Front Yard Garden Design - Inspiration, Ideas and A Starting Point - January 2024
Beyond the pizza-oven build, my mind has been thinking about the front yard for 2024. I went ham on the IB2DWs extended bed last Fall with my new conifer garden, but I've been reading and watching things on the Web that have me thinking about the rest of our yard. If I'm being honest, our front yard isn't bad. Not at all. It is, however...traditional. It is what everybody in the suburbs has: a foundation bed with a corner tree and a stretch of front lawn from that bed down to the sidewalk. Followed by a turf parkway between the sidewalk and street.
Over the years, I've done a few things: planned for some tree planting. Tucked a Saratoga Ginkgo, some Stachys Hummelo and Sesleria Greenlees into the small island bed by the driveway. And extended the front porch bed a bit this past year.
The rest is a blank canvas.
Some of the things that I've come across/influenced me a bit include this piece from Garden Design focused on curb appeal that talks through how you plan a front yard design. They include a bunch of examples like this wild one featuring a home in the desert. (Love it.). And this 'garden gone wild' colorful example. (Interesting, but less appealing to me.)
You come across those front yards that are totally planted from edge to edge in native plants and wildflowers. They typically are accompanied by a sign or two out there letting everyone know that the homeowner isn't letting their yard go-to-pot unknowingly. Rather, this is what they are wanting to do by design: a wildflower/native meadow of sorts. Cool. That's great. For you. They look messy (to me). And sort-of read (to me) as: a yard as protest.
I'm not into having my yard as a protest. I don't want to have everyone on the block grimmace as they walk by our house. But....I'm thinking that I also don't want a big, blank canvas of Kentucky Blue Grass turf.
When looking around the web for front yards, I'm drawn to doing *something* in the front yard. More that turf. But, I'm not sure it is to a purely mixed perennial bed and/or something adjacent to a purely 'new perennial movement' landscape. That's sort-of the snobish version of the protest garden.
How do I figure out what I really want up there? By reading and watching and cataloging things.
I have been going back to a few YouTube garden tours and watching them to see what sort of front-yard applications are laying around in plain sight. This one from Jim Putnum at HortTube at the Cox Arboretum. And this other one from HortTube featuring the Iseli Nursery and TONS.TONS.TONS of conifers. And this garden tour video from Erin the Impatient Gardener provides plenty of inspiration and - in particular - this parking spot-facing garden at the 16:40 mark. Here's a view/screenshot from that video:
This planting of perennials right up against the sidewalk/hardscape is interesting. As for how I could implement something like this, I think I might have found a viable path. More on that in a minute. But, what about the material here? Colors are great. Shapes, too. Spilling out is a nice touch. This is a really good reference image for what I'm chasing in our front yard. But, what else is bouncing around my mind?
I also keep this "Conifers Should Come First" post from last October up in a Chrome tab basically ALL.THE.TIME so I can flip back to that conifer-centric front yard. There's a lot to just LOVE here, but I also see a couple of important things: a berm and large boulders.
Here are a few photos (not my photos) that I sourced in that post. The next four photos are from this source. This has a tiny lawn. Tiny! Keeping lawn (in some amount) feels really critical. Makes it feel a lot LESS like one of those native/wildflower front yards-as-protest gardens. And more a design. It also has some hide-and-reveal going on with the path that makes a turn. A mix of conifers and other plant material.
Another YouTube garden tour that I've revisited often is this one from Garden Gate. This is the very same video that I linked to when I was admiring some gabion-style pillars for framing an entrance. Here are a few screenshots from Garden Gate's garden tour video:
There is just soooo much to like in that garden and I tried to capture a few things that I'm drawn to in terms of plants and design.
There's a path that leads the visitor INTO the garden. There's some SERIOUS Miegakure going on. Hide and reveal is what is (I think) helping attract me to this garden. There's, of course, a TON of conifers. Large, small. Dwarf, intermediate. Columnar, informal, globosa. The use of Japanese Maples. The use of different greens and blues and yellows and golds. Weeping and uprights. Boulders and groundcovers. It's all so terribly lovely. And aspirational.
I'm pretty sure that I (now) want to have a conifer garden front yard. I also want a path. I want to get started down by the sidewalk. I want a berm and use boulders. I want to keep a small section of lawn. And, I need one of those weeping Serbian Spruces front-and-center.
What's the problem? My yard is pretty big. I can't tear the whole thing up at once. And my budget is going to require me to buy small, young plant material. I need to be thinking in stages.
Where to start?
That mixed bed from Erin's tour also reminds me of this curb-appeal post from Garden Gate Magazine that features Alchemilla mollis (Lady's Mantle) among other plants. (note: I need to do a post on Alchemilla mollis. I planted one from Northwind, but want to revisit. )
They include this drawing (below) that shows how you can add some hardscape elements next to the sidewalk and surround that with a bed that is narrow and linear. This...is interesting shape-wise (to me). Because, it provides a gateway drug effect. This is a way to sort-of "start" with a front-yard transformation without tearing the WHOLE front yard up and have a work-in-progress that spans multiple growing seasons.
See below for GardenGate's curbside illustration:
Could this be an entry-point for me? Not plant material. But, layout/location. A place to start. A manageable project size-wise that I can take on myself. Some intermediate hardscape material that runs parallel to the sidewalk like it shows in the above illustration. But, instead of planting in the 'middle', I'd leave that open to allow for a future path. I'd also back half of it with a berm.
What could go in there? Conifers of course. A columnar one and/or a pyramidal one. One of them planted to provide that 'future state' hide-and-reveal. Plus one on standard, I think. But, also the North Light Dawn Redwood. A sun tolerant Japanese Maple. A dwarf Ginkgo. Some Stachys Hummelo and maybe some grasses. And the Alchemilla mollis - Lady's Mantle, too.
I will put together a post on some materials and plant pairing inspiration. And, I should do a post on layout/design.
It sure feels like I have my Priority #2 for 2024 to me. Pizza oven build is 1. Front yard sidewalk garden is starting to shape up as 2.