Curb appeal is overrated – although I admit I am biased.

First off, our house has no curb. Our only street frontage is our driveway entrance, and the only plants there that can impress passers-by are the plants we have placed near our mailbox. Those do, I humbly submit, look good.

The second reason is that from 1995 to 2011 I was editor of the Press Herald’s Real Estate section, tab format (for those not into newspaper lingo, the same shape as the Maine Today Magazine that appears in print on Thursdays) that appeared every Friday. The term curb appeal probably appeared in every issue, either in the featured article or an inside column, and I got sick of it.

My biases aside, there are only two instances when curb appeal is important.

The first is if you are selling your house. The idea is that when the real-estate agent drives potential buyers up to the property, the buyers will love your front gardens so much that they will say: “I have to have this house and will bid above the asking price.” The second reason is if you think it is more important to impress your neighbors with the beauty of your house than it is to enjoy it yourself.

Neither of those affect my wife Nancy and me. We are going to leave selling the house to our heirs (a nicer way than saying we plan on leaving here in a box). And, maybe selfishly, we care more about how the grounds look to us than how they look to passers-by and neighbors.

We did make some early mistakes. Right after the carpenters finished the house, we headed off to a plant nursery with a Polaroid photo of the front, and the plant consultant advised us to put in six shrubs for the front, commonly called foundation plantings. Three are still there.

We can barely see them from inside the house. Two are taxus, which fill the requirement that evergreens need to be planted in front of your house in order to have some green showing in the winter. When we regularly left the house, we could enjoy their beauty when we came back home. But this year, we rarely have gone anywhere.

This point was driven home to me recently when a friend posted on Facebook about how many berries her serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) produced this year. She enjoyed watching the birds come to eat them. We have a serviceberry, a replacement for one of the original foundation plants that died. It produced a lot of berries, but the plant is outside a corner of the house that has no windows, so I never saw the birds.

What you really want is a garden that will look good when you look out your windows. The most important view is the window above the kitchen sink, since, if your life is like ours, it is where you will spend a lot of time each day. From that spot, we see rhododendrons and azaleas in the spring, and hydrangeas, black-eyed Susans and daylilies as the summer progresses, with chamaecyparis and a dwarf white-tipped hemlock for winter. You would be amazed how much time is spent at the kitchen sink and how soothing the view is when you are working there.

My office (also called the guest room, but you guessed it, we rarely have guests anymore) has the same view, but from the second floor, so I benefit doubly from that landscape.

The view from Nancy’s computer space looks out on the most intensely planted part of our property, with peonies, actea, lilies, daylilies, other colorful perennials and many daffodils and tulips. This is the garden that greets people who venture down our 125-foot driveway and actually see the house. It’s not curb appeal, but it is impressive.

The problem with the garden, from Nancy’s literal point of view, is the bird’s nest spruce. We planted it about 35 years ago, relying on accepted nursery knowledge that it has an ultimate height of 3 feet. What I didn’t know then is that ultimate height means how tall the tree will be after 10 years. That tree is now 5 feet tall, and it’s only that short because I cut a foot off of it this spring. So Nancy can see the garden out of the window by her computer only when she is standing.

But when a person is standing, the view is wonderful. It looks over the close garden, a row of low-growing plants in front of the vegetable garden, the vegetable garden itself, a row of trees and shrubs along our boundary and some of the most wonderful sunsets imaginable.

When the time comes to renovate your garden, or start a new one, remember to first go inside and check the view from the windows closest to that garden. The view from the house is of prime importance.

Keeping your window view in mind when you’re planting can save you a lot of time spent cutting back evergreens and moving too tall shrubs later. But if we had a curb, planting with our window view in mind would give us nice curb appeal, too.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: