In the past, people used their front porches to gossip with neighbors or pass the time on hot summer evenings when cool outside breezes were preferable to stuffy indoor rooms. Today, with central heat and air conditioning we don't sit on porches, and that is too bad. With the right landscaping, a front porch becomes a pleasant outdoor room, perfect for casual entertaining or for just quietly watching the world go by.
Creating an Outdoor Room
When landscaping for your front porch, keep in mind that you are creating a comfortable outdoor room where plants will get closer scrutiny than in less-visited parts of your yard. Incorporate plants that offer sun and privacy protection as much as possible, but don't forget to check the expected mature height and spread of plants, rate of growth or any other undesirable characteristics, like thorns, bad smell or unkempt form. You want to relax on your porch, not perpetually shear bushes so you can see out, pluck unsightly spent blossoms or wear a gas mask when malodorous flowers are in bloom. Choose plants you enjoy looking at and smelling as well as those that offer the correct architectural shapes for your landscape design.
The View From Without
Because it is in the front of your home, your porch should have curb appeal and look like an integral part of the rest of your house while being both attractive to passersby and inviting to visitors. For that reason, foundation landscaping should not differ much from that of the rest of the yard. This doesn't mean you can't jazz up the area around the porch -- or the porch itself. Potted plants or decorative objects on the steps or wide porch rails, as well as hanging baskets, add interesting style and seasonal color to foundation plantings. Keep the back of the planted border 1 to 2 feet from the house for ease of maintenance, air circulation and improved view from inside.
The View From Within
If the view from inside the porch is of a busy street or other homes, you may want to soften it by planting shrubs, tall flowering plants or grasses in front of the porch -- both to block unwanted views and for privacy for you and your guests. Large free-flowering hanging baskets or trellised vines can act as screens. Don't block the whole view or your porch may feel claustrophobic. Be selective -- open up the vista where the scenery is appealing and screen only unsightly or noisy areas.
Importance of Scent
Most entertaining on the front porch happens in the evening when people are relaxing after a hard day at work or school. Many plants, smell great during the day, but many of those day-bloomers will have closed their blossoms with the setting sun before you get home. For inviting evening scents, plant night-blooming flowers, like annual flowering tobacco (Nicotiana spp.) or sweet autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata) and Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), both of which grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. The clematis and honeysuckle and may also double as privacy screen plants. For a pleasingly scented shrub, you can also use for foundation landscaping, and which grows in USDA zone 4, plant mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius).