Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop – Front-Yard Gardens

– Posted in: Garden Design

House front with Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ early July 05

There’s a lot to be said for having peace, solitude, and privacy while gardening. In the back yard or behind walls or fences, sheltered from prying eyes, we can dress for comfort rather than style, bend and twist into awkward positions, sing loudly and off-key while we’re working, and get plenty dirty and sweaty without caring about what anyone else thinks.

TDF border late Nov 06

Eventually, though, we end up in that most exposed of garden spaces: the front yard. There, we’re exposed to all sorts of indignities: beeping horns and jeers from passing drivers, not-so-clever comments from passersby (“Are you having fun yet?” or “When you’re done there, you can clean up my yard”), and stares from nosy neighbors. Stay out there long enough, and folks may begin to mistake you for the latest version of a “fat fanny.” (Er…please don’t tell me that “fat fannies” – wooden silhouettes shaped to look like a bending-over man or woman’s back end – are just a Pennsylvania thing….)

Besides the social challenges, front-yard spaces offer many other difficulties, such as kids, pets, and mail carriers cutting through the beds, and nasty sub-humans stealing or destroying plants and ornaments.

Even with all of these potential problems, though, the front yard can be the perfect space to let our garden-freak flag fly. Yep, we love plants, and we’re not afraid to use them! We’re proud to show off our gardening skills, give our homes that ever-important “curb appeal,” and make our whole neighborhood a more beautiful place to live.

So, let’s talk about the front yard and the various spaces within: walkway and driveway borders, foundation plantings, entryways, and so on. Do you limit yourself to just a few pots by your front door, or have you abandoned all pretense of a lawn and turned the whole space between your house and the street into a garden (not mentioning any names, Pam and Kim)? Are you looking for ideas on how you can spruce up your oh-so-ordinary front yard, or searching for suggestions on reworking a boring foundation planting? You post, and we’ll respond!

If you’re new to the Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop, here’s how it works: Write a post on any front-yard-related topic on your own blog and leave a link here (already-archived posts count too), or jot down your thoughts in a comment below. At the end of the month, I’ll gather all of the links into one summary post for easy reference. If you’re interested in checking out previous GBD Workshops, you can find them here:

Paths and Walkways
Fences and Walls
Arbors and Pergolas
Color in the Garden
Container Plantings

And for those of you who like to know what’s ahead, here’s the list of proposed topics for the next six months of Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshops:

* Stone in the Garden (gravel, rocks, slabs, and boulders for paths, walls, accents, and other features)
* Decks, Porches, and Patios (bringing plants into your outdoor living spaces)
* Garden Whimsy (plantings and accents that are clever, quirky, or just plain fun)
* Trellises and Screens (and vines, too)
* Water Gardens (ponds, waterfalls, bog gardens, and container water gardens)

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Frances April 1, 2008, 6:08 am

Great topic, Nan. Lots of leeway here. Thanks too for showing us the future topics. I have been waiting on the pond post, feeling you would eventually pick that. Glad we have a whole month to work on this. Time to put the thinking cap on, complete with freak flag on top! (Sorry David Crosby)

You don’t need to wait for your pond post, Frances. Put it up any time you want, and then we’ll add a link to remind readers of it once it’s the “official” topic of the month.

Elly Phillips April 1, 2008, 6:57 am

Aaaarrrrgghhh, “fat fannies” (aka “granny fannies”)!!! Somehow, I’d forgotten them. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen any around lately–I guess everybody took their precious fannies inside for the winter!

One of my neighbors has both a “granny fanny” and a “grandpa fanny.” The phenomenon is inexplicable. But certainly they’re brought indoors for the winter. One wouldn’t want one’s fanny to get warped now, would one?

jeff-nhn April 1, 2008, 7:51 am

Gardening in the back yard is my favorite. Gives me time to think and be a little creative, some ideas look great others will have to be well say we say pondered on a bit. The front yard is full of traffic and neighbors always stopping by and talking to you. By the time you get it explained to one then another shows up. In my opinion when a person is gardening they should be left alone to enjoy and visualize their projects.

You’ve got it, Jeff. Perhaps a “Do Not Disturb the Gardener” sign would work? Nah, people never read signs anyway. If you have enough space to keep you happy in the back yard, that’s ideal.

Lisa at Greenbow April 1, 2008, 7:56 am

I am so looking forward to this subject. Our front garden needs a major overhaul. The front garden is not any where near a Curb Appeal specimen. The main reason is because I hate to work out there due to the very thing you mentioned…passers by shouting insulting rude remarks. I need some inspiration to get me out there.

I find that early morning, from dawn until about 9, is about the best time to work out near the street. Wearing camouflage gear can also help you blend in. Other than that, there’s not much you can do except to try to ignore the comments. Maybe having Luna out there with you would scare rude people away. No, actually, she’s not very scary, is she? She’d be more likely to lure them over.

gina April 1, 2008, 8:21 am

oh my goodness, nan! This is such an awesome topic! as usual I’ll be reading more than contributing to this topic. if all goes well, tomorrow all my “poodle shrubs” will be gone from my front garden and I’ll be starting with a clean slate for my front yard garden. I can’t wait to read all the great contributions to this topic!

Hi Gina! I remember you did a whole lot of work last year, so it’ll be very exciting to see how your front yard develops this season.

Gail April 1, 2008, 9:09 am


This topic is perfect for me…can’t wait to join you all….my front garden is the garden and it still needs some attention and reworking…


It’ll be fun to see what everyone comes up with this month, I think!

Pam/Digging April 1, 2008, 12:26 pm

As you’ve noticed, Nan, nearly every post I make involves my front-yard, lawnless garden. I spend more time in the front than in back, and I try very hard to stand up whenever a car goes by. I’ll post about why I made my garden out front.

I’m looking forward to reading that, Pam. We’ll have to make sure we get the links to your other front-yard posts too.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter April 1, 2008, 3:21 pm

This topic is so timely – I’ve decided the big green house goatee (the yew hedge) has to go this year. I have no idea what should go in its place. Suggestions will be very welcome. And those “fat fannies”? I first saw them 20 years ago in Bartlett, Illinois, where they were in every third yard. Hate them.

If I remember correctly, you got lots of ideas for your fence during a previous GBDW, so hopefully you’ll get some great suggestions for this project too. And hopefully none of them will include any type of plywood lawn art.

N. & J. April 1, 2008, 6:49 pm

Living in an apartment we don’t have a front yard but I have turned the front window of my office building into a growing area and it’s gotten quite a lot of attention. Not all of it is positive but it made me feel really good was someone told me they were inspired by it and asked if they could trade seeds 🙂

Hey, that’s great! Just one response like that can make up for several of those less-than-positive comments.

vertie April 1, 2008, 6:50 pm

How sad that people would make such comments as you are trying to beautify the space they see. I started my flower garden in the front because the back yard is the dog’s space. I think my neighbors were happy to see something other than the bare dirt where the grass had died, but then again I live in a place where we celebrate the weird.

I guess it’s because we all have different ideas of beauty. I like my meadow and naturalistic plantings, but apparently some of my neighbors would prefer to see lawn. “Celebrating the weird” is definitely not a priority here.

Kim April 1, 2008, 7:47 pm

Heh… I don’t bother standing up, but I do try to make sure that my own fanny is pointed back toward the house instead of down the street or toward the sidewalk! 🙂

I do hate some of the nosy, annoying questions, but I actually like the opportunity to be social in the front yard. Must be something about having gardened (and kind-of lived) in a newer “subdivision” where people simply didn’t interact. At all.

Plus there’s the added challenge of the teenage punk down the street. I swear this is the summer my smile and hello will make him crack a smile! Or at least soften the scowl! lol.

Good luck with that, Kim. I hope you succeed this year!

James Golden April 1, 2008, 10:47 pm

I live in the woods and have a front garden, but no front yard. No comments from passing strangers (or friends) since the house is about 160 feet from the road, with lots of trees in between. And no lawn to mow!

Welcome, James! Your situation sounds ideal for gardening in peace.

Sandra April 1, 2008, 11:49 pm

I am looking forward to this. Our house, I have an apartment in my son’s house, is on a corner and the yard can be seen from either street as it is completely open. My garden faces onto the side street and is next to the parking place for our cars, thus the main path taken by my son’s family goes past my porch with my garden on to one side. Walkers-by are generally very friendly and complimentary. Occasionally someone gazes right over the fence commenting
while I sit unobserved on my bench under the fir tree. As I am an inveterate gazer at other people’s gardens, I can’t complain when it happens to me.
At present the garden is still 90% under snow, I am hoping that by the end of April I will be able to see it again.

We’ll send you some mild weather to melt that snow so you can go back to enjoying your garden soon, Sandra.

Sylvia April 2, 2008, 8:05 am

Looking forward to lots of ideas. One of the reasons I discovered Garden Blogs is because I was looking for ideas for my front and side open plan garden. In the UK gardens without hedges or fences are never, never written about!
Sylvia (England)

I’m sure you’ll get plenty of inspiration this month, Sylvia. Based on the responses we’ve had in previous months, and on this initial post, I anticipate lots of great ideas.

kerri April 2, 2008, 11:26 am

The majority of my gardens are in our huge front yard because our farm house is set back from the road. We’ve occasionally had people stop to admire and compliment, which is always a pleasure. Thankfully no negative comments yet. Our neighbors are far enough away to give us plenty of privacy, so I’m happy to say it’s peaceful in my garden.
I always shake my head in disbelief at the “fat fannies”, and agree that the phenomenon is inexplicable.
We do sometimes find ourselves in awkward positions in the garden 🙂
I try to point my own fanny away from the road or down at the ground whenever a car passes by.
But as long as we’re having fun it doesn’t really matter, does it?

No, you’re right, though it’s a lot easier to have fun when you can garden in peace!

Valerie April 2, 2008, 5:05 pm

Funny you should ask – I’ve been thinking about my front yard this year.

We also have a big front yard relative to the neighborhood and I never put sod into the front, just let the field grass fill in. It seems like a huge void no matter how many plants I put there (and the deer eat). The neighbors have been good sports about my experiments so far.

This year, I’m looking at letting the grass grow a la Rick Darke and see what happens. Ultimately, a grass maze perhaps – but at least some undulating forms and some more seeds for the birds.

Welcome, Valerie! If you try letting your yard grow back into meadow, I hope you’ll post pictures on your blog and report back on your progress. I did pretty much the same thing with part of my property, which used to be a hayfield, and I’ve found some really neat plants coming up, including orchids, several kinds of milkweed, and some lovely native grasses.

Benjamin April 2, 2008, 8:10 pm

My front garden is the north side, so I’m not there much, but will be this year cuz I gots me some ideas. Whenever I am out there, I’m furiously planting, dirty, nasty, and wanting to be alone. I make sure before I head out that I see no other neighbors. And then they suddenly come walking by with their dogs and kids (both on leashes) pretending not to look at me, smile, hollar something, and pretend none of that just happened. Then, when I DO want to talk to someone, throw the side gate open to the main back garden, hoping to entice / ensnare / impress a passerby (it works for me), I get nothing. I feel better now. Thanks, Nan. I have to go put out my fat fanny.

Ok, now I officially regret bringing up the subject of fannies and henceforth will resist the urge to respond on that subject, no matter how much I’m tempted to.

Aw, shoot, just one more: Considering how you feel about your neighbors’ holiday decorations, Benjamin, maybe you should consider putting up a Santa fanny instead. That’d certainly start some conversations in your neighborhood, though more likely *about* you, not *with* you..

Ann April 2, 2008, 8:47 pm

I’ve lived here for 8 years and have been planning a front yard garden the entire time. I hope to start something this fall — I’m sick and tired of apologizing for the front as I show people around to the back!

Welcome to GGW, Ann! You’ve had plenty of time for planning your new front-yard garden, so once you get started, it should turn out great.

mss @ Zanthan Gardens April 2, 2008, 11:54 pm

I didn’t write this post specifically about front yard gardens but the accompanying photos featured three different front yard gardens in my neighborhood–and it seemed to strike a chord with my readers. So, I thought I’d share it with you.

I’d like to post about my front yard garden…if I can make it through Spring Fling maybe I’ll have some time next week.

Thanks for sharing the link, mss. You have plenty of time to post about your own front yard, so make the most of the Spring Fling!

Melanthia April 4, 2008, 3:39 am

My entire yard is a work in progress so if diligent I could post about each of the proposed topics, especially the front yard. I’ve already been working (and blogging) on that but it’s nothing spectacular; mostly cleaning up and mulching. Hope to have more pleasing entries soon.

Thanks for joining us, Melanthia. We look forward to seeing your progress on your front-yard project. Don’t forget to leave us links to the potst you’d like to have included in the end-of-the-month wrap-up.

Catherine, My Garden Travels April 4, 2008, 12:08 pm

I garden right out front, but because I live on a very fast, busy highway, I never get people walking by. I usually get horns honked, but by the time I turn around their already a mile down the highway. My goal for my gardens is to help slow down the traffic.

Remembering how busy your road is, Cathy, I wish you luck with your goal! The trick is finding a way to slow down the cars a bit without inspiring sudden stops in the process.

Dave April 6, 2008, 11:04 pm

I took some pictures today of our front yard garden. I’ll have to get it up in a post this week. A word of warning though, our gardens are still in their infancy. A great deal of work remains to be done!

Great, Dave – we’ll look forward to seeing your post. The progress is just as important as the finished product.

Rose April 7, 2008, 9:38 am

I’m new to blogging and to your blog, though I don’t know how I missed it. Thank you for all the helpful links–I could spend the next hour checking out some of the articles referenced here. I’m looking forward to posting about my front yard, but mostly to reading all the other posts and getting some new ideas.

How exciting – another new reader! Welcome, Rose. I hope you’ll find lots of inspiration and share some of your experiences with us too.

Heirloom Gardener April 7, 2008, 2:09 pm


I’ll work on something specifically for this topic, but in the mean time, here are two posts with pictures of last year’s front border and some of my plans for this coming year:

This post is about the front border in the summer and the plan for the new path to make it more welcoming:

This other post just includes pictures of the front border with my annual display of tulips to welcome spring visitors:

As always, thank you for hosting such great workshops.

-Heirloom Gardener

And thanks back to you for being such a generous participant, HG. I appreciate you sharing these links and look forward to your new post as well.

Curtis April 7, 2008, 7:24 pm

Sounds great. I intend to get in on this bloggers workshop. I thought of covering foundation plants. and posts.

Terrific, Curtis. We’ll look forward to getting the links to your posts (especially your post about posts).

Melanthia April 8, 2008, 10:53 pm

Here’s my first post as a participant of GBDW. Hope to have more since the other half of my front yard needs work.

And here’s another from March when we redid the parking strip. Guess it could also count as a post for front yard/utilitarian path.


Excellent, Melanthia! We’ll be over to see what you’ve been up to. Thanks for the links.

jodi April 9, 2008, 2:08 am

I’m late coming to the discussion, on account of having work coming out my ears, but to confirm–those hideous plywood cutouts of womens bloomers AREN’T a Penn. phenom…they’re here too, along with cows, little boys peeing, and assorted other tackinesses. Not my thing, although sometimes they amuse me in a twisted way.
This will be a fun topic. Having a rural garden with some privacy in the front, I don’t have to deal with the idiocies of comments from passersby (plus I wear my iPod often when I’m gardening –a little Bach is good for the Back…).

Oh, so sorry to hear that you’re subjected to them too, Jodi. I must confess to having a few cutouts of my own, but they’re simple black silhouttes of dogs, to go with the faux doghouse that protects the cover of my well.

I’ve started a big new project that requires me to work barely 20 feet from the road out front. I’ve been polishing my skills at not making eye contact with passing drivers, and I have escape plans for when I see walkers heading my way (it’s a good time to take stuff to the compost pile, for instance.)

Brent April 15, 2008, 6:01 pm

I’ve been a California native plant gardener for a couple years and I’ve gradually converted nearly the entire front yard to natives.

The linked blog post has the highlights of my native garden learning process.

The front yard is still in state of flux. I don’t know that I’ll ever be “done”.

Part of my internal struggle has been to learn and implement elements of garden design as well as keep the neighbors who believe in large expanses of grass happy. I think that I’ve done that, mostly, since I had vocal converts after last the flower display last spring and I’ve kept the other doubters at bay with a lowish carpet of yarrow, which looks remarkably like turf grass, at least when viewed from a distance.

Lovely, Brent, and an excellent example to show your neighbors what they *could* do if they’d get over the “must have grass” concept. Thanks so much for sharing the link!

Ellis Hollow April 15, 2008, 7:41 pm

I wrote about the big problem with my front-yard garden this evening. It’s here:

Thanks, Craig! I’ll be over to see what you’ve been up to.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter April 19, 2008, 7:51 am

I’ve posted about my front yard foundation planting problem here:

Hey, thanks for the link, MMD. I’m looking forward to see what kind of ideas you get!

Pookie April 21, 2008, 8:49 pm

My sister (and co-gardener) and I are new to gardening blogs, so we’ve only just discovered this fabulous site! We felt we had to contribute to this Design Workshop because we’ve done something a bit unusual with our front yard — planted a vegetable garden. You can read about it here:

Welcome to GGW! You’re setting a great example for your neighbors. Thanks for sharing the link!

Shady Gardener April 22, 2008, 9:53 am

Call me “Shady-come-lately,” but I re-discovered your Design Workshop and have become enthralled with the idea of contributing my 2 cents worth. 🙂 I’m working on a post of the Front Yard right now. Hopefully by the end of the day…

Good to see you again, Shady! We’ll look forward to your post.

Shady Gardener April 22, 2008, 10:46 pm

Hi, Nan!
It’s a little disjointed. I seem to have taken a lot of close-up photos last year… my first year blogging AND having a digital camera. 😉 Anyway, it’s “up!”

You did a great job on your post, Shady. Your explanations of the views were very clear and easy to follow, so it was like having a private tour of your front yard!

2greenthumbsup April 26, 2008, 10:45 am

Hi Nan,

I’m really jumping in at the tail end of this workshop! Can I still play?

Just finished a post on our front yard makeover:

Can’t wait to participate in some of the upcoming workshop topics too. I promise not to be so tardy in the future.


It’s never too late, Cathy! I enjoyed seeing the before-and-after shot of your renovation project, and the spring shots of the other beds too. Thanks for sharing!

Dave April 27, 2008, 10:46 pm

I finally put something up for the workshop. I hope I’ll get another post up in the next day or so about the shade garden I put in. But here’s the one about our front sidewalk garden and the tulips:

I’m definitely going to have to do something for the topic “Coping with Slopes”!

Great, Dave! I caught both of your posts for the end-of-the-month wrap-up. Many thanks!

Frances April 29, 2008, 5:43 am

After much anguish over the lack of quality photos, my post is up, for better or worse. Looking forward to a new topic!

So sorry it required anguish, Frances; the result is lovely! Here’s a direct link to your post. Thanks so much!

Tina Ramsey May 1, 2008, 9:30 am

This sounds really good. Nice views on front yard gardening. I often hear people focus on the front yard because that is what the public sees. How sad, as the back yard is where we usually live. I try to focus on it all but want my front state highway to disappear! Gardening is finally working. I may be too late for this design but will try to get on board with the other ones.

Hi Tina! If the mood strikes you to post about your front yard later on, leave a link here so we can find you. These wrap-up posts get plenty of visits from readers looking for ideas and inspiration.

Tina Ramsey May 8, 2008, 1:33 pm

Okay-thanks! I have prepared the stone post and will let you know when it is posted. Good subjects.

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