PHOTO: Donna Griffith
Susan Brackney
May 13, 2020

Traditionally, our front yards have been filled with grass, some shrubbery and maybe a tree or two. But why exactly? Gardeners like Tara Nolan suggest it’s time to rethink the way we use that prime real estate. Nolan is co-founder of SavvyGardening.com and the author of Gardening Your Front Yard: Projects and Ideas for Big and Small Spaces.

“I am seeing more and more front yard gardens that make efficient use of the space,” Nolan writes. “Curb appeal has evolved beyond the standardized aesthetic.”

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Some of those more efficient uses include attracting wildlife; growing food, herbs and cut-flowers; and rain gardening. To that end, her work offers a mix of garden-related woodworking projects and specific gardening ideas.

In Gardening Your Front Yard, Nolan also sets her sights on the driveway, side and back yards, and even that weed-prone wasteland along the sidewalk.

Gardening Your Front Yard
Susan Brackney


Food Forward

Increasing numbers of people are snapping up seeds to grow their own veggies, and, for many, the front yard may be the only spot that’s sunny enough to do the job. “Planting peas or lettuce are some easy things to get started, and they can take a few dollars off your grocery bill once they mature,” Nolan notes.

But before the shovels come out? “Some places have laws that say you’re not allowed to have certain things in your front yard garden,” she adds.

That means first consulting state and city statutes as well as your homeowners’ association, if you have one. Ideally, you should also talk to your neighbors in advance. “Sharing your vision with them might make them just as excited to see what the outcome is as you are,” Nolan says.

If you do get the green light, don’t forget to check in with your local utility companies. “Make sure you know where any underground lines are, so, if you are digging deep holes, you’re not going to hit utilities,” she continues.

But what if growing food out front is out of the question? If you can, try sliding your veggies into the side yard instead. And mix culinary herbs like fennel and basil in with the ornamental flowers in your front yard.

They’re every bit as edible as, say, tomatoes or cucumbers, but they’ll pass as decorative.

Tackling Trouble

If you’d rather have a profusion of blooms—but you already have a black walnut tree—then you likely know that establishing other kinds of plants nearby might be tough. Besides the extra shade and walnuts these imposing trees throw, they produce juglone—a chemical in the soil which inhibits competing plants’ growth.

In this circumstance, Nolan steers readers to juglone-tolerant plants like hostas, purple coneflowers, sweet woodruff, Siberian irises, black-eyed Susans and summer phlox.

And, if you have snowy winters where you live, you just might have extra salt in the soil near your driveway and in areas closest to the road. Although handy as an ice-melter, winter salt applications can negatively affect your soil.

According to Nolan, some plants to try in super-salty spots include blanket flowers, columbine, day lilies, dianthus, blue fescue and ladies mantle.

No matter what you plant, you’ll probably need to protect most everything from either the ravages of wild animals—or your own domesticated critters. Besides deer-resistant plant varieties, Nolan suggests using fencing, netting, floating row cover and other barriers.

“I know people with raised beds, for example, who deal with pest issues like groundhogs or deer or bunnies,” she says. “There are things that you can build around them, so that you can enjoy your harvest and it’s not taken by the resident animals in your neighborhood.”

Woodworking It

For readers without much—if any—land to work, Gardening Your Front Yard also includes DIY raised beds, a vertical privacy plant stand, mini lettuce herb table and other planting-related projects.

“I tried to create a balance between some harder projects that the people who have more woodworking skills can tackle and smaller projects that anyone can probably do,” Nolan says.

One of Nolan’s simplest projects? The window well container garden—made from a single board and a galvanized or corrugated steel window well. “All I have to do is screw the sides in place, and I have a raised bed,” she says.

If you’re new to both woodworking and gardening, Nolan recommends taking little bites.

“Start with maybe one small raised bed, rather than building five,” she says. “See how that goes, apply what you learn, and make it bigger the following year.”

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