Creative Front-Yard Makeovers

Two landscape designers use some of the same great ideas, yet each garden ends up with its own distinct look

written by Julie Chai and Sharon Cohoon
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Woodsy Meets Wild Makeover: Before

The only way to get to the front door of Ginny Mellinger’s house in Redwood City was to cross the driveway or lawn. Even though—or because—the space was wide open to the street, it was useless.
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A new fence, a path, and the understated plantings that replaced the lawn add huge curb appeal. The beauty of Ginny Mellinger’s new front garden is that the plants look good all year with minimal care. It now has two parts—a public one and a more private one—separated by fencing. In the woodsy “public” section, shapely Arbutus ‘Marina’ trees are underplanted with mounded deep green Carex tumulicola, which spills onto the entry path in a haze of fine, soft leaves. Closer to the house, scattered around the patio, an exuberant mix of plants adds some color—yellows, blues, and deep plum-chocolate. “I don’t think I’d ever again have a lawn in my front yard,” Ginny says. “Why would I, when there are so many other things you can plant?”

Design: Jared Vermeil, VermeilDesign, San Francisco ()

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Decide where to use your color

Here, brighter hues are kept inside the fence, nearer the house: Lime green aeonium rosettes, spiky plum cordyline, and kangaroo paw grow in large swaths around the patio, lending year-round color and texture.

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Balance the public and private

The fence panels of ipe wood, together with Arbutus trees, define the new outdoor room but don’t completely block the view from the street. “We have a warm, friendly neighborhood, so I didn’t want anything barrier-like,” says Ginny.

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Create imperfection

The pavers are set neatly in gold-colored gravel. The overall look’s a bit wild, though, thanks to a few small grasses and euphorbias tucked here and there between the pebbles.

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Little patch of paradise makeover: Before

This Costa Mesa yard was little more than 1,500 square feet of tired lawn and broken tiles in a challengingly arid climate.

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Landscape designer Brooke Dietrich added a fence and then—inspired by the king palm —went for size and color in her plantings. Building this garden around an existing king palm called for vibrant flowers, cool foliage, and strong shapes. Whereas Ginny’s fence is a rich auburn that picks up her trees’ rust-colored bark, Brooke Dietrich chose to paint hers a plant-framing black. To cut costs, she kept her hardscaping to a minimum, adding only a new front walk made of budget-friendly concrete. Then she planted shrubs and perennials, placing colorful blooms outside the fence and quieter green plants inside the fence. The effect is breath­taking, especially in winter and spring, when almost the whole yard is in full bloom.

Design: Brooke Dietrich, Green ... Landscapes to Envy, Costa Mesa ()

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Make an entrance

A series of off-kilter concrete pads, stained a warm sandstone tone and flanked by imposing Agave attenuata, now leads toward the front door from the street.

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Share your vivid colors

Hot-colored flowers—coral aloe, chartreuse euphorbia, lipstick pink grevillea, and, yes, kangaroo paws again (this time in bright orange)—add punch to the outer garden, while a judicious splash of blue Senecio mandraliscae tones down the heat.

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Steer clear of thirsty plants

Bold succulents—agaves, aloes, and aeonium—give Brooke’s garden the tropical foliage she wanted without the heavy water requirements. There’s also a lot less lawn to be irrigated now—she left just enough grass to spread out a blanket.

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