I’ve collected a zillion photos in my mind and on my hard drive over the years from all my walks and runs and noticing. But I collected a few images recently to convey some of that here. It’s pretty easy to find urban front yard inspiration – there are cities around the world with tall, skinny houses with amazing courtyard design.
I’m also going to ignore formatting issues with the changes to this platform which can sometimes cause me to delay posting, so I hope you’ll forgive the random sizes of photos below. They should help you see the direction and overall feeling we’re going for here.
Eliminating the rolling lawn feel by establishing a leveled, terrace structure that feels more like an outdoor room.
Layers of greenery throughout that provide interest and some privacy.
Structure and symmetry – a modern nod to Victorian design principles, in keeping with the architecture of the house and the neighborhood.
Taking advantage of shade and dappled light on the north side. Also, looking for interest from above, as I love the views from our bedroom over the front courtyard.
Um, I would LOVE a fountain, but I’m getting mixed opinions from others! And we also want to gather out front again, so talking around a fountain would be sort of silly.
I do have more buy-in on a modern round lily pond, maybe something that could be covered for a table, or could hold a fire pit. Not elevated like this, but in the spirit of it.
Boxwood in some form is a prerequisite.
Still… this fountain. Am I right?
And last but not least, you’ll see a general color idea from these photos. I might have stayed up until one a.m. last night just building a spreadsheet of what I want to plant in this space!
I’m going to try and not be too wordy here, as I have plans for this Sunday afternoon, and I can tend to get carried away here if I’m not careful. So I’ll start with where we are and add some follow up posts to this one.
To quickly address the elephant in the room (or the moose on the table – whatever your preference is for that lingering question / stuck point) – our big plans for the rear of the house were coming together really nicely the first week of March, and then everything ground to a halt. So we’ve arranged with the city to extend our building permit a little longer, and while I’m still VERY frustrated and disappointed that we’re delayed again, I’m also glad we haven’t been navigating quarantine with a half opened house and no kitchen. We do have plans for that area, but for now we’re just growing vegetables and focusing attention on pieces of the overall project that we can bite off ourselves and get done.
Here are a few before photos of the yard to get you oriented. (I’ll also include a video on Instagram.) You might recall we removed all of the foundation plantings last summer to erect scaffolding for our mansard repairs, so the yard has looked really barren for awhile. I realized that I never posted photos on that work here, so I’ll try to do that soon. We used to have hostas where the ground sloped to the front fence, and ivy as well, but we cleared a lot of that out when it got out of control and we addressed some drainage issues.
The fence between our house and our neighbor to the east is rusty chainlink. Also, notice how his yard is much taller than ours – it’s always drained down to the low area at our front entrance (which is really on the side of our house). We’ve submitted for permits to replace this fence, and we’ve put the deposit down on its fabrication. It’s still a few months out from fabrication which will give us time to get the rest of the grading work done (more on that soon).
The fence between our house and our neighbor to the west is a really temporary look! Basically posts with some chainlink rolled and tied to them. That house is currently being renovated, and we’d like to get this work done while they are also under construction. You can see our dogwood tree here as well, and then see how our yard slopes fairly quickly down to the front fence. We’ll be replacing this side fence as well.
Our new fence will be a black painted steel fence that mimics the spacing of the old front fence, but will be simpler in design – not a copy of it. It will have three horizontal bars that match the front fence, but it won’t have the scroll work. We’re using the same company we hired to make our new gate – more on that replacement here.
Our first goal with this work is to address some of the grading issues we have – we want to create a level upper terrace that is in line with both of our neighbors’ yards. That means that our front walk will remain lower than our yard, and that we’ll need quite a few low retaining walls to achieve this.
The image below demonstrates where we’ll be adding retaining walls and how the front walk will change. First, we’ll remove the existing concrete sidewalk and step all the way to the city sidewalk outside the gate. Then we’ll install a simple retaining wall (shown green below) that will create a level portion of the main garden area on the right, and will allow us to match the grade of our neighbor’s house to the left as well. The top of these walls will be flush with the yard, and we’ll plant them as well so that eventually they will be covered in green and will look less like an actual wall. The biggest drop in elevation will be at the front of the garden, and we will install large custom planters in front of the wall there. We are looking at a very simple, modern rectangular planter, and have color samples and quotes in process from several manufacturers. These will be ordered and placed on rock or pavers for stability, and they will hide the retaining wall completely on that side.
We’ll continue the brick pavers to the city sidewalk, and install large stone steps (1 or 2 as needed) at the transition point at the planters. We’ll also install a stone step as the entrance to the outdoor terrace from the middle of the sidewalk. Another issue we have is that the existing concrete sidewalk angles from the gate to back to the side entrance to our house – and we don’t want to recreate that angle with our brick pavers. It’s taken a lot tweaking, but we’re finally satisfied with the layout of the sidewalk that creates a little forecourt at the entrance and also works with the grades of the yards and where the retaining wall needs to stop and start. The downspout isn’t modeled correctly at the bottom, but it ties in underground and will still do that in this configuration – it won’t just dump out onto the sidewalk.
Here’s an overall view of the hardscape pieces, and a view different angles to help you visualize it. (Keep in mind the side fences will adjust to accommodate the grade changes, so they need some tweaking still in the model not to disappear into the earth!) More on the landscape design and inspiration photos and plant ideas to come!