To increase your home's "curb appeal" and its sense of welcome for a visitor, develop a plan for your front gardens that incorporates colorful flowers during the entire growing season. Also design garden beds that complement your home's architecture and mesh with your community's rules. Fill your new beds with flowering perennials, which are plants that usually die back to the ground during winter but return in spring. Choose plants that are well-suited to the growing conditions, and space them in an arrangement that shows them to the best advantage. Add annuals -- plants that live for only one growing season -- to fill some areas with extra color.
Before you plant, sketch the planned beds on paper, including the size of each bed, to help correctly space new plants. Also consider the best way to match the plan to your home's style. For example, use curving beds on each side of a symmetrical Colonial home, or use gracefully undulating beds to complement the straight lines of a contemporary home.
Before purchasing plants, observe the light conditions along the front of your house during a typical day, deciding whether each planned bed area is in full sun -- at least six hours of direct sunlight daily -- or partially to fully shaded most of the day. Also evaluate the soil; if it's rich in clay and tends to drain poorly, use a spade to mix in 2 or 3 inches of coarse sand to improve drainage. It's also a good idea to boost the soil's fertility by mixing in a few inches of compost before planting.
A Sunny Bed
If the front of your house gets full sun, then choose perennials that thrive in full sun, matching their heights to their placement, with tall plants near the bed's rear, moderate-size ones in the middle and shorter, bushier plants near the front.
Choose tall plants with mature heights no more than about two-thirds the bed's width. For example, the tall plants in a 6-foot-wide bed should be no taller than about 4 feet. Tall plants for a sunny spot that are also dependable bloomers include:
- Hollyhock (Alcea rosea), which is a short-lived perennial or biennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 10 and is 6 to 8 feet tall and 2 feet wide with colorful flowers on tall spikes. It self-seeds readily when its flowers are left on it to dry, producing new plants each spring.
- Gladiolus (Gladiolus x hortulanus), which grows all year in USDA zones 7 through 10, reaching a height up to 6 feet and a width of 2 feet. Its tall spikes bear colorful flowers that open in sequence in many colors, depending on the cultivar.
Medium-size, usually trouble-free plants for a sunny spot include:
Liatris ([_Liatris_ _pycnostachya_](http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=d770)), also called prairie blazing star, which has spikes of feathery, lavender flowers in late summer. It's about 2 feet tall and wide, and is perennial, or hardy, in USDA zones 3 through 9. This plant attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
Purple coneflower ([_Echinacea_ _purpurea_](http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=c580)), which also grows 2 to 5 feet tall and 1 1/2 to 2 feet wide as a bushy plant with showy, purple, daisylike flowers during most of summer. It is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8.
Compact, sun-loving, simple-care plants for the front of the bed include:
Purple poppy mallow ([_Callirhoe_ _involucrata_](http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=g450)), which is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8 and 6 to 12 inches tall with upward-facing, poppylike flowers in late spring. It tends to form a mound and can spread 3 feet.
Plumbago ([_Ceratostigma_ _plumbaginoides_](http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=b960)), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9. Growing to a height of 9 to 12 inches, it has small, deep-blue flowers from midsummer through fall and bronze-red foliage in fall.
The petunia (_[Petunia ](http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a601)_[spp.](http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a601)) is a sun-loving plant that comes in different heights and flower colors. Used as an annual throughout the United States, it also grows year-round as a perennial in USDA zones 10 through 11. Use it to fill spaces for season-long color.
Don't crowd new plants. For the best results, space plants as far apart as their mature width; for example, 3 feet between plants that become 3 feet wide.
A Bed in Partial or Full Shade
If the house's front gets shifting shade -- just a bit of morning sunlight for example -- or is in full shade most of the day, then choose perennials that thrive under those conditions. If the bed borders the house, stay with the "tall in the rear, short in the front" plan. If, though, the bed is freestanding, try medium-size plants at its center, surrounding them with shorter plants nearer the bed's edge. Choices for partial to full shade include:
- Goat's beard (Aruncus dioicus), which can grow 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, and does well in partial shade. Its name comes from its white flower spikes that appear in spring. It is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8.
- Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow plant (_Brunfelsia pauciflora_), which features purple, lavender and white flowers at the same time. This shrubby, 3- to 8-foot-tall and 2- to 5-foot-wide plant is hardy in USDA zones 9 through 10 and thrives in shifting shade.
- Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis), which grows in partial shade but tolerates some sun. It is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, is about 4 feet tall and wide, and has purple-blue flowers on erect spikes in spring, followed by large, black seedpods.
- Hostas (Hosta spp.), which also are called plantain lilies and thrive in partial to full shade. Grown for their showy leaves, they also have lavender or white flower spikes in summer. Hostas come in many sizes. For example, 'August Moon' (_Hosta '_August Moon') grows 1 to 3 feet tall and wide, and is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8 while 'Little Aurora' (Hosta 'Little Aurora') is only 6 to 12 inches high and wide and hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9.
- Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) works well when added for extra color in shade. It's usually grown as an annual but can survive year-round in USDA zones 10 through 11. Its varieties have flowers in many colors.
Never set plants in a straight line. For the most attractive result, plant them in staggered or zigzag patterns.