Up Front – Making the most of any space you have in your front garden

Renovating or transforming your front garden to make life better all round.

This area of any garden – large and extremely small, poses major challenges to the residents within – especially those in the city.  Your house may “front” a golf course, river, park etc but here in this short opinion piece, I am referring to the entry from the street/ street front – what people see as they pass by or walk into your property from the street.

City dwellers have to cope with pollution, grime, litter, security, hard surfaces, safe access to the front door …  but we all love challenges, especially when it means improving or transforming our living environment.   Below are a few suggestion to overcome some specific challenges:

  1. Access to the Front Garden or Front Door
  • Plan it well to make it easy and safe to get to the front door – no treading on garden beds overgrown or branches slapping one in the face.
  • In your plan, don’t forget a place for the ugly, grubby garbage bins that have to be put “out front” each week.
  • You may even be able to install a small water tank so you collect water to maintain the garden, wash the paths and front house and more!
  • Consider raised beds which are easier to maintain and may turn out to be healthier.  Much of the soil in inner cities housing areas is contaminated – something to look into for serious vegetable growers.
  • If the space is really small, remove some pavers on the side of the walkway to plant some groundcovers or plant in the cracks of concrete to soften the look and help the bees.
  • Show you care.

2. Coping with Pollution in Town and City Gardens

The front garden is our front line of defence when it comes to overcoming the effects of pollution from vehicle exhausts, road spray, public thoroughfares, litter or manufacturing.  Many plants cannot cope with such battles and give up – whether it is from the contaminated soil within which they are trying to grow, the hard-pounded surface of the soil after years of neglect, the grime building up on their leaves, air-borne pollutants.  These same problems that affect the plants affect our health as well.   Just take a closer look at some inner city “gardens” that are crying out for help and see what the problem is and how it could be helped so you do not make the same mistakes.

Make a difference to your area and encourage your neighbours to do the same – a most enjoyable and rewarding job!

  • The solution may be as simple as a hardy hedge that you tenderly take care of (no need to trim it to a shape but fertilize it, water it, spray the leaves and branches with water now and again to wash off the muck build-up). It will have to be a strong-willed plant that you choose   – one that can withstand the harsh environment and one that will protect the more delicate species you plant behind it.
  • To add interest, you may like to choose a variety of plants for this hedge e.g. some evergreen, some deciduous, some flowering throughout different times of the year.

3. Other Unwanted Interference to Your Well-Being i.e. Unwanted Visitors

Whether they have two legs or four legs – even six legs, it is sometimes necessary to deter trespassers onto your property.  Without installing a drawbridge or wire enclosure, plants can make it difficult for invaders without spoiling the pleasant appearance of your garden.  Keep in mind that often, theft or damage by humans is often not premeditated, most theft is opportunistic.   So don’t make it easy for those persons with less-than-honest intentions.

  • If it is insects you are having a problem with in your garden e.g. leaf-destroying types or tunnelling villains, talk to your garden expert at the local garden nursery or garden centre. There are plants that deter insects and safe sprays one can use.  We do need the good insects in your garden. It is those we want to encourage as they not only contribute to the health of our biodiversity but can act as predators of the bad insects.
  • Ways to prevent theft from or damage to your front garden or dwelling include:
    • Make your treasured potted plants too difficult to be removed. Weigh them down or chain them down.  Talk to your garden centre expert or handyman.
    • Trees are often stolen when owners are absent! Established trees are valuable and these can secured with a tree anchor – not just the common tree stake.  Talk to your garden centre expert about these tree anchors.  They may be able to organise the supply of same for you.
    • A friend had her lovely hanging baskets stolen in the early hours recently (her verandah is just two strides from the footpath in the inner city). Now she has secured new ones with chains and locks.
    • Security lighting is great. Our movement lights outdoors scare off the possums as well.
    • Put away tools, toys, bikes etc when the garden or your home is unattended.
    • Don’t plant so as to hide the front door lock – intruders can also use this shrub to hide behind while trying to gain entry to your home.
    • If you live in vulnerable areas e.g. inner city, plant some thorny or prickly bushes along fence line or against a wall that could be scaled to deter intruders.
    • What about turning your front garden into a courtyard! Construct a high wall with a good strong gate and make the most of this outdoor space.  Soften the interior space with wall creepers.  Let your imagination run wild.
    • Take a look at our Pinterest Board for inspiration.

4. Reducing Noise Pollution

The world around us is so much noisier now – traffic, trains, people, aircraft, tools, work sites etc.  Is that why we see so many people walking around with ear plugs to listen to music etc to drown out the surrounding noise pollution?

We know that plants around your dwelling whether on a balcony, in pots or in the ground look attractive and make you feel great, so here are some tips to reduce noise from the outside without having to go to expenses on the inside of your dwelling:

  • Simple – use plants as hedging and screening (planting plus man-made screens e.g. brick / timber screens/walls).
  • For hedging, triple layered planting / potting may be necessary – ranging in height so the noise is carried up and over your place. Talk to your local garden centre expert to find the right plants for your situation.
  • Choose evergreens with dense foliage.
  • If you do not have space for a hedge, plant a single large shrub or small tree or two in a strategic position to baffle the sound considerably.

5. Plants for the Front Garden

A few suggestions to assist you experience success in your challenges:

  • No excuses, one can find plants suitable for any situation – hot, cold, dry, shady, sunny – and for any time of the year. Talk to your local garden nursery or garden centre expert as they are very keen to help you succeed.
  • Have a plan and check the size and growing conditions of the plant you would love to grow before purchasing. I recently visited a home with a eucalyptus tree now my height growing flush up against the wall of a brick house!  Upon questioning the owners why plant that there, their response – we needed shade!  The damage this large tree will cause to the building and foundations of the house in the very near future could be very costly! Hence the following”
  • Remember large plants or shrubs may: take over the growing area; choke out other plants; deprive other plants of nutrients and water; block light if planted too close and; may damage paths or drains.
  • Check out the hundreds of plants of all heights and sizes at your local garden nursery or garden centre where the experts within are knowledgeable about local soils and growing conditions

6. Aspect or Orientation of Your Front Garden

  • The orientation (north, south, east or west) of your front garden is something you cannot do much about but remember, there are plants suitable for any orientation or growing condition.
  • Know your plants. Look around your area to see what is growing well in similar positions.  Learn about plants from different areas around the world e.g. Mediterranean plants may be suitable for your warm, drier areas in the garden.  If you have a cold, shady, dampish front garden then consider some exotic from a cooler climate.  Again, talk to your local expert.
  • Your local garden centre experts in horticulture and the plants they choose sell in your area (not the large hardware chains) will advise you the best plants for north, south, east or west facing positions.

Enjoy the challenge and give yourself a pat-on-the-back for taking action!


Jan Couper M.Ed.;M.Env.
Sustainability & Resilience Strategist