Give it kerb appeal
A front garden with the right planting and lighting offers a warm welcome
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