Front-Yard Gardens: Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop

This month’s topic for Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop, hosted by Gardening Gone Wild, is Front-Yard Gardens. Unlike many people who start gardening in back and work their way out front, I took the opposite approach. Before I’d even moved into this house, before I gave thought to where the furniture was going to go, I was sketching out a plan for a fenced front-yard garden, which I’d wanted at my former house but never realized.

We moved into this house in October 2000, when the front yard contained an open rectangle of St. Augustine and Bermuda lawn, a tiny red oak sapling, a lovely weeping yaupon holly at the corner of the house (still there), and a few dwarf yaupons, bicolor iris, lantanas, and salvias along the foundation. By the summer of 2001 I’d hired out the fence installation and the stonework, given away the little red oak, and set to work killing the grass and bringing in several inches of composted topsoil mixed with decomposed granite to improve the health and drainage of my hard-packed clay soil. God knows what the neighbors thought. I didn’t worry about it. A year after moving in, in October 2001, I started planting the sun-loving, drought-tolerant Hill Country perennials I’d fallen in love with when I moved to Austin.

The garden has undergone many changes since then, as gardens do, and now I have a nearly lawnless back garden too, but the front is still my favorite. Here’s a tour.

The northwest side of the front garden, bordered by the sidewalk and driveway. A mulched path leads to the cedar bench in the middle of this bed, backed by a Texas mountain laurel. Farther back, by the stock-tank planter, is an Anacacho orchid tree, and near the front door is the new crepe myrtle, which I hope will shade the entry in the not-too-distant future. It gets hot out here during summer afternoons.

The southwest side of the garden. As you can see, the early spring flowering is past, everything is freshly pruned, and I anticipate early summer flowers soon. That’s a Nolina texana , a native grass-like yucca relative, in the central pot. Is this a container planting that requires daily water in summer? Ha! Maybe once every two weeks suits it just fine.

Looking from the end of the driveway diagonally across the garden to the weeping yaupon holly and my neighbor’s house. As you can see, there is no lawn in this garden. The stone paving takes the place of grass, giving the eye a place to rest while also giving the visitor a place to stroll and view the garden. Side paths of concrete, mulch, decomposed granite, and stepping stones wind through and around the beds also.

This is the view from the middle of the driveway toward the front door. The concrete sidewalk was poured by the builder, and I left it for budgetary reasons. It meets up in front of the door with the stone courtyard paving, and past that is a paver-and-decomposed-granite path that leads to the yellow bench at the far end of the garden, which helps stop the eye before it travels another few feet to the neighbor’s car in her driveway.

Courtyard view. Near the front door, looking to the left (south), the view of the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave dominates. Just past it, a birdbath filled with green glass instead of water continues the diagonal line, the longest line in a rectangular garden. Emphasizing the diagonal in a small garden makes it feel bigger. See the stepping-stone path? If you follow it through this bed…

…and look back, here is your view across the garden. Many of the xeric southwestern plants tend to mound, especially with a little helpful pruning, including the Mexican oregano on the right. The ‘Adagio’ miscanthus grass on the left echoes that rounded shape. I’ve played up the circle theme with the hardscaping, including the circle of the stone courtyard itself, the central pot, the Mexican beach pebbles at its feet, concrete orbs, and the birdbath visible to the left.

The stepping-stone path we were following leads to the yellow bench, a stopping point, where a paver-and-decomposed-granite path takes over. Straight ahead it leads toward the front door. It also leads back and to the right, around the corner of the house to the back gate, but that is a little-used path, for space is tight where the A/C sits, and the neighbor’s cannas back there lean over the fence in a jungly manner by mid-summer.

Now let’s take this path toward the front door.

Just by the door, a variegated agave in a half-buried stock tank gives evergreen structure amid the narrow-leaved, herbaceous perennials.

The whole front garden is 43 feet long by 28 feet deep—an excellent size, despite my greed for more plants, for maintaining. In this older neighborhood, we have no deed restrictions on fences or rules about keeping grass or any of that nonsense. So I was free to do what I liked, and the neighbors have been interested and generous with compliments. Nothing strikes up a conversation between neighbors, I’ve found, like a front-yard garden.

All material © 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

35 Responses

  1. Helen says:

    What a gorgeous front garden. I really must address mine instead of walking past it to the front door

    Thanks, Helen. Here in the U.S., suburbanites rarely use their front door, instead driving to the garage and entering through the back. Having a front-yard garden gives one a good excuse to be out front, saying hello to people and seeing what’s going on in the neighborhood. —Pam

  2. Yours is a model for what all front yard gardens could be. I’m interested though, have your neighbors all stepped up their game in done much with their front yard gardens?

    Thanks, Jim. I think this kind of garden (heavily planted with no lawn) is a good option only for those who really are into gardening, who enjoy the daily walk-through to see about weeds and what needs pruning, etc. Most people, including my neighbors, want an attractive landscape along the foundation and maybe at the street, a nice, big tree for shade, and a lawn. Some of them have gone a step or two farther and widened their beds or added some perennials, but nothing like what you’ve got going on in your section of Buffalo. I wonder what caused the gardening bug to catch on to such an extent in the inner neighborhoods of Buffalo. The excitement of neighborhood revitalization? —Pam

  3. Nan Ondra says:

    Wonderful, Pam! I really appreciate you taking the time to give us a detailed tour of this special garden space. I’ve added your link to the Design Workshop list!

    It’s fun to have an excuse to do a bunch of long shots. This month’s design workshop topic was near and dear to my heart. Thanks for hosting. —Pam

  4. irena says:

    beautiful pam! your garden is a great source of ideas as I start to convert my front yard to garden. I love the various materials for the paths, your benches and the circular/mounding theme (not to mention the plants). talk about making an entrance! you’re so right that front-yard gardening is a great way to meet the neighbours. I would never have believed that tearing out a strip of lawn would be of such interest to my neighbours until I put the shovel in the ground.

    It is funny, isn’t it? I think that’s why some people feel shy about gardening out front. One of the nice things a fence does, if you can work it into your design, is give you a feeling of protection while puttering around out front. —Pam

  5. Layanee says:

    Pam: I love seeing the ‘whole’ garden to get a better sense of the use of space and plantings and it is just delightful! As you know, I really like your beach pebbles under the jar as they give such a sense of movement and rhythm but, really, it is just such a nice, cohesive and inviting design that I am left wishing, once again, that I had seen it in person. Someday! Sigh! Thanks.

    I wish you had too, Layanee. If you’re ever in Austin… —Pam

  6. linda says:

    Beautiful front-yard garden Pam. I love the design, the paths instead of lawn, and the wonderful plant selection. What a beautiful view to come home to every day!

    Thank you, Linda. I do enjoy coming home to my little garden. —Pam

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Curb appeal plus. Your front garden is out of this world, a world of its own.
    I never tire of looking at it. Those agaves are to die for.

    Many thanks, Lisa. The agaves are some of my favorite plants. I’m glad to live where I can grow them. —Pam

  8. carolyngail says:

    What a gorgeous front garden, Pam. It’s a big warm Texas welcome !

    Even without any color your garden would be beautiful because it has so much interest in the different textures and colors. This is the true test of a good garden design.

    I just wish I had your space and a blank slate !

    Thanks, Carolyn. That means a lot coming from a fellow designer. —Pam

  9. Wow – just beautiful! I wish more bloggers would do garden tours like this. It feels like I know the place. I could definitely spend time there. Do you continuously have random strangers come by to comment on it?

    Thanks, Wicked Gardener. I took my inspiration from Chuck, who’s generous with his garden tours. Yes, strangers often stop to ask about it when I’m working out there. It’s been a great way to meet the neighbors. —Pam

  10. Libby says:

    Great post, Pam! I love front gardens too. I love to walk the n’hood and look and see what people have put in for “public view.” Seeing yours makes me feel hopeful that my front garden will eventually be something people enjoy walking past. Plus it’s my only sun!!

    I love to do that too, Libby. Your garden already has a lot of interesting stuff going on, and one of these days I’d love to come over and see the Key West-in-Austin garden for myself, especially as we’re practically neighbors. —Pam

  11. Michelle says:

    I love the way you took us on a tour along the pathways! So many neat plants. I also started with the front yard. It is still a work in progress. Just the other day a neighbor told me they loved what I had done with the front yard and that there was so much color to look at. They said that now that they see how nice my yard is looking and that the native and adapted plants are working so well, that they are going to do the same with theirs. How neat! I can’t believe I inspired someone ;)

    That’s wonderful, Michelle! The power of gardening, right? It’s nice to know that you started out front too. —Pam

  12. cindee says:

    Thanks for the tour!! Everything looks just lovely(-: I bet your neighbors are happy to have you as a neighbor!!

    Thanks, Cindee. I know I’m happy to have the neighbors that I do, who are genuinely interested in plants and tolerant of my streetside experiments. —Pam

  13. Frances says:

    A great post showing the true beauty of your front garden. It looks gorgeous from every angle! And no macros either. ;-> That blue agave is such a star in your rich blend of textures and form. You have done a superb job of combining the grasses, woody and creeping plants together in such a wonderful tapestry. It was even more lovely in person, too!

    No macros this time. ;-) Thanks for your generous compliments, Frances. —Pam

  14. Karen says:

    Your front yard is absolutely beautiful! I confess I’ve been lazy in regards to my front yard.

    Thanks, Karen. But I hope you won’t beat yourself up about your front yard. Everyone has to decide how much they’re willing to maintain, and sometimes I question whether a lawn wouldn’t have given me a lot more free time. ;-) —Pam

  15. Matthew says:

    Nice! Why pale yellow for the bench?

    Because I like yellow and it plays off the variegated agave’s yellow stripes. —Pam

  16. Such a gorgeous front garden–I love it! I never get tired of seeing pictures of it, either. I loved your description, too–now I realize why sometimes the “non-lawn” gardens don’t work: nowhere to rest the eye. Using stonework for that instead of turf is such a great idea! Also, I wanted to let you know that the “garden-only” feed is back on my site.
    ~Angela :-)

    Thank you, Angela! Yep, I’d already noticed that you had a garden-only feed and plugged myself into that. I’m enjoying your posts. —Pam

  17. Brenda Kula says:

    I am so impressed! I am going to forward this to my neighbor. It is truly inspired and lovely. I’m going to see if there are restrictions in my neighborhood. I would love to have what you have.

    I’m flattered, Brenda. Thank you. I hope you can play in the dirt the way you want to, without having to worry about neighborhood restrictions. —Pam

  18. Your front garden makes such an impression on your street; as we were turning on to it we didn’t have to bother looking for your address – it was obvious which house was yours. Your thoughtfully planned design is such an inspiration.

    Thanks, MMD! I admit it’s a pretty different yard for this neighborhood. I’m so glad you were able to visit during Spring Fling. —Pam

  19. Katina says:

    When i first moved down here we had the berm area that I wanted to get rid of immediately, but now I like it (kinda seems a little like a barrier between our front windows and the street). Now I want to extend it more into the yard to take up some of the area where the grass always dies every year because of too much sun, not enough water…But I do have a feeling the deed-restriction police would stop by for a visit.

    Hi, Katina. I’ve noticed that builders of new homes in older neighborhoods are putting in berms these days. Often they plant them with ornamental grasses and agaves. Is that what you have? I can see how they would create a feeling of privacy, much like a fence. —Pam

  20. Gail says:

    It is as lovely as I remember it….the tour was perfect,

    Thanks, Gail. I’m glad you were here, just a few weeks ago. —Pam

  21. Melissa says:

    Wow! really beautiful! Well done

    Thanks, Melissa. —Pam

  22. Katina says:

    Actually, it has something to do with the Ash tree dying and the previous owners not wanting to pull out the stump, so instead they wood chipped the tree then dumped all the chips on top of where the tree was. I guess you could say it’s a giant compost pile by this point in time.

    We’ll that’s one way to dispose of a tree. I’m glad the berm worked out for you. Do you have pics up on your blog? —Pam

  23. Lin says:

    Love what you’ve done with your yard! I’m in southern California so we can grow some of the same plants. Like you, Dh and I did away with our front lawn as soon as we bought the house. The back lawn is replaced now, too, and have no regrets…we, the birds, bees and butterflies enjoy it so much more now.

    Isn’t that the truth, Lin? However, my kids have complained about the lack of lawn for games. If only there were room for both! —Pam

  24. jodi says:

    I love your front yard garden Pam–a real inspiration, and such fascinating plants always. I could use some warm weather sent our way, if you’ve got a minute…;-)

    Thanks, Jodi. I wish I could send some of our warm, humid temperatures your way, especially if you could give us a north breeze for a few days. —Pam

  25. I love your use of the agaves.

    Aren’t they fascinating? My biggest challenge has been finding small-enough varieties for my petite garden. No one, least of all me, wants a stab wound from one of these deadly beauties. —Pam

  26. Kathleen says:

    I think your yard is extremely appealing, much more so than the green grass yards I can see around it. It takes courage to rip everything out and completely redo. You have an excellent eye. I’d hire you to help me if I lived there!

    A little courage, I suppose, but even more so a desire to make the most of a typically under-utilized space. The front garden has become my play area because no other family needs (BBQ, play areas, work space) infringe on it. Thanks for your kind comment, Kathleen. —Pam

  27. Pamie G. says:

    Pam — I am about to start my gardening plans in the front and here I found this this morning, you are awesome!! I love the center pot with grass in it, what is growing at the bottom (blue)? I so appreciate your sharing your gardens with the rest of the world! Happy Gardening! Pamie G. in San Antonio

    Hi, Pamie. Thanks for the nice comment. The blue at the bottom of the center pot is a circle of Mexican beach pebbles. I used to grow annuals in that space, but the rocks require less maintenance. ;-) Happy digging in your new garden! —Pam

  28. Phillip says:

    Pam, I think you get the award for ‘Best Front Garden’ – it is really beautiful. I’m embarrassed to post photos of mine but yours is very enabling. You were smart to plan it out first. I planted a lot of large trees and conifers that take away from the views of my house and I can’t hardly bring myself to cut something down. But I must do something soon.

    I don’t know about that, but thank you for the high compliment, Phillip. Drawing a plan for my garden really helped me visualize the hardscaping, which is especially important in a front-yard garden. But if you’d seen how often my plant design has changed, you might be surprised. I’ve redone large sections of this garden a couple of times, whether because plants failed that I thought would succeed, or I fell in love with a new plant and made it a focal point, or because a tree grew too messy-looking and had to be cut down (the vitex). With the backbone of the hardscaping in place, change has been the only constant in my plantings. —Pam

  29. Lovely Pam, it was very nice to get a good clear view of your front garden. Such a big improvement on those boring front lawns I always see on US tv series. ;-) Love the birdhouse, that is just what I’m looking for too.

    Thanks, YE. How strange to think that people in other countries get their ideas of the U.S. through our TV series, so rarely rooted in reality. However, in this case, the series are right on the money. The love of lawn is very American, along with the love of the open road. Thanks for commenting. I hope you find your birdhouse. —Pam

  30. germi says:

    I have a very close, if somewhat dysfunctional, relationship with my front garden… it was my first try at planting when we bought our house, and I fell in love!
    I have made so many friends in my neighborhood because of the front garden – and when you live in Los Angeles, knowing your neighbors is a very rare treat.
    Thank you so much for the tour of your beautiful space! Your garden could teach mine some important lessons!

    Dysfunctional, Germi? I don’t see how. I’ve seen photos of your fascinating garden both on your blog and in magazines, and it looks fabulous. I wish I could see it in person! I’m sure we’d just end up talking about agaves and passionflowers the whole time. Thanks for your kind comment about my garden. —Pam

  31. Pam,

    I love your paths and all your plantings! You’ve done a beautiful job. Working on a front yard garden would be so much more enjoyable than trying to maintain a front yard that’s all grass. Great inspiration!


    Thank you, Cathy. It is more enjoyable, though not less work, than grass. But time spent out there is its own reward. —Pam

  32. Samantha says:

    Your front yard and house is beautiful. Did you have any sort of plan or overall theme you used? I live in Austin also, but am in college, so for now I’m just learning which plants I can grow myself!

    Hi, Samantha. It’s great to hear about college students who are gardening. I did draw a plan before I got started on the front yard—in fact, before I even moved in. The basic plan is unchanged : the central circle courtyard, the fenced garden, the side paths. As for the plants, those have changed or moved around many times over as conditions demanded or I found something I loved better. I didn’t have a theme, but I did plant a majority of native Texas plants, only recently branching out with shrub roses, Mexico natives, and a few semi-tropicals. Reading Austin garden blogs is a great way to learn what grows here. So is visiting the Wildflower Center, my early gardening inspiration. Happy digging! —Pam

  33. Betty Saenz EcoBroker says:

    Hi Pam,

    You did a wonderful job on design and implementation of your front yard landscape. I am slowly but surely doing my front yard with edibles- fruit trees and veggies,natives and boulders, etc. My backyard is almost done as well. My yard is NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat.

    Hi, Betty. Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you are doing some wonderful and smart things with your landscaping. And congrats on certifying your yard with the National Wildlife Federation. —Pam

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