Charmed? I’m Not So Sure

It was lovely this morning and after my last post about warm colours in interiors, I wanted to see if the local gardens reflected the seasonal colours of nature. Not yet was the answer, but in general front gardens locally were in a pitiful state. What a disappointment!

I live in an area where there are a number of estates that were developed by benefactors in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries for returned servicemen and their families, so from the buildings, there is charm a plenty, but I had to look really hard to find any gardens that reflected this and provided what the estate agents call ‘kerb appeal’. Even those with sale boards looked unloved and neglected. Many had motorcycles parked in them, some had overflowing bins and others were simply full of weeds – some taller than I. Because I’ve always liked the buildings in this area, I’ve assumed, automatically I suppose, that the gardens lived up to the same level of beauty. How wrong I was!

front garden parking

But why is this? For someone on a tight budget, with little cash to spare, spending some time in the garden offers big reward for small outlay. Seriously.

If you’re keen on doing work inside, anything you can do in the garden will be doubly rewarding because the changes you make allow you to grown plants that will give you continuous pleasure throughout the year. Buying a big planter and popping a box ball or bay tree in it – for example – and standing it by the front door, will set you back about £50 – less than your food bill for the week, most likely.

And why did I say a big planter? Because once it’s filled with soil, no-one will be able to lift it and spirit it away!

bay trees either side of door

Gardening is not a specialist sport, yet new homeowners seem to be really afraid of it. I learned about gardens and plants from my mother and grandmothers, all keen plants women. I don’t profess to have a very great knowledge at all, but the minute I found myself with a garden that needed tending, I couldn’t bear the idea of it looking like I didn’t love it. Not only that, being outdoors and watching the local wildlife become accustomed to your presence is lovely. You feel really connected to your neighbourhood. It’s incredible that we can live in such a built up area, but still have such a diversity of birds live all around us.

So, I started by asking a lot of questions. Garden centres love to give advice and some run loyalty schemes too. It’s so inspiring to talk to someone who really knows their subject and then to be able to act on their words. (In the next instalment of the Shed Roof Project you will see exactly what I mean.) Don’t forget, everyone has to start somewhere – even Alan Titchmarsh must once have known nothing about gardens! The most basic of equipment will get you going. Secateurs, a hand trowel and hand fork are enough for a general garden tidy up. But, if things are out of control, you’ll need a full sized garden fork (about £30) and buy gardening gloves – dealing with roses or blackberry is hard work without them.

How do you know what is a weed and what isn’t, I hear you ask? Again, to quote Alan Titchmarsh, a weed is only a plant in the wrong place, so even trees can be considered weeds if you take that point of view and anything in your garden that you don’t like – or is evident in wild profusion – can probably come out, or at least be controlled forcibly.

The very best thing about gardens is that like hair, they grow back! And then you start to feel more confident and actually start to choose what you want to grow, what you want to pave and what you want to enhance. It’s no more challenging than decorating a room and with so much talk about indoor/outdoor living, your garden is living space.

So, from my wanders I’ve collected a selection of the best front gardens that are achievable for ‘beginners’. Yes, some of them may be rented, but why does that mean you can’t take pleasure from where you live? Anything in a planter can go with you when you move!

maisonette entrance
maisonettes with toning front doors

These two show what a difference having something green around your front door does to the impact of the property – so much nicer than motorcycles. If you simply can’t plant anything, then having both maisonette doors painted in toning shades looks like you care about where you live.

door furniture

Giving some thought to your ‘door furniture’ (knocker, post slot and house number) really co-ordinates the appearance of your front garden. It’s simple and effective, though a more expensive option than putting in planters – hardware is costly!

paint used on front wall

My favourite! I love the way these homeowners have co-ordinated their window trim colour and pulled it forward to the front wall. Then, they’ve contained the privet hedge inside the wall. It looks really smart and quite sculptural when contrasted with the wisteria climbing on the house.

cottage simplicity

The owners of this cottage have done all three things – co-ordinated door furniture, paint colour and added plants to the front. Both the wisteria and privet are young plants which over time will take shape according to how the owners trim them. This really is about you choosing how you want the plants to look. With regular trimming the roots establish and the plant grows more densely.

landscaping outside deco house

IMG_0521

These last pictures two are aspirational. Both have been done by landscapers and have had careful thought given to how the planting and hard landscaping (paving) will impact on the property. What works in both of these projects is the way the materials have been used to compliment the building.

The Deco house for example, is of a liver coloured brick, its not the most attractive colour but because the steps to the front door have been created in sandstone, this adds a warmth to the brick and really enhances the entrance. Using the pale limestone gravel adds further lightness to the front which is east facing and is shaded from midday. They’ve layered the colours used by keeping the door pale and repeating it on the shutters then, simply adding some decorative lighting completes the structure of the project and the plantings are able to soften the brickwork by breaking up the hard horizontal lines. Lovely.

Finally, the courtyard garden is part of a new development behind the cottage featured above. The developer has acknowledged how important the exterior is to the success of the project by making sure that the pathways running up to the apartments go through the garden. The plantings are simple: lavenders, geraniums, box balls and shrubs, (with fig trees planted under the raised balconies – that could be a problem – they grow huge) but this look is easy to maintain and that is why they’ve chosen it. This is a good starting point – find the colours you like in a garden and then source the plants that will give you the easiest way of achieving it. Go on! I know you can do it.

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