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The Best Kept Secret to Dramatically Improving Your Curb Appeal

The Best Kept Secret to Dramatically Improving Your Curb Appeal



This post is written by Tricia Firmaniuk, my Senior Colour Designer who lives in Edmonton:

Before I let Tricia talk I want to say one thing. Our eDesign department does a ton of exterior colour consulting. And one thing I’ve noticed more than anything else is the overuse of unfortunate looking stone and too many combinations of different siding (for example).

So many people worry too much about the house looking ‘boring’ and end up spending too much on the facade instead of where they should, the landscaping.

You can have a beautifully designed home with great architecture, but if you don’t decorate your home, if it’s missing area rugs, lamps, artwork and accessories, your house will still not have atmosphere.

So read on to find out how easily you too can have a plan that makes you happy every time you drive up to your home!


The spring before last, a forceful windstorm had my dried out, unhealthy old top heavy spruce trees whipping around ready to fall on the house or the cars on the street. They were at least 60 years old and much too large for our house and yard. They were becoming a hazard.

One had come down a few seasons before (there were 6 in all, a veritable forest) and miraculously, it fell away from the house, between the other trees and missed all the vehicles parked on the street.

But it was a warning.

Taking out 5 gigantic trees is very expensive, and honestly, I love trees and I was reluctant on some level. But that windstorm had me pick up the phone and haggle a bulk deal with a local arborist.

Here is my house with all the trees except the one that already fell. It’s hard to see that there is a house haha.

Curb appeal is more than colour and architecture

It was a shock to see our little house looking exposed for the first time in the 11 years we had lived here. Whereas before, it was hidden from the street, now it was in desperate need of some curb appeal (below).

So I got in touch with Maryanne White of A Garden by Design. She designed Maria’s gorgeous garden transformation a few years ago.

It’s always smart to hire a professional, even if you have some expertise.

It can be really tricky to look at your own home and design dilemmas clearly and objectively, being too close to the forest to see the trees 😉

Consider hiring a professional even if you have a measure of expertise

Before joining Maria, I had a small gardening business with some amazing clients with gorgeous gardens that I had the privilege of maintaining and reworking as necessary. It was so much fun. Creating arrangements in planters, redesigning beds, managing soil and plants to keep things thriving.

Here’s a planter I created along a client’s koi pond

And a couple pics of my own wild back garden.

I did a Master Organic Gardener program back in 2011. It was so fascinating and I can geek out on mychorrizae and compost quite gleefully. All this to say, I know gardens. But that doesn’t mean that I know how best to design a garden layout from scratch complete with hardscaping.

Our house basically looks like a Kleenex box from the outside.

Making the architecture and colour interesting enough to bring the curb appeal would be next to impossible without an expensive redesign. I knew a fabulous landscape design could add the look and feel our little cottage so desperately needed.

Expect a professional to see better possibilities

After sending Mary Ann some simple measurements and the dire before pictures along with pictures of my back garden, she sent me back a beautiful initial drawing that was well beyond my imagination.

Garden Design by MaryAnne White

The first thing you will notice about a professional landscape design (unless it is very contemporary or classical and so deliberately linear and symmetrical) is that there are all kinds of pretty curves. I probably would have run the sidewalk right up the middle. My hubby and I were SO excited when she sent this.

We are planning to build a proper porch in a few years after we get the landscape in, so she drew that in. And she included some small trees to screen the neighbour’s houses and soften the edges of our little box.

The importance of a good foundation planting

One of my biggest garden pet peeves is a scraggly looking foundation planting in front of a light or white house, I had struggled with fixing this issue in some of my client’s gardens, and I was worried about how to create a more polished look. Mary Ann deftly planned for clipped hedges to run along the foundation for a polished and structured look.

This is the idea below:

Architect Barbara Chambers via Gardenista

And a clipped hedge like this doesn’t need to be too formal. Although I wanted the front garden to be more structured and formal than my back garden, Maryanne thought it would be lovely to combine the structure of the hedge with some of the softer, wispy textures I have going on in the back for contrast.

One of my favourite famous garden designers, Piet Oudolf, uses this strategy all the time (below).

Piet Oudolf contrasts structured hedges with wild and wispy natural plantings

And my back garden is a bit on the wild side. Here are some more images of it below.

I prune all these roses in the spring and then stay out of their way haha

Creating flow and connection

Mary Ann suggested that we incorporate some grasses to create a similar feel that will connect the front and back garden thematically.

One of the particular challenges is that we are in gardening zone 3, so we are quite limited in plant options. Even with hardy plants it’s not uncommon to lose over 20 percent of your perennials after a bitter winter. And good old classic boxwood won’t make it here.

Instead, for the foundation hedge, we decide yews would provide pretty evergreen structure.

Spreading Yew

And here are some other cold hardy plants Mary Ann approved for my front garden.

Prairie Dropseed for soft texture

Via House Beautiful.

White Birch have such a pretty, natural look with striking black and white bark in all seasons (above).

The palette we are going for is purples, green, white and some chartreuse. I may not be able to resist a few pinks, restraint is not my thing.

Allium and Lady’s Mantle reliably show up every year

Siberian Iris and Dogwood. Photo via Tone on Tone

Limelight Hydrangea is one of the only reliable paniculata hydrangeas in our climate

Sedum do very well here and Russian Sage gives such pretty texture and colour

Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grasses are the tall grasses in my back garden, the provide lovely year round interest

I am so grateful to Mary Ann for providing me with a brilliantly structured plan and direction to reign in my rambling love of planting and all plants. Without her design I would still be spinning in circles trying to decide what to do. I can’t tell you what a relief it is!

At this point, the stumps are out, the concrete laid, and the ground has just thawed. The new lawn and beds will be installed soon. I’m so excited to get planting!

I can’t wait to turn this:

Into something more like this:

Hoom Design

Got a plain house? Get planting

No matter how plain your exterior is, you can make it spectacular with a good garden design. No one will notice a plain house with all these gorgeous plants to look at.

Summer is short here, so the trees, evergreens and shrubs will provide structure and interest in the winter too, and that is an important aspect of Maryanne’s design.

Juggling layout, hardscaping, colour, texture, bloom times, structure and seasonal interest all at once is extremely complicated. With the cost of installing a landscape, it a bit crazy NOT to consult a professional.

And one more thing, there are a lot of hardworking landscape companies offering hardscape and “landscape” designs. However, it’s good to be aware that the plantings themselves are what provide most of the interest, so a professional garden designer is really best and truly the most inexpensive part of the entire project.

Once you have a drawing with the list of plantings you can start planting as fast or as slow as you like.

A beautiful landscape is more than hardscaping

Stone walls, planters and walkways are all fine, but you need someone who knows how to use plants themselves in an effective, architectural way. Trees shrubs and perennials are what give your yard life, structure and interest throughout the seasons.

So just like you can’t expect paint to do all the heavy lifting, don’t look only to the facade and hardscape of your house to provide curb appeal. A beautiful garden is the styling and decor of your exterior, the house itself can really just be a backdrop.

Here is where we are right now, just a pretty sidewalk waiting for the rest of the show (below).

You can find Maryanne here to get you on your way to creating a garden that will be the envy of your neighbourhood.

Happy gardening!


Thanks Tricia!

Today is Day 3 of my colour workshop in Houston. There’s flooding happening in some neighbourhoods here, I can tell my family doesn’t watch the news because they haven’t called me in alarm to make sure I’m okay!

Houston Specify Colour with Confidence workshop!

One more thing, I was so exited to receive this email from the fabulous and talented Richard Rabel who was the Senior Vice President of Christies for 10 years and now has his own private art consulting and interior design business in New York City (below).

Richard came to Toronto to attend one of my workshops in 2014 and I mentioned him in a very interesting blog post here.

But wait, read the rest of this post first:

He sent me this note the other day:

Back in October 2014, I decided to attend your Specify Color with Confidence course in Toronto. All that happened because I felt I needed a better way to see color for my projects, a key component for a young interior design practice. I want to thank you for the opportunities this has opened for my business. This year I’m one of the designers who was selected to do a space for the venerable Kips Bay Showhouse in NYC. This was in part possible because of what I learned from you.

Here is his gorgeous room (below) I’m in love with the flowers!

Follow Richard on Instagram here

I’m so excited to be able to see the show house the following weekend after my New Jersey Specify Colour with Confidence event which is happening next week starting Tuesday!

There are still a few seats left! Register here.

Related posts:

A Peek into My Spring Garden

The Enchanting World of Atmosphere

Ignorance is Truly Bliss; Before & After

So many people worry too much about the house looking ‘boring’ and end up spending too much on the facade instead of where they should, the landscaping.




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