After waiting out The Winter That Wouldn’t End, I found myself avoiding going out into the front garden to to take care of the plants and clean up all of the dead leaves and debris (mostly cigarette butts, grocery bags and flattened Styrofoam cups, with the occasional dead mouse thrown in just for excitement) that had accumulated in front of our house. Sometimes I forget that the front of the house even exists — once we’re inside, we tend to hole up there like hermits.
Rake in (gloved) hand, though, I forced myself to do it, and I wound up feeling like I want to make an effort to make the front of the house look pretty again. When we first moved in, one of the first things we did was take care of the outside, which was just dead grass and weeds at the time. It was — and is — very important to us that our neighbors see that we care about our community when they look at our house. At the time, there wasn’t much going on in the way of landscaping/flowers/plants on our block, but over the years, I’ve noticed more little gardens and flowerpots appearing here and there. I’d like to think that’s at least in part due to us. Maybe. Front gardens matter.
In 2009, we started working on the exterior of the house itself. We had the bricks repointed and the wood cornice repaired and painted by a contractor, and we gave the porch a pretty substantial overhaul ourselves (here’s a before and after). We still need to have the exterior of the original windows repaired and repainted, but that will take time…and money. It can wait. The house isn’t going anywhere. I just never want it to look like this again.
I made this little path a few years out of fire bricks salvaged from our chimney repair. I didn’t do it the “right” way with crushed stone and sand underneath and all that, I really just dug out an area, set the bricks down, and packed dirt into the cracks. I was prepared for it to get out of whack with the first heavy rain, but it’s been just fine. After the winter I do have to re-set them a bit, but I like how soft they look, especially now that there’s a bit of moss growing between them.
Under the porch there’s a set of slate steps leading down the the basement entrance. At the bottom are my favorite bricks, arranged in sort of semi-herringbone pattern. They were buried under several inches of dirt when we bought the house…a happy discovery that makes my little path seem pretty silly! I love that these mossy old bricks are still almost completely level after more than 120 years.
That’s the whole house! Our property ends precisely at the edge of our house on either side — the white cornice belongs to the house attached to ours (we’re first in a row of four identical houses). It’s CRAZY to see how much the boxwood row as grown in five years. This is what it looked like when we planted it! It’s also crazy to see how dedicated I used to be to planting stuff…and how good our carpet roses used to look. They’re so scraggly now that I didn’t even bother taking a photo. Sigh. Maybe this weekend I’ll head over to the garden center and pick up some colorful things to plant! The main problem I’ve had is that the garden gets SO much daylight — like super intense sunshine all day long (I took these photos in the early evening). There are no trees on our street, so shade is non-existent. Even plants that are supposedly tolerant of full sun have wound up croaking after a month or two.
I’d also like to rip out all of the grass between our garden and the sidewalk. It’s impossible to keep looking nice, and mowing it is a pain since all we have is an electric edge-trimmer. Maybe juniper or something else low-lying? I’m sure people will step on it, so it needs to be pretty durable.
And for the Sylvester-fans (you know, this guy), you’ll be happy to know the neighborhood tough guy is still hanging in there and keeping guard over our house. Another neighbor (she calls him “Beauty” — UGH) feeds him, too, and he has at least a couple of porch beds to choose from these days. He’s a good kitty.
That gray cat just appeared out of nowhere last weekend, stretched out under the boxwoods like he owned the place. I don’t know what his deal is, but he’s super-friendly. I think he probably belongs to someone. I don’t like other cats hanging out on Sylvester’s turf, though, so hopefully that was his single appearance.
I love making our front garden pretty. Every year again in fall the little ones and I pick out lots of bulbs to sprinkle all over the front garden. In Spring it is so exciting to watch them grow, when we forgot which bulb went where and every little flower is a surprise.
Cute kitties by the way 🙂
Why not plant creeping marjoram and prostrate rosemary? They’re tough–they survive a southwestern, unshaded exposure in north Texas–and they smell good when you step on ’em. The marjoram might look a little wonky over the winter, but I imagine there’s enough snow to make it not matter.
Hi Jo, prostrate rosemary is a little too lanky/droopy to plant so close to the sidewalk (I need something very compact), but maybe creeping marjoram is worth a shot. I’ve had very bad luck with creeping thyme, but maybe the marjoram is more durable. Thanks!
An alternative to replacing the grass with a different plant would be using a river rock or flagstone. It’s what I want to do to our little patch of “grass” (which is impossible to keep alive because it bakes all day in the sun) between the sidewalk and street, but the husband doesn’t like the idea. We’re moving soon, so I’ve given up trying to convince him.
It’s awesome seeing how much stuff grows over time. We completely redid our front yard last year when the drought started killing off the established tropicals we inherited with the property and replaced them with natives. So far the majority survived the first year.
Stone would be great, but it’s wayyyyy out of our budget. It would have to be laid the “right” way, which involves various layers of sediment (crushed stone, sand, etc.) being tamped down and leveled. We’d have to hire someone to do it since it would be in a liability-zone — we couldn’t take the chance of anything being out of level or creating a tripping hazard since it’s right by the sidewalk. We’re just not physically capable of doing that kind of project ourselves, unfortunately.
Moss (aka nature’s astroturf)?? Maybe too dry where you are, though…
Those kitties are hilarious. Love the little lion shot. Roar!
We had a grey cat show up last summer…similar ‘tude, too. Our cat ran him off. He was cute but extremely naughty.
Moss by nature needs shade and moisture in order to thrive. There are some species that can survive in full sun, but they need LOTS of moisture in order to get established. I’m not really willing to use up so much water just to force it to happen. Better to go with a plant that’s happy to be in full sun all day (yet can tolerate periods of heavy rain and freezing winters/snow).
Eep….I live in the PNW so just forget everyone else doesn’t get this water logged. Maybe there are plants indigenous to your planting zone that you like the look of?
I love how much love has gone into this house. It makes me happy just thinking about it.
Thanks, Jo. It makes me happy too. 🙂
You have done so much to the exterior! It looks phenomenal now compared to before. I can’t believe how much those bushes have grown. Also, my back balcony gets so much sunlight everything dies out there too. I’m finding that succulents like aloe survive best out here because they are really the only plants that can handle it!
Kitties are the best part of any yard. (The rest looks great too.)
What a lovely home!
You probably get a lot of notes from fellow house restorers. My son, who also has a BFA degree but needed to find a satisfying way to earn a living, has taken on the huge restoration project of a badly deteriorated historic house in Anaconda, MT. He doesn’t have a blog but does have a facebook page dedicated to the house and the work. You might enjoy taking a look. He works alone, has creative control of all decisions, and will rely on his aesthetic sense to make a success of this project. His page is “bom Restoration” and, as you can see, the work will be challenging.
Your blog should serve as an inspiration to him!
I’m looking at his FB page right now, “Name”! What an amazing house. Thank you for sharing. 🙂
Since you don’t have any shade, maybe you should plant a street tree. Lots of cities have street tree programs and will actually plant trees along blocks if the neighbors request it.
Yes, Newburgh does have a shade tree commission! I’m not sure whether I want street trees on our block, though? There are a lot of maintenance problems in Newburgh (that’s putting it mildly), and…well, it’s exhausting to think about. I have planted a couple of smaller shade trees on my property, though, as you can see in the photo. 🙂
I am from the country so I do not think I could live without a big yard lol but I am sure the city is worth it to you. I love the improvements you did especially the wood. And I adore the cats they are to cute. I had a gray one like the first one and had to leave her back home when we moved 🙁
Your house is gorgeous. So much character.
Leila (from Australia)
You little brick path is perfect! I totes agree with you in that you want your neighbors to know you care about your home. I think as we were doing a ton of things to our house these past few months it has motivated a few of our neighbors as well. Isn’t spring time so fun when you own a home?
Your home is so wonderfully charming! I love every detail that you mentioned and love that not only do you inspire your readers, but your neighbors as well!
Your home is so nice and different!
Regarding your front garden- what about lavender, satureja montana (and other hardy mediterranian herbs) … they are mostly used to being out in the full sun, smell so good and provide ground cover? We have an area in the garden which gets full sun most of the day and the herbs mentioned above are doing great there- and even in dry hot summers, I rarely water the plants.
Your blog is very inspirational: thank you for sharing your projects!
Oops, me again, I just had a look at the pictures from 2007 which show that you had planted lavender (and satura montana)? How do they fare in your front yard?
It all died after two seasons. 🙁 I even completely changed the soil for better drainage before planting. Sad, because it looked beautiful while it lasted.
How do you feel about some taller native grasses – such as Panicum virgatum? Panicum is a native meadow grass – tough enough for full sun and looks good (as a dried grass) through winter.
You could also try some dwarf cultivars of Ilex verticillata? It is pretty tough and has a really bold winter look.
Also – it may be a little bit of an acquired taste, but check out Eryngium yuccifolium.
Just some random plant thoughts from a plant-obsessed high rise dweller 🙂
Thanks Melissa, I’d prefer to go with something low-lying in this particular setting, both because of the existing plants (i.e. the row of boxwoods) and in order to maintain the consistency of the general appearance of the other homes on my street.
The house on the left looks so crappy but it makes your house look absolutely stunning… 🙂
I think my house would still look pretty good next to a well-maintained neighbor, Bob, but thanks.
Actually, it’s the other way around: that crappy house on the left looks even worse when compared to yours!
Your house is magnificent, keep up the good work!
always love your blog and you have inspired me to give tiling a go in my bathroom!
Just had to comment for a little garden tip: If you are having plants in the front garden die given the full sun, it is most possibly just a lack of water. Here in Perth, Western Australia, we have just gotten through the hottest summer on record, peaking at 42 degrees (107 fahrenheit for you guys) and the only way to keep stuff alive in full sun is watering really well, every day.
Anyway, hope you don’t mind – you may already do this, but I just had to share!
thanks for the constant inspiration 🙂
Hi Alex, of course I don’t mind. 😉 My goal is actually to plant things that are sun/drought tolerant (while still being able to handle periods of heavy rain and of course freezing winters and snow), since constant watering is neither feasible nor ecologically sound. The best bet for areas like this is really to go with indigenous species that will thrive with minimal fussing, like the juniper I mentioned.
Mmm, grand old brick homes always make me want to move out east. Your home looks lovely.
Wonder if bugleweed would stand-up to the traffic your front area receives. It seems to do pretty well in our front pathway. Ours is variegated with a deep red/purple (would look good with the trees). Phlox subulata would work really well too, but it might not like being stepped all over. I’ve got one other in the back garden between the stones, that I can’t remember the name of (which does not help you at all!) – will find the name, it has survived two kids and southern exposure for three years now.
Hi Jenn, I have lots of bugleweed in the backyard, actually — it does very well back there where the sun is less intense. I haven’t tried it in front, but I’m looking to plant something lower-lying and more similar in appearance to grass so it blends in more with the style of the surrounding houses.
I did actually try phlox subulata several years ago (you can see it in the post I linked from 2007), but it couldn’t handle the heavy rains.
I think creeping juniper will work quite well!
Hi Anna! The house looks wonderful! This has absolutely nothing to do with your post, but please tell me that you bought the new NARS blush in “Boys Don’t Cry”…
No, I didn’t know about it, but I’ll have to check it out! 😀
Anna, Your place looks so loved! The porch ceiling is fantastic and the little courtyard is so beautiful! I was going to suggest thyme for a ground cover, but I see that you had already tried that. Our cat loved lounging in it and it just seemed to grow more hardy with abuse of walking on.
Just one concern…about the ivy growing over your cornice. Is this something you can control? Just thinking of possible rot. It would be a shame to have it start to take over. My mother-in-laws house had this issue. I neglected to detect the ivy growing late one fall and before the following May yard clean-up the ivy had pretty much taken over the brick foundation and had started up the wood siding. I had to dig out the vines and reseal and paint the siding that was affected. Just an FYI!
Hi Julie, those are actually grape vines you see climbing around the cornice, not ivy. It isn’t hurting the brick/mortar or the wood cornice. We’d love to dig it all up, but our neighbor won’t let us walk on his property in order to do so. Yes, we could probably still do it legally, but there is no easement on record and he is very “difficult,” so we just leave it alone…
That blue boy could be my Gabi’s twin! The resemblance is uncanny. It if he’s anything like my boy Sylvester might be in for a fight.
I was thinking hardy lavender (Zones 4-9) might work. They need water in their first year to get established, but then they are virtually maintenance free. My old house has a south facing slope in the front and it gets beat with the southern sun, so I feel you on what to plant. Given that our place is a stucco Mediterranean, I went with Mediterranean herbs which are drought tolerant and like crappy soil. It’s probably a bit too messy and haphazzard for what you’re looking for though.
Allium ought to do well there and have the type of structure and striking geometry that could work for you.
Purple sheeps burr might work as well.
Dwarf witch alder might be interesting too
If I think of anything else, I’ll post….
Gorgeous architecture! I love all the brick and little stairways. Good luck!
Gorgeous! The difference between the before and after shots is amazing.
This reminded me of you:
I think I have a new summer project on my hands, if I can get a hold of some triangles remnants.
i have pachysandra in my front yard which gets lots of sun. so far most of it is holding up. it was there when we bought the house so i don’t know how difficult it can be to plant it.
Seriously Anna, you guys did such an amazing job restoring your beautiful home. I mean repointing is not fun (to do or pay for) nor is restoring old woodwork. It looks like a loved home.
Wow, I’ve been reading your blog for awhile and don’t recall ever seeing the outside of your house. It’s beautiful. I didn’t know it was a row house. Very cool. The cornice is gorgeous! I love the color you painted it but think it is a little jarring to see that it is not unified with the neighbors. Is this a standard practice among row houses, that each owner does their own thing? Have you ever talked to your neighbors about painting the cornice and trim all the same color?
Also, I’m so intrigued by your neighborhood. I don’t know anything about it but I love old buildings. (I live in Seattle.) If you are ever up for it, I’d love to see a blog post featuring more of the neighborhood, other houses, businesses, maybe even a little history.
OMG I LOVE the cute cats in the end haha:) I have two cats myself and I cant live without them EVER. I follow your blog now.
If you want some cute Swedish decor inspiration..check out my blog:)
Have a great week dear
LOVE Maria from inredningsvis.se
How I miss bricks. So much. Your exterior is really nice. I like the porch ceiling…..and did I spot a rain chain? Does it work well? I think I’ve specified one once before but I can’t remember why.
In my experience animals tend to let each other know where the friendly people live and where there might be treats. That’s my theory as to how I wound up with so many living at my house. The bricks are great. How cool that they’re still level and solid after so long!
Pachysandra…of one variety ore another would do nicely here. It does grow well in full sun however I’ve found most sources call it a shade plant. I have both native and Japanese varieties and both are in full sun and are quite happy ground covers. It tolerates a lot of abuse quit nicely.
Also there is a really pretty ornamental raspberry (Rubus?) that might do well here.
Plant zone matters…but with the sidewalk and lots of sun, you might be surprised. It’s so fun to have something unusual thriving where it’s not supposed to. As long as it doesn’t take over, that is.
Thanks Julie, I have loads of Pachysandra in my back garden and it does do well (though it’s much more shady back there), but it’s taller than I’d like for the front area. I’ll look into the ornamental raspberry. 🙂
This is very OT, but I saw this and I thought of you. Maybe you have already seen it around?:
It’s a messenger bag from Littlephant desinged by Camilla Lundsten. Well, technically it’s a nursery bag, but it also says it fits a 17 inch laptop, and it’s described as an everyday bag. I’m soo getting one even though I don’t have kids.
I will be buiyng this model:
Love your house. There is just something magical about Victorians. I love all their ornate detailing. And yes I love your semi-herringbone brick path too. I also think you did a great job with the brick path. Good luck with the renovations. Summer and sunshine is just around the corner.
Your porch ceiling is exactly what we’ve planning to do with ours! We just purchased a fixer upper (and will be moving soon), and we can’t wait to attack the front. Did you post a tutorial on your blog at some point on how you did the ceiling?
I love the outside of your house!! It is so cute & exactly what I’d hope a house would look like if I were to buy one, especially around NYC. I would need some good gardening space, though; I’m currently growing herbs & a few plants on my back porch in Queens! You could try to plant some hostas out front, they are incredibly durable. My mom’s come up every year, bigger and bigger, back in Iowa. They also get walked through by our dogs and there’s frequently small animals around them but they’re resilient. You could sprinkle some annuals in there each spring to brighten it up, too, like impatiens or marigolds.
Just found your blog. Your site is really great, and I love what I have seen so far…also, it is really awesome you have porch cats too! I have a few of them, and it is really wonderful that our neighbors help feed them, as do yours! Can’t wait to keep reading your blog.
Regards to plants that survive extreme heat, & slight nelect, lavendar & rosemary are the way to go ( at least here in australia). There are also lavendar varieties that will act as ground cover. Maybe talk to your garden/ nursery store & see if they will be suitable.
I like your house though. I love the simple front garden you have. Since I live in an apartment, I don’t have much of a garden to take care of but every time I go home to my parents’ house, I do experience the same pressure especially during winter as we have a front garden there as well. But what I love most about your house are the stairs that lead to the basement? It gives the house a mysterious feel. Love it.
I love your house numbers. Did you make them? If not, care to reveal your source? Thanks for sharing your lovely and inspiring restoration!
Hi Joanne, the house numbers were designed by Erik Spiekermann for DWR. They’re no longer in production, unfortunately.
Thanks, Anna. Ah well, back to the search…
I don’t mean to be “stalker-ish” but I hope you are doing okay? I miss you! Can’t wait to see what you’ve been up to.
Your house is sooooo gorgeous!!