Landscaping Faux Pas # 2: Front Walks that Fall Flat

By July 6, 2009November 22nd, 2011No Comments
Thank you to all of our entrants and congratulations to Bobbie Schwartz, the winner of our Landscaping Faux Pas Book Giveaway Contest, who will receive a signed copy of Julie’s book, Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love. Bobbie’s blog post on contractor front walks is the subject of the latest blog in our Landscaping Faux Pas series, below.
flow_blog1A straight, narrow front walk A curved, wider front walk
Images from Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love, p. 118
Bobbie writes:

Dear Julie:

How often, when visiting a client for the first time, do you approach the front door by means of a narrow concrete sidewalk (front walk) that has only enough width for one person at a time? Keeping in mind the fact that visitors frequently arrive in pairs, don’t you think a sidewalk should be wide enough for two people to walk side by side? That concrete sidewalk is most often stark white although time and the weather may have dimmed the color a bit but why couldn’t the walk be created with tinted concrete that complements the color of the house? Nor does the walk have to be an L-shape composed of two straight lines, one from the driveway and then the perpendicular to the front door. It’s certainly the cheapest method of constructing a sidewalk but far from attractive.

Another problem with such sidewalks is that they are usually set out only a few feet from the house, thus creating very shallow planting beds between the house and the walk. Then plants are arranged like soldiers because there is insufficient space to create a composition. One of the essential elements of composition is layering, i.e.groupings of plants that have different heights, forms, and textures. This type of composition creates interesting landscapes that, hopefully, change with the seasons. When you are given the opportunity to change these beds, usually by ripping out the existing walk, remember to create a shape that echoes or works off of the lines of the house. Also keep in mind that foundation plantings did not always exist. In England of the 1500’s and 1600’s, lawn came all the way up to the house. Foundation plantings came into existence when the foundations of homes were raised. At that time, plantings were used to hide the ugly foundations. Even though such an imperative no longer exists, the tradition has continued.

A walkway to a house in the Danielson Grove pocket neighborhood
Photo: Ken Gutmaker; Architect: Ross Chapin Architects;
Landscape Architects: Triad Associates; Plantsman: Todd Paul
Image from Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love, p. 118

Bobbie makes some excellent points; why have a front walk with sharp angles that limits garden space when you can have a wider, curved walk that creates space for plantings and takes visitors on a journey rather than a direct route from point A to point B? The good news is that an interesting front walk can easily be had by any homeowner, even one looking to keep costs down. The photo above shows the sidewalk and front walk in a community of homes where the use of concrete cuts costs and the spacing from the house leaves plenty of room for eye-catching plantings. The walk draws attention to the plants that animate the front of the cottage and warmly invites visitors in. The bottom line is that although front walks are often overlooked, they provide visitors with one of their first impressions as they enter your property. Give as much thought to your walk as you would to any other portion of your Home Outside.

And… while you’re thinking about front walks, chances are you’ll notice other Landscaping Faux Pas. Tell us about them by submitting a comment below–your entry may be the subject of one of the next blogs in the Faux Pas series!