Front gardens are often purely utilitarian – filled with functional bins or cars, or just considered too small to bother with. Yet a front garden give us an opportunity to present our best face to the world, delighting passers-by and making returning home a pleasure.
Front gardens often have advantages that back gardens don’t. They are usually bright and open, less prone to shading by high walls and tall plants. They provide an opportunity to show off your skills, put on a performance, and experiment with different growing conditions. And they’re also perfect for a spot of good old-fashioned socialising, drinking tea and pottering, while greeting the neighbours.
So embrace front garden living with a fresh look this spring. Spruce up the woodwork, invest in some upbeat planting, have a conversation and make your presence felt. You might find you inadvertently start a green revolution in your neighbourhood!
Maximise kerb appeal
Start by assessing how you can improve the space. Sweeping the path, clearing weeds and rubbish and giving front doors and fences a fresh coat of paint can make a huge difference. Installing a formal storage area for bins and recycling boxes is another quick fix, and if it has a green roof, so much the better.
There’s always space for greenery, whether it’s adding planting to the drive to help screen the car, investing in some hanging baskets or putting a pot of bulbs on each side of the doorstep.
Simple front gardens are most effective, so streamline where possible. Tidying up shrubs can increase the feeling of space around and below them or you can go all out with a new design. You’ll reap the rewards from whatever you do and just a little care and attention will freshen it up, for a great first impression.
Compose a theme with style
The best front gardens tend to have a strong theme and it helps if they are easy to maintain, so treat the space as a work of art and compose it as if it were a picture.
Fill borders with structural shrubs and small trees – go big on blossom and autumn colour if you can. Underplant matching standards with interesting ground cover – try lavender or salvias in the sunshine, heucheras or tiarellas for leaf colour and ferns in a shady spot. If you are blessed with a patch of grass, make it work harder by filling it with spring bulbs and adding wildflower plugs for a summer show.
Create a theme by planting a jungle of_Melianthus major_,Fatsia japonica, banana plants and colocasia; paring things back with bold and spiky phormiums; or combining grasses and coneflowers for a prairie feel. Even the smallest space has room for a window box full of on-trend succulents, while a bright and sheltered spot is ideal for aeoniums.
Keen kitchen gardeners can create a front-garden veg patch with smart, structural fruit bushes, woody herbs and perennial crops such as rhubarb. Salad leaves are easy container crops and tomatoes and chillies thrive in a hot-spot. As long as they don’t get too dry, beans, cucumbers and even potatoes can be productive additions. Finally, add a few edible flowers such as marigolds, nasturtiums, cornflowers and snapdragons for cottage garden appeal, and sit back and enjoy your very own potager!
Paint a picture with pots
Versatile and easy to update, large pots are always a winner, whether chic and co-ordinated or bold and funky. Fill containers with cheerful seasonal colour or choose permanent specimens such as roses, small fruit trees or formally clipped evergreens. Tender perennials, such as dahlias, cannas and ginger lilies, give an exotic feel.
Making space for a car
More and more front gardens are being turned into driveways, but if impermeable paving or hardstanding is used, rainwater can’t penetrate into the soil. In a downpour it runs off into the road, contributing to flash flooding. But there are ways to limit the impact of these off-street parking spaces and improve their functionality.
If the garden must include space to park the car, minimise hard surfaces, substituting permeable materials where possible and maximising planting to help trap water.
Hedges and shrubs will not only help screen the house and hide the car, but they will also clean the air by trapping particulate pollution. Choose evergreen species or those with a long season of interest, that will provide shelter and nesting sites for birds and help support wildlife by producing both flowers and berries. You could combine winter-flowering Viburnum bodnantense and Lonicera fragrantissima with early bulbs and seek out smaller, versatile trees such as berrying sorbus and blossoming and fruiting crab apples.
Front gardens are key spaces for playing an important role in improving your local environment and welcoming neighbourhood wildlife. Welcome in the wildlife by all the usual means. Birds are just as likely to visit a birdfeeder on the street-side of a building as elsewhere, particularly since cats often prefer to prowl in areas of greater cover. Bees, meanwhile, find flowers wherever they are blooming.
Build an insect hotel and include a pile of logs to encourage beetles. Climbers running over the front of the house, or along boundaries, can also provide sheltered spaces for ladybirds and butterflies to hibernate.
Front gardens can be both green and functional, and if the main view from the house is onto a small rear garden, consider decluttering this space and make the front garden into the practical hub. Tuck the compost bin or hot bin behind the road hedge, run downpipes into a water butt, to save rainwater for later use, and install a bin-tidy to keep recycling in order. Then soften the infrastructure with attractive, low maintenance planting – shrubs and small trees such as lilacs, hydrangeas and acers are perfect – and rejoice in your newly ordered lifestyle!
This article is an abridged version of a feature appearing in the Spring 2022 issue of Garden Answers