A split-level house presents some landscaping challenges.

Landscaping Ideas for Split-level Homes

by Janet Beal

Just like building with blocks, landscaping a split-level home requires a good sense of balance. While landscaping elements may not topple like block towers, achieving the right balance of heavy, light, soft, hard, short and tall components can make the difference between a coherent landscaping that frames your house or an awkward, unattractive yard. Some basic design principles that apply to split-level architecture can help you create a beautiful home.

1. Defining Challenges

Although some split-level houses are constructed around specific topographic features, most sit on a flat or slightly sloping lot. A split-level house profile can include an asymmetric roof line and windows at several levels. The front door and entryway may be placed off-center on the facade, and a front-projecting garage may appear overly dominant. For an older split-level, overgrown plantings may be an additional source of an unattractive setting. To create a lively, fresh and integrated landscape plan, you need to redefine existing concepts of balance, scale and visual focus.

2. Point of View

Two assessments are needed to plan effective landscape changes. One is curb appeal, or how your property appears to passersby or visitors. The second is resident-perspective, or how landscaping appears inside the house, looking out, or doing things in the yard. With so many first floor windows and possibly some at ground level, light, view and privacy are particularly important issues to resolve with for a split-level. Choose slow-growing plantings to maximize interior light. Enhance privacy with plantings that stand away from the foundation. Creating a low-hedged grass or paved patio next to ground-level windows lets natural light reach windows while shielding interior activity from passersby. A small ornamental tree can provide a multi-season focal point that draws eyes away from first-floor windows.

3. Finding Balance

A balanced approach to landscaping uses color, texture and size to keep architectural and natural elements from overwhelming each other in size or visual weight. While formal landscaping relies heavily on symmetry for balance, the asymmetric shape of a split-level house benefits most from asymmetry in landscaping. For example, glaring sun and a flat lawn can magnify the size of a front-facing peaked-roof garage, while planting a shade tree or tall, bushy shrub near its outer front corner can soften its silhouette and diminish its visual weight. Planting a cluster of dark evergreen shrubs of varying heights near the one-story section of the house can keep the two-story section from appearing excessively blocky and bulky. Bright colors of flowers and foliage can make spaces seem larger or closer.

4. Line and Scale

Vertical, horizontal and curving lines all play roles in landscaping scale. A tall, spreading shade tree beside or slightly in front of the taller section of the house creates more pleasing proportions than low shrubs. Add visual weight without overwhelming a single-story section of the house with a low evergreen hedge. Add further substance by mixing textures, colors and shapes, but choose larger plants for the taller side of the house and smaller ones for the lower side. Minimize the contrast between tall and low sections with a curving entryway, driveway or flower beds. Keep curves broad and gentle for maximum effect.

5. Creating Patterns

This landscaping strategy diminishes the impact of minimally attractive architecture by creating frequent change in the surrounding background and creating varied views of the property. One strategy is the repetition of a single color in different locations during different seasons. Yellow spring flowers can yield to gold and yellow summer-blooming perennials, followed by golden fall foliage and pale-gold winter ornamental grasses. Purple, blue, dark red and white all offer a wide variety of plant choices for seasonal focus-shifting landscaping. Enhance repetition in your choice of exterior trim and front-door color. Repeating a texture in various locations also affects architectural impact. A repetition of glossy-leaved, crunchy-textured or feathery trees, shrubs and floral plants across a yard creates a pattern both independent of and complementary to house style.

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