The Holiday Landscape: Design Details



Any design – whether it be landscape, garden or holiday design – pertinent to the front door involves much more than the door.  A front door comes with a house, that has a certain shape and size.  That door comes with a stoop or porch.  There is a walkway that gets you to that door.  There is a landscape that accompanies  that walk to the door.  Some doors have a portico, or a roof, or no shelter from the sky whatsoever. Some front doors are on the side of the house. Consideration of all these factors plays a big part in successful holiday design.  This is a house of considerable stature.  The drive court, walkway, and portico are all of a massive scale.  The house is a long way from the street.  Big and bright helps to make a holiday statement in proportion to all of the other existing elements.

The portico is massive, and supported by massive columns.  The door is somewhat dwarfed by the structure over head.  A garland, and integral wreath over the door visually lowers the ceiling.  The is a friendly gesture aimed at creating a more human scale.

The rectangular pots are large, and were designed to fit in between those columns.  A thicket of Cardinal red twig dogwood and berried Michigan holly stems makes a holiday statement that is visible from a long way away. There are but a four elements in these boxes, but there is a generous amount of each. These boxes also make that porch a more private space.   

This pair of front doors are painted a very dark grey.  The porch is wide, and very simple, as is the brick walk.  A pair of Belgian oak boxes are kept company by a pair of antique English chimney pots, and a single concrete French poodle.  The double ball moss topiaries with their twig top knots and vine swirls are 7 years old-they look great with that poodle.  This fall I added a new layer of moss to the old.  As the boxes are so large, I had no worry that the moss balls would be too big, given a new moss layer.  We stuffed mixed greens into the big boxes, and borth green and variegated English boxwood into the chimney pots.  A smaller scale green is a good choice for a smaller container. 

The dark doors asked for a detail that was light, or sparkly, or both.  I glued a pair of vintage gilded angel wings together via a wood plant label.  Short screws through both layers insured the wings would stay together.  A square of foam core board glued to the back was a base for a few layers of magnolia leaves.  A gold metallic bow in the middle speaks to the season.  This detail can be changed after New Years, as the pots will look welcoming all winter long. This detail endows the front door with the greetings of the season.

An asymmetrical placement of a front door asks for an asymmetrical treatment.  A low concrete planter with magnolia and red twig dogwood provides a compact landscape for a trio of nutcrackers.  The magnolia wreath on the front door-a third element providing holiday interest. 

These clients requested a winter theme for their containers.  The pussy willow centerpieces repeat the dark chocolate stain color of the concrete pots.  The curly willow provides a little loosely described volume without interfering to the access to the door.  The decor is very simple and understated, just like the door.  

This front door is part of a large porch which extends across the full width of the house.  The pots on either side of the door are always in shadow, given the roof of the porch.  A pair of pots integrated into the landscape provides an opportunity for winter interest at the half-way point from the sidewalk to the door.  These pots also provide a frame for a stately antique English sundial. This front yard brick terrace is a room of its own.  The stairs are a transition from that public space, to the more private porch space.  The central design issue here was all about making a drastic change of grade from the front yard to the front door seem graceful.

These containers are generously sized, and for good reason.

The house is tall, and a considerable distance from the street. The walkway to the front door originates at the driveway, and is laid parallel and close to the front of the house.  There is a vast amount of lawn between the street, and the front door.  These large pots with large winter arrangements provide a winter outfit for the entire house.

This front door has a small and intimate portico; the holiday garland makes much of this.  A holiday wreath on the glass storm door completes the look.

From the street, an entirely different feeling is at work.  A massive portico covers the front door, and its personal portico.  A pair of Christmas trees set in black ceramic pots make that door seem more important.  The firewood stacked outside and to the left of the front door adds visual interest, and balance, to the treatment of the doorway.  It is important to make much of the front door.  It is the friendliest gesture you might make to your guests.

This recessed front porch features a pair of wreaths hung from the iron fretwork of the pair of front doors.  The white glass ornaments in the wreaths echoes the white light covers on the tuteurs in the boxes.  A trio of coach lights makes this front door, and all that goes with it, seem all of a piece.

This big and rangy contemporary house features a very geometric and formally clipped landscape.  A pair of galvanized pots stuffed with Rob’s signature branches and weeds is a surprising effective foil for all this architecture.  The big idea here?  Study what you have.  Make no plans to cope.  Plan to shine.

The Front Door

I never use my front door-unless I am outside after work, watering my pots. If I am out there watering, the chances are very good that I will exchange hellos with people walking the neighborhood.  When company comes, I am on the inside looking out.  Why I would care how the landscape at my front door looks-simple.  My friends are walking up that walk.  We have a visit or a dinner planned.  I have every interest in making that walk welcome them.  It takes a little time to get to my front door from the street; any visitor has time to see what I have going on.   The front door pictured above-my clients were interested in making a change. 

Making friends feel welcome is but one of the ways that my landscape gives me pleasure. My clients had the same idea.  They changed the door and sidelights for the first time in twenty-some years.  Their choice of a new door and sidelights-a beautiful update.  Part of that update was a new pair of containers for the front porch.  A porch generous enough in size to accomodate both pots and guests; I like the size of the porch.  These chocolate stained concrete vase shaped pots, much larger, and much more emphatic-they make a statement.  Purchased just in time for the winter season, we filled them with twigs, dyed eucalyptus, and a wide densely constructed nest of cut greens. The scale of the planters and plantings frames the front door in such a way to make the invitation read from the street.  This also makes friends knocking on the front door feel welcome. 

Just today, we planted these pots for spring.  The winter centerpieces we kept.  The height of the twigs, and the mass of the eucalyptus, are scaled properly with the size of the door, and the size of the porch.    Guests approaching have a sense of the landscape at eye level-this is a friendly gesture.  How I landscape places in my yard where friends come to visit-I like that landscape to put its arms around my friends, and say hello. 

Some city gardens are built on very small properties.  A conscious choice was made here-to block the view of the front door with a luxurious square of boxwood, dominated by an antique urn.  I planted that urn very tall. How that planting obscures the front door makes the walk to the door an adventure.  Front yard landscapes have much to do with the relationship between the public presentation from the street, and the welcome issued to family and friends. 

This front walkway behind that urn planted very tall is actually an extension of a drivecourt.  A shallow porch benefits greatly from its overscaled width.  I so like the decision to do four pots on a narrow porch.  Everything about the numbers of pots, the placement and the planting influences to what extent you say hello, and welcome.

Some front doors are not symmetrically placed.  A tall portion of wall existed to the right of this front door.  A tall pot, barely visible here, is home to a planting of zebra grass and variegated plectranthus.  The planting is at eye level from the street.  The landscape successfully frames the front door. 

This client loves the big statement that her limelight hydrangeas make-they are glorious.  The view from the street to the front door-a long view.  Her contemporary faux bois selettes from France-they still read from a long ways away.  Up close, a mass planting of white New Guinea impatiens is complimented by lime green creeping jenny-the creeping is almost  4 feet long, come mid July.  There is no walk from  here to there-but there is a view that engages the eye in a lively way.

Not all porches permit pots placed symmetrically.  One planter at the door can be every bit as strong as a pair.  In this case, one giant planter is balanced by a substantial planter box.  The landscape obscures the walk.  This makes for a public presentation of the landscape separate from the private experience.  I live in an urban neighborhood.  This means I have concern about what I want to contribute to the beauty of the neighborhood, and how I might want to more personally welcome my guests. 

The back door of my property sees lots of action.  I load and unload the dogs every day-I park just 15 feet from the back door.  We take the trash out.  We come and go, and park here-all the time.  Treasured friends come in the back door regularly.  But my front door-the landscape and the pots-I have a thing about this special place.  It is my obligation and pleasure to present as beautiful a presentation as I can.  To the neighbors walking by.  To casual visitors driving by.  To special guests.  On my mind is what people driving by, and guests coming up the walk-what do they see?  What have I been so well mannered to put at their eye level.

Good manners?  Any guest of mine, I do try to consider their experience first- before I consider my own. Beautiful pots, overflowing with plants, at the front door-this is no doubt a gesture of respect, and affection.


How you handle the landscape and garden at your front door speaks much about you and your point of view.  Of course a front door is a transition from the outdoors into your home.  You welcome inside your friends and family here.  But you also retrieve your newspaper, wave to a neighbor, help a lost stranger, or pass out Halloween candy here. You make a statement to passersby. This front door is exceptionally friendly and welcoming; an entire garden frames a view of it front the street.    

This very formal front door is widely complimented by pillars and a pediment; the stone porch is equally as wide. There is room for a pair of formal pots colorfully planted with lots of flowers.  This makes for a different kind of garden at the front door.  The arrangement made by the door, the walk and porch, and the plantings makes a statment about your taste, your sense of hospitality, and your sense of community.  

This tudor is more than 90 years old; this original front door is copper.  A simple pair of pots planted with a low key color scheme keeps the visual focus on the door.   The subdued purple of the persian shield is a quiet foil to the orange of the brick and door. 

This contemporary house has a generous front porch and vaulted roof; the overscaled front door says a big and informal hello.  Multiple pots staged on the steps and create an entire landscape around that door.  A front walk proportional to the porch and door is a very important element in making a beautiful presentation. Evergreens in pots can bring the landscape right to the door.  Groups of pots make it possible to explore color and texture relationships from pot to pot. 

The door to this condominium is small, but a small space can be handled just as strongly as a large one.  The wood detail on the wall which culminates in a light globe positioned above the wall, and below the roof soffit is a very interested architectural detail.  The white wire pot, and topiary makes a strong reference to that detail.  Composed entirely of artificial materials based on natural forms, the arrangement draws the eye away from the garage, and towards the door.  My client travels a lot for work; this arrangement suits her.  She is always ready for company, even if she has just been away for a week.  

Front doors buried in a covered porch can be dark.  This front door is glass and iron; once you are on the porch, you can see in.  From a landscape perspective, the large drivecourt left only a very small space to plant.  A pair of dogwoods planted in a groundcover of boxwood will grow up and frame the tall entrance. The groundcover” could concievably grow to 30″-36″; this makes a green statement from the street in a way that a recumbent plant could not.  A pair of boxes planted with hydrangeas on standard is an added landscape element which did not have to be in the ground. 

This home and its front doors are simply designed; the white is beautiful and appropriate.  The limestone slabs in the lawn add emphasis to the approach to the door.  The planting is low and modest, but very wide.  This contrast to the narrowness and height of the doors is striking.  My clients, both of whom are interior designers, created this front door landscape out on their own.  They did a gorgeous job of it.   

The approach to a front door is important. A front door may be seen from the street, but the experience of arriving there can be a visual gift to guests. It is one of those spots in a landscape that can be changed with the season, or event.  If you are like me, you come home to a side door, or come in the house via the garage.  But whether you host a dinner party, a new neighbor, a fund raising event, or your daughter’s fiance, they will be coming to the front door. What will you do there?