Front and Center

– Posted in: Garden Design

Rudbeckia Zinnia Aztec Orange Panicum Atriplex Catalpa Aug 15 07Steve and Fran have already shared their front-yard plans and dreams for this month’s Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop, so I figured I’d chime in too. I must admit that Steve’s definition of a “front yard fiasco” doesn’t quite measure up to some of my own spectacular disasters: If any of my gardens looked like that photo of his, I’d be pretty thrilled. I think my own front yard is better described in the phrase Fran used in her Front Yard Gardens post: a “personal laboratory.” Elegant it’s not, multi-season it’s not, but it sure teaches me a great deal, and it’s great fun to look after as well.

To give you an idea of the setting, below is a series of photos taken – as near as I can figure – in 2002 (the first summer), 2004 (when the roughly four-square layout was established), and in fall of 2007. These were taken from the road end of my driveway.

Front from driveway 02, 04, and 07

That last photo gives the impression of a good bit of privacy from the road, but it’s rather misleading. Yes, it looks like that in late October, but it doesn’t always look so full. The two photos below – one taken a few days ago, and one taken in early August of 2005, give you a better idea of what’s really going on here.

Front path April 19 08 and early Aug 05

Yep, the whole garden starts pretty much from ground level each spring, and yep, I really like it that way. Maybe it’s the result of growing up in suburbia, where our tidy annual beds and vegetable garden were blank slates each spring, offering the exciting opportunity of trying new flowers and veggies every year. Or maybe it’s part of my agricultural mentality, enjoying the progression from bare earth to harvest through the changing seasons.

Whatever the reason, I’ve pretty much abandoned all pretense of having a year-round garden out there. I have richness in summer, abundance in autumn, and terrific forms and textures for winter interest. But come spring, what’s left gets cut down and chopped up to make room for a new growth cycle. I do leave a few shrubs in place, but even for those, a hard cutting-back is generally their spring fate. After cleanup, everything looks fresh, tidy, and primed to jump into new growth.

Below is another seasonal progression of the front garden, as seen from my front porch. (That’s my uncle’s house across the street, and his place for currently for sale, if anyone happens to be looking for a small farm in southeastern Pennsylvania.) These pictures are from a few days ago, then September 26 and November 18 of last year.

Front garden from porch April Sept Nov

From the porch perspective, the garden feels very exposed, both to the road out front and to the houses around me. But when I’m actually down in the garden, as in the shots below, surrounded by lush annuals, fast-growing tender perennials, and hardy perennials that are plenty taller than I am, it’s easy to pretend that I’m out in the middle of nowhere, hidden in my own secret garden – at least until the next car goes by. (As always, you can click on the images in this post to see larger versions.)

Front garden collage 07

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Nancy J. Ondra

Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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