Designing front gardens

There are thousands of articles devoted to designing gardens, but very few column inches devoted to designing front gardens. The front garden is the most visible part of the house, yet many homes have gardens crying out for some TLC. Designing a front garden is not simply creating a miniature version of the back garden, it needs a completely different thought process.

How to start

Now you’ll probably be thinking I am about to showcase pictures of amazing front garden designs. Then write that you can take inspiration from these to do you own. OK, here are some lovely front garden designs – off you go, design yours now!

There is a problem with just showing pictures, because it doesn’t convey why the design was created this way. If you know the ‘why’ it enables you to ask those questions of your own front garden. If you know the rationale behind the decision; it will help you find design solutions, especially if your garden looks more like this!

front garden overgrown and poorly paved

So where to actually start and what factors need thinking about?

Access:

Front gardens have one main purpose only which is to transition between the world outside and the home. Consequently the garden must provide easy access from the gate or from the driveway to the front door. As well as being easy for everyone to exit the car without having to contort around a bush or avoid a trip hazard.

Privacy:

All front gardens have a dilemma, the more open and accessible the front door is, the less private it becomes. Passers may be able to see into the windows and it makes us feel a bit exposed. Home owners counter this problem by planting hedges or fences or adding net curtains; all to prevent the outside looking in. The trouble is that it also prevents us looking out too. Barriers for privacy simply limit any ‘view’ outside to your side of the hedge. So we have to find a way to maintain some privacy, without it cutting out sunlight, and without planting a big green wall that shuts us in. (Don’t worry there is a solution but a bit further down in this article!)

Use:

This is often an unasked question – how is the front garden going to be used? You may not think you use the front garden, but you do – and it’s usually everyday. However only part of the garden is ever really used, the drive and the path to the front door. When was the last time you walked around your front garden? It’s just not something people tend to do, nor do people tend to sit out there either. The point though is this; if you don’t sit or walk around the garden, why create a design that assumes you do? Take this image for example.

front garden parterre formal planting central circular border circle in a square garden.
Very neat; but keeping it neat is the problem

A parterre a garden to walk around, and admire, but is anyone really likely to wander round here? Plus parterres only look good if they are immaculate, neat and properly clipped. Left to their own devices it quickly looks a mess – but a mess in full view of the neighbours! This design creates a disproportionate workload for a garden that will only ever have visitors walk past it.

So what now?

front garden overgrown and poorly paved

If we take this unloved garden, what needs to change and what are the problems? Firstly the driveway, any car parked her will take up a lot of room in the garden. Once parked, exiting the car one side means battling a privet hedge whilst the other side steps onto plants. The front door is to the side of the house, but again the privet hedge narrows this route to the door.

Before any consideration of the planting style, the shape of the drive and path to the door needs to be sorted. In order to give everyone an easy exit from the car, the best option is to offset the drive. In this drawing, the green areas represent the route people will take to the house. More space is needed for this than most designs usually allow. This is what this garden is being mainly used for; so plan the garden around the car.

drawing of front garden showing how much space is needed for a car to park and the access space needed around it.

The problem this now creates for the owner, is that the space is all paving and not much space for planting.

How to create impact in a small border:

Front gardens are by definition urban. The space is surrounded by straight lines, walls, pavements, paving and fences, and all are solid and immovable objects. And it’s this you can use to your advantage. Whatever is planted in the border needs to say ‘look at me instead!’ To do this you need something that opposes immobility – so choose plants that move in the breeze, wobbly grasses, tall stately flowers and soft textures all will be noticeable. Then add colour, but add colour as a really big block.

Front garden planting ideas
designing front gardens – planting ideas

Choosing materials for the driveway:

Twenty years ago, most of us would not have given a second thought to the materials used; but today we must. All hard landscaping, paving, tarmac, resin-bonded stone is impermeable, the rain runs off the surface. Climate change has forced us to consider where it runs too. Flash flooding is an issue in urban areas, rainfall is becoming heavier and more intense. The choice of materials used is important. When considering the drive, remember it’s only the wheels of the car that needs a solid surface, so you could be a little more creative.

How to stop passers-by looking in the windows:

We all do this don’t we, wander along the street and stare into peoples windows (some to admire their own reflections though), but on the whole humans are a nosey bunch! To thwart the ‘sneaky-peekers’ there are two simple weapons in your armoury, the first is to create the ‘look at me’ instead border. The second key weapon when designing front gardens is strategic planting.

In both these images, the owners have tried to make their garden more private; the problem is that all the owner sees is a big green wall. In addition, the hedge itself prevents much from being able actually to grow in the garden either as it sucks up nutrients, absorbs the light and creates a rain shadow. It makes the garden feel smaller too.

Earlier on in the article I spoke about the front garden not being a miniature version of the back garden, planting a hedge on the boundaries is an example when this happens. Because the space is not a garden that is going to be sat in or walked round, it doesn’t need a open centre. This then liberates the whole space and allows for a strategic placement of a really lovely plant that will stop passers-by looking in because they are looking at something lovely instead.

designing front gardens a well designed front garden, simple easy care with specimen tree
Simple, easy to look after, attractive to look at from the pavement as well as from indoors out!

So there you have it, designing front gardens made a bit simpler (I hope). But just in case you are still a bit stuck… why not visit our design shop for planting ideas for the garden or look at our amazing book ‘I Want to Like my Garden‘. Or you can email me: rachel@plantplots.com or check out some of the garden designs we have created for your customers.

  • Garden Border Planting Design Plan tall soft planting purple flowers
  • Garden Border Planting Design Plan low planting scheme in orange and purple
  • Garden Border Planting Design Plan easy care doft planting scheme neutral colours
  • Garden Border Planting Design Plan tall big plants in purple and pink
  • Garden Border Planting Design Plan easy care planting scheme in purple
  • Garden Border Planting Design Plan soft planting style white flowers
  • Garden Border Planting Design Plan scented green flowers
  • Garden Border Planting Design Plan big plants in purple
  • Garden Border Planting Design Plan soft planting scheme in purple and pink
  • Garden Border Planting Design Plan unusual black and cream plants