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Making the most of your front garden

(Article by Alison Marsden of Gardening by Design -
Advice, coaching, design & teaching in West Kent & East Sussex)

For many houses, particularly in urban or suburban areas, laying out a front garden is quite a different prospect from a back garden.

Soil, sun and personal preference will all influence the choice of plants but before selecting individual specimens you need to consider the reasons behind ‘front gardening’ that will help you achieve the perfect setting for your house. We are all familiar with the many different uses of a back garden: children’s play, entertaining friends, food or flower production may be the most important thing for one family. Many of us want all of these in a private space for family and friends.

Conversely your front garden is seen (used) by many different people: residents, visitors, passers-by, but every front garden has the primary objective of enhancing the house. As householders we want to walk up the street or swing into the drive and be greeted by a garden in harmony with the house, that looks like it belongs, that emphasises the best in the house and is beautiful in its own right. This is the key to front gardening by design and there are three guiding principles:

The view

A back garden is most often viewed from the house towards the wider landscape. We sit on a patio or terrace adjoining the house and look away from the house with the environment beyond the garden as the backdrop. In this situation you can create focal points wherever you want to lead the eye and shape the garden. There can be several different areas within the garden, some hidden until you walk through it, and any style or effect is possible especially further from the house.

A front garden by contrast is almost always viewed from the entrance towards the house as you approach up the drive or path. The house is then the backdrop to the entire garden and the focal point will always be a specific feature of the house. For a front garden a single style that complements the architecture of the house is usually the best solution.

The time of year

A back garden can be at its best in summer. Large parts of it can be tidied up, cut back and generally ‘put to bed’ for the winter (when you do not play or relax outside) with localised winter interest near windows or against the further view.

The front garden operates all year round. You enter and leave just as many times in winter as in summer so the plants that frame the house and focus the eye need to be present at all seasons. A little bit of colour and scent on the way to the front door add some ‘feel good factor’ in mid winter when you need it most. Make sure that it is easy to maintain though or winter untidiness will goad you when you least want to be outside gardening.

The needs

Back gardens have many fixed needs to fit into the space available: shed and storage, washing line, swing, sand pit, greenhouse, compost bins. The list goes on and on.

Front gardens usually escape these but a great deal of the space may be dedicated to a drive and parking or turning area and these too require thought. Avoid a huge flat expanse of paving or concrete and parked cars directly against the house; a narrow border or even climbers flat against the wall will give the necessary framing and softening effect.

A successful front garden enhances the house at all times of the year, frames it in the wider landscape and sits comfortably with the style and architecture of the house as a backdrop. The proof: smile as you arrive home and enjoy the compliments.  

Article very kindly provided by Alison Marsden of Gardening by Design - providing gardeners in West Kent & East Sussex with coaching, advice and design ideas since 2004




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