This sloped front yard can't keep the homeowner out of the garden. A well-considered terrace opens the door to an entertaining front yard in North Carolina.

By Helen Yoest

Before the advent of air-conditioning, sitting on the front porch was an art form in the South. Now it’s making a huge comeback because of a resurgence in desire to connect with neighbors. Many homeowners have moved beyond sipping their coffee or sweet tea on the front porch to hosting festive gatherings there as well.

Landscape designer Jay Sifford made that possible for the owners of a Cape Cod home in Charlotte, which was saddled with an undesirable sloping front lawn when they purchased it.

Working with the couple, Sifford got to the heart of the matter. “The homeowners are a fun couple with artistic sensibilities,” Sifford says. “They live in a mature and friendly neighborhood that embraces impromptu gatherings as well as formal events.” Contemporary elegance became the recurring theme for the new front yard.

The couple has childhood memories of the omnipresent Cape Cod landscapes of New England, with billowing white hydrangeas, junipers, iris, and boxwood. Their image cultivated Sifford’s design inspiration, but plant choices were updated for what would grow in the South and included new cultivars of old standbys.

Single Hue to Multicolored Pallete

A color palette of burgundy and chartreuse complements the gray stone wall and the crushed screenings on the terrace floor. For continuity, Sifford repeated plant types in both formal and informal forms. Hydrangeas were used informally as a shrub skirting the foundation and as a formal tree in standards flanking the steps to the terrace. A similar example repeats with the Diablo ninebarks. To repeat the burgundy hue of the ninebarks, Heuchera ‘Midnight Rose’ was paired with a ‘Thundercloud’ plum tree, pairing nicely with the chartreuse boxwood Golden Dream and the ‘All Gold’ shore junipers.

The homeowners enjoy contemporary art, and when Sifford proposed a trio of carved granite spheres the decision became clear. The spheres on the right-hand side of the terrace counterbalance three sculptural Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Van Den Akker’ trees on the left. The ‘All Gold’ shore junipers used on both sides of the terrace provide continuity. ‘Pragense’ Prague viburnums act as bookends, stopping the eye at both terrace ends.

Today, the couple has a front yard that blends with their home, requires little maintenance to suit their busy schedules, and offers a place to entertain friends. The result is a usable, warm space that echoes the friendly, artsy vibe of the neighborhood, as well as the personality and history of the homeowners.

Plain Front Walk to Inviting Entrance

The street plantings throughout this neighborhood are Chinese elms (Ulmus parvifolia) planted about 12–15 years ago. Here, the elm at the curb is scaled to the house nicely. Below the mortared stacked-stone retaining wall is a “living quilt” design utilizing shrubs, grasses, and a few perennials to weave a pattern of color and texture.

A mass planting of ‘Shenandoah’ switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) lines the driveway, providing a mesmerizing sculptural presence as the blades move in the wind. A Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora ‘Aoi’) mimics the shape of the lamppost, while Antonow’s Blue honey bush (Melianthus major ‘Antonow’s Blue’) provides texture at the foot of the post.

summery border garden plan

Tree-form standards keep the eye moving around the space and provide continuity between upper and lower levels. On the upper level, tree-form Diablo ninebarks were paired on either end of the porch steps. To repeat the coloring in a less formal way, shrub-form ninebarks were used below the terrace in the quilt fashion. Similarly, shrub-form hydrangeas were used as the foundation plantings, and tree-form hydrangeas flank the sidewalk steps at the bottom of the retaining wall.

The journey to the front door is welcoming, with lots to see and places to pause to take in the views. The terrace features three varying-size granite spheres to serve as a focal point of contemporary art. The pattern of three repeats throughout the design. The chartreuse color of the ‘All Gold’ shore juniper (Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’) sets them off with stunning contrast.

Plan at a Glance

  1. Tree-form Diablo ninebark
  2. Shrub-form Diablo ninebark
  3. Shrub-form Phantom hydrangea
  4. Tree-form Phantom hydrangea
  5. ‘Midnight Rose’ heuchera
  6. Variegated Japanese iris
  7. Japanese holly fern
  8. ‘Thundercloud’ plum tree
  9. Prague viburnums
  10. Chamaecyparis nootkatensis (Alaskan cedar)
  11. ‘All Gold’ Shore junipers
  12. Chinese elm
  13. Japanese white pine ‘Aoi’
  14. Miss Grace Smokebush
  15. Honeybush
  16. Admiration barberry
  17. Assorted shrubs
  18. Northwind panicum
  19. ‘Shenandoah’ switchgrass

Comments (14)

March 12, 2020
I like pretty much all of this, as I am totally against “lawns”. However, the one thing I don’t like is the juniper! Hate any plant that “bites”!
March 28, 2019
Stunning transformation. The before photo is boring and typical. Love the softness of the Switchgrass, I can almost see it swaying softly in the breeze creating movement in the landscape. I like the tree in the front as it gives depth to the view instead of a flatness that a smaller tree would give. Nice to have different greens and textures. The landscaping enhanced this home on a boring hill. A more tight, traditional plan would have fallen flat with this house. So creative!
March 27, 2019
Beautifully done! Much better than all the sloping grass... Great job!
October 4, 2018
Too much of everything but I can relate to a difficult hillside when it comes to mowing. My main thought is who’s going to do all the trimming and grooming once all this starts spreading and growing out? Maintaining and trying to keep it the original sizing.
October 3, 2018
Well, I really like the transformation. Though I also agree that I would have used something shorter than the switchgrass, myself. Other than that, I think this is a beautiful landscaping job--a lot of work, and a lot of money, for sure.
September 30, 2018
Yard totally overwhelms the house. The beautiful house is lost in the business of the landscaping . A yard should always compliment a house- not detract from it. There is always beauty in simplicity.
September 30, 2018
I think the biggest problem is the Chinese elm, as it overpowers the house and the yard. Replace that with something less overwhelming and some of the "busyness" goes away.
September 29, 2018
OK. Now please inform us all what the total costs were.
September 29, 2018
September 29, 2018
Tremendous over planting.
September 29, 2018
I think there's too many colors and textures. Its way too stimulating for the eyes. Space for plants to grow has been ignored. Less would be more pleasing and restful.
September 29, 2018
I like everything but the switchgrass. It makes it look overgrown and untidy.
September 29, 2018
I liked the before much better. I would have changed a couple of so things, but to me this after is too clutttered!
September 29, 2018
No, just no. I agree the yard needed something, but not this! It's way too busy! It looks scruffy, not landscaped. I do like the added brick, but no there's just way too much stuff and it detracts from the overall effect. And what's up with all the gravel? It's like someone couldn't decide what they wanted so they just threw it all in! Yikes!