A paved front garden? Practical but not exactly romantic

We’ve bought a place with a paved front garden. I want to keep it — for one thing, off-street parking might reduce my car insurance — but my partner wants to have a front garden with impact. What do you suggest we do?

I love the idea of a “front garden with impact”. The front garden is usually the first thing visitors see when they arrive at our homes — why not make yours into a spectacle? It will set the tone before guests even get through the front door.

Of course, it’s not all about visitors. A front garden should be enjoyed by you too — and although paving might be practical, it’s not exactly romantic. A friend of mine whose old house in London had a minuscule front garden on a busy road proves my point. Her garden was enclosed, but she managed to squeeze in a small bench and an abundance of pots. It wasn’t a bucolic paradise, but she’d sit out there with her morning coffee and make the most of every square centimetre.

I’m a particular fan of lush green planting in cities and towns, where the architecture can sometimes feel hard, sharp and severe. An almost overgrown front garden can soften the effect and create a beguiling first impression.

Clipped hedges are a wonderful thing. I live on the first floor in London, so no front garden for me — but if I had one, I’d want a path lined with perfectly clipped balls.

‘If I had a city front garden, I’d want a path lined with perfectly clipped balls’ © GAP Photos/Clive Nichols

In the country, our garden wraps around the cottage, so there is no distinction between front and back as such; but we do have a path leading from a painted wooden gate to our front door, which is lined with rosemary. This was one of the first things we did when we moved in, actually, and the plants tower now, waist-height. Rosemary’s woody fragrance is a delicious thing to come home to — if I’ve been in the city, it makes the return even more satisfying. I’m forever running my hands through the leaves, plus it’s always good to make your plants work — I bring sprigs into the house to use in the kitchen.

I touched earlier on the notion of setting the tone with a front garden. My friends, interior designer and art adviser James Mackie and his partner, garden writer Arthur Parkinson, live nearby in the countryside. I always relish arriving at their cottage for a dine and sleep. Their small front yard is a welcome sight, stuffed as it usually is with pots of geraniums, the twinkling lights in the windows forming a cosy, inviting backdrop.

If you’re set on keeping your paving, you can still create a beautiful garden. If your current paving is nothing special, how about replacing it with something more impactful? Old paving stones in different sizes? Reclaimed bricks? A paved front garden will call for pots: your new best friend.

Now, I am no expert gardener; I advise doing some good research. My friend Arthur (see above) is fount of wisdom — and he is crazy about pots. Go for terracotta pots, and old ones if you can (I buy mine on eBay). Arthur suggests ageing new ones by brushing them with diluted yoghurt, because a shiny new terracotta pot is nowhere near as lovely as a characterful old one covered in green scuffs.

However, I’m lucky to live not far from Whichford Pottery, which makes wonderful handmade flowerpots, so I make an exception and source new pots from here, too. Established in 1976, the pottery is a family business known for its frost-proof terracotta pieces, all made in Warwickshire.

A small container garden with Hosta plants
Fill your paved garden with potted plants such as hosta © GAP Photos/Nicola Stocken

You need to think practically, of course, but I advise getting as much life into your garden as possible. Gravel instead of paving would provide space for your car, and still allow plants to grow (combined with a membrane to suppress weeds).

As well as around it, low-growing plants such as thyme would happily thrive in the spot where your car needs to be. Raised beds could be an idea, and it is possible to squeeze these into unlikely spaces — under a window, for example? Consider also box or yew hedges instead of walls or fences, if you need to divide spaces. How about climbers — roses, say, that take up hardly any space at ground level, and create all their magic up in the air?

The website of the Royal Horticultural Society has some great tips for making the most of our front gardens: it suggests keeping hard surfaces to a minimum and creating two paved tracks to take car wheels, which seems like a brilliant idea to me, as it would allow for more planting space compared with paving over your entire plot.

Creating a garden full of plants will not only help you to conjure an impactful space, it’ll support wildlife and absorb pollutants, and make you feel good when you come home — the RHS says that scientifically this is called “restoration”. Surely you can’t argue with science?

If you have a question for Luke about design and stylish living, email him at [email protected] Follow him on Instagram @lukeedwardhall

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