Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Garden Out Front

Everyone bemoans the standard suburban front yard: evergreens trimmed to resemble meatballs, lined up along the foundation, two patches of grass flanking the sidewalk. Considering how popular gardening is, it's odd that so many of our front yards are blank, impersonal spaces.

Well, it turns out that it takes guts to garden in front of your house. I know this because I've been doing it for several years now. Sometimes I'm pleased with the results, but it's hard to be inventive when the whole world can walk by and see your mistakes.

I moved here about 15 years ago; there were 3 Norway Maples out at the street and a typical foundation planting along the front of the house. Other than that, it was all lawn, lawn running into my neighbors' lawns on either side. I began by moving out some sickly box and Japanese holly, finding them better homes in the back yard. Next I set about planting shrubs along the south edge of the yard. It was tough to get things going because of the many maple roots; any soil ammendment intended to improve conditions for the shrubs seemed to draw the maple roots like a magnet. I started using mulch then; it conserves moisture, keeps down weeds, nourishes the soil, and ties the planting area together visually.

The first plants to go into this border were a Styrax japonicus, or Snowbell Tree, a Corylopsis pauciflora or Winterhazel, a few Ilex glabra (Inkberrry, a native, non-spiny holly), a Magnolia x loebneri 'Merrill' a Rhododendron mucronulatum 'Cornell Pink,' one of the earliest azaleas, three Viburnum carlesii, and a couple of blue mop-head hydrangeas.

Before starting to dig, I had spent the winter drawing plans for this garden, trying to make sure I would have a long season of interest, beginning with the Winterhazel and lasting through the end of summer with the hydrangeas. The inkberries were there to provide some green during winter. If I could find those plans now, it would be intersting to see if any of my original ideas actually made it into the garden. Once I started buying the stock, all bets were off; I bought what I liked from the plants that were available. Once I started digging, the plans had to be ignored, because the Maple roots prevented me from planting in some parts of this bed.

This garden was an easy way to break into the front yard. It was off to the side of the house, so it could be ignored when it didn't look very good. It wasn't until about 10 years later, when the maples met their eventual fate, that I found the courage and the conditions to move forward with the next, more confident phase of the garden out front.


Blogger Hanna said...

I have always been amazed at how few gardens are out front. I love to garden out front as I think that gardening is best done when you can share it with others. :)

May 15, 2006  
Blogger Kasmira said...

My first gardening attempts were in the front yard because it had the best exposure for cottage garden plants. I was a little intimidated at first, but I quickly realized that even as a newbie, I was more knowledgeable than most of my neighbors.

Now that I've expanded from the original cottage garden beds next to the house, I've been trying to garden in the shady area beneath our Norway Spruce. Perhaps "Norway" in front of any plant name should be a red flag for TERRIBLE TO GARDEN UNDER! Like Norway Maples, the spruce also have thirsty, competitive roots. I have to frequently alter my planting plans to accomodate an unexpcted root! Argh. I suppose it forces a more "naturalistic" look than I would have otherwise. :)

August 31, 2006  

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