A paved front yard? Practical, but not exactly romantic

We bought a property with a paved front yard. I want to keep it – for one, off-street parking might reduce my car insurance – but my partner wants a front yard with effect. What do you suggest us?

I love the idea of ​​a “front yard with impact”. The front yard is usually the first thing visitors see when they arrive at our home – why not make yours a spectacle? It will set the tone before guests even walk through the front door.

Of course, it’s not just about visitors. You should also like a front yard – and paving is practical, but not exactly romantic. A friend of mine whose old house in London had a tiny front yard on a busy road proves my point. Her yard was fenced in, but she managed to squeeze in a small bench and an abundance of pots. It wasn’t rural paradise, but she was sitting outside with her morning coffee, making the most of every square inch.

I’m a particular fan of lush greenery in cities and towns, where the architecture can sometimes feel harsh, sharp, and austere. An almost overgrown front yard can soften the effect and create a beguiling first impression.

Trimmed hedges are a wonderful thing. I live on the first floor in London so no front yard for me – but if I had one I would want a path lined with perfectly cut balls.

“If I had a front yard in the city, I would want a path lined with perfectly cut balls” © GAP Photos/Clive Nichols

In the countryside, our garden wraps around the cottage, so there is no difference between front and back as such; but we have a path leading from a painted wooden gate to our front door lined with rosemary. That was one of the first things we did when we moved in and the plants are now waist high. Rosemary’s woody scent is a delicious thing to bring home – once I’ve been in town, it makes coming back even more satisfying. I’m constantly running my hands through the leaves, and it’s always good to get your plants going – I bring sprigs indoors to use in the kitchen.

I have already mentioned the idea of ​​setting accents with a front garden. My friends, interior designer and art consultant James Mackie, and his partner, garden writer Arthur Parkinson, live nearby in the country. I always look forward to arriving at her cottage to eat and sleep. Her small front yard is a welcome sight, stuffed as usual with pots of geraniums, the twinkling lights in the windows create a cozy, welcoming backdrop.

If you want to keep your paving, you can still create a beautiful garden. If your current patch isn’t anything special, how about replacing it with something more effective? Old cobblestones of different sizes? Reclaimed bricks? A paved front yard calls for pots: your new best friend.

Well, I’m not an experienced gardener; I advise good research. My friend Arthur (above) is a fountain of wisdom – and he’s obsessed with pots. Go for terracotta pots and old ones if you can (I buy mine on eBay). Arthur suggests aging new ones by brushing them with diluted yogurt, because a shiny new terracotta pot isn’t nearly as pretty as a characterful old one covered in green scuffs.

However, I’m fortunate to live not far from whichford pottery who make wonderful handmade flower pots, so I’ll make an exception and source new pots from here as well. Established in 1976, the pottery is a family business renowned for their frost-resistant terracotta pieces, all made in Warwickshire.

A small container garden with hosta plants

Fill your paved garden with potted plants like Hosta © GAP Photos/Nicola Stocken

Of course you have to be practical, but my advice is to bring as much life into your garden as possible. Gravel instead of pavement would accommodate your car and still allow plants to grow (combined with a membrane to suppress weeds).

In addition to the environment, low-growing plants like thyme also thrive where your car belongs. Raised beds might be an idea, and it’s possible to squeeze these into unlikely spaces — under a window, for example? Instead of walls or fences, consider boxwood or yew hedges if you need to divide spaces. How about climbing plants – such as roses, which take up little space on the ground and unfold their magic in the air?

The Royal Horticultural Society’s website has some great tips on how to make the most of our front gardens: she suggests keeping hard surfaces to a minimum and creating two paved pathways to accommodate car wheels, which I like as one Brilliant idea appears as it would allow more planting area compared to paving your entire property.

Creating a garden full of plants will not only help you create an impressive space, it will support wildlife and absorb pollutants and make you feel good when you come home – the RHS says this is scientifically called ‘restoration’ is called. You can’t argue with science, can you?

If you have a question for Luke about design and stylish living, email him at lukeedward.hall@ft.com. Follow him on Instagram @lukeedwardhall

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