Fabulous Front Gardens
One of the positives to come out of lockdown was the opportunity to slow down and take in our surroundings a little more. Out and about on daily walks, it was great to be able to amble lazily, rather than rush to catch a train or pick up on time from school. One of the first things I noticed with this new-found pace was the transformations taking place in neighbours’ front gardens. It’s been exciting to watch as patches of weeds become flower packed borders, humming with bees, or to look on and see how a rectangle of concrete is populated with pots and planters. There have been formal, shrub-based designs to admire, too, which are lower maintenance and will provide greenery and structure right through winter. One thing they all share is the huge amount of love and effort that’s gone into their creation.
The principles of front garden design are simple, yet a scheme that works well is often tricky to achieve. You’re after plenty of kerb appeal while still managing to address practical issues such as parking, bike storage and access. The smaller the space, the harder this will be. In a typical city garden, there’s often barely space for the bins, so an effective design can require a good deal of thought. Every inch counts. That said, it’s not worth getting hung up on perfection, as even a few pots around a doorway will go a huge way to improving most front gardens and help to bring in the butterflies and bees.
Jan’s front garden was designed for the bees, with nectar-rich plants such as echinacea..
My neighbour, Jan, finished off her front garden in lockdown with a raised rectangular flowerbed planted up with a colourful selection of bee-friendly annuals, perennials and bulbs, including echinaceas, lilies, cerinthe, liatris and cosmos. It’s been wonderful watching them grow and fill the space, and now everything is right there in front of you, flowering at eye level. She even squeezed a water butt into the design to collect rain water.
Vertical planting and clever use of space means this garden has a bike store and still packs in the colour.
Around the corner (it’s all Victorian terraced houses in my corner of south-east London), Caroline has a fabulous little patch with a yellow and purple colour scheme. The exuberant planting includes a yellow climbing rose, Verbena bonariensis, evening primrose, hardy geraniums and Phlomis russeliana. She’s set the gravel on a stabilising grid to stop it spilling into the flowerbeds, which she’s designed carefully to incorporate a bike store and an area for the bins, too. All this in a garden no larger than 2 x 3m is quite an achievement.
On the road parallel to ours, Bexy has gone with hot colours that show off the orange of her front door and the tiles of the Victorian-style path. Beside the door, towering copper-coloured sunflowers are the star of the show, with amber pansies, Bulbine frutescens, black-eyed Susan and crocosmia playing supporting roles. The design is simple but clever: a narrow concrete path, just wide enough for the bins, flanked by two beds; the bins are tucked away in a ‘lay-by’ at the end of the path.
A little further up the same road is a pretty little frontage with heaps of rustic charm. Which just goes to prove that rules are made to be broken (see no 1, below). Roz has created a garden that mixes cottagey picket fencing and a very tall late-flowering lavender with a white hydrangea and a glorious Pittosporum garnettii, neatly pruned to a rounded cone. The front door and gate echo the purple of the lavender. It’s a heavenly combination, and very calming, too.
These are just a small handful of the front gardens that have caught my eye locally. Some of them are new, some I’ve just not had time to stop and notice before. If you’ve got your heart set on a front garden makeover, there are a few key points to bear in mind. Whether you have a large country house or a city terrace, all are wise starting points:
1. Let the garden reflect the house
A post-war house is likely to suit a neat, modern style of design and planting, whereas a Victorian terrace or a country cottage will sit comfortably in a profusion of planting.
2. Cohesion is key
So, when you’re choosing hard landscaping materials, go for something that’s already present in the house: brick house, bricks around borders; slate roof, slate-chipping path, for example.
3. Keep it simple
Limit the number of materials you use and you’ll avoid a cluttered feel. The same goes for planting, really: for a clean, contemporary look, repeat shrubs and perennials.
4. Think about the environment
Concrete and block paving contribute to drainage problems. Opt for gravel instead. If you’re going for paving, lift out a slab or two to create planting pockets. Bees and other pollinators love single, open flowers.
Francesca Clarke, Journalist and Garden Designer