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Monday, 30 March 2009

The Do's and Don'ts of Planning Your Front Garden

I don't believe that first impressions are always lasting impressions - If that were the case, I think my in-laws would have probably talked my wife out of marrying the long-haired, bare-footed mess that I was back then? Fortunately for me, they looked past my initial appearance.

Is this really the best decision? What a bleak first impression!

Unfortunately for most people though, the front garden is the first, and only impression people have of your home. Very often we pay so little attention to the front garden, and rather save our energies and efforts for the inside of the house, and maybe then we look at the back garden. Often the front garden is last on the list.

When my wife and I were looking for a place to buy, we would often pull up in front of a potential place, and make a decision whether to go in, entirely based on what it looked like from the road. We may have lost out on some gems by evaluating things this way, but we saved ourselves a lot of wasted time too.

The front garden doesn't have to (and probably shouldn't) require a lot of maintenance to keep it looking good. To achieve this though, a lot of thought and planning needs to go into it in order to save you work in the long run.

There is a definite move away from lawned verges - (a) because they need a lot of water, (b) because they're boring; and (c) because they constantly need to be cut.
A better solution would be to use groundcovers that need very little water to look their best, and don't need to be cut. Once established, they will even prevent weeds from establishing themselves.

I love this garden. Its simple, beautiful, and low maintenance!

Another option is to plant wild grasses. Just because they are 'wild' doesn't mean they have to look a mess. You would also be supporting an environment for all kinds of birds, that you wouldn't ordinarily see in your garden. I've written about them in a previous post, and used them in a front garden.

In the USA, in some states there are subsidies available if you convert your front lawn into a more sustainable garden. And many people are even going so far as to convert their front gardens into edible gardens.

The things to keep in mind when planning your front garden, are:
Keep things simple - You're not likely to spend a lot of time out the front of your house, so there is no need to put in a lot of detailed planting - also most people will see it only as a blur as they drive past. I think most front gardens should be quite 2 dimensional (like a painting or snapshot), because they are generally only viewed from one angle. You should be able to look at it for just a second, and have a great impression in your minds eye. If you achieve this, I think you have succeeded. There are always exceptions to the rule though.

The less work, the better - Save your time and effort for the areas of the garden that you will use the most. Get rid of lawns, and high maintenance pruning work. Plant good low maintenance alternatives instead.

Keep watering needs to a minimum - again this will save you time and money, and will help the environment at the same time.

What is next door? - Look at your neighbours verges, and look at what you can repeat in your front garden. Try to steer clear of just doing your own thing - your garden and neighbourhood will look better if it blends in well with its neighbours. Look for next door trees or plants that you can bring into your garden, and I mean buy your own. Your neighbour might be suspicious if he sees a similar plant appear in your garden to the one that used to be in his.

If in doubt call an expert - Call a landscaper/garden designer if you need any help. You may have to pay a consultation fee, but you can often get very good ideas, and good guidance in the beginning, and you will reap the rewards in the long run.
There are all kinds of options and possible ideas for your front garden - so why not explore some of these? You might find that you want to spend more time admiring your house from the front along with the rest of us?


Pam Kersting said...

All good advice, I think!

Garden Wise Guy said...

Ross: I have a different perspective in many situations. We spend all our front yard effort designing for a fictional person across the street, hoping they like our garden. Even if they do, we'll never know.

Certainly there's a place for curb appeal and presenting a nice public face, but I encourage my students and clients to look at their front year from within they're house and design for the view THEY get when they're inside. We spend a lot more time looking out than standing across the street looking at our own house.

BTW: I just posted a video at my blog; a tidbit of my trip to the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.

stoneware70 said...

Thanks Pam, and thanks for the mention in your post.

You're definitely right Billy, but I guess a lot depends on the layout of the house too - if the house is configured to make use of the views out front, we should definitely design for them. The problem is though that many front gardens that I see are sadly not designed with either view in mind?

Anonymous said...

Good advice. To Bill's comments, I'm very aware of view corridors looking out to the back or side of the house, but I find in our privacy obsessed culture, people don't open their curtains to the front very regularly, unless the plants are screening them from the street, so like you I would generally not consider this.

Two other guidelines I use for front yards - 1. don't let it go more than 40% deciduous, as you want it to make a nice statement year round. and 2. I like to highlight fall color in the front garden where I think it will be most appreciated by neighbors and others walking and driving by, as well as the homeowners arriving home from work. I then focus on late spring and summer color in the back garden, where people hang out in the warm weather. By splitting the idea of a four season garden front and back I think you get a little more bang for your buck.

P.S. Yeah lawnless!

Anonymous said...

Your ideas for designing the front yard landscape are very impressive. For designing, an inviting, attractive and easy entry path it is important that it should be properly concerned and designed. you shouldn't have to spend a lot of your budget creating landscaping ideas for most front yards. A simple functional design works best. Then, since the backyard is where most people spend most of their time, you can spend more energy and money on the back. I think, really it's a very good guide for help in designing frong yard garden.
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