Front Yard Landscaping - How to Design for Depth

A standard approach to creating interest and depth in landscape painting and photography is the use of layers, specifically, a foreground, middleground and background. The foreground appears to be closest to the viewer, the background farthest away and the middleground, which often contains the primary subject of the composition, is in between.

The same approach can be used for your front yard landscape. Layers add depth to all sizes of front yards. The layered approach is particularly useful in small yards or when a homeowner wants to make the house seem further away from the street than it actually is.

As an added benefit, layers create visual interest. Well designed landscape layers provide more things to look at without appearing to be busy or disorganized. If you install a landscape plan with these three zones, neighbors may start referring to your home as “the one with that nice front yard.”

Front yard plan showing foreground, middleground and background zones
Front yard plan showing foreground, middleground and background zones

Foreground Design

The foreground in your yard is the zone closest to the street or public sidewalk. It runs the full width of your front yard. Putting something in this space instantly adds depth and interest. Landscape plantings or hardscape construction - meaning items other than plants, such as walls or fences - are both options.

The foreground is the element most often missing in front yards. Without it, when viewed from the street, a house will feel closer to the street; the entire property seems to come toward the viewer rather than recede. Fortunately, it is reasonably easy to create a foreground in your front yard landscape.

Front yard landscaping with a mostly empty foreground
Front yard landscaping with a mostly empty foreground

Planting bed foregrounds - A long, narrow planting bed or strip is one of the most effective foregrounds for your front yard. It should be created along the edge of either the curb or public sidewalk that forms the front border of your yard. (Note: You may want to locate the property lines for your lot to see if you are planting in your yard or in the public right-of-way.) The size of your front yard will help determine the appropriate front to back width of the planting bed. Small yards might have a bed only a couple of feet wide, where a large yard could accommodate a bed five to eight feet wide.

At a minimum, plant the foreground bed with a row of low shrubs or perennial flowers. If using shrubs, keep them low enough that you can see over the top. Consider the addition of some larger plant material, too. A couple of shade trees or smaller flowering trees will add a lot of foreground to your yard!

Adding foreground planting to the yard shown above creates visual interest
Adding foreground planting to the yard shown above creates visual interest

Fence and wall foregrounds - A low wall or fence, anywhere from 18 inches to four feet tall, can also be an effective foreground element for your yard. Imagine a stone or brick wall, just high enough to sit on, or a white picket fence with flowers in front. A fence or wall is a dramatic addition that does not require much space, a good solution for small yards. Check your local zoning ordinance for front yard fence requirements before you start construction.

This low picket fence makes an effective foreground for the front yard landscape
This low picket fence makes an effective foreground for the front yard landscape

Background Design

In this analysis of front yard landscaping, the background is the zone closest to the house. In the typical front yard, it consists of a straight or loose line of foundation plantings immediately adjacent to the front wall of the home. Usually shrubs, these plants may wrap around the corners of the house or extend into the yard to connect with a front porch or walkway.

We are not going to recommend significant changes to the average foundation planting, but there are a couple of concepts to keep in mind if you are designing or updating this part of your landscape to create depth.

Plant textures - Most plants, and shrubs in particular, have a texture that is determined by their leaf size. Large leaved plants have a coarse texture; small leaved plants have a fine texture. You can use textures to create contrast, visual interest and, if you like, depth. Fine textured plants in the background of your landscape will recede visually, seeming further away. Coarse textured plants “pop out” and may feel closer than they actually are. Placing them in the foreground with fine textured plants in the background makes your yard look - when viewed from the street - deeper or larger than it actually is.

For more help with landscape plans, see Five Ideas for Front Yard Landscaping

Middle Ground

Simply put, the middle ground of your front yard landscape is the zone between the foreground and the background. In small yards, it may exist as only a small patch of grass; in large yards, it may be extensive with a number of trees and/or planting beds.

The middle ground is an opportunity to add to the visual layers of your landscape, again, creating depth and interest. The mid ground is also the most likely location for a front yard focal point.

Even if you have a tiny front yard, there may be enough room for a small tree somewhere roughly in the middle of the yard. If your yard is larger, you may be able to create a mulched planting bed or “island” with one or more trees, shrubs and ground cover. The bed should be wider from side to side than it is from front to back. (See photo below.) Whether it is a small tree or a couple of planting beds, having vertical features - plants - in the mid zone of your yard will make it feel larger and deeper.

As you continue to work on the design of your front yard landscape plan, keep the concepts of visual zones and vertical layers in mind.

A large mulched bed serves as the middle ground in this front yard landscape
A large mulched bed serves as the middle ground in this front yard landscape

Summary - A Layered Landscape Plan

There are many more aspects to front yard landscape plans, but if you understand the concept of creating visual depth with zones and layers, other landscaping design ideas will easily fall into place.

It is important to keep each of the areas or “grounds” from becoming too cluttered, packed full of plants and objects. A simple, well thought out landscaping plan with the basic components described above is an effective way to create interest and visual depth, making your landscape much more beautiful than the typical suburban yard.

Note: All photos and illustrations are by the author unless otherwise noted.

© 2015 chet thomas

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    chet thomas (Act 3)118 Followers
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    Chet is a registered landscape architect with over 25 years of experience designing everything from private patios to public parks.



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