The Great Front Garden Challenge

So, that was January then. Wet and windy, and half obliterated by a rather interesting virus in my case. Not a lot of gardening. Or blogging. I have started catching up with all you lovely people, and I had a lovely time getting excited about dahlias the other day. My gardening mojo is definitely stirring. And I am determined to make sure I do more gardening this year. I need it. It gets my creative juices flowing, calms me down and centers me, makes me live in the now (when I am not dreaming of future borders or plant growth). I’ve come to believe it is essential for my overall mental health, not to mention the fact that it does wonderful things for my physical health too. Apart from my back…

So here I am, publicising my intention to garden more, in the hope that in the sharing I create some positive pressure to get out there and have something to post about more regularly! Besides, however needful it was to concentrate on setting up the new business last year, I hated watching the weeds thrive. So my goal is to see significant progress in my – currently rather shamefully neglected – front garden.

Left hand side of front garden from above

From upstairs, you can see that it is a long triangular space, facing north, but the majority of it is in full sun for most of the day, most of the year. You can see that one of the things I did manage to do last year (with the help of TNG) was to mark out the curving paths and enlarge the beds to match. The plan is to get rid of all the grass, and put down gravel on weed suppressing membrane. I am still playing around with edging materials, but the basic shapes will remain. I still have to mark out the borders and pathways at the very front.

Right hand side of front garden

The right hand side borders the little road that leads round our small estate, but it continues in to a track at the far end that takes you up to the heart of the village, which is a favourite route for dog walkers. We get quite a lot of passers by, and I planted my trio of birches, a sorbus, and several large shrubs (well, shrubs with the potential to become large) to help provide us with some privacy. Otherwise people tend to gawp in to our lounge window!

Driveway corner

The area around the trees is populated by late summer perennials and grasses, so at this time of year it is the domain of forget-me-nots, and increasingly, bulbs.

snowdrops and cyclamen

The mix of snowdrops, cyclamen and ophiophogon around the sorbus is still very new, but it is making me smile.

iris reticulata gordon

The Iris reticulata ‘Gordon’ were planted shamefully late, in mid December, but are flowering away creating a delightful splash of colour next to the drive. I have editing to do in this patch, but no major work, I need to let it settle in before I do much more.

wall border

The main section of the wall border is in need of a lot of TLC. I need to improve the soil. It is very free draining, and I keep losing salvias, so I want to use plenty of compost on it in the hope that it gives the whole area a boost. I have spent the past few years trying out various plants and combinations, and have decided to really simplify it. There will be loose river of Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ backed by Verbena bonariensis and punctuated with echinops and sea holly. I am going to move the lovely but far too short Helictotrichon sempervirens elsewhere, and probably add more Calamagrostis brachytricha, although it can be rather untidy. I am going to simplify the front of the border too, and edge the whole length with Lamb’s Ears, just punctuated with a few geraniums here and there to break it up a little.

olearia and teucrium

My two favourite plants in this border are the Teucrium fruticans that Christina put me on to and the rosemary-like Olearia virgata. I am planning on taking lots of cuttings of both. I want to use the teucrium along the wall from the one established shrub I have at the moment all the way to the front end. I find the light and airy habit of the Olearia delightful, and am severely tempted to make yet another change to my hedge planning along the wall closer to the house, as I think I might prefer the waftiness of the Olearia to the solid dark green of the myrtle. Poor myrtle, its not even been there a year yet…

central bed

The central bed has been enlarged, and needs some severe editing, but will remain predominantly yellow with plenty of grasses for movement. I wonder if the witch hazel will flower. There are buds, but it has usually flowered and finished by now.

problem-corner

The house end of the fence border has been much better since I changed things around last autumn. It might even need a different name, problem corner might (fingers crossed) be a thing of the past. I am really glad I chose to move the little ‘Midwinter Fire’ from the back garden, as it catches the shaft of sun (assuming there is any sun) in mid afternoon and lights up the whole area. The snowdrops are really starting to fill out under ‘Kojo-No-Mai’, and the Euphrobia wulfenii has been flowering since before Christmas. Poor thing, it must be exhausted.

crocus and primroses

euphorbia wulfenii

snowdrops under kojo-no-maii

(How come I didn’t notice the plastic bottle when I was out there in the daylight?!)

The newly enlarged area will need some new plants – I plan to add some geums and perennial wallflowers for now – but overall the fence border is what is preventing the front garden from being a total eyesore. The real challenge – apart from digging up all that grass – lies at the very front.

The mess at the front

Its a mess. A formless mess. The grass keeps returning within days of clearing it, including in the area that used to be a pond, and that I want to turn in to a little seating area. I have made a small start, trying out some new-to-me plants in the shape of Sisyrinchium striatum, which does really well in my neighbour’s garden, and a sea holly whose label I have lost. These are planted with Pheasants Tail grass, euphorbia myrsinites (though I think I would prefer to swap these for euphorbia rigida and that old stalwart, Stipa tenuissima.

A small start

The rest though. Well, the rest requires major work! And a little more fence.

So there you have it. My front garden at the beginning of 2016. Hopefully, by this time next year, it will look different. And better.

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60 Comments


  1. A garden is like that one really good friend that no matter how large or small the separation in time and space you can always sit down with them over tea and strike up an immediate conversation like only minutes have passed. It is always true that in your garden a lot has been done, and there are still major things you’d like to do…You have an amazing location, you have a really wonderful garden.
    Charlie@Seattle Trekker recently posted Magnolia × Brooklynensis ‘Yellow Bird’: Rare 3 Inch Yellow Flowers Bloom In April


    1. That’s a lovely way of putting it Charlie, and my garden is certainly very patient with me, considering!


  2. I have to admit I enjoy the tufts of grasses. But I know how it is–you have a vision of how you want the garden to look and sometimes it just goes a different way. You have some beautiful plants in bloom–especially the Snowdrops and Irises.


    1. Hi Beth, I love the tufts of carex and stipa tenuissima, its the tufts of lawn grass that are driving me mad! The former bob and ripple in the wind, creating lovely textures. The latter just sit there…


  3. Hi Janet, so nice to see you posting, again! Well, I think you are a little hard on yourself. Your front yard looks pretty in many areas and I love your snowdrops and the iris reticulata ‘Gordon’, what a beautiful color. I can understand though that you would like to change the area in the very front where all the grasses are. I am sure when you focus on your front yard this year, you will majorly improve it from nice to outstanding and I am looking forward to follow your progress.
    Warm regards,
    Christina


    1. Thank you Christina, I suspect we are always our own harshest critics, since we sit there with visions in our heads of what it should look like and of course it never does! I am a little in love with ‘Gordon’, and can’t wait to see the others I planted start to appear too.


  4. Gardens are ever growing, and our vision and expectations are ever changing. It is the process that stimulates us and promotes our well-being. I look forward to watching your garden’s progress. It is good to see you back in the blogosphere! Happy gardening in 2016!
    debsgarden recently posted The Beach in January


    1. Thanks Deb, it is good to be back. And I agree, the ever-changing nature of gardens, plants, weather, it is all part of what makes gardening so beguiling, and so satisfying and absorbing.


  5. I hope you’re feeling much better after your virus – illness like that can be surprisingly debilitating. I agree wholeheartedly about the benefits of gardening and I love being able to see project front garden as it is and imagining all the things you will achieve this year. I look forward to following your progress. Aren’t Iris reticulata forgiving? I planted some in January and they are flowering now!


    1. Hi Sarah, I am much better thank you. I am excited about getting really stuck in to the front garden this year, I will get a lot out of seeing some progress there after a year of neglect. And I now have yet another reason to love iris reticulata…


  6. Lovely to see a post from you again Janet, your garden has grown a lot and is really beginning to fill out. Maybe I can see it more than you as I’m not seeing it every day. Teucrium strikes very easily from cuttings and grows quite quickly, I am slowly adding more and more to my garden here as they cope better than almost anything else with my free draining soil and the summer drought. Good luck with all your plans. Christina
    Christina recently posted In a vase on Monday – Happiness is………


    1. Thank you Christina, it is good to be back. Long may it continue… I have been encouraged by how easy it is to strike cuttings from the teucrium, I am definitely going to try more once I get my propagator set up again. A really lovely plant, in or out of flower.


  7. I think a lot of us are tackling our front borders at the moment. I don’t have an excuse that passers by see it, I’m at the end of a little cul-de-sac, 4 houses and 2 bungalows, and only the postman sees it!
    You have some good ideas in your plans, I’m sure it will end up looking beautiful.
    A short cut to getting rid of your grass would be just to kill it off, I am organic, but also with a bad back, so it was the only time I have resorted to a spray, when I was designing the garden here.
    Pauline recently posted The Great British Birdwatch.


    1. Hi Pauline, I do in fact have some glysophate ready to kill it off with, though I would prefer to lay cardboard over it and add the gravel on top, it worked beautifully on my kitchen garden beds. Unfortunately I need to dig it out as I need to take down the level… I think I will be doing it in small chunks, thanks to my own bad back. Unless I can convince TNG that it would make a good project…


  8. Lovely to see you’ve got your gardening – and blogging – mojo back Janet. I think you need to borrow a quote from Capability Brown and say your front garden “has possibilities” rather than a challenge :) Looking forward to seeing how things progress this year.
    VP recently posted GBMD: Painting the Modern Garden – Monet to Matisse


    1. Thank you Michelle, I’ve missed it, is is good to be back! I like the “has possibilities” quote… Its that or call it an adventure…


  9. good to see your gardening mojo on the move Janet – your boat made me realise how much your front garden resembles the prow of a ship – maybe could do with a figurehead as focal point – especially as its pointing out to sea


    1. Hello Laura! Yes, I know what you mean, I had a whole boat-inspired plan at one point, with boardwalks and a couple of decked seating areas. I did find a rather wonderful sculpture that I thought would be perfect, ‘Blown Away’ by Penny Hardy (http://www.pennyhardysculpture.com/index.aspx?sectionid=1204432). I think I may have to make do with annual flowers for now…


      1. oh that is fabulous – I suppose annuals are more affordable p.s. I like your use of the term editing to re-arrange the borders – is it arising from your web business I wonder?!


        1. Not sure where I picked the “editing” term up, but I have been using it for years. There is a lot in common between the two worlds though, in terms of assessing what works, the need to take frequent steps back, to get inspiration from elsewhere but go with your gut and your heart rather than convention or fashion. I’m much better at all that in the garden at the moment, but learning all the time in my web world too.

          I really love that sculpture…


  10. I always enjoy reading your posts Janet, as we have similar taste in plants…. I have recently discovered how much I love Calamagrostis and intend to simplify my planting too with more of that and more Stipa and Perovskia too. I think your garden looks great – mine is still dormant under lots of protective leaves left lying on it over winter. So nice to see some signs of spring in your photos!


    1. Hi Cathy, we do seem to like a lot of the same plants. I love Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, but fear it might grow too tall. I am also toying with Panicum ‘Stainless Steel’, for the blue tones. And thank you for the kind comments on the state of the garden, I am pleased with some of it, but of course my eye is continually drawn to the rest…


  11. This mornng our small front garden had more litter than plants – I still have some pots of mini irises to plant
    Sue Garrett recently posted Bird Count


  12. It’s good to see you posting again with this enjoyable read and lovely pictures. With your gardening mojo back it sounds like you’re going to be busy over the coming months. xx
    Flighty recently posted Birds and books


    1. I think you are right Flighty, at least, when the weather permits. Managed to get the new plants that I bought today when I met up with Kate planted just before the hail arrived!


  13. glad you are over the nasty virus Janet, not fun, and that the business is going well, I agree a bit of gardening is better than the apple for keeping the doctor at bay, me too,
    the Olearia virgata is the centre shrub in my centre front bed, mine has been in 14 years, they can get very large, it was like a small multi stemmed tree, I cut it right back 3 or 4 years ago (posted in my eomv) and it has regrown nicely, I do not intend letting it get so big again, however, it grows well from cuttings I just push hardwood cuttings in the ground where I want them, they are slow at first but then grow faster, I have several growing between the alder garden and alder terrace as an informal hedge and they look nice, imo,
    good to see you posting again I look forward to seeing the developments, Frances


    1. Hi Frances, thank you, that’s really useful info on the olearia, I might try some hardwood cuttings, and I’ll certainly keep an eye on the height. I think it is the informality of the wafty form that I really enjoy. That and the silvery foliage.


  14. The structure is still there and all the work you did before last year will stand you in good stead. I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly it will return to its former glory. Great to see you back Janet.
    rusty duck recently posted Into The Red


    1. Hi Jessica, thank you, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by all the lovely welcome back messages. I’m also feeling strangely optimistic about pulling the front garden in to much better shape – though i am not looking forward to digging all that turf up!!! And hey, at least I get to garden on level ground and listen to the sea as I exert myself!!!


  15. I’m still pulling random bits of once was lawn.
    But they are only bits now.
    It’s a constant gentle battle to lurch the garden to match the layered picture in our mind.
    Diana Studer recently posted Our False Bay garden in January


    1. You put it perfectly Diana, “layered picture”. Yes, exactly! I am hoping that once I have dug up most of the grass it will encroach less in to the borders, where I am still fighting a continual battle against the desire to return to “lawn”.


  16. Great to see you blogging again. Glad to hear that you are feeling better, and getting your gardening mojo back. Good to hear your plans for the front garden, am sure you will get it back into shape in no time. Its a good time to assess things at this time of year when the garden is more pared back and you can see the structure.
    annie_h recently posted The plot in January


    1. Hi Annie, it’s good to be back! You are right about this being a really good time to assess a spot, there is no place to hide, no lush weeds even!


  17. What a fabulous view from your garden, and you have so many lovely plants, I bet the euphorbias love it there! Getting rid of the grass is a good idea, we’re doing the same in a little section of garden near the back door. Jill


    1. Hi Jill, yes, we are phenomenally lucky, particularly since most of the view was obscured by tangled climbers and high fence when we arrived, a section of fence blew down revealing the view and we’ve not looked back since.

      I got rid of all the grass in my back garden at my previous house and never regretted it. We’re keeping some grass in the back here, but out the front it is just a pain to look after. At least with the gravel I will only have the weeds to contend with.


  18. I am pleased to see you back too! It’s also reassuring to find that you too have areas that won’t quite do what you want. It all looks pretty good to me and how nice to have a plan. I’m afraid two summers of having very little time for the garden as first my father in law and the my father failed have left me very adrift from mine.


    1. Hello Elizabeth, thank you! Yes, you must feel very disconnected form your garden and gardening. And I know from experience how easy it is to feel overwhelmed when you gaze out at the chaos that lack of weeding creates. I hope you find ways to make gentle forays back out there and start to pootle. Your bulbs should help, as they make an appearance.


  19. Hello Janet. I’m so pleased that you’ve come back to blogging too! I agree with everything you say about gardening and how it works as an antidote to worries and stresses. It really helps to let time just pass when I’m gardening without keep glancing at the clock. As you say, it’s about being in the ‘now’.
    Good luck with your gardening plans for this year. Your main section of the wall border has almost the same combination of plants as one of the areas of my garden. I’ve salvias there too, but I’ve persevered with them because the bees love them so much.


    1. Interesting that you have lost salvias too Wendy, what kind of soil do you have? And am intrigued that you have many of the same plants… I was doing some research online last night about grasses to add to the border, and discovered quite a few photos with very similar plant combinations. Just goes to show, there is nothing new under the sun – and we both have excellent taste ;-)


      1. In this bed I have blue spire, echinops and sea holly – and the salvias. I lost the first lovely salvia to frost (I thought I would get away without protecting it here). And the next generation of salvias aren’t really thriving. The soil here is heavy clay, but this bed was once one of my vegetable beds (so I’d consider it good soil) and it has had plenty of mulch. It’s also well drained. The other plants are doing fine.
        Wendy recently posted Looking to Come Back to Blogging…


  20. Sorry – the word ‘lost’ has been lost from my last comment – if that makes sense! It should read ‘lost salvias’ (I’m obviously still feeling my blogging feet!!)
    Wendy recently posted Looking to Come Back to Blogging…


    1. How apt! But I worked it out…


  21. Hello Janet, glad you are feeling better now. Lifting the grass in our back garden seemed like such an alien thing for me to do and yet the gravel makes it much easier to go outdoors on those days when we would be squelching about in the soggy grass. It looks good but the jury is out as to whether it looks better. We do get critical about our own gardens when they become so very familiar to us, your front garden is looking good considering the time of year.


    1. Hi Alistair, I never regretted lifting the grass in our old back garden, so I am pretty sure I won’t miss the small amount of grass left out the front, but I am sure I will find myself having to do a lot of weeding. I can imagine us getting rid of the grass in the back garden too, eventually, but I do like it, and I have a “bare feet” test in the back garden – I have to be able to get everywhere without having to put on shoes. So grass works better than gravel would…


  22. Great to see a new post from you Janet :) As always with photos of your front garden that glimpse of the sea makes my heart sing. I’m sure that nobody notices the weeds. I sympathise with the privacy issue. Our garden is down in a hollow so we can been seen by all the neighbouring houses as well as passers by on one boundary. Some of them have no qualms about coming to a complete standstill to stare down at me whilst I’m working in the garden. I hope that your tree/shrub barrier soon fills out. Looking forward to seeing more of your front garden as the year unfolds.


    1. Hello Anna, it is fortunate that I am a gregarious type, I find the worst thing about the exposure out the front is that my gardening gets interrupted by overly garrulous neighbours wanting to chat! But the view more than makes up for it. As for the tree/shrub barrier, I was eyeing up two large myrtle plants in my back garden yesterday. I am sure there are better things I could plant there, and they would make excellent almost instant hedging material out the front…

      PS I think your penultimate word should be “years” :-)


  23. “I had a lovely time getting excited about dahlias the other day.” That right there is why garden-bloggy friends are the best. Glad you’ve recovered from the virus and that your gardening mojo is stirring! Mine is waking up this year, too. We’ve had a wet (for New Mexico) winter, and I have high hopes for the growing season. It’s good to have you back, Janet!


    1. :-) It is good to know there are other people out there that get as excited about plants as I do!! Wonderful that you gardening mojo is re-awakening, I hope you have an excellent growing season, and lots of opportunities to get excited about plants and planting.


    1. Thank you! And yes, aren’t they, so many sumptuous colours, so many combinations to day-dream about.


  24. I started following your blog when you were focusing on your front garden a few years back. Back then it was mainly the border that runs along the fence and the painting of said fence. It has come on great and if that is anything to go by then you’ll have those other areas you want to concentrate on looking good in no time Janet.
    Good to see you back :)
    Angie recently posted Tree Following 2016 – Betula Crimson Frost


    1. Thanks Angie, it is easy for me to lose sight of the progress I have made, particularly as I really didn’t manage to get much done last year.


  25. I can see I am not the only one who is pleased to see things stirring in your neck of the woods again Janet – it’s good to catch up on what is happening in your garden, as you yourself are feeling too! Sorry about virus/bad back, etc :(


    1. Hi Cathy, it is lovely to have such a warm welcome back to the blogosphere. I am trying various exercises to prevent the back from spoiling the gardening. Some aspects of getting older are very annoying, but there again I do also work at a keyboard for hours at a time which can’t help! Its good to have dirt under my fingernails and posts on my blog again.


  26. I know how it feels to watch your garden and not be able to work in it. I look forward to seeing the work as the season unfolds…it will be a labor of love!
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted Flower Tales-Cosmos


    1. I knew you’d understand Donna, I am looking forward to getting stuck in, and am very annoyed that, just as the weather has improved, I’ve gone down with a horrid cold! I wanted to start some vigorous weeding…


    1. Thanks Chloris, good to be back – I hope Gordon will be back again next year too, he is lovely.


  27. I wouldn’t worry about your garden too much. For the time of year, it looks fine, besides you Iris reticulata blooming, and you have that view out the upstairs window.


    1. Very true Les, the view makes up for a lot!

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