Creating Curb Appeal for House Sale

by Clara Beaufort, for Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb.  Clara is a garden writer and community gardener based in Georgia. She created GardenerGigs to connect local gardeners with those in need of plant care help.   You can reach her at clara@gardenergigs.com.

Any good real estate agent will tell you that creating curb appeal is an essential step when you plan on putting your home on the market. Your home’s interior could be completely remodeled with all the best upgrades, but if the exterior is lackluster, many buyers won’t even walk through the door. The good news is that investing in curb appeal does more than just help sell your house faster. It also improves your home’s value, so you can be confident that it’s money well spent.


Brooks Kolb’s Design for a Laurelhurst Front Living Room

Lawn and Garden 101

When you’re ready to invest in improved curb appeal, the hardest part for most homeowners is figuring out what to do first. Think of this step as Lawn and Garden 101 – you’re getting a feel for what it takes to get your yard in tip top shape. The first tasks to do will vary by season, so we suggest starting with a seasonal checklist. For example, Martha Stewart’s spring gardening tips include surveying your yard first, then deciding how to fill any gaps, reseeding grass, pruning, and preparing flower beds.

Starting with these tips will help you come up with a lawn and garden plan, plus it will help ensure you’re choosing the right plants for the season. Timing and choosing plants carefully is always important with landscaping, but especially when you want to sell your house. This is because plants that are in bloom and have lots of color will make the biggest impact on buyers. To get this maximum effect, The Spruce recommends that spring sellers plant early bloomers, hardy annuals, and flowering shrubs.

Creating and maintaining a beautiful lawn and garden is a lot of work, but you don’t have to do it all on your own. Whether you don’t have a green thumb or you simply don’t have the time it takes, hiring a gardening service is an easy way to get (and keep) the results you’re looking for. These pros specialize in all aspects of landscaping, whether you need help with the planning stage, planting, weeding, or other maintenance needs. And, remember, spring is the ideal time to make your exterior shine.

Tackle Other Exterior Projects

Curb appeal is about more than just your lawn and garden, which is why the next item on your to-do list should be addressing other exterior issues. This includes fixing anything that’s broken or worn looking, plus making cosmetic improvements strategically. Look at things like making repairs, such as fixing a broken deck board, along with cleaning spots you wouldn’t normally think about, such as your home’s roof and siding.

Inexpensive Extras

In addition to doing the necessary work of repairs and cleaning, buyers will be even more impressed if you go the extra mile with curb appeal. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune or a ton of time. Our suggestion is to pick just a few “extra” projects that will make the biggest impact, such as creating a more welcoming front entryway.

If your front door is looking shabby, give it a fresh coat of paint, and don’t forget about house trim and shutters. Along with a spruced up front door, make your front porch even more inviting with a container garden, adding a seasonal wreath, and a new welcome mat.

It’s also smart to think about making the most of your home’s outdoor spaces for the season you’re in. If you’re selling in spring, a birdhouse is a great seasonal accent for your garden, and the beautiful birds you attract are an added bonus. Or if you’re selling in summer, consider staging outdoor spaces to highlight the potential for backyard barbeques.

When you’re getting your home ready to sell, you want to highlight its best features while making house hunters feel welcome. Don’t underestimate the value of curb appeal, which affects your home’s appraisal value, to give that warm impression! From a neat and tidy lawn to seasonal accents, every improvement you make outside will help get buyers through the door – AND a better price at closing.


Recent Work: A Cascadia Avenue Garden

Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb is proud to announce the completion of an extensive new garden on Cascadia Avenue in the Mount Baker garden. The front garden features six rectangular perennial beds flanking the central front walk, while the much larger back garden boasts a substantial number of amenities: a swimming pool, shed with kitchenette, sports court and children’s play area. A raised hot tub is situated to look out over the flames of a custom, natural gas-fed fire feature to views of Lake Washington beyond. In addition, a custom tree house nestles in an Evergreen Magnolia tree for the owner’s young children. More than thirteen varieties of fruiting trees, shrubs, vines and espaliers are distributed throughout the garden, all without blocking views of the lake. Brooks collaborated with architect Kim Lavacot for the shed and tree house.

Photographs by Miranda Estes Photography

Recent Work: A Mount Baker Garden

Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb is proud to announce the completion of a substantial new hillside garden in the Mount Baker Garden. Since the main floor of the house is at a much lower elevation than the street, an elegant concrete stair winds down past a dramatic waterfall to the front door. From the main stair landing, a wide gravel path loops around to the back garden, which features a tranquil koi pond and a mahogany observation deck with sweeping views of Lake Washington and the Cascades. On the north side of the house, a second stair descends to a lower level rental unit which has its own lawn. Lush plantings of trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses and perennials are distributed throughout the garden, while a variety of erosion control shrubs anchor the steep slope below the deck. Brooks collaborated with Turnstone Construction on the two contrasting water features.

Photographs by Miranda Estes Photography



Brooks Kolb’s dad Keith Kolb honored by UW

Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb’s father, Keith Kolb, FAIA, was honored last Saturday night in the Alumni Awards Program of the University of Washington’s College of the Built Environment (UW CBE.)  My 95-year old dad was honored as a distinguished Professor Emeritus for his outstanding record of teaching architecture until his retirement at age 70.  The program included 3 awards given to recent graduates, plus 2 “Distinguished Alumni Awards.”  These last went to Lee Copeland, FAIA, who was Dean at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts (now re-named Graduate School of Design) when I was in the master’s program there, and Steven Holl, the New York-based architect who designed the beautiful Chapel of St. Ignatius on the Seattle University Campus as well as the Bellevue Arts Museum.

Here are 2 photos of dad, dated April 1, 2017, with (from left to right) Marga Rose Hancock, the long-time Executive Director of the Seattle American Institute of Architects (AIA); Betty Wagner, the long-time UW Architectural Librarian; and Jane Hastings, an architect colleague of dad’s who broke the (lower) glass ceiling in the 1950’s by receiving her degree in architecture and going on to a successful architectural practice in Seattle.


Hellebores – Harbingers of Spring in the Pacific Northwest

by Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb

It’s been an especially wet and cold winter in the Pacific Northwest, but we’re finally beginning to see the first signs of spring.  Winter-blooming Witch Hazels and Camellias have already finished flowering, and now is the time for Hellebores to take center stage.  No Hellebore species is more popular than Helleborus orientalis.  Known as “Lenten Rose” for the time of its bloom period, this Hellebore has already been blooming for several weeks and it should continue through at least the end of March.  Depending on the exact variety, its pale flowers on narrow, foot-high stems in shades of pink, purple, magenta, cream and chartreuse look like they were painted in watercolor washes.   It’s nice to plant massings of all-white varieties, but deep pink ones like ‘Pink Frost’ are also attractive.  It’s easy to find them in batches of mixed hybrids if you want random samplings of the entire color range in a single planting bed.

Helleborus orientalis ‘Pink Frost’

Among the other species, Helleborus niger (“Christmas Rose”) looks very similar to Lenten Rose except that its leaves have no obvious stems, while H foetidus (“Bears’s Foot hellebore) has strikingly narrow leaves.  But, apart from Lenten Rose, the other species I like to use in my designs is the Corsican Hellebore (H. argutifolius.)  This one is much taller and wider, to about 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide, with tough, leathery mint-green leaves and large, showy chartreuse flowers that bloom in February and hold their blooms until you finally decide to cut them off in early summer.  The Corsican Hellebore is a great ornamental evergreen  shrub for partly shaded spots in the garden and is a good selection for the back or middle of a garden bed, with the lower Lenten Roses occupying spots below it in the foreground.

Helleborus argutifolius


Great Plant Picks for Winter


Snowberry – Symphoricarpos albus


Arnold Promise Witch Hazel – Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’


Star Magnolia – Magnolia stellata

I always tell my clients that a Seattle garden should be designed with winter in mind.  If a garden looks good in winter, it’s almost guaranteed that it will look really great in spring and summer.  Above are three great plant picks that are are certain to lift your spirits in winter:  Snowberry, with its white berries on bare winter twigs; Arnold Promise Witch Hazel, with confetti-like yellow flowers in January, and Star Magnolia.  The photo shows Star magnolia blooming in the spring, but in the winter, its fuzzy, pussy-willow-like buds are a lovely promise of spring to come.  The larger Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana) has equally gorgeous winter buds.

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The base Isokern “Magnum” outdoor fireplace, before stone facing is added

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Evergreen Scree…

Evergreen Screen Planting for Tight Spaces

Every garden, no matter how large, has a tight space where the property line runs close and the neighbor’s house or another unsightly object looms.  Typically, urban side yards are only 5 feet wide, so your bathroom window ends up looking directly into your neighbor’s window, only 10 feet away.  What can you do to screen out those undesirable views?  Unfortunately, the plant choices are extremely limited because mother nature tends to produce plants that put on spread as they put on height:  the taller the plant, the wider it usually is.  Moreover, the adjoining roof lines produce shady conditions from dawn to dusk, further reducing plant choices.

If you have a 5 foot side yard and you’d like a path circumnavigating your house, which I always view as a good idea, effectively you only have 2 to 3 feet of space for evergreen screen planting.  Here are 4 choices worthy of consideration that I often use in my designs:

Italian Cypress:  Although this tree thrives in full sun, it can tolerate a surprising amount of shade.


Emerald Green Arborvitae:  This tree is more commonly used than any other plant for screening, and I always joke that it was patented by Lowes Hardware, not designed by God.  The only problem is that it does need a fair amount of sun.  If it is planted in conditions that are too shady, it goes brown except at the top, where it might receive enough light.


Skyrocket Juniper:  This tree has an unmistakably blue color, which makes it tempting to use.  However, it prefers full sun and tends to get wider at the base than Italian Cypress or Arborvitae.


Golden Bamboo:  Golden Bamboo has two great virtues and one major vice.  On the plus side, it thrives in shade and grows taller, faster than nearly all other screen planting choices.  On the other hand, it is a spreading bamboo and can spread onto your neighbor’s property even if it is properly contained in a root control barrier.


When I choose the best screen plant for my clients, these are the top candidates I most often consider.  Depending on space available, sun-shade conditions and the client’s feelings about maintaining Bamboo, the choice usually becomes obvious, even if it’s not perfect.

Volunteer Park Landmark Designation Wins Historic Seattle Preservation Award By Brooks Kolb, ASLA

At the Fourth Annual Historic Seattle Preservation Awards Ceremony, held at the Good Shepherd Center in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood on May 15, 2012, The Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (FSOP) received the Community Advocacy Award for the Volunteer Park Landmark Designation.  One of eight awards given by Historic Seattle in 2012, the Community Advocacy Award commemorates FSOP’s hard work first to prepare the Landmark Nomination document for Volunteer Park and then to lead it through the review and approval process by Seattle’s Board of Landmark Preservation.  The Landmark Board applauded our presentation of the nomination in September, 2011, voting unanimously to approve the nomination and later to designate Volunteer Park as a Seattle landmark.

As a board member and then president of FSOP from 2008-2011, I led a 5-year long committee effort to research and write the nomination and submit it to the Landmark board.  The other three committee members contributing to the nomination are past FSOP treasurer and chief author Charlie Sundberg; past FSOP vice president and co-author Sue Nicol; and current president and editor Jennifer Ott, who graciously received the award on behalf of FSOP at the May 15 ceremony.

In a beautifully produced booklet for the awards ceremony, Historic Seattle wrote:

“The Community Advocacy Award goes to the Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (FSOP) for the arduous work involved in preparing a complex and successful landmark nomination application for Volunteer Park.  The organization’s documentation of this complicated and highly significant cultural landscape serves to insure the preservation of Volunteer Park and fosters the on-going recognition of our unique citywide Olmsted legacy.

Realizing that Volunteer Park was the most comprehensively designed and faithfully preserved component within the citywide Olmsted-designed plan for the Seattle Park system, FSOP board members prepared…an impressive 110-page document that provides a thorough description of the park’s landscape features and elements as a whole, as well as specifically documents various component buildigns, structures, monuments and water features and small-scale design elements.  It includes in-depth contextual information regarding the national, local and neighborhood significance of the Seattle work of the Olmsted firm and the history and evolution of the park itself.”

“Bau-Wau Haus” Wins Best Work of Art Award at “Barkitecture” By Brooks Kolb, ASLA

The sun rises over Bau-Wau Haus.

Bau-Wau Haus from the side.

Buyers (Center) with Team Ripple: Cecilia Carson, Chris Brooks, Brooks Kolb, 2 Buyers, Jim Dearth, Gregory Carmichael, Scott Smith, Victoria Bogachus

The evening of Thursday, May 24 was a date to remember as Luxe Interiors + Design Magazine hosted the first Barkitecture design competition and auction at the Seattle Design Center.  Conceived as a benefit for the Seattle Humane Society and Seattle Children’s PlayGarden, the event showcased the designs of ten teams, each comprised of an architect, builder, interior designer and landscape professional.  Simultaneously, a Parade of Dogs Costume show was held.  The evening climaxed with a live auction of the designer dog houses.

I am very proud to report that I was landscape architect for “Team Ripple,” led by architect Jim Dearth of Ripple Design Studio.  I’m even more proud to report that our “Bau-Wau Haus” entry won the competition in the “Best Work of Art” category.  Our design concept was based on the idea that the fashionable Modern Small Dog tends to eschew outdoor dog “houses” in favor of portable indoor crates, so we designed a sleek and artful dog crate that can be used both indoors and outdoors.  The crate serves both as a bed for doggie and as an elegant bench for the doggie’s human (translation:  what we would call the dog’s “master,” but you and I know that term is highly inaccurate!)  Jim Dearth’s subtle design features a limestone bench seat for the human and a comfy aqua-colored bed and spring-green pillow specified by interior designer Gregory Carmichael. The crate’s walls and doors are akin to a woven fabric of Ipe dog bones, precisely cut by a computer and mounted on stainless steel rods.  Curving bamboo-plywood cabinets from Teragren bracket the piece, providing space for dog bowl, leash and treats.

My landscape setting for “Bau-Wau Haus,” could have a name of its own:  “Dogj Mahal!”  Jim’s architecture resides in a nine-tray grid at the center of a cross-shaped paved walk in a plaster finish by Gail Miller, which looks like a miniature plaza. The overall composition is anchored at the four corners by Podocarpus macrophyllus trees from L & B Nurseries, commonly known as Yew Pine, which serve as abstract live minarets. The trees are set in tapering silver-gray fiberglass pots by CG Products.  Beneath the trees, diagonally alternate grid cells are paved with aqua-colored recycled glass chips from Bedrock Industries and decorated with art glass bones by Sherri Gamble of Sage Artistry.  The opposite diagonal grids are carpeted with a soft ground cover of Sedum hispanicum (Spanish Sedum) from T & L Nurseries.

Our Bau-Wau Haus sold for $1700 at auction to a happy couple who share their Pioneer Square condominium with two Chi-hua-haus.

Bau-Wau Haus would not have existed were it not for the fine craftsmanship of our excellent builder, Chris Brooks of Prestige Custom Builders, who had only about four weeks to execute the design.  Here’s to Chris and Prestige!

Architect:  Jim Dearth of Ripple Design Studio,www.RippleDesignStudio.com.

Landscape Architect:  Brooks Kolb LLC Landscape Architecture,www.brookskolbllc.com

Interior Designer:  Gregory Carmichael, www.gcid.com

Project Managers:  Cecilia Carson, Baker Knapp and Tubbs,www.bakerfurniture.com  and Scott Smith, Lee Jofa/Kravet, www.kravet.com.

Builder:  Prestige Custom Builders, www.prestigecustombuilders.com.

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