Berkshire Garden Style: Is Curb Appeal a Thing in the Country?
Curb appeal. Does it exist in the country?
Curb appeal = making things look “nice.” In suburbia, people design houses and public buildings so that they look good to passersby. As you walk down the street you see a path leading to a front door adorned with a seasonal wreath, a nice mailbox, maybe the street number attached to a nice planter; you may notice the house’s foundation and what’s planted against the front of the house. It looks, or should look, inviting and pretty. Well thought out.
A tree doing Tree Pose outside this yoga studio.
This client wants visitors to be greeted by lushness and color.
As a gardener, I’m invested in what an entrance looks like, especially since I specialize in entrance gardens with my clients. My clients seek my help in creating a welcoming experience for their home. But a “welcome” feeling isn’t about communicating a come one come all invitation. Curb appeal is more nuanced than that. It’s your face to the community, but it communicates a delineation: here is how I define my space from the rest of the space out there, my community. So, I have resistance to curb appeal that’s simply a slap-on of “nice,” because it flies in the face of the slow cultivation and sense of purpose I value as someone who manipulates landscapes and works to help people feel their land and plants reflect who they are as humans.
The architectural details alone are the appeal of this restored 18th century country home.
Contrast the stark façade above with this cloistered entrance to one of my long-time client properties.
In thickly settled areas, there can be a cookie-cutter approach to curb appeal – except in more affluent communities where a homeowner may have more freedom to create an individualized appearance, to be a bit more creative with plant material and aesthetics (if they dare). But how beholden are we to curb appeal in the country? If you go onto a dirt road, such as the one where Viridissima’s headquarters are and where my home is, there's no clear formula. Some of the homes show a friendly face. Some are not visible from the street. The curb appeal becomes a weathered post with a street number at the end of the driveway, or a line of trees. Some houses are open in front, exposed to anyone who may drive by. My home, though, is becoming less visible from the street over time as I take down large trees and put up fences.
My house, peeking through the overgrowth and undergrowth. Some might see my meadow as
“overgrown” and therefore neglected, but I see it as a home inhabited by someone with a love
for plants (and privacy).
Some people may think it rude to put up fences. When I did, my self-proclaimed grumpy forester-neighbor-friend was like, “Oh, you’re one of those people now?” While I know he was teasing, this made me a little self-conscious – what does it mean to install a privacy/screening fence along my property? What does curb appeal say about who we are? But I think my choice was the right one: I want my property to look inhabited, even as I embrace the wildness of the Berkshire Hill towns. For me, curb appeal in the country has to do with creating defined boundaries between observer and inhabitant. The fence does more than screen my home from passersby – it keeps the dogs in. The front of my home is actually a very functional space, and it’s not about cutting out the community, but creating a clean delineation.
This proud house felt raw without these new plantings buffering the yard from the drive and without the graduated growth between the house and the woods. It’s still open in the back to preserve the view, but the approach is softened with these added boundaries.
Boundaries are more inviting than boundlessness. Boundlessness is overwhelming. There’s no context, nothing to connect with, no bend to get around to see the other side. It’s all right there, out in the open. I’d rather wonder what someone is doing behind the hedge rather than seeing them there, waiting for me to stop.
A gentle curve in the drive combined with differently leveled plantings makes this entrance both dynamic and inviting.
So, yeah, curb appeal is a thing in the country. It’s just different. People live in the country for privacy, for the space to enjoy or use. Our properties may be the place not just where we live, but where we work or house our businesses (like I do), where we change our snow tires, where we chop and stack our firewood, where we let our pets roam, where we grow our food, etc.
Is curb appeal a thing for a shack in the woods? You betcha! Particularly at
Cooper Hill Farm’s plant stand in Ashley Falls.
Thinking about curb appeal in the country gets me thinking about the tenets of Berkshire Garden Style and how I always come back to the idea that beauty is functionality. Curb appeal in the country isn’t just prettiness to fit a mold and please others, there’s often purpose built in. (And that’s not to say that the same functionality can’t exist in more populated areas – we see that more and more, I think, with rooftop gardens and vegetable patches in city neighborhoods and the “hellstrip” pollinator gardens. But because of obvious space constraints, it simply occurs less.) That’s what the country aesthetic is, to me. It embraces authenticity. You can go into someone’s pretty home and see their bundle of birch logs they never burn neatly stacked in their unused fireplace. Or, you can see the stack of firewood next to a woodstove, leaving its splinters and crumbs of bark behind. To me, the latter is the lovelier because it tells a story of utility, of the human and natural bound together. The country aesthetic – and by extension, country curb appeal – encompasses the BGS theory that one’s experience of moving through a space and how we use that space ought to dictate its design.
Nobody adorns a door like my dear friend and mentor, Barbara Bockbrader.
Beautiful. Utilized by humans and felines alike.
Utility and the human-natural bond is especially noticeable to me at this time of year when considering the seasonal holiday decorations. I was looking at various holiday containers and trying to find the aesthetic that worked for me as I was preparing to do some myself. When I come across colorful holiday planters decorated with bright, plastic baubles, they seem to detract from the setting. The bows and baubles read to me as commercialism over celebration of or reverence for something. If I think of it as “winter decor,” it opens me to create an aesthetic that is resonant of the season, that evokes a feeling that connects me to the land and what the Earth is doing right now and is sustainable beyond December 26th. I’m particularly inspired by Pamela Hardcastle’s winter planters. Her designs consider the whole experience. You almost don’t notice them. She has great giant hollow rotting stumps with evergreens growing out of them (in downtown Great Barrington).
At Viridissima, when we empty our clients’ winter containers, it all goes into the compost dump in the woods. Occasionally, when we’re dragging our tarp to the woods, we find styrofoam wreaths from past inhabitants. They might be five or even ten years old, the skanky plastic ribbon still attached. Sometimes, we dig into the compost and turn up old broken baubles from Christmases past, accidentally tossed out with the desiccated Pine boughs. Maybe that’s what bothers me about some urban/suburban curb appeal: the sense that it’s decorative yet disposable. Easily replaced and therefore meaningless. In a rural setting (and really, it doesn’t have to be rural per se, but in a property that holds the BGS tenets of utility = beauty, that heeds and respects the land surrounding the domicile), you can’t easily replace the path that’s been worn through a property by years of people walking there, nor the way the sun has weathered the woodshed and the stack of wood, nor the fact that certain parts of the property will be complete mud come spring. In the country, we don’t throw things away if we can help it – we compost them. And if you do that with a plastic wreath, it’s going to come back to haunt you.
All garden-foraged…White Pine, Cypress, Red Osier Dogwood, and Winterberry. No more, no less.
The kind of decor and curb appeal that I work towards doesn’t have a lot of vivid color and sparkle, just well-placed elements that echo the landscape and further enhance the space. The appeal is the slow-burn of wear and use as opposed to the slap-it-on/tack-it-up version of decoration that’s so common, that’s more about commercialism than deep consideration of why we choose to decorate with this or that item. The things that come from and reflect our environment, that draw out elements to make us more attuned to what’s already around us. I want to make whatever I’m highlighting relevant to the landscape that is already here.
This is Berkshire Garden Style.