For the Love of Gardening
What works & What doesn't...
Why not get rid of your grass in your front yard? Most of our front yards are intended for others - we don't usually lie on the grass there - no privacy…. Street-side spaces are not often very private and are either for show, or for getting to and from the door or drive. They are also for passers-by, walkers, cyclists ..and garden voyeurs.
Grass in your front yard is what usually dresses the spaces in front of our homes. These so-called front gardens are the bits of 'land' leftover from building our homes and porches and decks. They are the small green areas without many interesting shapes or even any endearing qualities.
Whether you have a verandah to sit on, a view of the lake or neighbourhood, or no view, the front yard garden is the first thing you see when you come home…. The first thing your guests see when they come to your door… ..the first thing your neighbour sees or the stranger going by.
When this house was new to me, most of the money was spent on its insides, because of course, that’s where I would be spending most of my time and besides, winter was coming - who would sit on the grass in the front yard or garden besides the birds??. The outside was left until Spring and naturally, preferring more private spaces; I concentrated on the back garden (but that is a story for later).
My house was built in 1906 but someone decided to “modernize” this lovely old house by adding an ‘Angel Stone’ porch in the ‘50’s. Didn’t really fit with the house, but there it is, still glommed onto my hundred-year old house. Poor thing is not really very attractive.
The grass in this yard would not grow under the glorious but humongous maple tree. The fact that shops sell ‘grass seed for shade’ doesn’t mean that it will actually grow there. It just doesn’t get enough sun to be thick and luscious. The best it can do is look thin and patchy…. Good effort if you are grass seed, but rather sad and not much to look at.
My front yard was begging for some help and needed a garden design makeover... but how?
The old junipers were never kept up or trimmed and they just outgrew themselves. Not knowing what else to do, I gave them a haircut but alas, it was too late for even that to make any kind of difference – poor things.
The following year I painted that sad little porch (see below), but it only made it stand out even more… sigh… so I took up some of the grass and tried to make a garden by planting dozens of Impatiens….. but, I was a self-professed NON-gardener ….. Poor wee things….didn’t know what to do and.......
so they just kind of sat there.
Eventually I painted the whole house a sort of Provence-periwinkle and the sad little porch kind of faded into the arms of the old house… and it was much better.
And then, I took another risk – a big one… nothing would grow in the front garden so I hired some muscle and we dug up the whole yard; got rid of all the "grass". I even made a deal with a nearby construction site; they were removing stone and marble (heavy dumping fees) so I made a trade - my sod (lighter) for their stone and marble pieces – win-win….
At a plant sale, I found large cement heart-shaped stepping stones like rhubarb leaves with a bit of peachy pink in them… they were gorgeous and added a totally different perspective to my makeover.(hang on, you'll see them in a minute).
The key to having no grass in your front yard, is not having to cut it... it does not mean having no weeds (ha! like that won't happen). No grass does mean replacing it with something else…. Like plants, stones and pathways.
If you choose stones and/ or rocks, and after removing the grass, you COULD put down landscape fabric (which lets air and water through but also weeds).
- if you must put down fabric, remember keep it only under things that do not need to grow roots, -like stones or gravel - otherwise, plants will grow through it and their roots will be damaged if you have to move them.
.. better still, you could put down layers of newspaper, which will decompose into the soil-
Then - make some sort of plan where your stones or walkway will go. You can use pea gravel, which comes in several colours with smooth river rock, so think your colour scheme out ahead of time.
A few lines on a scrap of paper constitutes a plan as much as a lot of ink on fancy paper….
Put your garden plants in first – and in the full shade that I had, the easiest for me, was Hosta. I put a row of them with white blooms at the back of the garden nearest the porch, and the others with mauve blooms at the front. They are inexpensive, easy to grow and spread beautifully.
Here’s how my front-yard garden went from grass to garden makeover
- before and after…on the front side of the house…
...... and after....
Near the fence, a lovely “Dappled Willow” with feathery leaves that have tips of white and pale pink. You can trim it and shape it how you like… I prefer the open and more natural shape but you can decide later what you prefer.
I found a wonderful metal gate and before I mounted it on the fence, I painted a scene under it. Just the idea of a scene…. To make one think there was more behind the fence than just some ugly storage stuff.
On the corner by the porch, in one of the sunnier garden spots behind the maple, a ‘Burning Bush’(Euonymus alata)
… it has a lovely shape, but in the fall, the leaves turn a brilliant red… it is a stunning display of colour, so plan where in your front yard that it could make the best statement, remembering that it can get huge and needs prudent pruning.
The side bed has my neighbour’s chain link fence… good for keeping out small children and other small pests…. But not so good for looks. However, it can be a gardener’s dream because you can grow wonderful vines on it…. Like ‘Trumpet Vine’ (Campsis radicans) and ‘Clematis’ if you have sun. Even 'Virginia Creeper'(Parthenocissus quinquefolia)is good…. No flowers, but deep blue berries (not edible) in the fall and bright red leaves. It will spread like wildfire though, and you will have to keep your eye on it or it will take over…
A front yard is usually all grass and small but there are ways to make it into a garden and seem bigger or more fascinating by adding dimension… pathways, and stepping-stones and fences with false doors…. Anything that draws the eye inward… as if there is more to see and you are tempting the passer-by to linger awhile, to actually stop and see your garden… to experience its mystery.
As you can see, the front yard (now a ‘garden’) is very narrow… less than 15 feet from the edge of the house to the street…. But with its makeover, there is no grass to cut; instead, a series of pathways in pink pea gravel, and sinuous "river beds" with smooth river rock, Hosta plants and potted Streptocarpella flower.
Now, instead of grass, this front-yard garden has had a makeover and is now a garden with a bit more mystery.