Give Your Front Yard a Sustainable Makeover

Use plants and trees to create shade, drainage, and visual appeal.

front yard garden in Melbourne, Australia

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Front yards are often the most underutilized and least valued parts of a property. Even those people who spend a great amount of time perfecting their backyard gardens may neglect the road-facing part of their land. This is something that should change as we transition to a more sustainable way of life. A front yard can be far more than just a boring grass lawn. A front yard, even a small one, can be truly beautiful and abundant, providing plenty of yields for you while aiding the wildlife in your area. 

Front Yard Farms and Annual Food Production

Either on your own or in collaboration with neighbours, your front yard—however small—could be a site for annual food production. In a recent project that I worked on, a community got together and decided that each household front yard will be used to grow a few annual crops. Collectively, the site will eventually become a small community farm. It will be farmed by a few members of the group who have more time to devote to it; but even those without the time to garden who offer their space can still benefit from a share of the produce. 

Community collaboration is be a great way to go. But even when you are working alone, you can still grow a surprising range and quantity of crops in a front yard. Container and raised bed gardening offer easy ways to get started with growing your own, and a sunny front yard could be the perfect place for new growing areas. 

Neat annual food producing areas can allow you to make your front yard more abundant without upsetting any neighbours. When you create annual polycultures with flowers as companion plants, as well as crops, the area can be both attractive and productive. 

Remember, you do not necessarily have to have dedicated growing areas for annual crops. You might also include some annual vegetables and herbs among annual flowers and bedding plants in your existing beds and borders. 

front yard vegetable garden

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Front Yard Perennial Planting 

You can have a beautiful food-producing front yard that is lower maintenance by growing perennial plants in beds and borders—or even across the entire space. A small front yard that is currently laid to lawn with thin borders around the edges could be turned into a perennial garden filled with flowers, vegetables, and herbs. 

This is a way to enjoy a garden that won't take up too much of your time or exclude too much light from your property. By choosing the right plants for the right places, you can create a wildlife-friendly garden that will also provide you with many useful yields. 

No-dig gardening techniques, like lasagna gardening and sheet mulching, allow you to turn a grass-front garden into a biodiverse perennial garden with relative ease. Simply mark out paths and new growing areas, and cover these with cardboard and layers of organic matter. Top with loam or homemade compost, and plant into this or sow on top.

Front Yard Forest Gardens

Going one step further and including trees and larger shrubs in your perennial garden design could make your front yard even more beautiful and productive. 

People are often reluctant to plant trees or other tall plants in their front yards, but in many cases, this can be hugely beneficial. You will have to be careful not to position trees too close to your home, and you will need to think about the shade that will be cast. Sometimes a tree can cast too much shade and block light from your home's interior or block a pleasing view. But sometimes shade can be beneficial by blocking intense sunlight streaming into your property during the hottest part of the day—and there may be some views you wish to obscure. 

Trees, shrubs, and hedgerow planting in a front yard are appealing in other ways. For example, they may enhance your privacy. They might block noise pollution from a nearby road and help in filtering out atmospheric pollution from traffic.

Trees, shrubs, and all the other layers of planting in a forest garden work cohesively as an ecosystem. They benefit you as much as they do the creatures that share your space.

British cottages with front yard gardens

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Front Yard Gardens for Rainwater Management

Planting in a front yard is useful in other ways, too. A range of plants can be included in a design for a rain garden, which can manage water from a roof or runoff from a driveway, for example. Rain gardens can be positioned in a front yard, and when filled with beautiful native plants, are another way to gain a more useful, beautiful space without upsetting the community around you who may be attached to their neat grass lawns. 

It might not occur to you to undertake small-scale earthworks in a front yard, but basins for rain gardens are just one example of a project that you might like to undertake. 

Even in small front yards, small-scale on-contour swales (low or hollow places) can sometimes be useful for water management. In several of my garden designs, I have suggested landscaping for a front yard that helps to keep water from running off a sloping site.

Greening Driveways

Another thing to think about when designing a sustainable front yard is the driveway. If you have an existing impermeable driveway but need a new one, think about how you might replace it with a driveway that allows water to infiltrate into the ground beneath.

You should also think about greening your driveway, even if you will not be replacing it entirely. Consider creating a strip of low planting down the centre to maximize photosynthesis and include as many plants in your front yard as possible.

These are just a few ideas to help you think about how you might like to give your front yard a sustainable makeover.