between the shedding bamboo leaves and pine needles this unwelcoming entry was also a lot of work to try and keep tidy
  • The color scheme was drab at best – here in the Pacific Northwest we need COLOR to get us through the grey season!

The Design Criteria

  • Open up the entrance and make it more welcoming
  • Introduce a wider range of foliage colors and textures
  • Bold colors rather than pastels preferred
  • Reduce maintenance
  • Improved year-round interest
  • Have this front garden "be different" from the neighbors in this retirement community, yet also blend in! (Thankfully I knew exactly what the homeowner meant).

The Design Solutions

  • Design an interesting picture frame of colorful foliage and layer flowers into that so that there would always be color even when something wasn't in bloom
  • Use lots of golden-yellow foliage to brighten the shady entrance
  • Replace overgrown shrubs with more size-appropriate selections, chosen for their known performance
  • Focus largely on evergreen plants for reduced maintenance.
  • Introduce winter fragrance using sweetbox (Sarcoccoca confusa)
  • Include flowers for hummingbirds with a groundcover of Oregon grape (Mahonia repens) beneath the existing dark leaved maple
  • Ensure that some of the evergreens also changed color seasonally (Rainbow drooping fetterbush, autumn fern, Scentlandia sweetspire, and Blazeaway heather are all excellent in this regard).
  • Introduce layers of repeating colors and textures that draw you towards the entrance of the home
  • Keep to a tight color palette of orange-red, golden-yellow and varying shades of green for a cohesive look
  • Use teal as an accent color (inspired by the existing container)

The Result

AFTER: welcome home! Although still waiting for some finishing touches including a teal pot on the porch and art work for the wall, this simple design has transformed the previously claustrophobic entrance.

The homeowner had her own team of landscapers manage the installation although I set out the plants. These photos were taken immediately after installation was complete. (Room has been left for things to grow to maturity without overcrowding).

AFTER: with elbow room to spread out this planting scheme will look top notch for many years. Plants beneath windows are height appropriate and the specimen golden fir will never become so large as to obscure the door. (Autumn ferns will fill in some of the gaps seen here as they leaf out).

There are a number of autumn ferns in the design which had just been cut back for spring. Although evergreen, by the end of winter many older fronds start to look a little ragged so benefit from being cut back. The new, unfurling fronds don't photograph well against the dark mulch but the beautiful orange-tipped green leaves will soon add another beautiful layer to the composition.

AFTER: Although this re-imagined front garden has a distinctive personality it still works well with the overall neighborhood – an important consideration in this community.

When designing a front garden it is important to also consider the view when leaving the home. Before renovation this felt more like a tunnel.

BEFORE: view from the front door

The new design expanded the view width-ways as well as out towards the street.

AFTER: view from the front door. An autumn fern will fill in the space in the left foreground. The green leaved sweetbox beneath the window will have fragrant blooms in winter and grow 3-4 feet tall to add height without obscuring the window.

Finishing Touches

Details matter: color echoes between the drooping fetterbush foliage and hellebore blooms make a subtle connection yet are key to a sense of a well thought out design

The homeowner is going to add a second teal  pot to the right side of the front porch. Both containers will then be planted with foliage and flowers that repeat the color palette of the front garden.

There will be a piece of teal art work added to the wall besides the window. This repetition of an accent color will lead the eye down the path towards the front door.

Final Words…

….from the homeowner:

I purchased this house 9 months ago. A big selling point was the yard; the footprint was there, but it was overgrown and many of the plants were diseased. Under Karen’s direction I had the smaller to medium size bushes removed. The most important things that I wanted were easy maintenance, vibrant colors and plants that were approved by my HOA.  On top of this I wanted my garden to look unique yet tasteful. Karen recommended that I incorporate yellow, orange and lime-green plants into my garden beds. As you can see by the pictures she accomplished all of these goals, the colors are just stunning and compliment one another and my yard is definitely a show stopper. All of this was accomplished through foliage. I have already received many compliments from my neighbors and I am ready to start enjoying my yard this spring and summer.

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