Scale and proportion are all about finding balance between 2 extremes. This tenet is in found most religions, health experts promote it, and . . . landscape designers promote it.
If you plant an infant tree too close to your house, at full maturity (say 25′) it will look re-donk-ulus and could damage your home. If you have too little groundcover, it will take years before it gets to the desired lush look. If you have too much mulch around the flare of a tree (a.k.a. volcano mulching), the tree will eventually die.
It’s all about the balance needed in order to thrive at max capacity and max beauty, especially when it comes to landscaping the front yard of your urban home.
So, what if I told you that math held the solution to securing this balance of scale and correction proportions? And the solution significantly impacts your visual pleasure? Intrigued?
The golden ratio (or golden number or golden mean) is the equation that does just this. The easiest way for me to explain it is as a 60/40 ratio that applies to two elements within a space or area.
Let’s look at the front of this home. The whole front façade from the ground to the sky equals 100% of our context. Ideally you want to have 60% of the house showing and 40% scaled with a full-grown landscape of trees and other plants. With these proportions the house and the landscape work seamlessly and beautifully together. (Yaaasss!)
Being kind of obsessed with small front urban yards, I just love knowing that such balance is achievable. Don’t get us wrong, we at Topiarius love a great big estate with threes that grow 75’, but when our team works in the city, such expectations can often be thwarted due to space restrictions. But more often than not, there are planting solutions that make this possible.
Listen . . . don’t get hung up on this rule of thumb if you don’t have these proportions. You don’t need one more person to should you. This is simply a guide that can help you find a balance and it’s a good place to start when considering design. We’re happy to help; just contact us when you’re ready.
I’m channeling some Will Shortz today. I’ve got a riddle for you.
What needs to get you from point A to point B, needs to be interesting to look at, and ideally doesn’t look like your neighbor’s?
Clue: It connects the front entrance of your yard to your side gangway.
Answer: It’s the pathway through your front yard!
Who said there are no puzzlers around landscaping! Not I!
At some point in my life I heard the sage advice that the best way to know where to put a sidewalk or path was to wait until you saw where people walked, and then start the design.
Well, when you have a small front yard – say a Chicago postage-sized stamp – and the yard entrance is kitty-corner from the gangway, I’ll admit it’s pretty obvious where you need to walk. BUT, what’s so not obvious are all the potential solutions.
Check out these examples:
Amazing, right? Not one is like the other. And, they all accomplish the same thing.
Each yard speaks to the wishes and likes of each of our clients, whether there are straight or curvy lines, blue chip or bluestone, or plant heavy or plant light.
When we work with you, we want to lock in both form and function. We aim for functional beauty! So if you’re interested in some of this functional beauty, reach out. We’d love to get the conversation started.
I love a good problem. Weird, right? Well . . . it’s not the problem I love, it’s that I get to find / create a solution.
In my mind there’s always a solution. You may not like the answer or the option(s), but there’s always a solution.
So, when it comes to small yards that are bathed in shade (“problem”), you’ve come to the right place (solution).
First Step: Acknowledge what you can’t control.
You can’t control
- Trees not planted in your front yard because they’re either in your neighbor’s yard or in the parkway. (Click here for more information (tip 4) about what you need to know about Chicago parkway trees.)
- The position of your house. If your front yard faces north(ish) or if you have tall buildings around you, then it is what it is.
Second Step: Let go of what you can’t have.
We’re not the kind of firm that makes shyte up to make a sale. Matter fact we may air too much on the side of forthrightness and frankness. Our goal it is to create a front garden that you love, so why on earth would we try to sabotage that and tell you something will work when we know that it won’t?
Two big items you won’t get:
- Grass (lawn and plants). Ditch the idea of grass . . . it’s an exercise in futility. There may be shade varieties of grass but grasses need sun. Plus, a small front yard with turf grass means it has to be mown – headache! If you are committed to turf – you could explore artificial turf. Lots of varieties – not the kind that was in your grandparents’ 3-season porch.
- Lots and lots of blooming flowers throughout spring, summer, and fall. Most blooming plants need at least part sun to really be their best. Next Level Pro Tip: spring flowering plants can work if a majority of your shade trees are deciduous i.e., they drop their leaves in the fall. Because these trees won’t yet have all their leaves in the spring, sunlight will get to your garden so flowering plants can grow. (Share this with your neighbors and you will look like a genius. You’re welcome.)
Third Step: Embrace what you can have.
Cue Rolling Stones . . . “You can’t always get what you want . . . But if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need . . .“
While you may feel slighted by what you can’t control or can’t have, trust me, there are so many more things you can have and love.
Get in the mindset of textures, shapes, and sizes. You’ve got a huge winning palette with these 4 options:
- Plant choice. (Reminder: I’m focusing on small front yards so mature plant size matters.)
Here are some options:
- Trees: Hornbeam, Kousa Dogwood, some Japanese Maples, Sweetgum
- Shrubs: Oakleaf Hydrangea, Yew, Boxwood, Hemlock, some Junipers
- Perennials (the kind of plant the grows again each year): Fern, Hosta, Hellebore, Hakonechloa, Dicentra (Bleeding Heart), Lady’s Mantle
- Groundcovers: Wild Ginger, Lamium, Pachysandra, Epimedium
- Landscape bed shapes. We use rectangles, squares, circles, curves in all different ways and patterns. Check out our social media posts over the past week . . . pics of small front yards with shapes galore!
- Hardscape materials. Pavers (all different sizes and colors), gravels or chips, metal edging. (Again, pics on social.)
- Whether you have one main container or many throughout your front yard, containers can be planted with loads color. The reason for this is that annuals are planted for a finite amount of time. Because they’re temporary, you won’t see the plants suffer from lack of sun.
So, here you have it. Four solid solutions for the shady small front yard! May you feel empowered and hopeful that you too can have one amazing front yard.