Front yards are for showing off. That’s what I believe. That’s why when I think about what I’m going to plant and where, I think about how it will look to passersby on the sidewalk.

The view from our front sidewalk, going from east to west.

Now, in most American communities with single-family homes, there are two ways of using your front yard to show off. The most common way is to make your front yard a monument to conformity. You don’t just have a lawn, you have a perfectly manicured lawn without a single weed. You don’t just have foundation plantings of evergreen shrubs, you have a planting of shrubs clipped perfectly into the geometric shapes of your choosing.

In my view, this way of showing off is a waste of a front yard. Also boring.

Leaving the lilies behind, getting a better view of the Monardas, Cup Plant, and Sweet Joe Pye Weed.

The other way of showing off is to make your front yard not a yard, but a garden. A garden of abundant color and texture, and also full of birds, bees, and butterflies. A garden full of unusual plants that refuse to be ignored.

This is why toward the back of my front garden I have a drift of Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) – ten-foot-tall plants topped with yellow daisies from July to September. That gets people’s attention. It’s also why I place most of the really fragrant plants close to the sidewalk, so that passersby can smell the Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum) or the Lilies at the proper season of the year.

Now passing the Driveway Border, where the tall yellow guys are starting to bloom. Anise Hyssop, Yellow Coneflower, and Cutleaf Coneflower.

And its why I’ve planted hundreds of spring bulbs over the years, so that there is abundant color in the front garden throughout the growing season.

Why go to all the trouble? For starters, it’s a sort of a compulsion. Some people have to paint or play music, I have to dig up turf and replace it with 8′ tall flowering plants.

And also: it’s because I crave admiration. I crave admiration and at the same time I am pathologically modest. I detest boasting and people who boast. But this way, the garden boasts for me. Does this sound a little neurotic to you? Fine, I won’t argue.

And I’m happy to say that I’ve been rewarded for my efforts, particularly by people in the neighborhood who walk their kids or dogs down our street. While a few people find my front garden strange or a little disturbing, most have been generous with compliments. Some have even asked for cuttings, seeds, or divisions from my plants, and I’ve generally been happy to oblige. Thanks to my front garden, I am on friendly terms with a lot more people in our community than I would otherwise be.

And a final look from the edge of the Driveway Border.

Now, I’m aware that there is another sort of garden tradition, in which the garden is a private retreat. A haven removed from the outside world by walls or hedges. This sort of tradition has an appeal of its own. If I lived in a city of crowded, bustling streets, I might want a front garden that was more like a private courtyard.

But I live in an American suburb, where the streets are often too quiet. Actually, I’m grateful for all the parents and kids and dogwalkers who provide what modest street life that we have. And my front garden is one way to express that gratitude.

75 Comments on “The View From the Sidewalk”

  1. Agreed. Last year I saw a grandmother take a picture of her grandson in front of my mailbox sunflowers. Made me smile. Those sunflowers get a lot of attention from passerby for a few weeks every year. Zinnias by the mailbox were popular as well.

  2. What lucky neighbours you have and I wish I was one. But since I am not even American I will just have to enjoy your beautiful pictures. What a wonderful world this would be if there were more neurotic people like you!

  3. I agree with all you wrote! Front lawns are such a waste of space. Even disregarding the water for a moment, what’s their point? Most people don’t let their kids play out front on it, or lay on it with a book. When I moved in my front was nothing but bark chips, random decorative rocks, and a prostrate juniper, which was the other end of ugly and useless!

  4. I think your front garden is wonderful Jason, and if I lived in your neighbourhood I would definitely make a regular detour to stand and gaze! Your choice of plants is always exciting and well thought out regarding flowering times, height and colour… and scent too. But the best thing is that your garden attracts so many insects, birds and butterflies. 😃 You should really boast a little more often as you deserve the praise!

  5. This is a beautiful post Jason. Your garden is a dream. It accomplishes all you want from it in a most attractive way. I have a young friend that just bought his first house. I bet his garden will some day look a lot like this. I think your garden is picture perfect for what ever reasons.
    I have had people say they can’t “see” my house. I always thank them because I live on a busy thorough fare and I don’t want to see or hear the traffic any more than I have to. Your garden is an inspiration to take mine a step further.

  6. I think, were I your neighbor, I would carry a chair with me to sit and admire. I couldn’t possibly just pass by. The white house and the red brick road (so to speak) are all of a piece, it seems to me. A lovely invitation to stop.

  7. Oh, you are so right and your front yard is incredible – I’m sure it’s inspired many of your neighbours! If I had a smaller front yard, I would rip all that grass out and plant, plant, plant. But our frontage is almost 300′ so, unless I had a family full of willing helpers that were just as enthusiastic about it as I was, that’s not going to happen. I have to say, though, that an even worse front lawn than all grass are a few I saw just yesterday that were a surprise, but not the good kind. The entire front yard consisted of either concrete geometric shapes filled in with gravel or were all gravel. Not one green anything in sight.

  8. I wish you lived on my street (or me there). Your yard is great. I would walk past every day just to note the changes.

    Sadly for me, I live next door to a person who has a tightly manicured yard along with a plethora of noisy yard tools and the tightly controlled personality that loves to use them. They have a set order they use – leaf blower first, then weed eater, next the mower, then the weed eater again for whatever was missed and lastly, the leaf blower again for final cleanup. Each autumn, they use the leaf blower, instead of a rake, for 3-6 hours a day when the leaves fall. I think their philosophy is “more chemicals & more noise equals a great yard”.

    They do not like my yard and told me once “your yard is colorful chaos and I’m being nice”. I thanked them for the compliment and said colorful chaos was exactly what I was going for.

    I still have too much grass to suit me. Maybe one day I will get it all converted over. Or I’ll move and start over.

  9. Wow, so different from how it looks in winter! You must have people in the neighborhood who love to walk by and see the different phases of your garden as the seasons change (maybe not winter). Neighborhood garden tourism is something I really enjoy. What beautiful lilies. Fabulous.

  10. This is an such an interesting post…..I love walking in the suburbs and looking at gardens. I often want to take a photo but I’m not sure how the owner would feel about this. And cities and country and country gardens have different qualities. Country gardens in Australia always had at least one rose growing… a badge of honour… but no longer. Your garden is a gem.. lucky neighbours!

  11. What a lovely, lovely post, Jason. Your feelings for your garden, and your reasons for gardening, convey so well the joy that can come from living in a community marked by beauty and companionship. It occurred to me after reading your post that your garden seems to fit what I’ve understood to be a mitzvah: a good deed that is a blessing to the community. In fact, I did a little reading, and found this: “Mitzvot done with joy and enthusiasm lift a person a step above the world and have an even greater impact on the person’s environment.” That sounds like your sidewalk view to me!

  12. Jason .. this is the first time I am reading a fitting explanation of a gardener’s psyche and compulsion for plants ! LOL … I am always a little surprised when people stop to say I have a pretty garden .. not that I don’t like it, of course I do (I am always overwhelmed with the thought that I can do so much better ..wait for it , I am still experimenting ! even after 20 years ? LOL)
    Plus .. they only see 1/4 of my gardens .. the back garden is my private space, and I think they would be so surprised to see what I have fit in there .. so it is a little joke to myself “that if you like this ? you would be SURPRISED to see what I have in the back .. guarded by an 8 ft. fence .. LOL
    I love your front garden and you deserve all the praise it gets , via the garden comments !
    One day I would love to convert the tiny bit of lawn we have to a thyme lawn .. that would make me so very happy .. we gardeners keep striving for something even better than what we have (in our minds) all the time .. just one of our crazy traits right ?

    • I also like the idea of a thyme lawn though I think it needs almost full sun. I tried to plant a strip of thyme on the west side of the new driveway and it is doing ok, though it’s a constant chore to stop all the aster and other seedlings trying to establish themselves into it.

  13. I had not yet commented on your fabulous front garden. However, I came back for aloo today. At the community garden I maintain in my neighborhood, there is a good stand of “raspberry wine” monarda which I think I mentioned in a recent comment in your “monarda” post.
    We are almost in drought stage here in Kentucky and I went to the garden this morning. to water. Raspberry wine is so tall and there are bare spots in places in front of their “legs”. As I directed the spray nozzle I was contemplating what to put in front of them next year. There is a stand of ruellia, and nepeta, but it is not tall enough. Thoughts?

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