Front-yard gardens can change neighborhoods. Iu2019ve witnessed this both as a gardener and as a landscape architect. Years ago, I mixed some annuals and perennials among the evergreen foundation shrubs in front of my familyu2019s home. Before long, the welcoming curves I had carved out of the sod near our front door extended through a series of planting beds and paths to our neighborsu2019 yards on either side. We shared plants, time, and friendship with those neighbors. And passersby encouraged my gardening efforts. I felt that I was doing more than just sprucing up our front yard. I was making our neighborhood a friendlier place to live.

Across the street is a one-story ranch with contemporary landscapingu2014lots of curving beds, ornamental grasses, and low-maintenance perennials. And finally, just a few blocks away, is a traditional Colonial with a formal landscape featuring a brick walk, symmetric foundation plantings, and a picket fence draped in roses. All four front-yard gardens have small patches of lawn, but the foundation plantings are varied, and the gardens are designed to suit the houses as well as the gardening abilities of the homeowners.

Any front garden could benefit from this kind of attention. What would be most appropriate for your house? Maybe you have a cedar split-rail fence that would look nice knee-deep in daylilies and laced with rambling roses. Or a stuccoed courtyard wall with alcoves that would benefit from a water feature or an attractive arrangement of desert plants. Or even an old Victorian in a western ski town that could be enhanced with native wildflowers.

Of course, before you get carried away with planting, you have to take care of a couple of practical matters. And the first of those is to clearly identify the front door, so that when guests arrive, they know exactly where to go.

To reach the doorway, you need a good path. Build one thatu2019s wide enough for two people to walk abreast. It should also be safeu2014that is, with an even, nonslip surface that wonu2019t cause anyone to stumble or fall.

Poured concrete is the most commonly used path material because of its low cost. However, other materials like brick, stone, and concrete pavers make a stronger first impression and are often more appropriate in a garden setting. Even concrete that has been stained or texturized is much more interesting than plain concrete, and is still very affordable. Or spruce up existing concrete paths by edging them with bricks or cobblestones. Select materials that match the style, materials, or colors of your house. This will better integrate your house and landscape.