Give it kerb ap­peal

A front gar­den with the right plant­ing and light­ing of­fers a warm wel­come

Evening Standard - West End Final Extra - ES Homes and Property - - Outdoors - Alex Mitchell

WHEN you are lucky enough to have a front gar­den, cre­at­ing a beau­ti­ful ap­proach to your home won’t just im­prove its value — it’ll lift your mood.

While back gar­dens are all about re­cre­ation, front gar­dens have more se­ri­ous con­cerns — se­cu­rity, light­ing, pri­vacy, bike and bin stor­age. But to give up on aes­thet­ics would be a wasted op­por­tu­nity when a few sim­ple tricks and ideas can make all the dif­fer­ence.

“A wel­com­ing environment” was the brief for RHS Chelsea award win­ner Matt Keight­ley when asked to de­sign the front gar­den at a house in Chiswick. “The road has a strong sense of com­mu­nity and an an­nual street party, so the clients wanted to in­clude a bench to wel­come their neigh­bours to sit with a glass of wine.” But the main em­pha­sis was on cre­at­ing a warm wel­come and a sense of re­lax­ation when you open the gate af­ter a hard day.

In his quest for calm­ness, Keight­ley’s first step was to con­vince the clients to get rid of clut­ter, in­clud­ing pots of plants by the front door. An Iroko hard­wood fence around the gar­den uni­fies the space and large York­stone slabs through­out give a muted, peace­ful feel — the fewer mor­tar lines, the calmer and big­ger a space seems. The slabs are laid so that rain­wa­ter runs down the joints into the planted beds, so there’s no need for a wa­ter­ing sys­tem.

In a twist on the tra­di­tional hedge, a ma­ture ev­er­green jas­mine, tra­ch­e­losper­mum jas­mi­noides, climb­ing up a screen hides the gar­den from the road. It af­fords pri­vacy, year-round green­ery and the bonus of scented flow­ers in spring, while only tak­ing up a width of about four inches. Sev­eral 10ft-tall plants are trained up a 6ft 6in steel frame, wound around the struc­ture. Any­one who has wres­tled with over­grown privet and a pair of shears will know what a smart move this is.

The dou­ble-fronted struc­ture of the house lent it­self to sym­met­ri­cal de­sign and al­lowed Keight­ley to site the prac­ti­cal stor­age away from the bench area. As the clients are keen cy­clists, a se­cure bike store was es­sen­tial, and the gen­er­ous con­crete foot­ing of this steel-cased struc­ture ex­tends to the at­tached bin store with dou­ble doors and a hinged lid. Cladding it in the same Iroko as the fence and train­ing the jas­mine to cover the side en­sures it doesn’t take over vis­ually or draw at­ten­tion to it­self from a se­cu­rity point of view.

Struc­tural and ar­chi­tec­tural plant­ing works best in a front gar­den, says Keight­ley. Front gar­dens have to look good all year, so rely on ferns, box and other ev­er­greens. A wood­land pal­ette of ev­er­green ferns and box balls makes a lush rec­tan­gle in front of the bench, charged up in spring and sum­mer by the flow­ers of fox­gloves, aqui­le­gia, brun­nera and as­tran­tia.

A clear path to the front door is best, since bends and zigzags equal tram­pled plants. Keight­ley keeps the path sim­ple us­ing a slightly paler stone ei­ther side to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it. LED light­ing strips are at­tached un­der the nose of each front step, cre­at­ing a warm, even wash of wel­com­ing light from dusk.

JUST as el­e­gant is the light­ing of the ma­ture multi- stem acer pal­ma­tum tree be­hind the bench. Keight­ley says it’s bet­ter to use small lights on ev­ery stem “rather than blast a spot on the tree with a sin­gle 10W light”.

Front gar­dens are al­ways a jug­gle be­tween the prac­ti­cal and the beau­ti­ful. “You try as hard as you can to make the space look ef­fort­less,” he says. With this very re­lax­ing front gar­den, he has most def­i­nitely suc­ceeded.

Screen ap­peal: ev­er­green jas­mine on a frame is far slim­mer than a hedge

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