Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden - Chinese proverb

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

GBDW: Front Gardens

Click to enlarge image if needed.

Paired photos from top to bottom: Top - The usual kind of modern housing estate front garden; Middle - my version of it from the side and above; Bottom - common design issues: drain covers and extra parking spaces

Regular readers will know that I very rarely show my front garden here on the interweb. That's because I don't really want to reveal exactly where I live in Chippenham. However, for this month's Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop I've cast caution to the four winds and roped in a few of my neighbours to help out too.

Our house is 10 years old and sited on a fairly typical modern housing estate. This means the gardens are small, especially the front ones. The minimalistic planting provided by the builders tends to be just like the top two pictures: a minute patch of lawn surrounded by a hedge of something tough like Lonicera nitida, or side boundaries comprising a single species like the pictured Rose of Sharon (Hypericum calycinum). The lucky ones will also get a specimen tree or two. The deeds to the house will often come with a covenant saying how the householder must treat this more public part of their property. This is usually along the lines of keeping it well tended and sometimes - like our last house - not to alter it, so the integrity of the estate's original design (no matter how plain) is maintained.

Of course most house owners bend these 'rules' a little, just as we have done with our current property. We weren't 'given' a boundary hedge at all and as the front garden came with no less than 5 drain covers plus a telephone junction box, these were in plain view and very ugly. Our covenant says we must look after our front garden so that it's in keeping with its neighbours, so I was soon planning changes to our sloping semi-circular shaped lawn.

Money was tight at the time, so I moved some of the tough as boots shrubs from our side garden where they were becoming shaded by the trees and starting to suffer. To this I added some of the shrubs like the Euonymus I'd been using to add height to winter pots displays which were now outgrowing their home. This is a north facing garden, so I also added lots of spring bulbs such as snowdrops and daffodils to lighten the gloom. For summer I planted lots of different alliums and I've used variegated thymes to make a scented edging.

Later on I built a metal archway (echoing the railings at the side of the property) covered with Clematis 'Guernsey Cream' and 'Arabella' to make a more attractive way through to the gravel area at the side of the house. I also added a couple of 'mirror' beds either side of the dining room bay window for some of my Heucheras and more bulbs. I have a hanging basket plus pots close to the front door filled with something scented to welcome my visitors. Whilst I'm happy with the overall design, as is usual at this time of the year I can never make up my mind on whether the summer yellow leaf/pink flower combination of the Spirea 'Goldflame' is attractive. In spring and autumn their orange or fiery colouring is much better, which is what's letting them stay for now.

Having what NAH calls 'drainsville' in our front garden, I came up with several solutions to this common problem which are all shown in the bottom left picture. How many drain covers do you think there are? It's not one, but three. The left hand pot is covering up one of them; the large coin shaped stepping stone - which takes you to the gravel area at the side of the house - covers another one; and finally I've used the prolific trailing and ground hugging properties of various Sedums to hide the other one. This plant is ideal as the soil is rather poor and stony in this area, so its succulent properties are extremely useful for keeping this area looking a little greener.

Finally, I can't leave a piece on front garden design without saying a little about the issue of our disappearing front gardens in this country. More and more front gardens are being paved over as houseowners seek off-road parking for their cars. You can see from the bottom picture that this is happening around the corner from us, despite the builder's designs having room for at least two cars. I just wish the house owners had thought a little more and incorporated further planting in their re-designs for the areas where the car can't get to. So far at least they've used a relatively permeable material instead of the dreaded tarmac like the builders gave us.

Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop is hosted by Gardening Gone Wild.

11 comments:

  1. You have done a good job with your front garden. I know what you mean about the pink/yellow spirea, I am inclined to prune off the flowers! I do like your coin stone - I will look out for one of those. I do think this is a good example of modern English gardens - including the weedy lawn, most lawns are like this in the UK.

    Best wishes Sylvia

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  2. I'm another pink/yellow spirea pruner! It's rare that nature comes up with a more ghastly combination of colours.

    The front garden question is interesting particularly if you are constricted by regulations. I live in a terraced road with tiny front gardens about 6' x 10' - and then you have to get your bin on somewhere. Nevertheless the imagination that most people have put into their design is quite astonishing, sculptures, mosaics, par terres, etc. It makes walking up the road more interesting viewing than some of the show gardens.

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  3. Hi Sylvia and Arabella - I've stopped short of snipping off the blooms because the bees love them. However, I'm also missing the lavender hedge which I used to have in the side garden until it got too shaded and leggy, so that could be a good substitute...

    Arabella - most people around here aren't that inventive (or perhaps they're not keen gardeners), but there are a couple of gravel gardens and a box edged knot garden which are rather nice.

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  4. Sylvia - I've seen the coin pavers in a couple of places. We first saw them at a garden centre in Somerset which we visited for apple day a few years ago. We kicked ourselves for ages for not getting them at the time. Then we went away for a weekend near Winchester and found them at the garden centre attached to Hilliers. I'm sure if you keep your eyes peeled, you'll find someone stocks them close to you.

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  5. I think front gardens are the most difficult things to get right, and keep looking right. Unless you're lucky enough to have a doll's house type property, with a central path to the front door, they often end up looking lopsided especially if a parking space is involved. (Which reminds me, I need to sort mine out...)
    Personally, I feel that if something works, go with the flow. Your spiraea looks lovely and textural compared to the other front gardens pictured here, VP.

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  6. It is such a shame that people get rid of beautiful areas like these front gardens. That will never be me. My gardens may not be perfect, but the bees seem to like them anyway!

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  7. I live on a similar estate but older. Our deeds say that we mustn't erect fences at the front of the property. So everyone seems to have gone for hedges to give some privacy.

    I like the bit in your about being in keeping with the neighbours. In some cases that would mean total neglect!!!

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  8. Your solution to the drain cover problem is wonderful. Utilities present such a challenge, as they need to be accessible to workers, yet they are such eyesores.

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  9. Victoria - quite a few of the properties got either a Spirea or Euonymus hedge, so I just altered the theme a little.

    Cinj - paving over front gardens happens all too frequently here as car ownership is increasing and a number of councils are starting to either ban or charge householders for the privilege of parking on the streets. Then there are the issues with the increased rainfall runoff all this paving causes. It's such an issue that our government's introducing legislation to encourage more permeable surfaces to be used in these instances. I think there's a role that the gardening profession can play too by giving us examples of simple and good designs which still manage to incorporate a good amount of planting whilst acknowledging the practical needs of the householder. There's a similar need for the incorporation of all the unsightly wheelie bins (aka trash cans) which we're being forced to use. I'm with you though, anything I can do to encourage the bees has to be a good thing even if it does mean keeping my lurid Spirea for now!

    PG I suspect that's why the estate's original design had lots of little hedges so no-one would put up any fences.

    MMD - coping with 5 drain covers and the junction box was quite a challenge! I'm quite proud of the idea of incorporating 2 of them as stepping stones to another part of the garden. And that's a good point you've made - access to them is still there if anyone needs it.

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  10. An interesting post VP. Sadly many of the front gardens in this neck of the woods are moving over to the paved over look :(

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  11. Anna - that's exactly what's happened to the estate in Chippenham we moved from. It looks really ugly. A lot of people have used gravel as it's a relatively cheap solution and of course, is relatively permeable too when compared with a lot of the options available. However, most of them haven't contained the gravel at all, so it's gone all over the pavement and road :(

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