Front Gardens – Let’s hear it for the Victorians!

By garden designer Helen Elks Smith. Our front gardens have a tricky time fulfilling everything that we ask of them and often the easiest solution to satisfying the parking, dustbin and access needs is to pave the whole thing over. But it doesn’t need to be this way and there are many good reasons to look at other ways of making our front gardens work both for us and the environment we live in.

When people ask ‘What did the Victorians do for us?’, one of the replies could be ‘they introduced front gardens to our cities and towns’. They valued the space as somewhere to plant flowers, relax and chat with neighbours, and to provide a buffer between home and the busy world beyond. In many parts of the country people are re-discovering the simple but enormous pleasure of a front garden and the benefits it can bring to our community and the environment. Getting to know your neighbours whilst gardening or watching the children play and reducing the amount of run-off water are just a couple of examples.

Front garden

My job as a garden designer is to create an attractive relaxing space that also fulfils a variety of practical needs. Some of the considerations I bear in mind are:

  • Pathways – how are visitors and family going to reach the front door? The path needs to be obvious but can be made attractive using hedges and planting.
  • Parking – How many cars need to park in the garden as opposed to the road? How much turning room do they need? How much area is left for grass, planting, pots and planters?
  • Drive materials – use of brick and cellular paving, gravel and plasticised mesh are attractive alternatives to tarmac and concrete and allow rain water to soak away instead of forming problematic run off.
  • Refuse – for ease of collection, bins often need to be in the front garden but screening with fencing or hedges means they do not need to be an eyesore.
  • Privacy – Using hedges and fencing to get the balance right between feeling exposed and feeling hemmed in.

Front garden path

When it is cold and wet we rarely spend much time in our back gardens but through necessity our front gardens are used every single day of the year. Planting trees with attractive bark such as Himalayan birch and paperbark maple, shrubs that flower through the winter together with snowdrops, narcissus and hellebores will lift your spirits at this time of the year when they need lifting the most.

So let’s hear it for the Victorians, and for the potential we have in all of our front gardens!

Helen Elks-Smith has a busy design practice in the New Forest and is currently working on a number of projects across London and the South. She won the prestigious BALI Design Excellence Award 2013 and is being sponsored by the City of London to exhibit a garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year.