Apr 27, 2008

Love Thy Neighbor

Especially when you're trying to increase your home's curb appeal, it pays to pay some attention to what's happening next door. Let's consider some of our typical neighbors, and how you might take a cue from them:

  • The Yawner Lawner. A square of grass, a few annual flowers, a couple of shrubs anchoring the front entryway… woo hoo, party time in suburbia. You have a couple of choices here: match your neighbor's lawn right up to the property line and co-host the neighborhood Thanksgiving football game; or show off your good taste with a stylish yet sensible mix of evergreen and deciduous shrubs that — unlike that slab of green next door — shift colors and shapes to show off a different asset every season of the year.

  • The Fortress. Whether it's a fence or a wall, this one makes a clear statement: "Keep Out." Assuming you're not interested in consolidating your properties into a compound, your best strategy may be to be as open as your neighbor is closed. If you must have screening, try a split-rail wood fence; or better still, use only softscape (plants), perhaps a loose hedge clipped low — Cornus alba has nice winter interest even when the leaves fall — with a structural feature such as a freestanding arbor to actually invite your guests up the front walk, not stop them short at the sidewalk.

  • The Palace. Its tiered fountains, Baroque statuary, and manicured boxwood attempt to recreate Versailles — albeit on a slightly smaller scale. Just what point the homeowner is striving to make may be a mystery, but your counterpoint can be more clear: simplify. Be authentic. Go native, even. Just as Versailles was designed to celebrate man's mastery over nature, your garden can celebrate the uncertainty, the maddening unpredictability, of a natural system. Sure, the very idea makes you nervous. But with a little professional help you'll pull it off, and your front yard — not your neighbor's — will be the talk of the block.

    There are other neighbors we could analyze: The Museum. The Orchard. The Junkyard. (Although if you live next door to Great Dixter… well, there's really no point in doing much more than setting up a lemonade stand.) The point is, whether you want to distinguish your home to raise your property value or just to make it yours, sometimes the nearest inspiration lives next door.

    Who lives next door to you?

    Jim/ArtofGardening.org said...

    I am surprised. I have a bunch of yawner lawners around me. It surprises me because Buffalo is known for some of its great gardens and our Garden Walk is one of the largest in the country – and they live next door to me – the chair & president of the Garden Walk!

    My immediate neighbor did have a deck built and some landscaping put in their back yard. She said she had deck envy after we did our deck.

    John said...

    Jim: I'm as guilty as anyone, not for a yawner, but for a yard that (until recently) has been mostly dirt. That is, when I wasn't letting the existing lawn that came w/our house die a natural death. My neighbors don't believe I'm a garden designer...

    I'm going to write on garden envy soon; I'll include a bit about decks (it's not the size, it's how you use it!).

    Amanda said...

    All of my neighbors are yawners. I do my own thing and I don't worry about the neighbors. I know they all think I'm crazy cause I'm constantly outside planting, weeding, fertilizing.... None of my neighbors even come outside on the weekends. It boggles my mind how people could enjoy being indoors all the time.

    John said...

    Amanda: They're probably all just jealous. But I'm glad to know you're brightening up the block! Crazy or not, clearly you're inspired, so perhaps you'll inspire them in turn one of these gorgeous afternoons.