Front Yard Fiasco

– Posted in: Garden Design

OK, I admit it. Our front yard is a wreck. We’ve been in this house almost 14 years and I have yet to create a satisfying front yard garden. I have lots of excuses some are even good: Not even our guests use the front door; it’s a tricky spot–a long wooded slope leveling off to about 15-wide sliver of a shelf on the north side of the house; we live in the woods so we don’t have to adhere to any neighborhood code of aesthetics; yada, yada, yada.

But my real problem is a conceptual one. I just want too much. Methinks it should have year-round interest, yet celebrate the passing seasons. I want it low maintenance, yet always attractive. I don’t want dead or dull spots in winter, but then err by putting in so many evergreens things get tedious. I’ve looked into everything, even Artificial Grass Warrington which would keep the grass looking green all year round, no fear of weeds either. I’ve reworked the space over and over. Never in a hurry though-it took me three years just to build the stone walls and stone path that provide the main elements of structure (that’s not because they are so elaborate, but rather because all my energies went into our back garden, where things really happen and where we spend all our time). All that’s not to say it never looked good. Containers have helped a lot over the years, and the vignette up top pleased me greatly, but I’ve since plundered the false cypress for use elsewhere, which kind of sucked the life out of that particular combination, so…

More than any other spot, the front yard has been my garden armegeddon, the one place where the problem is always unsolved.

This season, I’m at it again. Reimagining the space. I’m yanking practically everything, even the grass, and going minimalist. Gravel for lawn, hemmed in by low stone walls. A bench, a few clusters of pots. Along the house wall, a long undulating hedge of varied boxwood cultivars, which I plan to prune into various cloud shapes, so the effect is of a massive green cloud boiling along the base of the house. I’ll toss a few bulbs here and there, and a few other shrubby things to shine in their respective seasons. The front is an ongoing struggle but, really, that’s one of the best things about gardens. No mistake is so serious it can’t be rectified. When worst comes to worst, it means only one thing: Time to do a little more gardening. And how bad can that be?

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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Commonweeder April 16, 2008, 4:56 pm

I’ve been in our house for 25 years, and I don’t think I’ve got anything down. I do have wonderful collections of hardy roses and peonies and we have a big party when they are in bloom, but that not the same as brilliant combinations. I’m so glad I found this blog- thanks to your M&T nominations. Congratulations!

Welcome commonweeder! Roses and peonies are worth celebrating, whether or not they’re part of a combination or all on their own. –Steve

fsorin April 16, 2008, 6:25 pm


I think I’ve set the all time record of how many renovations I did on my front yard before I was able to say ‘yes, i think i’ve finally figured something out’. Not to feel bad. You’re a great plantsman and artist. This jigsaw puzzle that happens to be your front yard has decided to challenge you. Just persist! Happy spring! fran

Hi Fran–My jigsaw puzzle of a front yard indeed challenges me, and persistence is the plan. I know that “Ah ha!” moment is somewhere around the corner and don’t begrudge the wait or the effort it may take to get there. It’s all about the journey, not the destination.–Steve

Phillip April 16, 2008, 8:19 pm

Is that photo from your front yard? My gracious, it is gorgeous! I’m not happy with my front garden either. It is really a mess. I don’t know what I was thinking when I started planting it. I need to cut down some things but I just don’t have the heart to do it.

Phillip-Yes that picture is from the front yard of the past, but kind of too gardenesque for what I’m after. It’s scattered to the four winds now. One thing I’ve learned about editing, whether it’s words or gardens, is that ruthlessness is, or at least can be, a virtue. Rev up the chainsaw and get out there. –Steve

Pam/Digging April 17, 2008, 1:56 am

Your last three sentences should be every gardener’s manifesto. Well said. It’s a win-win proposition.

And that top photo? Gorgeous!

Thanks Pam. I liked the top vignette too, but…oh, well. Gardens, like all living things, grow, change, evolve and die. And my aesthetic sensibilites change pretty regularly too. Those are things to bemoan or celebrate. So why not welcome them, or at least accept the certainty that a garden won’t be the same tomorrow as it was yesterday. It’s enough to know that somewhere along the way, it will get its shining moment. I’m secretly bemused by people who ask me quizically when my gardens will be “done”–they just don’t get it.–Steve

our friend Ben April 17, 2008, 8:26 am

Of course, now I’m dying to see the renovation. Please follow up!!!

Hi Elly–I’ll follow up for sure, the question is when. I’m kind of dreading the effort of getting rid of the lawn and lowering its grade a few inches so the gravel doesn’t tower over the sidewalk. There are so many projects to embark upon this time of year, and most promise a much more instant form of gratification.–Steve

jeff-naturehills April 17, 2008, 8:32 am

I make changes to my front yard it seems like every year. I don’t think I will ever be satisfied. New plants to try and new ideas always surface.

And that’s a good thing, Jeff! Nice way to keep your creativity at a full boil.–Steve

Lisa at Greenbow April 17, 2008, 9:41 am

I could have written this post about my front garden. Our front garden is a mess too. The only bad thing is that people do use our front door. UGH… I don’t think the front will get much attention this year either since we are still working to fix the area where the trees blew down this winter. Sigh…Looking at it positively Iwill have another project to look forward to in the future.

That’s the way to look at it, Lisa. Sometimes it helps to take the long view. I knew a guy who began a beautiful garden by chopping down a bunch of trees so his shady lot would be sunny, then used a shovel to bury all the tree debris so it would slowly decompose and enrich his soil, and so feed his garden for years. Next to that, a front yard makeover seems like a piece of cake!–Steve

James | Double Danger April 17, 2008, 11:52 am

We have the same problem, seems as if the front is just so hard to decide on. Good to know others struggle with the same thing.

James-yeah, I think that I want a lot from the front, and that some of my wants are conflicting. Time will sort it out.–Steve

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