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Need curb appeal help
ceceliarose
February 19, 2013 in Design Dilemma
Hi everyone, this is the front view of my house (corner lot). We have some long-term plans to spruce it up, including replacing the front steps and retaining wall, and probably residing the entire house. Those are not in the budget this year, so I'm looking for some inexpensive (under $100 if possible) ideas to spruce up the front view. Maybe a window box? Arbor over the stairs?

There are some hostas planted next to the steps, and lily of the valley under the tree. There are ferns in spring along the side with the water meter. We do not want to remove the tree, so it is quite dark in front (something to keep in mind with plantings.)

(Also, there are house numbers under the light I blurred out.) Thanks for your advice!
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libradesigneye
Just trim up the long branches that drop across the walk so the tree is a little higher underneath on that side. A window box would be charming, but is a lot of maintenence, so if that isn't really you - don't go there. Flowering shrubs at your foundation line would be nice across the front to come up to height of your stoop. I would spend my $ talking to an awning specialist to see if a juliet awning with black metal corbels over the front door with the fabric awning in forest green was in the budget. It would give a little shelter when you are opening the front door inthe rain and the green would echo the beautiful tree.
February 19, 2013 at 10:11am     
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lessismoore
I thought awning too! The house looks a bit pink in the photo, but white in the other area - Either way, I was thinking of a black awning over the main window too - more decorative than functional really if the area is shaded by the tree ... and trimming the lower branch would help. Maybe a planter at the base of the front of the house? under the main window. Maybe paint the white screen door black. http://www.bcawnings.com/store_editor/ScrollFabric1.jpg
February 19, 2013 at 10:40am     
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ceceliarose
This picture is from last spring just after we bought the house, so the really low hanging branches have been trimmed :) Funny how colors look different on different monitors- the siding is actually pale yellow and the trim is white. The wood door behind the screen door is also white. (I'd love to get rid of the screen/storm door but not practical in our climate.)
February 19, 2013 at 10:51am   
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PRO
Urban Oasis
I would plant a row of something behind the retaining wall. Go with something that will thrive in your climate and your lighting conditions. I'm thinking along the lines of Lorapetalum razzleberry. It's the burgundy plant in the photo. That will define your front yard and add some pizzazz.
February 19, 2013 at 10:53am     
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PRO
Big Picture Landscapes
Because you have remodeling plans in the future you might want to think about 2 or 3 nice containers. I would place a couple up by your front door with a small evergreen shrub and something fragrant. Then maybe create a sweet little seating area under the tree with a bench and one of the pots. Containers provide year round interest, allow you to experiment with plants while you get used to your landscape and then you can move them around as things change. When purchasing containers try to get them as big as you can afford and transport. If you go for ceramic be sure to get frost proof if necessary. Have fun!
February 19, 2013 at 11:25am   
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ceceliarose
I like the idea of a seating area, but there is no access to the tree from that side, it is blocked by the railing, so whatever I put there will be purely decorative (you have to come around from the back yard.) I'm hoping the snow on the mountain I planted there comes back- It didn't do well in the drought.

Pots do look nice under the windows, we had some simple terra cotta ones there last summer but had to move them as the plants didn't get enough sunlight (there is rock and pavers under the windows for drainage so bushes would be hard to put there, though I agree they would look nice.) It was too bad, hopefully I can find some plants this spring that do well in almost full shade.

Please keep the suggestions coming! :)
February 19, 2013 at 12:40pm   
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lbadshah
If you are wanting a quick spruce up that is attractive, yet low cost - what would you think of painting the wood around the tree - maybe a natural color, or black and then painting the door a bright welcoming color? I don't know what your thoughts are about landscaping, but I never plant annuals - too much work for me, but I LOVE chrysanthemums and best of all they come up every year!
February 19, 2013 at 5:19pm   
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laurae1967
I would put some tall plants in pots to add some visual interest in the front of the house. I would also think about shutters for the large window in the front and an awning above the door. I would also take down the tree. Huge evergreens next to a small house look unattractive and make the house dark and prone to mold. The tree is just too big for the space.
February 19, 2013 at 5:46pm   
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judianna20
For $100.00? Remove that storm/screen door. Paint the front door dark to match the pine tree; a new front light and get grilles to snap into that front window.

February 19, 2013 at 5:54pm     
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tiginak
Judyg, I'm with your suggestions 100%. I think the storm/screen door mutters a visual "sigh" (and I bet it's not a pleasure to use, either). A new light (and maybe mailbox?), and some happy colored annuals in a planter pot or two -- as so many others have suggested -- sounds great. When the budget allows, some shade-tolerant perennial plantings atop the retaining wall would be great. Good luck!
February 19, 2013 at 7:03pm   
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dsnguru1
Sorry, not in the budget, but worth considering for the future. We bought a wonderful storm door that is almost all glass with a divider in the middle. The screen rolls down as the glass on top is lowered. Great if you have kids or dogs as the screen is higher up. Gives a good view of the new door!
It seems to me that the railing would function better if it was on the other side of the stairs with access to the back on the left side. I don't like to walk in front of a living room window , feels intrusive.
It may be worthwhile to have a plan done so that the work can be done in stages as budget allows and end up with a cohesive look.
February 19, 2013 at 7:34pm   
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misecretary
Power wash the retaining wall and wooden beams surrounding the tree. You can then stain those beams or just put preservative on. The rought iron handrail needs attention. It doesn't look like it was installed properly and it appears to be too long. It almost looks as if it goes halfway down the retaining wall stairs.
February 19, 2013 at 7:46pm   
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danielreeder
How about a window box under your front window. Also, It's a big job, but I would suggest eliminating the pine tree all together, possibly replace it with a smaller ornamental tree or a planting area. New mailbox, new porch light. Eliminate handrail. powerwash, stain or paint retaining wall
February 19, 2013 at 7:56pm   
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tiginak
dsnguru1, not sure if you meant 'not in the budget' in terms of replacing the storm door -- I've got several gorgeous wooden screen doors from Ace for $79 each. One of those plus my main door (mostly glass) provide all the options I need (bug, noise, temperature protection -- as well as withstanding the rigors of kiddos and dogs) here in Alaska (even at AK prices!).
February 19, 2013 at 9:43pm   
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achelous
I would get a contemporary storm or screen door, replace light, mail box and numbers with more contemporary and large ones and remove handrail
February 19, 2013 at 10:34pm   
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tiginak
Removing the handrail's a great move if it's ok by code... & if you, your guests, and your postal delivery person can safely manage the steps year-round in your climate without it.
I love the top curve of the concrete retaining walls to either side of the steps and would like to see more of the one on the left... can you pry up the last (the right-most) segment of the top railroad tie there?
And what about making the retaining wall a uniform, bright, "clean" looking color so it ties together visually on left and right sides of steps (or maybe it's just the photo that makes them look like they're such different colors?).
February 20, 2013 at 12:48am   
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pitbulls
I hope you don't cut down the tree
February 20, 2013 at 5:32am     
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lesliemahler
#1 new light fixture, #2 large ceramic pot of annuals, #3 and/or #4 - new vertical house numbers/new mailbox. Good luck :)
February 20, 2013 at 5:47am   
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aniluap2
Paint the front door and storm a stronger color. You could make it a cottagey color like French blue or sterner like black ...both would look good with the yellow. I would put in a large window box accross the front windows- look online at hooksandlattice.com they have a great selection with self watering options. New numbers and a larger light, the one sent above would look wonderful or a lantern type.It is hard to reccomend plants not knowing what zone you live in but there are lots of plants that love shade and would grow in the acidic conditions created by your conifer. A list of some things that do well in shady conditions are for shrubs- hydrangeas ,camellias , lorapetalum , calycanthus, flowers- hellebores, coral bells, foxgloves,sweet woodruff, astilbes, foliage huechera, coleus, ferns, hosta. I would plant something to drape over the retaining wall like flowering jasmine- lonicera nudum. Have fun!
February 20, 2013 at 6:21am   
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ceceliarose
Small house? huh, everything is relative I suppose.

I agree, the railing needs fixing/ replacing, so do the stairs. The stairs are quite uneven so a railing is necessary of some sort. I'm not opposed to moving the railing, though access to the right (where the actual yard is) is more important than to the left.

The tree is not getting removed- we love it. We have trimmed some of the lower hanging branches.

We actually do want to replace the storm door- we can't go without one, but we'd like one that opens the other direction as we have to step completely outside to check the mail. I'd love some suggestions for a more attractive one. (can't go too contemporary, as the house was built in 1880)

We are in Zone 4, so shade plant suggestions are welcome. I've been planting mostly perennials last summer, in whites, purples and yellows (hopefully they survived the drought) along the sides you can't see in the picture where they get full sun. I'm liking the idea of a window box more and more.

I would add shutters to the big window to match the smaller ones, but it would interfere with the light fixture-because of the age of the house rewiring to the outside walls is a pain.

What is meant by grilles for the window? All I can picture is a bbq grill...

Thanks everyone for all your suggestions, they're very useful (even the ones that won't work for me, because it makes me think in different directions.) Please keep them coming!
February 20, 2013 at 7:30am   
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eriksdale
What about replacing your present window with a new bigger one to compliment the era of the house. Perhaps a window store could give you some suggestions. New windows are always a visual plus as well as a heating or cooling help.
February 20, 2013 at 8:16am   
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ceceliarose
That's an interesting idea- not in this year's budget but I'll keep it in mind!

I wish I was better at photoshop so I could visualize some of this stuff.
February 20, 2013 at 8:29am   
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lessismoore
ceceliarose - If you can do a more "head on" pix of the front of the house, say from across the street (?) I could try some "additions" if there is set you'd really like to try on :-)
February 20, 2013 at 9:17am   
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aniluap2
I will try and send a list of plant recs for shady Z4. About the light, you don't have to rewire to replace the fixture you just need to remove and attach the new one . Home Depot and Lowes also carry inexpensive options that would look great. You just need something larger and more striking. I would get larger numbers that coordinate with your fixture and/or new mailbox and I would run them vertically parallel to the door. Other colors to consider for your door, depending on preference, moss green, teal, lilac, navy, hunter green, dark grey, navy. The tree is great, so glad you are keeping it.
February 20, 2013 at 9:26am   
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ncdiy
What about a beautiful lantern by the front door? That will make a brilliant first impression. Check out this one from Lantern & Scroll (www.lanternandscroll.com or find them on Facebook). They are great to work with.
February 20, 2013 at 9:59am     
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PRO
Arbororiginal
Of course I'm going to recommend an arbor over the front door. I also would keep the old retaining wall since it appears to be from the early twentieth century, I am assuming you house was remolded in the 1950's or 60's but is really a type of bungalow or simple Victorian. I'd put an emphasis on landscape and add some type of cascading plant that could hang over the retaining wall here and there.
February 20, 2013 at 10:00am     
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ceceliarose
That's pretty, love the arbor and the lantern. I'll try to get a picture from the front, it is hard because there is a tree on the boulevard and everything is covered with snow right now!

What do you all think of a storm door like this? It comes in black or white:
February 20, 2013 at 10:17am   
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pamzella
I'll echo some of the things suggested by others... scalloping on the storm door is what dates it. Glad you got something newer and plainer!! I'd consider swapping out the front light, as from here it looks like yellowy glass that is dated. To fit your budget, I'd seriously consider antique industrial/second-hand shops for something you could fix up. (See what Rustoleum has done for hardware on the Young House Love blog, I've found the same success with brass that started to tarnish, I just took lots of care to tape things off I could not remove.) And finally, what I see growing, particularly on the right side of the stairs, is grass,and I'm going to guess that grass is spotty when you walk up because of the tremendous shade the tree creates. (And it is a beautiful tree!) I would consider that area like a large planter box (after all, it's more at eye level from the street than most yards), and use the "thrill, fill, and spill" technique. Consider a lovely native shade grass that could spill over the retaining wall and create a little height so that last slope isn't so noticeable. Check with a local nursery for suggestions and make sure you don't plant anything considered "pest plants" in your area, particularly because they will be pests you have to deal with in the future. Some ideas for the edge and mixed in might be mondo grass and ribbon grass. You might even find something that would grow at the very edge and only appear as it hangs down below the grasses. Fill in the space with other shade-loving plants like coral bells (Heuchera, look up all the colors it comes in!), showy wood rush, northwest oat grass, etc. that create more and more height on their way back to the house. You might want to move your hostas up and around the tree itself as they can grow under it and tolerate the acid from the tree or incorporate them in the new plantings. Consider taller shade grasses and hydrangeas closer to the house for greater height as you move back. Note: shop for your grasses... smaller specimens will be less expensive, plant things with spacing about 3x more than you'd like when they fill in. Do some of it this spring and they'll start filling in this summer for you, but give it time. While giving the tree's trunk a wide berth, hostas and ferns would be lovely accessories around the tree and spill over the wood planter boards as well, find out what would work best from your location from someone local. For a little height, I've heard elder bush (with delicate white flowers when it blooms) could be near the house on that side as well. The ground might appreciate some fresh compost, and see if your city sells compost they made from yard waste, it can be very affordable (and in my case I found it to be superior). If you think you plan to paint the house/make changes to the retaining wall in the next two years, save your $$ on more showy and potentially less hardy plants. Many of the plants I mentioned can be split when they get too big, and can even be dug up and replanted if you need to change the space they are in. You can't do everything all at once, so try the front section first and work your way around as you see what you like.

Last but not least... is the retaining wall painted on one side, or are we seeing a lot of efluorescence in that one side is much whiter? I would consider pressure washing (you can rent one or borrow from a friend, you wouldn't need more than an electric/1600 psi one), and sealing the walls to keep it away from the surface, if freezing is not a problem where you live. (Again, do some local research.) If that's paint, the pressure washer should take that off (be good and sweep up the paint that chips off) and it will draw less attention to the wall. It can't hurt to talk to a professional about what you can do about the wall eventually without harming the tree, so you know if you are needing to make it work for the long haul if the $$$/risk is too high if there is no structural integrity loss.

I don't imagine both could be done for $100, but I bet the plantings and compost could be done for about $100-150, and the wall cleanup and a new light fixture for $100 together. Good luck! Will you post an updated pic at the next stage?
February 20, 2013 at 11:32am   
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cghdesign
For starters (trying to go easiest to most intensive) with the landscape, I would go with taller plants under the front window such as ornamental grasses and or some time of yew/arborvitea/holly. Just something that will get a bit taller. Powerwash the retaining wall (was left side painted?) and create mulch area just above walls on both sides of stairs with shorter flowers of your choice. Can go the whole length of wall with those if you like or just by the steps.

The older style lighting fixture is another good, inexpensive idea. For the storm door I would go 3/4 or full glass and have an entry door (blue or wood maybe) with some decorative glass insert. I am sure a railing may be required. I would remove the iron rail and use a white pvc/alum rail to match your wndw/door trim. Use just a hand rail below the curved concrete wall anchored to it.

If the stairs are no longer settling, create red brick steps all the way up to the top step (add railing after). Might also add a few rows of brick along top of right retaining wall to level grade with the mulch planting from above. Also consider removing landscape timbers and using brick there making sure to reinforce.
Finally I would not do an awning. To me they are only for hotels and restaurants. I would do a simple shed style roof over the porch with a bracket on either side. Or you could do a shorter, about 1'-6", shed roof across the whole front to add some dimension.
February 20, 2013 at 11:51am   
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Gerry Brown
We had a light yellow house in IL and painted our front door hunter green and put up shutters to match. (It had white shutters and a pink door, yuck!) It changed the house so much our neighbor across the street walked over to tell us what an improvement it made! If you can't afford to paint the retaining wall, at least pressure wash it. Don't cut down the tree! I like the idea of awnings, or even an arbor over the front window. Since you have pavers under the windows the arbor could make it look like a porch where you could add some lawn chairs and some containers with flowers would make it lovely.
February 20, 2013 at 12:11pm     
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ceceliarose
yes, the retaining wall was painted at some point in history. Not sure if I can pressure wash it without it falling apart! I might just let the Virginia Creeper take it over this summer.
February 20, 2013 at 12:32pm   
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aniluap2
I would go with a plain full glass storm with a simple wood rim that is paintable or stainable and save the decorative part for when you replace the front door. MHO that door that you showed above is dated looking.
February 20, 2013 at 12:45pm   
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househaunted
I would draw attention to the retaining wall with a mixed planting above it with a generous bed. Make sure the leaf and flower colors enhance a yellow house rather than clashing with it.
And it's always nice to have beautifully scented plants next to a walkway or door.
Just a Fabulous Place to call Home

Summer long color

Informal Garden, Winnetka Illinois
February 20, 2013 at 12:52pm     
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PRO
Serenity Health & Home Decor
As already said, I would change the screen door and add some low shrubs above the retaining wall. I would also look into getting some accessories that make it seem more "homey". Maybe a cute light post or hanging flowers near the steps from the curb? I think that would really add to the frontage of your home. Good luck!
I found this solar lamp post at http://www.serenityhealth.com
February 20, 2013 at 1:06pm   
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ceceliarose
As requested, here are some head-on pics. Its winter so there's even less vegetation than normal.
February 20, 2013 at 1:41pm     
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aniluap2
Looks better head on. Definitely paint the upstairs shutters with some color. Don't put shutters on the downstairs window they will look too small. A nice sturdy window box under the lower window will definitely beef it up and and detract from them being so much shorter than the ones above. I think with some of the inexpensive tweaks suggested by the houzzers above your house will be a gem!
February 20, 2013 at 1:47pm     
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lessismoore
These should work for adding things! Now, is there any suggestions you'd especially like to see?
February 20, 2013 at 1:49pm   
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lessismoore
I take it that the front lower window is a more recent addition? Was this the original "front" ? Do you have similar houses in the neighborhood?
February 20, 2013 at 2:08pm   
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ceceliarose
I'd like to see what a flower box might look like, and maybe an arbor or awning...Also curious to see what a colored front door would look like.
The actual window is newer, I'm not sure what was there before. The house predates most of the houses in the neighborhood, so nothing else is quite the same style. I'm guessing this is the original front, since the other doors open off of the kitchen.
February 20, 2013 at 2:16pm   
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pamzella
In the future,a bay window would be great in the front, more substantial (and bigger vertically) and you'll appreciate the additional light in the front. The boxiness of the house will be broken up in the future when you change the siding and go two-tone on the house itself, I know that's no small expense and for a future day. Green grasses will certainly emphasize and compliment the warm yellow you have there, and taller plants nearer the house will break up the big space leading up to the current window. If you could paint your door a great frenchy blue as someone else suggested and the new storm door mostly glass (frame painted the same blue, it might also stand out more and add some lovely color year-round to the space. It's hard to tell what exactly from the pics here but you could peruse my pinterest colors board for ideas! :) http://pinterest.com/pamzella/colors/
February 20, 2013 at 2:19pm   
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misecretary
If you don't think the retaining wall will withstand a power wash, please look around to see what else could be used. I know for the wooden beams, you could use bleach water. Not sure about the cement/bricks though. You can always call a lumber company and ask questions.
February 20, 2013 at 2:25pm   
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pamzella
All powerwashers are not created equal. I was suggesting a simple one- 1600 psi- and what I didn't mention was a 25 degree or 40 degree nozzle, I'd start with the 40. Test it, but I suspect it'll work just fine. It's not likely to take all of it off, just reduce how much you'll have to scrub off. You can also start with a big dry brush and scrub, but if it's painted all the way around the corner, that is elbow grease that I doubt you have unless you have Huck Finn's manipulation techniques down. I see that you have some cracks in the grout between layers, I have this too in my backyard. I pressure-washed my house/patio/yard hardscape and it took a 2500 psi gas-powered washer with a 15 degree nozzle standing 6 feet away (should have been 10) to make a mark in it. The alternative is to paint it again (and I'd paint all of it, both sides then) a neutral grey with brown tones, which you could also do, esp. if you weren't expecting that to last forever either.
February 20, 2013 at 2:42pm     
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lessismoore
Here it is with a dark green door/box and upper shutters. I colored in your "snow" to make it spring green grass and cropped out the rest ... brrrr.
February 20, 2013 at 3:03pm     
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Gerry Brown
Can you paint in the front support wall white?
February 20, 2013 at 3:33pm   
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Gerry Brown
I agree with pamzilla. Mine isn't very powerful.
February 20, 2013 at 3:34pm   
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anikouellet
I would definitely put a window box stained a dark brownish colour and i would use that same brown colour to repaint the storm door. Change your light to a bigger more outstanding light and take those house numbers out and paint some nice brown or reddish letters on the cement wall. Have your husband built you a nice wood mail box with welcome painted on it That you can mount at the same spot and plant yourself a willow weeping tree (I call them welcome tree) just beside the entryway under the mail box.
February 20, 2013 at 3:48pm   
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aniluap2
Lessismoore, you are amazing . That was so kind of you to take the time to photoshop in the suggestions. What a wonderful community !
February 20, 2013 at 4:51pm     
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lessismoore
When I have the time, and the right angles, I really enjoy doing it! Keeps my skills sharpened and nothing quite makes up ones mind like seeing a "picture." Houzz is a great place!
February 20, 2013 at 10:14pm     
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cyn222
pic. trim up the long branches.
February 20, 2013 at 10:27pm     
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Gerry Brown
That looks better, but I still think the door needs to be painted a dark color.
February 21, 2013 at 5:50am   
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ceceliarose
Thanks for the photoshops! It really helps to be able to see things! I'm definitely going to pursue a windowbox and new screen door. I'll decide on whether to repaint the front door once the new screen is in place- I'm not so sure about a dark color since the corner gets so dark already.
Love the purple - if only I could find a plant like it that will grow in full shade and under a pine tree! I do like the shrubs, maybe I can do something that shape in pots on top of the rocks. (I'm leary of putting too much that can walk off on the corner, I save alot of portable stuff for the back where it is less of a temptation (I live a block from a middle school).
February 21, 2013 at 8:28am   
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lessismoore
Periwinkle is a purple and it grows very well here in the shade. I'm always finding it, growing wild, under the redwoods in the park. Maybe that would work for you? http://www.fireflyforest.com/flowers/3385/vinca-major-bigleaf-periwinkle/
February 21, 2013 at 9:20am   
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