Front gardens are like mantlepieces- intimidatingly important. Everyone sees them and everyone has a different attitude about what should be there. I grew up with a few unruly junipers and a well-clipped arborvitae flanking our modest front entryway. Many folks have this- and it is perfectly nice (if properly maintained)- and a bit cleverer if you have a lovely clematis or morning glory weaving through the evergreens as I did when we lived in an apartment with the same midcentury style.
Often, friends tell me that they couldn’t bear to live in a brand new house with no character. I understand that sentiment and as a homeowner of a brand new house, I’ve tried to give it the necessary character. To that end, my gardens are what try to make up for the lack of mature trees.
I prefer (as you can see above) flamboyantly english cottage style, with hydrangeas and delphiniums galore. My front bed has always been a challenge. We moved into a brand new house in December, 2004. The builders had scraped the clay out of the yard and filled it into two front beds that we had designed to keep us from having to install railings on the stairs, which our builder objected to for some unknown reason. Since this bed was ready to go- and it is my first house, I put all of my favorite plants into the bed and hoped for the best. It continues to evolve as I learn what actually wants to grow out front- and which don’t.
The first year successes were the morning glories that grew so rampantly they had to be restrained. I spent most of the year accumulating plants for the garden and shoving them into every available garden space. Needless to say, they were hopelessly overcrowded.
In 2006, the garden really began to take shape. Plants bloomed, and I discovered the importance of proper siting. And I discovered insects for the first time (I mean insects in earnest). A week after this photo was taken, the columbines were chewed right to the ground by leaf miners and some nasty black insect under the soil.
Frustrated by its lack of stature in year two, I scattered annuals amongst the overcrowded perennials in hopes of seeing the garden a bit taller. This was a mess. The poppies stretched toward the sunshine (obviously) the bachelor’s buttons looked ragged and the cosmos never grew to their full height. I did learn about the importance of containers, and planted the best calla lilies I have ever grown in those two containers on either side of the door. It looked like a tropical paradise.
In 2007, I finally started to see results with the slower-growing perennials, including peonies, and I finally achieved a perfectly lovely Spring Garden with 200 tulips and 100 daffodils (and other various small bulbs) on either side.
In 2008, I finally purchased a digital camera, so I became much more interested in documenting the garden as it changed through the seasons.
In 2009, I focused on spacing the plants so that they had enough room to grow- and editing, which is the key to good gardening. (Not that I would know, since I still jam everything in too darn closely)
The great thing about looking at photographs of the garden through time is that I can see how far I’ve come with the garden. The downside: I can see how far there is to go. That aster needs to come out. All of those Dianthus on the sides should go too. I need more colored foliage in front, and I used to have the perfect huechera there, but it was eaten by beetles. And the roses. Why did I plant roses up there?
Brilliantly, there is always next year. And now I have many more gardens to start filling up. I can’t wait.