Front Yard Gardens

– Posted in: Garden Design

Steve’s latest post on his difficulty in getting his front yard to a place where it pleases him, along with the responses from readers who echo his sentiment, is a reminder that for many of us gardeners that extending our gardening repertoire from the backyard to the front is a significant challenge. Below is a picture of my house and garden when it was spanking new. Even back then I knew that this was not a pretty picture!


As many of you already know, when I built my home 25 years ago, the front yard had not even one flower. It was limited to a sparse row of evergreens and a scattering of deciduous shrubs and trees. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was through the influence and passion of Chris Woods, the visionary behind Chanticleer (www.chanticleergarden.org) that I was turned onto the world of perennials and native plants. It was Chris who taught me the beauty of using large amounts of perennials in a sweeping motion. He was the one who said ‘hog wash’ to the Asian rhododendrons and azaleas that had buffered parts of my home and told me to trash them or give them away (which I sheepishly did). It was under his tutelage and vision that I was introduced to the glorious world of perennials, ornamental grasses and native shrubs.

But the one thing about gardening that any keen gardener knows is that nothing in nature (or life) stays the same: everything is in constant motion. A garden becomes more mature, our taste changes,  perhaps we travel and see gardens that infuse our unconscious with inspirational ideas: and we, as human beings, possess an unquenchable thirst to continue to learn and experiment. Because after all,  for most of us gardeners, our gardens are our personal laboratories.

Perhaps you’ve seen the pictures on GGW recently of my front walkway (strewn with roses, perennials and an assortment of other flowers). At certain times of the season, usually at the end of a long day’s work when I meander out front, the beauty of it still takes my breath away.  Yet, by the end of last year’s gardening season I was feeling restless with it. There was a major section that felt disorganized and out of sync with its overall feeling. So last fall, I did what I have done so many times before. I dug up dozens of perennials, transplanted those that could be used elsewhere and the rest were either given away or dumped, leaving a relatively blank slate in a large area bordering the pathway.

It is mid-April and I still don’t know what types of perennials I’ll be planting in the front yard garden over the next few weeks. Right now, I’m too busy germinating seeds, potting up tubers to place in the greenhouse (until the weather warms up) and cleaning up gardening beds. But somehow, as I look out my office window on this blissful spring afternoon and gaze at the huge flowers in bloom on the Magnolia grandiflora in my backyard, I know that everything will play out the way it’s meant to.  I will figure out a solution to the unsolved dilemma of what to do with the unplanted segment of the front yard garden this spring. Whatever perennials I end up planting and whether or not the design pleases me, I will gain some pleasure from these plants and learn a heck of alot while romping about in nature. What more could I ask for?? The perfect front garden? I don’t think it exists!

Fran Sorin
The 10th Anniversary Edition of Fran's classic book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, has recently been published. Updated with a new foreword by the renowned author, Larry Dossey, M.D., it has dozens of endorsements from renowned spiritual, gardening, and personal development authors and experts in their fields. A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology and One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, Fran is a renowned gardening expert, passionate gardener, deep ecologist, inspirational speaker, ordained interfaith minister, soul tending coach, and CBS Radio news contributor. See less Google+ | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest
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Lisa at Greenbow April 17, 2008, 7:23 pm

Well, I don’t expect perfection but I would at least like to be pleased with what is happening in the front garden. I think you very lucky to be pleased with you front garden. Obviously it is quite nice.

Lisa-
I had to laugh when I read your first line. Believe me, I know that feeling of wanting to be pleased with what I’ve planted and it’s just not cutting it. I spent years in total frustration before the fruits of my labor began to pay off. And even now, I have plenty of times where I think ‘what was I thinking of when I planted up a spot in the garden a certain way’? yes, my front garden is ‘nice’ but that’s not where the action is…..as i said in my post, a large part of it no longer pleases me; hence, the changes. beauty is all in the eye of the beholder. Whenever I get frustrated now, I tell myself to just calm down, walk away and work in another part of the garden. It seems to do the trick…at least temporarily. Fran

jodi April 17, 2008, 10:53 pm

Perfection doesn’t mean done, or tidy, or uniform, or Martha Stewartish. My garden is perfect, and yours is too. It’s a perfect garden if it gives you joy–and yours obviously does. (mine’s far from where I plan to get it eventually, but it’s still perfect to me.)

Jodi-
For me, the word ‘perfection’ doesn’t necessarily have a positive connotation. A concert pianist could play a piece perfectly, that is technically. And yet, I, as the listener, might interpret is as having little soul. The same goes with gardening. When I walk into a garden and am overtaken by its magic, I know I have stumbled upon something extradordinary. One of my favorite gardens was in Ireland at a private home of someone in the country who had a walled garden and chickens. Believe me, there were plenty of weeds…but the magic was amongst the weeds with all of the wild poppies and other naturalized flowers growing.
I think you and I are saying the same thing….just using different words to describe it! Thanks for posting. Fran

Pam/Digging April 18, 2008, 1:24 am

Are those wavy hedges like Oudolf’s? If so, I’d like to see more pics please.

Enjoy your redo of your pathway. I’ve redone portions of my tiny front yard many times. It’s fun!

Pam-
I’ve seen pictures of your ‘tiny front yard’ on your site and it looks pretty phenomenal to me. Yes, the hedges are supposed to mimic Oudolf’s. I wish I had more space to a series of them. His titillate my senses. I’ll pull some more photos together and send them to you at your personal e-mail. Fran

Ken from Sweden April 18, 2008, 1:56 am

Hi Fran!
We have lived in our hose in 20 years and for the first 10 years our children take al the time.
It is with big joy you start building a garden but you always start with the wrong plants.
It is very easy to forget the most importent like -trees.
We start on a field with only weeds, it takes a long time for the garden to be like a “jungle”.
But we are on our way.
We have our frontgarden on the south so the sun makes it dry and we have our one wather so we can not use it so much for the garden.
I think you have a very nice house even without our garden at the front :)
Best regards Ken

Ken-
As always, you write very nice things. It is true that when the children were young, I barely had time to even get out in the back yard to satisfy my need to garden. The front was the last area that I actually began to tackle. And yes, trees are of the utmost importance. Fran

Frances April 18, 2008, 6:34 am

Fran, you are a brave soul to rip out the front garden. What you have in the last pic looks great, but it seems you are talking about the area closest to the house? The rose arbor didn’t get removed did it? I can’t wait to see what you end up doing. I have been waiting to do a post on our front garden until the azaleas bloom, it is close now!

Frances-

I’d hardly call myself a brave soul…but thanks for those encouraging words. I see it more as necessity. When it gets to the point where I can no longer live with the way a piece of the garden looks, then I’ve got to rip it out….for better or for worse. No, the rose arbors are all intact….thanks for asking. Will check your blog for your azalea post…looking forward to it.! fran

mss @ Zanthan Gardens April 18, 2008, 10:42 am

“gardens are our personal laboratories.”

Just so!

mss@Zanthan Gardens-
yes, it is. And what I love most about gardens being our ‘personal laboratories’ is that if you are having a tough year, no matter what the reason, gardens tend to be very forgiving and optimistic by nature. The relationship established is between you, the gardener and the garden itself. It rocks! fran

Curtis April 19, 2008, 8:43 am

I just started making the front yard in to gardens a few years ago. Right now I have some hostas and annuals filling up the areas.

Curtis-
We all start somehwere in our gardens. I think that no matter what we plant from year to year, we learn alot. Over the past few years, I have become a much greater user of annuals because they add such a punch of color to the garden when it most needs it. Fran

Commonweeder April 19, 2008, 11:42 am

We have a country garden with a town road that looks like our driveway, and after 25 years we are still trying to figure out what to do with an awkward entry. The wisteria shaded piazza in front of the house with a ‘welcoming platform’ in front of the door helped a lot. The collection of hardy roses and peonies and well as mixed bed with trees and shrubs and perennials are on the other side of the road/drive but I’m never done with them either. I think your gardens are beautiful.

Commonweeder-

The way you describe your front yard with the wisteria, roses, peonie, etc. sounds divine. Thanks for your kind words….I don’t think any of us gardeners are ever ‘done’ with our garden!! Enjoy this beautiful spring weather. Fran

Gail April 21, 2008, 6:31 pm

I have a safe front garden, meaning it is safe from prying eyes! It is fronted by a very tall forsythia hedge that allows me a laboratory to experiment to my hearts content…but I get the not being satisfied, I haven’t been with mine and just had a garden coach visit to help me get some garden satisfaction, or at least some cohesion.
Gail