How to create a beautiful and welcoming front garden
Your front garden sets the scene for everyone who arrives at your house. It can be stylish, welcoming, wildlife-friendly or low maintenance – but above all, it links your house to the rest of the neighbourhood.
I’ve just done a YouTube collaboration with Linda Vater, whose inspirational gardening and lifestyle Instagram profile is @potagerblog. Her YouTube channel is Linda Vater, showing stylish ways to plant, design and maintain gardens.
Linda and I both agreed that the architecture of your house is probably the greatest single influence on how to create a beautiful and welcoming front garden.
So we’ve both done videos with front garden ideas. And on Linda’s video, I’ve talked about how the style basics of our Georgian house were adapted to create an easy to maintain front garden in the UK. And on my video, Linda has talked about how the architecture of her 1930s house in Oklahoma City has inspired her front garden.
Even if you live in a newly built house, the architectural clues will be there for you to pick up.
How to adapt the architecture of your house to your front garden
Start by considering what the house is built from. What colour is the brick, stone, wood or slate? It’s harmonious to echo the colours or materials of the house in garden paths, edging, walls or fences.
For example, Linda’s home is ‘1930s Tudor’, which has steep roofs, tall chimneys and arches. It’s built in red brick and stone. Linda has echoed the curve of the front door arch and other arches in the curve of the front borders.
And she says it’s also important to consider scale. ‘Some people call it a cottage and others a manor house,’ she says. Personally, I think most of us would call it quite large. So she reflects that size by creating large generous flower borders in her front garden – which is itself big for a front garden. ‘There was a fashion for pushing borders, especially in front gardens, tightly in to the house,’ she says. Her borders have the generous scale of her home.
Consider the design principles…
The design principles are the concepts, rather than the bricks and mortar. You can usually find out the design principles behind a certain kind of architecture by putting ‘design principles of (insert style) houses’ into a search engine.
Our house was built in 1781, so it is Georgian. And Georgian design was based on simplicity, symmetry and balance.
That’s why my front garden has a central path, built from the same stone as the front doorstep. I think we are lucky that no-one ever removed it, because it matches perfectly. On either side there are two equal rectangles of lawn and borders around the edge with matching planting.
A row of Bonica roses lines the path and the fence. This says ‘simplicity and symmetry’ perfectly. We didn’t plan this front garden, by the way, it was done by our predecessors in this house. But we think it works beautifully.
We’re also experimenting with turning the two patches of grass into a mini meadow. This is historically correct in that lawn mowers and today’s lawn grasses did not exist when our house was built. But I’m not sure how it will turn out or whether it will be right for the formality of Georgian architecture. There’s a month by month progress report, plus how-tos on the regular ‘Garden Tips and Tours’ videos.
But you can interpret the architecture of your house differently…
There is another Georgian house, much bigger and grander, nearby. New owners have recently re-designed the front garden. They’ve interpreted simplicity, symmetry and balance in a different way.
In this front garden, there are just a few strong design elements, repeated in a balanced way.
There was a mismatched central front path before, which they removed. And instead of replacing it with another path, they re-paved the whole front garden in beautiful old stone. They bought the extra stone pavers as reclaimed stone flags, chosen to match. This takes the principle of simplicity up a notch. And because the house has such broad steps, it really makes sense to widen out the welcoming area in front of it rather than having a narrow path leading up to it.
The main planting is four large yew balls, placed in a balanced and geometric way. Like the house, they have a strong architectural presence.
This front garden is quite contemporary in its feel, yet perfectly suited to the age of the house. It’s not quite finished yet and there are other planted areas, which haven’t had a chance to grow, but you can see its strong lines and sense of symmetry.
Adapt your own house style to the garden…
These two gardens show you that the same principles can give you two different front gardens, so you can adapt the principles of your architecture to your own front garden style.
As similar types of houses are often built around the same time in neighbourhoods, it’s really worth taking a walk with a notebook. Make a point of picking out what your neighbours have done and decide whether you like it. There’s no guarantee that they will have been echoing their house’s architectural style, but many people have an instinct that is worth following.
You can echo your house simply by using the colour of your front door as an inspiration for your planting scheme. You could even paint pots the same colour as your front door.
There are some front garden styles in this post about smart, easy and cheap front garden ideas.
It’s also worth looking at general garden design tips. Many apply equally to front and back gardens. See garden designer Charlotte Rowe’s 5 top garden design tips (and two mistakes to avoid!)
And if you are using a landscaping company to lay paths or build walls, here are 12 professional insider tips to help you find the right one.
And your garden gate…
Garden gates have often been lost, broken or taken away. Does yours fit with your house? If not, you may want to consider replacing it, but do some research first. Here’s a post with more about how to choose a garden gate.
The key issues are whether you live in a district where new garden gates need planning permission. You also have to make sure that the gate posts are strong enough to support the gate, especially over decades of use.
If you have a historic house, then having a gate made will give you a chance to get the historic detail right. A ready-made ‘Georgian-style’ gate may not look as good as you hoped.
But having it made to your design, in the right materials, will double the cost – maybe more. It’s always worth checking reclamation yards, too, of course.
A front garden will almost always have a path. This post looks at garden path materials to help you choose the right one.
And steps, too, are vital in most front gardens. Garden steps are different from house steps, so see this post on garden steps before you make your choice.
How to create more privacy in your front garden
Front garden privacy is a common problem, especially as you don’t want to take all the light away from your front windows.
Here are three options. Firstly, choose a low-growing shrub or very small tree, and plant it directly in front of the main window. I think this weeping tree is a perfect choice because the branches spread out, but it isn’t going to grow higher than around 6ft, so it won’t block the light.
Secondly, plant a larger, multi-stemmed tree, such as an amelanchier or a silver birch. Multi-stemmed trees spread like a fan so one tree will give you lots of privacy. Most multi-stemmed trees are deciduous, which means they lose their leaves in winter. But that’s not such a bad thing – your curtains or shutters will be closed for much longer and the extra light may be welcome.
Thirdly, plant a hedge and keep it from growing too high, like this Aucuba japonica hedge. There is still plenty of light coming through the windows, but you would have to be very tall and extremely nosy to peer over the hedge and see in.
If you want to know more about creating garden privacy, the Middlesized Garden Complete Guide to Garden Privacy is available from Amazon or as a downloadable pdf here.
From front garden to driveway or parking…
First you may need some kind of legal permission, depending on where you live, so consult your local authority.
Front gardens with greenery look much more attractive than bare concrete-covered spaces. And they’re also better for air quality and wildlife.
So plan your driveway to keep as much planting as you can. Grow plants anywhere you can’t park. You can add borders around the sides and space for a climber up the house. See this post on how to choose the right climber for your home.
Try to plant a hedge, large shrub or tree in your driveway or parking area too. The RHS says that a hedge will help keep dust and pollution from the street out of your home. A large shrub or small tree can have a similar effect, because the leaves of many plants absorb pollution and filter dust.
Prevent flash flooding from sudden rain
Don’t forget about flash flooding. As front gardens in town and cities get paved over for parking, sudden rainstorms can flood the drains. So there may be legal requirements around what sort of paving you use.
So you should use permeable paving (paving that allows water to drain away safely into the soil rather than flooding the drains). In the UK, you don’t need planning permission to lay permeable paving. But you will need planning permission to use traditional impermeable driveways, such as tarmac or concrete, for areas that are larger than 5 square metres. And that’s even if you’re re-doing a driveway, not just if you are creating a new one.
Front garden border and planting ideas
Your front garden will be different from your back garden because it faces a different way. If your back garden is north-facing, your front garden will be south-facing, or the other way around. This means that you will probably be able to grow different plants, if you want to.
The soil type, of course, will be the same, but check the amount of sun or shade your front garden gets and buy your plants appropriately. If you’d like to know more about plants for shady areas, see this post.
Use a limited palette of plants for low maintenance…
When it comes to choosing colours, think about limiting the palette if the space is small. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, there’s a ‘magic rule of 3’. Pick three colours. As green foliage is one colour, then it leaves you two others. Our garden has mainly pink flowers, and where they’re not pink, they’re white. So our trio is pink, white and green.
Limiting how many different types of plants you have is also low maintenance. If you plant, say, six different easy-care shrubs and grasses, each type of plant only need attention once or twice a year.
If you have lots of different kinds of plants, then each needs attention at different times. So you would need to be doing something in your front garden at least every month.
I was recently interviewed by Redrow Homes for their podcast and YouTube channel. While I was there, I noticed the very nicely designed front gardens, using just grasses (stipa tenuissima), lavender and low evergreen hedging to border the paths and fill out the borders. Stipa, lavender and evergreen hedging usually only need attention once a year, when they are clipped, so this is a very low maintenance look. And there is good foliage contrast as the leaves are all very different colours.
There was vertical interest too, with box lollipops and conifer spirals added as punctuation points.
There is more about low maintenance front gardens – what works and what doesn’t – here.
You can also see more front garden style ideas in this post.
See more of the gardens in video
See more of Linda Vater’s front garden advice in her video here.
And this is my video on front gardens on the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel:
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And because I think it’s good to remind ourselves not to worry about getting something wrong in the garden, I’ve put my favourite garden saying ‘Gardeners Learn by Trowel and Error’ on a mug, tote bag and t-shirt. Plants want to grow and will forgive us all sorts of mistakes – and sometimes even mistakes turn out brilliantly. Buy these from the Middlesized Garden Spring store.
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