Friday, November 2, 2007

Design options that make an entrance

Most front yards need to be functional and easy to look after. All too often, however, this leads to a stark, uninviting area that is low on interest for much of the year. A well-designed front yard combines the practical considerations, such as direct access on wide paths, while being pleasing to the eye. Many people make the mistake of treating the front yard like a replica of the back yard, with a big lawn and a narrow perimeter planting. The result is dull and, because the lawn is never used, the valuable land is wasted yet still needs maintenance.

A densely planted front yard will help screen the front of the house from the street and create a pleasant outlook from within. With thick foliage instead of exposed earth, weeds are shaded out.

Covering the ground
The traditional way of filling space in a front yard is to grass it over. However, this is not necessarily the best or most attractive way of covering the ground. Mowing is a time consuming job that you must face up to every week in summer - and on top of the mowing there's the edging, weeding, feeding and watering. If you never use this part of your property because it's not private or because you'd prefer to do your relaxing in the back yard, then why not replace the lawn with ground covers, flowers, shrubs, even some paving, or a combination of all of these? You'll get a better outlook from inside the house and a more interesting approach to the house from the outside. You'll also save a lot of time because there's no way that densely planted ground covers, flowers and shrubs demand the maintenance that lawns do. There are plenty of easy-maintenance alternatives to a lawn and you'll find that, as a bonus, any natives that you plant will attract birds, which will help control insects for you.

Paved areas
If you lay a hard surface, such as pavers or bricks, you will need only to give it an occasional sweep and maybe an annual treatment for moss and algae if it is situated in damp shade. Gravel is cheaper and easier to lay at the outset, but you will have to control weeds and rake it every now and again to level the surface.

Mix together different finishes so that the paved area doesn't look too stark, but keep the number of finishes to no more than three, otherwise the design will look bitty and complicated. Or use different finishes to demarcate different areas. For example, hard-wearing bricks or clay pavers for the parking area and lighter-colored paving slabs for the path to the front door, or paving slabs placed as stepping stones in gravel to show visitors the way to the main entrance. Paving within planted areas can give access for pruning and weeding, as well as creating the illusion of space among groups of evergreen plants.

Adding plants
For impact, use only a few varieties of shrubs and perennials and mass them together. This works better and is easier to look after than having one of everything. It makes choosing plants easier too, because you have to select only a few varieties. For a simple, striking feature, choose a tree or shrub with a strong, sculptural shape and plant it in a prominent position, perhaps in a bed of gravel. It's often said that planting close together will provide you with instant ground cover, thereby suppressing weeds, but for plants to grow properly, they do need space to expand. Too close a planting means you will have to pull out some of your plants later, to allow the remainder to develop. Better to space them properly in the first place and suppress weeds by mulching all bare ground with a thick layer of lucerne hay or sugar cane mulch. Add more mulch as needed - your aim is to never see bare earth. Before adding new plants, find out the very best low-maintenance options for your climatic zone.

Combine plants so they produce bold areas of color in simple patterns that are easy on the eye - that means planting three or five of one variety next to another group of three or five of another variety. Avoid filling your garden with plants that all flower at the same time, or you will have a single season of interest and nothing for the rest of the year. The front yard is a good place to use plants with a striking appearance such as yucca and phormium, or lush foliage such as philodendron, because they don't depend on fleeting flowers for their impact. And do plant at least one tree in the front yard - but keep its ultimate size in mind when positioning.

Secure boundaries
The fence is an important feature in most front yards. It defines the edge of the property, as well as providing security and privacy. There are many low-maintenance options, depending on the style of garden and how much time you can afford to spend looking after them. Security can be an important issue when planning a front yard, but often it depends on where you live. Some people avoid dense shrubbery in the front, fearing burglars will hide behind it; others prefer the privacy and anonymity screening shrubs provide. If you worry about security, good lighting puts the spotlight on loiterers and the crunching of gravel provides warning of visitors arriving. Even a garden gate will create a psychological barrier to your garden, especially if it is kept closed.

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