Full Frontal Gardens

“People’s backyards are much more interesting than their front gardens” said the poet John Betjeman. And generally, I do have to agree.dscn1996

You see, front gardens are our public face onto the world; the face we don’t mind people seeing. It’s a bit like how the ‘front parlour’ in our homes used to be kept for ‘best’. Always neat and tidy, visitors were shown into this room and kept away from the daily detritus of everyday life going on in the back rooms. Gosh! I’m old enough to remember our own front room being reserved for visitors! This is my front parlour-mainly used by Ted the dog as his boudoir and for watching tv by a roaring fire:dscn2010

But I digress. Front gardens are your public face – the one by which others WILL judge you. I once had a very prim and proper lady in my class who, when we were discussing front gardens said in horror, ” Would you believe it but my slovenly neighbour allows leaves to blow into her porch and doesn’t sweep them up!” The rest of us all cringed in recognition, and I wondered if I could sweep my own messy porch before she left the house and judged me.

This garden was one we recently completed- in fact it’s only 3 weeks old- but I like to make them look as if they’ve always been there:


It was very open at the side so we added a 6 foot tall yew hedge both for privacy and so that the new garden wouldn’t be spoiled by having to look into next door’s offering!. We also got rid of the grass ( grass rarely works in front gardens as it’s the most high maintenance element in any garden and rarely looks neat. Also, people don’t like spending too much time maintaining a front garden as it’s too exposed to passers-by, so getting rid of the grass cuts down ‘stranger danger’ time!)

The cobbled driveway was already there so we matched the stone setts and made a seamless join , making the new part match the old.

And, as with all front gardens, putting on your manicured public face means that you should have at least 75% evergreen planting so that it look good all year round. Also lots of repetition to steady the whole look down. And clipped shapes, whether that’s box hedges, box balls or holly topiary lollipops as here:dscn1981

Over the years that i’ve been designing gardens these are the principles that I find work for most front gardens. Of course, when I first visit a front garden it doesn’t look quite so ‘front parlour’- more of a ‘grungy squat’……img01409-20140331-1444 And one of my pet hates is not having planting against the house walls, like this:img01406-20140331-1444 So bleak. The excuse often given is that the window cleaner wouldn’t like it. Well tough! The window cleaner will have to just manage. Beauty and softening the house walls is all-important!DSCN1105

It looks so much better now don’t you think? And here’s some more house softening- Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ having a Barbara Cartland moment in another of my gardens:dscn1946

And despite being 75% evergreen, it’s still got little pops of seasonal interest to soften the more formal elements, like this white Centranthus ruber alba . Another thing to note is the limited colour palette of white, green, blue and purple – limited colour palettes suit the smarter front garden. Here’s another one I did:sdc17127

Tramlines in a differently coloured stone, as here, are another good thing in front gardens as they can be used to lead the eye to the front door. They also break up and add detail to otherwise unremarkable block paving. By the way, grey setts look very good with both yellow and red brick. On NO ACCOUNT use livid red pavours with red brick- very ugly! A ‘raw meat’ sort of look if you do.dscn1974

More tramlines to direct unsure postmen in this stylish Seventies house!dscn1949

And another front garden with tramlines and lollipops and limited colours and evergreens all rolled into one!dscn1961

And notice how easy it is to hide bins with just a piece of fencing cut down, painted black to match the gates and planted in front. You can just about see the green bin peeking out from behind it……dscn1963

Sometimes I get to do slightly larger gardens too, ones with driveways. And a good way of handling them is to use larger size gravel retained within boxes made from tramlines of slightly raised stone setts- this stops the gravel from migrating out onto the road:dscn0514

And then sometimes I get to do ENORMOUS gardens where I get to take the visitor on a journey. With this one, you arrive at an unassuming gate and drive into the car park:

And then there’s a lovely gate (based on Prince Charles’s Highgrove gates- of course….) set within high brick walls covered in climbers- I wanted to create a sense of mystery and anticipation- what might lie beyond?sam_2126

So you open the gate and go through to find a path leading to a bridge over a small lake (yes, I did say a small lake and it developed a leak and had to be relined, in a freezing February, but that’s another story!) and there beyond lies the house. Now that’s what I call a very special front garden:sam_2105

It didn’t always look like this though- gardens never do when I get to see them first. But here’s the same view, before and after……. Looks very ‘front parlour’ now I think you’ll agree?

So I hope your own front garden shapes up to the image you want to project to passing strangers- after all, they WILL judge you on it. Mine? Well why do you think it’s not featured here?!


  1. This is great! Lots of good ideas. I want to plant right up to the walls but I noticed no-one else does and wondered if that’s because it can damage the house?


    1. Hi Rachel, planting against the house walls with the usual fare of shrubs, climbers and perennials causes no damage in my experience. I’ve no idea why more people don’t do it!


      1. Thanks Anne! I really want to do that. I grew up in a house which had lots of plants against the front wall (including a winter flowering jasmine and a honeysuckle) and it looked great. A couple of people have mentioned window maintenance but I don’t really care about that because it’s not my job! Heh heh.


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