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Get Your Spring On 

How's Your Curb Appeal?

Garden design should be driven by personal style. It's a matter of curb appeal - that certain indefinable something that makes passersby stop and take notice.

The first step to creating curb appeal is to treat the outside of your home more like the inside of your home. The yard and porch, says Cindy Nivala of Down the Garden Path, are spaces just waiting to bloom. She encourages homeowners to think botanically. Plants of every imaginable variety can be arranged in containers of every size, shape, texture, color and style.

Containers are a natural for outside decorating, offering the newest finishes, textures and design motifs, along with the convenience of portability. "That's what's so great about pots," says Nivala. "It's a miniature garden. We can move it."

Being able to position and reposition your containers is especially useful this time of year. Instead of waiting for warmer weather, you can plant your spring flowers now and move them under the porch or into the garage if a sudden frost happens along.

The well-placed container is an aesthetic statement. "You can use containers to be a focal point, to mark an entryway. There are so many uses for them," says Peggy Ford, owner of Glorious Gardens. "We don't think a garden is complete without containers."

How dramatic a statement a container makes depends on a variety of factors—where it's positioned, how striking the container itself is, and—of course—what's inside.

Nivala favors a decadent approach to planting. "You always want to overstuff your pots because they always get more stupendous." She recommends blending textures, colors and shapes to create a harmonious whole.

David Seward of James River Nurseries says the most appealing pots are those with layers of flowers and foliage. The first and highest level is composed of upright plants, stretching to heights of 30 or more inches. Seward likes using purple fountain grass for this layer, or perhaps dracaena with its thick dark green or purplish burgundy leaves. Another option is to build a small trellis to prop up cypress vine with its diminutive red blooms or morning glories in white, purple or pink.

Then, go down a level to plants that top out at 12 to 15 inches. Artemisia, with its silvery feathery foliage, is one of Seward's favorites. "It softens the whole planter," he says.

Next come the shorter plants—the ones that fill in the edges of the container and trail over the sides. Seward recommends ground-creeping wave petunias for this level. Or scaevola, with its trailing purple flowers.

The goal is balance - mixing colors and heights and shapes and textures to create a small-scale garden. Balance, however, is not enough. If you want pots that get noticed by passersby - that are chock full of personality and character - then go for the bold, the bright, the strange and unusual.

Don't limit yourself to the same shades found inside your house. If you love orange, but have shied away from tangerine upholstery, this is your chance to indulge in a favorite shade.

Try a variety of plants as well. "People don't use houseplants enough outside," says Nivala. "They look great mixed with impatiens." Herbs also make good mixers. Rosemary and lavender will add texture and fragrance. Plus they can be clipped to flavor a meal or scent a sachet.

And then there's the container that holds it all together. "There are so many materials now," says Ford. Look beyond the standard terra cotta to aged metal, crackle-finished ceramic, wood, stone and mosaic vessels. There's a wide range of planters on the market to choose from—as well as a number of other containers ripe for transformation.

Seward recommends sawed-open whiskey barrels, broken crocks angled so that the blooms spill out upon the ground, and even old boots. Choose a container that expresses your personal style. Planted with your favorite botanicals, it's sure to become a neighborhood attraction. "A container is an important element of the garden—as important as a sculpture," says Ford. HS



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