sealPurdue News

May 3, 1996

Landscaping can make your front yard an outdoor room

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Ground-cover floor. Shrubbery walls. Leafy ceiling. Sounds like a room for bunnies and other critters, doesn't it? Not necessarily so, according to Bruno Moser.

"Gardens around the home are an extension of the living space from the inside out," says Moser, a Purdue University Extension specialist in landscaping. "There's no reason the front yard can't be a room -- or two. There's no reason you shouldn't walk out the front door into a garden instead of an unimaginative monoculture of green grass."

Moser hastens to add that turf has its place, for instance, as a play space for children. But, he says, there are many ways to treat residential lots.

"The typical, classical landscape textbook says your front yard belongs to the public," he says, "but I'd like to suggest that, no, it actually belongs to you, and you should view it as something you want to look out into."

A landscape design that's pleasing to look out at from your home also can look nice from the street, Moser says. In fact, it could become a traffic stopper.

"If it's original enough, people will slow down and look or walkers will stop and look around," he says. "And if it's successful enough, the idea will spread. It can have a positive effect on the neighborhood."

If your home happens to be on a small lot, treating your front yard as yours also can be practical. Historically, Moser says, landscape architecture professors have taught that residential lots are divided into three areas: the public area (front yard), the private area (backyard), and the service area (for the gas meter, garbage can, etc.) However, in urban areas where lot size may be very small, every square inch could be utilized by homeowners. For instance, Moser says people in Europe often incorporate vegetable gardens into the front yard landscape to take advantage of limited space. The same idea has taken root in a few urban areas of the United States, as well.

Still having trouble visualizing outdoor rooms? You're not alone. According to Moser, many people have trouble imagining the concept. He says not many books emphasize this approach, but a good garden center or nursery will have personnel who can help. He suggests that folks who are intrigued with the idea, but unsure if they want to take a wholesale approach, begin with foundation plantings and grass. Then they can work in landscape beds from the edges of the turf, for example at property borders and sidewalks. These beds can be gradually filled in until they become larger and the turf area shrinks.

Moser recommends three plant heights to create your outdoor room. Ground covers, such as juniper, cotoneaster, euonymus, vinca and pachysandra, form the floor. Herbaceous perennials also will work, he says, and there are hundreds of them in a variety of colors and textures. Shrubs, such as viburnums, deciduous hollies, contorted hazelnut, red- and yellow-twigged dogwoods, and oak-leaved hydrangea, make up the walls. A window effect can even be achieved by selecting low-growing shrubs you can see over, such as spireas, potentillas and mugho pine, for a portion of the wall. Earthen berms and structural fencing also can contribute to the wall effect. Large shrubs or small trees, such as magnolias, flowering dogwood, redbud and serviceberry, shape the ceiling.

"To create a ceiling over the whole yard," Moser says, "you can use shade trees like ash, maple and honey locust. Their branches create a wide-spreading canopy."

He cautions that creating dense shade can inhibit the growth of smaller plants underneath.

Adding outdoor rooms won't necessarily create more "housework," Moser says, because landscape plantings need less frequent maintenance than turf, which must be mowed regularly. The use of mulch around the plantings minimizes the workload even more.

"You can choose plants and designs for low maintenance," he says. "More of a showplace may require higher maintenance."

Most maintenance will be during plant establishment, he says, with occasional watering, weed pulling, and possibly once-a-year pruning.

"Typically, little fertilizer and few pesticides are required," Moser says. "Relative to turf, this is much more environmentally friendly and ecologically sound. It's a positive step in the direction of creating a sustainable ecosystem in your front yard."

And don't be surprised if bunnies and other critters do take up residence in your outdoor room.

ACS code/960503 Ag Moser1/9605f5

Source: Bruno Moser, (765) 494-1352; Internet,

Writer: Andrea McCann, (765) 494-8406; Internet,

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