Tuesday, 23 June 2009
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.