Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The forgotten front

Front gardens.  Where are they in gardening literature or on the web?  They are a rare beast, spotted only fleetingly, even in my own photo collection.  As front gardens are the bits of us that everyone sees all the time, why are they so neglected in terms of coverage?

I can recall perhaps three features on front gardens read in various gardening magazines over the last 10 years or so, and a quick Google of the term usually results in lots of marketing pics from paving manufacturers, which highlights the central issue that generally they're used for accommodating off-street parking and not a lot besides. But they can prettifying the street too.

My current house has very little front garden to speak of as it sits close to the road, having been a sweet shop in a former incarnation.  We have cast iron railings separating us from the pavement with a narrow border behind them and when we first moved in, this strip was (freshly?) planted with young cherry laurel shrubs.  But why would I want something that rapidly grows to form a dark, heavy leaved shrub when the railings themselves form an attractive enough barrier to the street?  I certainly didn't want the grief of trying to keep this vigorous species in check to stop it poking out over the pavement and blocking the light from my front windows.  It wasn't even that pretty to look at with its rather large, regular foliage and dark spreading branches.  It very definitely is NOT the shrub for a small, constrained space, as its tree-like form dominating many front gardens regularly testifies.

Along with the conifers, these cherry laurels were the first things to go. But typically their existence was never documented, unlike the minute recording of all stages of the back and side gardens' development.  This post started life as an idea to write simply about the lavender hedge which took its place, but it was only as I searched in vain for any photos of the lavender in all its glory, that I realised that I completely ignore this border in my recording, even though it is the only public bit of my planting.

The only photos I have of the front garden were taken to document other things - the house covered in snow, or to text a dodgy paint colour to my husband while I was in the middle of applying it with great misgivings.  But not a single picture of the wisteria in flower, not the minutest snap of the paving detail or of bees on the lavender flowers in summer.

I'm therefore going to make it my project to promote the front garden in the pecking order - it is a prime south-facing spot (hence the lavender loving its home), even if the soil is solid clay in places. The latter is clearly a further sign that it has not enjoyed the same additions of muck, grit and leaf mould as its favoured rear-facing sibling. "NOT FAIR!"  as my children would yell.  Things must change.

Steps have been taken as I have widened the border next to the house wall this year - more due to the fact that wisteria roots were appearing in the cellar, rather than  because I had a firm design plan.  I loved the perfumed, purple racemes which it produced in late spring, but I love the house more, so they had to go as they'd been planted just a couple of centimetres in front of the brickwork when young, and had developed trunks about 30cm in diameter over the last six or seven years.   Now, in the new widened border, I've planted  (a good foot away from the wall) an Aloha climbing rose which has a more moderate habit, and whose feet I hope will  feet benefit from the addition of manure and grit.  I've also put in a clematis - both of these plants chosen with a view to them contributing towards the cutting garden as well.

 I'm going to also make it a mission to take pictures of other people's front gardens in order to get together a little library of inspiration and ideas for this Cinderella of the horticultural world.  Better knock on their doors and ask first though or they might think I'm casing the joint!

Photos to follow - watch this space....


  1. Hear, hear! The front is actually the most logical place for the garden. Few people are going to lounge about or play sports in the front yard, as lawn it is just wasted space! This is the place to plant as many flowers and other ornamentals as you desire. That's what I've done, anyway.

    1. I agree that front lawns are generally just an annoyance - or one of my pet peeves at any rate. My favourite front gardens are interesting flowery spaces, or even ingenious solutions to the car parking spaces with lots of planting.

      I used to have a front lawn in my previous house and it was deeply irritating having to wrestle the lawnmower through to it - it used to take about 5 minutes to mow as it was pretty small. I would have outed it if I'd stayed there longer but had two toddlers .

      I'd love to see photos of yours - maybe we should set up a Front Gardens Group on Google+ to share them?

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  3. After dedicating so much time to my back garden I am this year starting on the front. Slowly I may add. The borders will be extended & trees, shrubs & rose bushes will be added. The lawn will be kept as I love seeing the birds scurrying across it.

    1. Sounds good - especially the roses - make them smelly ones. It's also good that lawns have some defenders against herberts like me - I've been digging bits of one up this morning to make a flower bed for the lady I garden for - I'm never one to admire grass... My own lawn at home is ever-shrinking, only my kids stop me getting it all up!