Redefining curb appeal

In a post I published eight years ago entitled The Greying Garden And What To Do About It, I explored the viewpoint that gardening was pretty much an older person’s pursuit. I had just attended a gardening seminar where pretty much everyone was rocking grey hair. Now, with a big boost from the pandemic, gardening is growing in popularity with a younger crowd, of course, but back then, I wondered about how to make gardening more attractive to kids and young adults. Maybe the solution was to redefine gardening, including what we think of as ‘curb appeal’:

What if we adults dropped the notions of curb appeal and neighbourhood status? What if we looked at gardening–whether you’re weeding the lawn or tackling an epic backyard transformation–as simply making the world a little prettier, a little healthier? Maybe we could compare gardening to shaking hands with nature

All these years later, the allure of curb appeal hasn’t gone away but I’m seeing all kinds of very exciting ways gardeners are taking curb appeal to the next level by quite literally re-thinking curb-side gardening. And it looks like in doing so, gardeners are moving away from the status garden and doing a little more in cooperation with nature.

The Glammed Up Ditch

A ditch can be a necessity but it doesn’t necessarily have to be ugly or perform only one function. I love how this ditch, shown below, has a “living” wall of plants and brick lining one side. The wall provides a tidier look while preventing erosion and the bricks, spaced to provide small crevices, make for a green patchwork of plants.

Ditch with bricks

Rain gardens are a whole new and exciting area of gardening with their own special designs and practical considerations. This example, show below, incorporates plants that thrive in the infrequent and temporary flooding that ditches are all about. Ditch gardens not only make the space between garden and road more lovely, they put water run-off to good use, nurturing plants that provide homes and food to a variety of tiny critters, and naturally filtering the excess run-off so whatever is left goes into the town’s water system a lot cleaner. Speaking of food, you can grow your own edible plants in rain gardens, too. But keep in mind that city ditches aren’t ideal in this case because very often the water from a ditch is collecting run-off that can include pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals shed from asphalt and other stuff not conducive to growing plants you intend to eat.

Planted ditch

The edible front yard

The old/new ideas of foodscaping a front garden turns the notion of curb appeal upside down. It’s no longer about a perfect lawn and plants used primarily to set off the home and beckon the visitor up a verdant entranceway. A foodscaped front garden’s curb appeal can still have plenty of style thanks to decorative trees and shrubs, neat pathways and handsome hardscaping but the overall message is of innovation, practicality, hospitality and maybe even a kind of humbleness.

Vegetable front garden

Islands of lushness

In Canada, that narrow strip of earth used as a buffer between street and sidewalk goes by many names, including boulevard, median, hellstrip, parkway, verge or tree belt. Whatever you call it, it can be an eyesore. However, your city may have specific rules about what you can and can’t do to that strip so check out your by-laws first before getting your hands dirty. Sometimes, a hellstrip can be very much one hell of a strip to garden. One Ontario gardener wound up in a dispute with a bylaw officer over his plantings but the story has a happy ending which included a change to his area’s by-law.

On the other hand, some cities actually encourage gardeners to beautify their boulevards. For instance, the Ontario city of Mississauga offers Blooming Boulevards, an online resource “connecting neighbourhoods to nature” with projects, workshops and events that focus on how citizen gardeners can get involved in improving green spaces and attracting pollinators. You can also find Boulevard Plant Lists for Sun/Part Sun and Shade as well as Boulevard Site Preparation tips on the site.

The boulevard shown above is in Gananoque, Ontario, photographed in July, 2022.

Blurring the lines between road and garden

When private property merges with public throughways without any curb, things can get really interesting. The home shown below was situated on the street corner of a small town in Southwestern Ontario where there wasn’t a sidewalk and the roads didn’t have hard edges. Rather than try to create a demarcation with edging or hardscaping of some kind, this gardener decided to go with the flow. A white picket fence, set back and softened on either side by blooming annuals and perennials, signals that there is indeed a private garden here. But the lush plantings are encouraged to spill over towards the road and gravel mulch the same colour as the road’s paving completely blurs the line between garden and roadway, essentially making the tiny garden charming and borderless.

Another way of merging public with private in an unexpected way is with hardscaping as shown below. Here, pavers and bricks chosen to complement the colour of the sidewalk border the naturalized garden and provide useful stepping stones for weeding and watering.

So often a sidewalk is the one piece of hardscaping we have to work with whether we like it or not. I love how this gardener used the sidewalk to make the transition from public to private seamless.

Garden and sidewalk with paths

Want more ideas? Check out Love That Curb Appeal.

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