Design A Front Garden: Where To Start

Front gardens are our public face, the first impression of our home that we show to the world so quite naturally, we want them to look at their best and to extend a welcoming sense of arrival.

They also have to function well, it is important that guests can actually get to your front door. We may need somewhere to park the car – and it is helpful if you can get from car to house, laden with the shopping, without feeling like you have entered some gameshow assault course contest. 

Add to the mix that you would like it to be a space that is beneficial for wildlife, and be good for the environment, then we have got quite a lot going on in what generally, is a small garden space. 

I am going to share some of my design experience to help you make the most of your front garden, and to avoid some of the pit falls which are often encountered.

Practicalities First

When I design, I always start with a scale plan of the space showing the boundaries we are working within. Then I analyse for things that need to be considered, such as the utilities leading into your house. Your contractor, or designer if you have one, should always request plans to check with utility companies for underground services before any work starts – this is a legal requirement. The last thing you want is to go through gas or electric cables, or water pipes when creating a pathway, and heaven forbid that your broadband should go down!

So, it is practicalities first when we start planning. This includes working out the ergonomics, as this relates to the experience of how we move through the space and it falls firmly into the design principles of scale and proportion. Paths should be wide enough to pass a wheelchair user without having to throw yourself into a neighbouring plant border – and when you park your car, you need to be able to open the door and get out of it without embarking on acrobatics and poses best relegated to yoga. 

Well designed spaces feel effortless. Steps are good candidates to demonstrate this principle, as you do not tend to notice the design as you traverse a set of well thought out steps, but you soon know when they are designed badly and present a challenge to navigate – they can end up being quite hazardous!  

Add the Aesthetics

The juggling act that is garden design, then looks to fit the practicalities with the aesthetics. I always want to see plants in a front garden. It softens the space, looks good, and is beneficial for wildlife and the environment. The trick is to work some plant borders into the space alongside the functional elements to create an integrated design that has both hard and soft landscaping working in harmony. This can take a while to design, with some playing around with options to get it right, but the space benefits greatly for the effort. 

Do not be scared to include planting adjacent to your house. There are plenty of plants that pose no risk to your property. The important thing is to make sure that they can handle some drought, as walls cast a ‘rain shadow’ (have a look at the base of a wall when it rains and you will often see a dry bit where the rain does not reach). Ideally a planting border adjacent to a wall should reach out at least 70cm, but if that is not possible, then plants like Erigeron karvinskianus and Campanula poscharskyana could well live happily in much smaller spaces. 

Erigeron karvinskianus
Campanula poscharskyana

Choice of Materials

Once settled on the layout of the design, it is time to consider the choice of materials. A garden should never be viewed in isolation. Its relationship with your house and its wider environment all have a baring on the choices that we make. We do not want our garden to look like it has just landed and for it to be at odds with what is around it.

Identifying a ‘jumping off point’ in its vicinity that can be replicated or ‘married with’ to integrate the garden and its surroundings is a first step. In design terms we speak of repetition, contrast, balance, and unity. These are just some of the design principles that go together to create a successful garden design. 

Good garden design does not just happen by chance. It is a careful arrangement of features and elements that are considered in terms of design, aesthetics, and functionality. 

In my next column, we will dig a bit deeper and explore regulations that relate to our front gardens and how they can become part of the solution to mitigating the issues of climate change that we face.

Designer and Director of Lynn Hill Garden Design, Lynn loves designing wonderful green spaces and has worked on a wide variety of projects – from small townhouse courtyards, to sprawling country landscapes. She has created gardens at Chelsea Flower Show, Hampton Court Flower Show, and Gardening Scotland, as well as working with BBC TV as a Design Consultant for Beechgrove Garden COP26 Special.

Lynn is passionate about sharing her vision and skills. Having a 1st Class Honours Degree in Community Education from the University of Edinburgh, as well as an HNC with Distinction in Garden Design, she brings a dedication to social and environmental purpose. She has been honoured with many awards which stand testament to her devotion, skill, and attention to detail. 

Green spaces can be sanctuaries that nourish us, heal us, inspire us. Lynn encourages us to view our gardens as an extension of our home, and embrace the benefits they bring to our health and wellbeing. 

A member of the Scottish Ecological Design Association, and Women In Property, Lynn also finds time to work alongside Scottish Actor Gordon Brown to create a holiday respite home for families with children affected by cancer for the Eilidh Brown Memorial Fund. 

See more of Lynn’s work at 

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