The front garden might not rank highly on a list of home-improvement priorities, but a beautiful outdoor space at the front of your property can truly transform it. I always think the condition of your front garden says a lot about you and what your house might look like inside, so it’s worth spending some time updating it to ensure you create a good first impression. Think about the following key areas to create a successful scheme that won’t require much maintenance post-project.
1. Keep the design simple
An easy-to-navigate route to the front door is essential, and avoids fussy arcs or curves in the design. You will find that visitors will cut corners and might trample your plants in the process if presented with a winding path. Go for a wide design with borders either side; geraniums or lavender are good, low-maintenance options, but best placed alongside a wider path as they can be unpleasant to brush against in wet weather. A firm footing is also necessary, so flagstones, rectangular cobbles, setts, non-slip tiles or authentic-looking imitation stone are best.
2. Make an attractive path
Complement your house in some way by linking it visually with the path – neutral materials work best. Natural sandstone flags go with period properties, blue-black slate works well with slate roofs, while York stone or dark grey granite setts marry well with houses made of red brick (try Ced.ltd.uk or Bradstone at Simplypaving.com for paving ideas). Cheaper options are gravel, or bark chips if your budget is tight. Poured concrete paths are unimaginative – so avoid them, as it will look as though the pavement runs right up to your front door.
3. Highlight your front door
To direct visitors to your door, don’t hide your entrance – make it obvious, especially if there’s more than one way into your home. Place containers either side of the front door or go for topiary or box plants to add a formal note to your garden scheme whilst climbers, such as jasmine and honeysuckle, draped over a porch work well, providing colour and a welcoming fragrance.
4. Go for Gravel
Permeable gravel is an ideal alternative to solid paving. Not only does it let water drain through, it is easier to maintain than a tiny front lawn that is a pain to mow. It presents opportunities to grow attractive but easy-care shrubs and perennials, acting as a foil to the flowers and foliage, while helping to reduce weeds. Although a relatively cheap option, do consider the cost of edging the perimeter and the required foundations. Ask a landscape contractor to help with the design, which will ensure the best placement of the gravelled area. Paving laid outside the front door will help stop the stones being dragged indoors and will also emphasise the entrance. Another advantage of gravel is that it crunches underfoot – a simple but effective security measure.
5. Parking or garden
How much room do you need for manoeuvring and parking? Sometimes there’s space for six cars, when you have only two. A combination of materials for different functions – paving for people and gravel for the car – stops the car from being the focus of the garden and breaks up the space, creating more interest. Delineate these areas with different textures, patterns or colours that work together.
For driveways, steer away from tarmac and concrete block paving to avoid it looking like a car park. Gravel is a good alternative but it needs a sub-base laid by professionals. Make sure there’s a lip around the area to stop the gravel from spreading where it’s not supposed to go.
As crazy paving is dated, you might want to dig the whole lot up – but this is a job for a contractor, and it’s expensive to do and to replace. Exercise some ingenuity and ask the contractor to cut out some borders and large beds with a special stone saw, leaving the parking area and path as they are. Once it’s all done, dig over the old soil and add lots of good compost to create new planting areas – it’s hard work but worth it to see some green in your garden again.
By law, impermeable materials like natural stone and concrete must be angled so that rainwater is directed to a lawn or border. If you’re using impermeable paving on an area that’s bigger than 5m² you’ll need to get planning permission. Ask paving suppliers for advice or use a BALI (British Association of Landscape Industries, bali.org.uk) approved contractor. New drop kerbs also need planning permission as the pavement may have to be strengthened to protect underground gas and water pipes.
6. Choose plants for year round interest
Topiary and the front garden are made for each other and suit both town and country gardens alike. I’ve seen tiny city front gardens with nothing but topiary – a collection of clipped box balls, cones and spirals that look smart by day but quite magical when lit up at night. Knot gardens (formal, square-framed designs) with box, yew or small-leaved privet planted closely together and kept trimmed can also be filled with dwarf lavenders and herbs or scented summer flowers.
A good structure of evergreen grasses, perennials or shrubs is important, as are long-flowering plants such as Verbena bonariensis, Japanese anemone, catmint, astrantia and geraniums. As it’s on the front façade, any planting design needs to look good in all seasons.
Don’t forget trees. An ornamental cherry tree or small crab apple tree acts as a good focal point when planted in the centre of a front garden. Avoid weeping willows, though, or anything else that’s going to grow too big, such as pampas grass.
For a small space, add colour to walls and fences with evergreen climbers such as Clematis armandii and star jasmine for sunny spots, and climbing hydrangea for shaded areas. Ivy is particularly useful on walls and provides nectar for bees at the end of the summer – just don’t allow it to grow up walls in need of repair, because its aerial roots only exacerbate existing problems.
7. Consider security
An open aspect is essential as tall plants create opportunities for burglars, so consider their eventual mature size when selecting which types to include – if some privacy is important, alternate tall trees and plants such as conifers and large shrubs with smaller ones. This works better than creating a ‘wall’ of foliage and adds visual interest throughout the year, without restricting light.
You may want to fill your garden with plants, but avoid planting large specimens directly in front of windows, other than low-growing, prickly-leaved plants that act as a deterrent to burglars. Keep hedges low with spiky osmanthus or holly – but don’t use leylandii because of their expansive roots and their potential to damage foundations and cause subsidence.
Consider using gravel as a security feature, as well as a means of low maintenance drainage. The simple fact that gravel is impossible to walk on quietly will keep burglars at bay.
Investing in front garden feature lighting will not only give you a chance to appreciate the space at night and create visual interest with shadows and texture, but will also deter burglars by increasing visibility. Use triggered lighting with a motion sensor, or line walkways or steps with bollards.