The front yard gives the first impression of your property from the street. A weed-free lawn and neatly pruned shrubs by your front door is only one scenario. Perhaps you're tired of spending Saturday mornings behind a mower and want to try a different configuration for the front of your house. While kids' play sets, clotheslines and large vegetable gardens are better off in the backyard, you can still explore foundation plantings and garden designs that reveal your personality.
The history of the front yard in America is devoted to the cultivation of lawns. Beginning in the the middle of the 19th century, the lawn became a feature of the front yard, popularized by garden author Andrew Jackson Downing and landscape architects such as Frederick Law Olmstead. The concept of foundation plantings originated in Victorian England. As a symbol of conscientious home ownership, these features are essentially unchanged in modern front yards. Recently, environmental concerns over traditional lawns have made some homeowners reconsider their front yards.
Curb appeal is the term used for a pleasing view of a property from the street, often created with gardens carved into the lawn. The look of foundation plantings can be altered by widening the planting area in front of the house. "Second Nature: A Gardener's Education" author Michael Pollan planted fruit trees in his front yard, and ultimately a hedge of forsythia and lilacs by the street, lightening his four-hour Saturday mowing stint. Landscape Design Advice suggests edging walkways and driveways with trees, shrubs and perennials, or creating a bed in the front lawn.
If you are "anti-lawn," you have several options, according to Elizabeth Kolbert writing for the "New Yorker." Mosses, creeping thyme and weeds can replace high-maintenance grass. One of the most radical ideas is to allow the lawn to be overtaken by nature. Pollan envisions his front yard as a garden in which he might have a patch of grass. Choose unorthodox foundation plantings, such as ornamental grasses. Be advised that some front yard innovations may upset the neighbors' vision of the neighborhood.
According to Kolbert, the total area of lawn in America is approximately the size of New York State and costs billions of dollars in upkeep, not to mention the water required. Fertilizers and other chemicals leak into waterways and upset the environmental balance. For those wishing to cut down on these problems, planting native Buffalo grass is a viable alternative. Instead of a front lawn, plant vegetables for their ornamental and nutritional value.
The University of Missouri recommends designing the front yard with the entryway of the house as a focal point, using trees and shrubs, and avoiding the waxing and waning nature of perennials. Landscape Design Advice advocates the use of island flower beds. Whichever direction you choose, preparation is essential. Sketch out a plan, following design guidelines you glean from books and online resources. Research plants for their USDA plant hardiness zones, their heights and bloom times. Make the front yard your own, but also consider the look of the neighborhood.