Front Gardens for Function and Impact

Planning Front Gardens

The first impressions of a house and its inhabitants is inevitably given by the front garden. Even if there is no such thing, the tub by the door and the window boxes start to provide value-judgments in the visitor or casual passers-by. So to a sensitive soul, care in the design is desirable. More important, no doubt, is the effect the front of the house has on its owner; does it welcome or does it sullenly sneer? There are then two facets here, not easily reconcilable. If the view in from outside is of importance; more so is the view outwards from the windows into the front garden and beyond. It is a bit like the dilemma of choosing to live in an ugly house looking on to elegant ones or the other way round. Not an easy decision to make.


A Setting for the House

The front garden, then, exists to set off the house (and nothing does this better than good plants carefully grouped), to give privacy, to provide protection from noise, and in the country, rather basically to demarcate possession. This last point is a doubtful attribute especially in ‘open plan’ estates.

front gardens

The use of the front garden for simple display is a common one, often because it is not very large. Here the inward or outward views are of near equal importance, yet it would still seem that the main planting should face the house from the boundary where that line is far enough away to make it possible. Many houses, however, front almost directly on to the street, both in cities and in country villages. Here a narrow border of only half a metre (loin) width under the windows or a couple of flagstones lifted, can provide a remarkable amount of planting space. Plants spill out and soften the hard lines of bricks and mortar rising sheer from concrete or tarmacadam. Strong architectural evergreen plants are vital to provide the furnishing throughout the year. New Zealand flax, yuccas, Mahonia japonica and Mahonia ‘Charity’, Viburnum davidii or Juniperus pfitzeriana are the sort of things needed. There are suitable plants for every aspect. Bright colour is best provided by a tub of bulbs and polyanthus for spring and favourite summer-bedding plants to follow on until October.


Where there is something of a garden, proper uses other than that of merely setting off the house and providing a welcome can be entertained. Much depends on the business of the road which the house fronts on to. A gentle country lane with little traffic can be virtually disregarded, leaving views open to fields beyond. Here design need not vary greatly from that of the garden behind the house. There does not have to be a front and back garden mentality. Aspect is far more important: if the house faces south, this is where the main sitting-out area may need to be; occasional passers-by merely add interest to the scene. However, less secluded houses looking on to a village street or small estate can still use front garden space as extensions to the living area; the design of paving leading to grass and plant borders will make this possible.

In many modern housing estates there is often either a restrictive covenant or a generally accepted agreement that fencing is not erected nor that much is done in the way of digging out flower beds. When some rugged individualist does branch out into a few roses or a bit of summer bedding, the effect is usually lamentable. Such areas offer two useful positions; firstly a border directly against the house edged with paving for the sort of sturdy plants recommended for houses right on the road. They can spill onto the row of slabs and give the house the feeling of really belonging to its site. This is where originality can be shown. Secondly, the grass area then can provide a position for a single plant of note, a broad shrub such as Magnolia soulangeana or a single flowering cherry or laburnum would do, even a semi-prostrate juniper could look affective. A multi-stemmed bush often looks much better than a standard tree. Whenever a real tree can be planted with space to attain its full size this should be done: nothing is so conducive of giving ‘atmosphere’ as maturing trees.


Privacy and Protection

Real privacy can, of course, be provided by walls, fences or hedges. Consider first the need for this: if there is quiet and seclusion behind the house its desirable quality will be emphasized by being able to see the world from the front. Older people in particular who do not get out much, often enjoy seeing the world pass by; and in a caring community any help needed can be more easily given.

However if protection is needed, for whatever reason, its type and material must be related to the site. The smaller the area the more formal the surroundings need to be so that a courtyard situation is obtained and the area must be treated as such. It then has its own potential. Large areas can use informal plantings or belts of shrubs and trees and here, ideally, the planting should not merely protect the house and hide the road but conceal the very boundary itself. This gives the impression that the garden goes much further than it actually does; this is a major artifice of effective design.



It cannot be forgotten that a front garden has a job to do — that of access. This is naturally vital and the garden has to be designed around it, without the drive or paths being too visually dominant. Again plant material needs to be strong and permanent to compete with much inanimate concrete and stone. On busy roads it will be necessary to provide extra car parking or even turning space, and hence most of the available area is given over to it. Variation in the materials used will help to avoid the feeling of living in a municiple car park. Where possible, cars should be able to reach the front door, remembering that space concerned is not merely a car’s width, but room for doors to open and allow passengers to get out. Roses and other prickly plants must be avoided. Again, planting and the surface materials must make it perfectly clear where cars and people may go and indeed are required to go. The ‘tradesman’s entrance’ as a label on a door or gate is almost a thing of the past, but good design must make it quite clear who can go where.


12. May 2011 by admin
Categories: Garden Management, Planning and Design | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Front Gardens for Function and Impact


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