by Mark and Ben Cullen
Front yard gardens form the most visible patchwork of a vibrant community.
Your front yard garden is where passers-by stop to admire a blooming rose. It is where you lean on your shovel to chat with a neighbour.
Which brings us to a great new Canadian book we recently enjoyed, “Gardening Your Front Yard: Projects and Ideas for Big & Small Spaces” by Tara Nolan (Cool Springs Press, 2020).
Ideas big and small. This book is big on inspiration. As Nolan puts it in her opening chapter, “I feel like the inspiration I’ve gathered is an unlimited scrapbook of ideas that can forever be expanded upon”. She adds, “Let the Brainstorming Begin”.
Gardening Your Front Yard excels at taking the creative planning process, the brainstorming of randomly saved webpages, pictures, newspaper clippings, or Instagram photos, and channeling them into thoughtful, cohesive designs and plans.
If you are coming up short on creative ideas for your own front yard, you will enjoy the rich illustration and photographs of “Gardening Your Front Yard”. Many photos provide practical, how-to lessons on creating your front yard oasis while others are pure inspiration.
During the pandemic, we have the perfect opportunity to walk around our own neighbourhood and observe what others have done with their front yard. In addition, Nolan recommends finding inspiration in the wild. A walk through a Toronto area ravine, for example, provides clues for a flowering meadow garden. Attending a garden tour or visiting a public garden will make your brainstorming experience richer.
The second half of the book focuses on practical advice, which Nolan brings together like a skilled knitter who uses various colours of yarn to create a beautiful sweater. Challenges, such as planting around your home’s foundation or eliminating lawn to make way for bigger gardens, are dealt with in detail.
In the chapter “Front Yard Living: A Return to Being Social in the Front Yard” Nolan distinguishes the front yard experience from any other. For us, being social is the whole point of the front yard and the reason why we do not put an 8’ fence around it. Nolan makes the argument for a front-yard patio, which reverses the trend of the last few decades and puts the residents out front where we can be social. During the isolation of the pandemic just waving hello to neighbours has a certain appeal.
Having a place to sit which is both visually appealing and comfortable is uniquely challenging in the front yard where appearances are everything. The book includes plans for an attractive live-edge bench and tips for remodelling your patio set.
Where flowers, foliage and groundcovers are concerned, Nolan knows her stuff and as a writer based in Dundas, Ontario she understands Canadian gardening. The book is geared towards what works in our growing zone. We both appreciated the section about lawns, or, more to the point, what to replace a lawn with. Fescue grasses and clover mixes are reviewed in detail, as are meadows which are not a case of simply ignoring your front garden, but carefully planning, planting, and nurturing. The reader discovers that there is no short cut to fulfilling your dream front yard.
As a Canadian garden writer, Nolan does an excellent job of weaving expertise and knowledge from her network of fellow Canadian garden writers. Perennial plant expert Tony Spencer from Mono, Ontario is called upon for his knowledge of new-perennialism – the ingenious method of landscape planning inspired by famed Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf. Sean James of Milton, Ontario, is referenced for how to create a groundcover-quilt. Toronto Botanical Garden Director of Horticulture Paul Gellatly is introduced as a passionate front yard breeder of exotic lilies, and Father-Daughter food gardeners Steven and Emma Biggs make an appearance in the book for innovative techniques to incorporate food gardening into the front yard.
“Gardening Your Front Yard” is a garden party in a book, with ideas and inspiration shared between passionate gardeners. Right about now a garden party sounds quite appealing to us.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.