Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Tag: Curb Appeal (Page 1 of 2)

Curb Appeal Take V – Landscaping Our Front Yard

Are you ready for more gardening projects on TerrificBroth? Better buckle up, because we are!

A few weeks ago, we attended a water wise gardening seminar and registered for a free landscaping consultation at the end. We needed some advice on our front yard, which was covered in bindweeds and dying lawn grass when we moved in:

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We made some improvement to the front of the house during the past year. But the lawn is still in bad shape despite thousands gallons of water we gave it:

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As you can see from the first photo or in this video, our front yard slopes down on the north side. The slope starts fairly gentle but becomes quite significant over the last 40 feet.

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Facing west and sloping down to the north, this front yard is beaten down by strong afternoon sun and northwest wind. It did not stand a chance.

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From a whole year of watering, weeding, and mowing this slope, we knew that we did not have the energy to keep up. We want our front yard to look good, but we also need it to be low-maintenance. More importantly, we need it to use less water than it does now.  So, when the landscape consultant came to our house, I only have one question – what should I plant in place of grass in our front yard?

The landscape consultant was pleasantly surprised by my question. She was probably expecting me to ask her how to keep the lawn green, which most of the people would desire. As most of the landscaping experts in Denver area, she prefers xeriscape and is good at designing urban spaces using xeriscape principles. But most of the time, her clients prefers green turf which is usually water-thirsty. Especially if HOA is involved. Most of the time, the best she could do is to suggest a relatively drought tolerant grass to put in.

Although unexpected, she quickly adjusted to my question and started giving me a bunch of plant names. I did not want to just cover everything with rocks and succulents – we still appreciate flowers and soft texture, and we want our garden to be a refuge for pollinators, birds, and insects. With birds and bees in mind, we spent almost an hour chatting about plants and ended up with a solid planting map at the end:

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This plan calls for the removal of 600 sqft turf, almost half of our front yard, and replace it with perennials and evergreens. We will also be putting in a dry creek to redirect the rain water from our downspout to the new garden space (labeled as “11” in the sketch below).

So what are we planting here? Let me break down the plan for you. If you are a plant freak like me, I can hear your heart racing.

First, the blue in the sketch above is our house and driveway, and all the circles will be plants. This sketch has west at the top, so this new garden will occupy the northwest half of our front yard and butts against our future front fence. The boundary was drawn arbitrarily; it most followed the line along which the slope became steep towards the streets to the west (up) and our neighbor’s driveway to the north (right).

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1 Windbreakers

The first order of business is to create a wind barrier for this slope. We get really strong north/northwest wind coming from the Rockies during all four seasons, and our house does not have any tall structure on its north/northwest to slow down the wind. On a slope like ours, the wind travels upward and sucks away all the moisture in the top soil, making the clay harder and more compact. Generally speaking, two practices are recommended for combating drying wind – mulch heavily, and plant tall trees on the north side as a windbreaker. And we will be doing both.

To create a wind barrier, we chose to plant six arborvitaes along the north side of the yard, aligning our neighbor’s driveway. Planting a tall hedge there will not only slow down the wind, but also conceal the cars filling up the driveway everyday.

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After some research, I chose the “North Pole” arborvitae for its winter hardiness and soft look. I ordered six of them and they arrived quickly and soundly.

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2. A Corner Anchor

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The six arborvitae are expected to run 3/4 of the northern side. For the corner, I prefer something softer than an evergreen, a flowering plant with a decent height. Having lived in SoCal I have missed the smell of citrus blooms. So mock orange became an easy choice for this corner. I chose a compact variety called Snow White Sensation, which gives pure white and double flowers.

Philadelphus Snow White Sensation®

3. Winter interests and Food for Birds

Most of the trees in our neighborhood are deciduous trees, which means that they lose their leaves in winter. From December to April, for five months, everything looks dead and it is really depressing. I crave more winter interests.

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The arborvitaes we bought are evergreens; they will be bright and soft green during winter months. We have two existing pine trees that have dark green needles. To add some red, I decided to use three winter berries called “Berry Poppins”.  These berry shrubs are known for their bright red berries which last entire winter until early spring. which can be a steady food supply for hungry birds. Also, they look incredible against snow.

Berry Poppins® - Winterberry - Ilex verticillata

These berries needs both male and female plants to bear fruit, so I also purchased a male plant “Mr. Poppins”. The male plant will not bear fruit, but it will flower in Spring for some Spring/Summer interests.

4. Xeriscape Perennials for Pollinators

The mock orange, evergreen hedge, and winter berries are the bigger and anchor pieces in this design. Although they together attenuate the northwest wind, they are not xeriscape plants. Therefore, for the rest of the garden covering the slope, we chose all drought-tolerate plants including perennial flowers and shrubs. I had such a good success with the garden-in-a-box from Resource Central this Spring – the one I got is called honeybee heaven and it attracts bumblebees and mason bees like crazy – that I decided to purchase another one of their fall gardens for this space. The garden kit I ordered is called “Cool Connection”, which includes 23 plants – such as penstemon, dwarf larkspur, and Salvia. These plants are not only drought tolerant but also hummingbird- and butterfly-friendly.

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In the planting map above, the penstemon, the dwarf blue larkspur, and the rose queen Salvia will be planted in the red triangle labeled as “8”. This garden kits provide three of each plants so they will be planted as clusters. I adore the color of these plants – they mostly bloom pinks, purples, and blues, hence the name “Cool Connection”.

The kit also provides three Butterfly weeds. I will likely put them in where the red circle labeled as 8 with a double bubblemint hyssop which blooms pink (also included in the garden kit).

5. Adding Soft Texture with Grasses

Next to the perennial flowers we will be adding some grasses. Blue grama grass is Colorado’s state grass, whose seed packets last entire winter and are an excellent food source for small birds.

The garden kits includes three of them, along with three switch grass which is a popular roadside plant in the Denver area. These grass are practically zero-water plants after the first year, and their long-lasting foliage provide shelters for small birds and insects in Winter months.  They will be planted in green triangles labeled as “7”.

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Also will be planted in area “7” are a couple of blue oat grasses. If you have not heard blue oat grass, or blue avena grass, definitely check it out. It has beautiful blue blades and its upright form just looks so perky.

Helictotrichon sempervirens Photo Courtesy of Walter's Gardens Inc.

6. Trying out New Shrubs!

OK by this time if you are still reading, I am impressed. We are more than half way there. I promise. If you think this garden is pretty full, keep in mind that we have 600~700 sqft to fill! In addition to flowers, I also need low growing shrubs and ground covers. One plant the landscaping consultant highly recommended is sandcherry, which is a native plant that bear edible fruits in late summer. It also has a striking red foliage in the Fall. I have never had sand cherry before. But I figured that I could always leave them for wildlife if I do not fond the flavor.

Prunus besseyi ‘PS’ (Pawnee Buttes) Photo Courtesy of Plant Select

The sandberry will be planted in the circle labeled as “6”, and “4” will be a dwarf mugo pine. We have two pine trees already in our front yard but they look very different. And this dwaft mugo pine will look completely different from either of them. It has short branches and low to the ground, but it will bear tiny cones on the tip of the upright branches. A cutie indeed.

7. Boulders and Groundcovers

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Aside from everything I’ve named, we will use boulder rocks (the “5”s) and groundcover plants sparsely. Groundcover (the “10”‘s) is a great way to keep the soil cool and moist. It is more attractive to mulch and can spread and spill over boulders for a more dramatic effect. The garden kit I mentioned above includes some ground covers such as Prairie Winecups. I also got some sedum, veronica, and creeping phlox from a local nursery.

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8. My First Irises

The last category of plants in this front yard will be irises. I have never had irises before and am dying to give it a try. They do excellent in our area – one neighbor has dozens of them in his front yard and they made a big statement in the Spring. I ordered some purple ones and white ones, and plan to tuck them in here and there to add some height (for example, in area labeled as “9”). I may have ordered too many, but I can always plant them in the backyard for some cut flowers.

9. Planting Progress

If you are wondering what we have been doing these past a couple weeks, now you know! I’ve been hunting down plants, while Slav has been digging in the front yard to remove all the sod. We even have some plants in the ground already!

The winter berries arrived first. They are tiny now but they will grow to 4 feet wide /tall and fill in eventually.

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Yesterday, we got all six arborvitaes into the ground:

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They are a bit root bound but otherwise very healthy. I broke open the old roots and planted them with lots of good compost. These trees are already 3 feet tall and they are supposed to grow a few inches each year.

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Most of the perennials we ordered will come in late August and late September. To prepare for planting, Slav removed all the sod and turned the soil.

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He did a really good job edging the grass. We will install the same plastic edging I used in the backyard to separate the flower beds and the grass.

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While we were getting the edging from Home Depot I saw a mugo pine. It is actually hard to hunt down online so of course it came home with us:

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Isn’t it cute?

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We are working on getting this big planting area prepared for fall planting, and we need to figure out a way to retain soil and mulch so they do not spill over the sidewalk every time it rains. Although right now our front yard looks like a mud pit, I think it still looked better than dead grass – at lease you can tell it is renovated! I knew that after all the planting in fall, this yard will be so different for so much better! So stay tuned, friends!

Dressing Up the Door Front – Curb Appeal Take IV

Can you tell the difference between these two photos?

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and

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They are the before and after photo of our latest project. Can you tell the difference?

Before

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After

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Yes! The quarter round trims! We installed quarter round around the front door and the garage door, where the casing meets the brick! Now the entryways look a lot cleaner.

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After

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What we used to trim around the door are pieces of quarter round, which are made of PVC.

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What we did was simply replacing the old caulk, cutting the quarter round to size, and attaching them using glue:

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During the roof and garage door weather stripping replacement, we painted all the trim a bronze color. However, it was really difficult to get a clean line on the caulking, due to the uneven brick surface:

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It is a small detail but does bother Slav and I to a great deal. We decided to add a piece of quarter round to cover the caulk. It is the easiest way to get a clean line between the trim and the brick, and it will also protect the caulk from the outside elements.

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We have used PVC trims from Royal Mouldings for weather proofing our garage door weeks prior. We really liked how nice they looked and how easy they were to work with. So we went back and got their PVC quarter round. The color matches the garage door jamb perfectly.

We ran the quarter round all the way to the top of the header.

Before

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After

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As you can see, the PVC door jamb and the quarter round are in espresso, which is slightly different from the color of our door casing (bronze). To us, they are close enough so we did not bother to paint the quarter round. But just in case you are wondering, Royal Moulding actually offers a lot more colors than what you can find in Home Depot or Lowe’s, and you can order these colors online.

The quarter round immediately give a finished feel of our garage door. Like a light bulb went off, we decided to use them to dress up our front door as well:

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After:

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The quarter round soften the edge of the door and made the front door a lot more finished:

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Remember what the front door looked like when we moved in?

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The whole quarter round installation only took Slav a couple hours and some cuts on his miter saw. It is an instant gratification that we could not resist. This is what the garage door looked like before the quarter round trim:

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And here are the “after” look with the quarter round:

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If you have been keeping score, you will agree that the curb appeal became much better since we moved in five months ago:

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We took down and prison bar-like storm door, cleaned up the front porch and changed the light:

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Then Slav took down the ugly porch cover:

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I then painted the front door, and Slav installed a new storm door:

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The soffit, fascia and trims got a new coat of paint when we replaced the roof and gutter:

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And I think these quarter round just bumped our score a bit higher!

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Curb Appeal Take III – Replacing the Window Wells

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The first time we showed our parents the picture of the ranch, they offered nothing but support, encouragement and endless joy for us. Of course this was not a beautiful and flawless new construction they wish we had bought, but being house owners themselves, our parents understood the value of a well-built old home. Their eyes were all on the positive features about our ranch (and also because they love us).

But one thing both side of our parents asked (with reasonable amount of the hesitation), was “what are these rusted metal thingy sticking out of the ground? ”

It took us a while to realize that they were asking about the window wells. It made us realize that how quickly we got used to these window wells. The questions from our folks reminded us (very much needed) how these window wells stood out to us when we first laid our eyes on this house, and to other people who see the house for the first time.

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With all the other high-priority to-dos in the store, something cosmetic like window wells just have to take a back seat. But we did not forgot them. These rusty wells are on our minds every task we tackle. We lowered the soil around them when we removed the front flower bed, we demo-ed the sagging front porch in order to replace one of them properly, and we cleared out vegetation during the HVAC installation. Hey, we even replaced one ourselves during the construction of our new back patio!

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Successfully replaced a window well ourselves really taught us a lot. We are now fully confidence that we could do a good job replacing them ourselves, and we are now sure that the 24″ plastic well and the ridge, plastic cover are perfect fits for our basement windows.

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We also realized that replacing these wells is a task we need to complete before grading around our foundations. Since we need to finish the grading before winter, which can be early as October for Colorado, replacing window wells floats right on top of our to-do list.

Besides the one for basement utility room, which we replaced a few weeks ago, there are six more we need to tackle:

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Above are the two window wells on the northern side of the house. The two windows you are looking at are for the two bedrooms in the basement. We would like to get as much sunlight from these windows as possible, so the goal is to put the wells as low as possible into the ground.

And this was when we realized – these two window wells are not functional! They sat directly ON the soil. All the water came in the well directly flew out of the well from the bottom to the surface of the lawn, which does not make much sense. You know what this means – what if we just do not use window wells on these two windows?

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It sounded scary at the beginning, but after thought it through, we could see no harm done. So Slav removed the wells and we were sooo pleased that how much natural light streamed into these windows! And the best part? The cost of dealing with these two window wells is ZERO!

So on this side of the yard, we went from this:

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to this:

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This left us four more windows to deal with – the one used to be buried in the old flower bed:

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The one used to sit in the old front porch:

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And two at the back of the house:

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Yeah. They look baaaaad…

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The two wells at the back are almost sitting above the soil as well. But the difference between these wells and the ones on the northern side, is that the soil level on the northern side is already near where they should be for adequate drainage, but the soil near the back of the house needs to be built up. So the two back wells cannot be eliminated. However, we can set them a bit lower into the ground, which allows more light into these windows.

Once the plan is set, I went to the Home Depot and got four sets of window wells and covers, and Slav started digging the old ones out:

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It took him about 4 hours to remove the old wells and dig out these big enough area for the new wells:

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So. Rusty!

When we replaced our patio window well last time, the most time consuming part is to drill holes into the concrete foundations. We just do not have the right drill for it and it took forever. So this time, with four wells for installation, we decided to pick up a hammer drill for the job. While Slav was in the store picking up the drill, I cleaned the windows and marked the drill holes with measuring square and levels.

With the new drill, Slav was able to put on all four wells in just an hour:

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Then we back-filled, again, with me supporting the wells from the inside just like last time. It took us a few more hours to level the ground, until it was dark. But the result was well worth it!

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It was pretty dusty during our work. Charlie boy was happy to enjoy a drink after the dust had settled:

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These window wells really look good! By burying three out of four wells deeper, the basement bedrooms became so much brighter. The next step is to finish grading around the house perimeters and use pretty gravel to dress up the bare ground around the house. And guess what? Dirt and gravel will be delivered to our door tomorrow morning! Our curb appeal is about to get reaaaaaal-good!

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