Monday, 20 January 2014

On my reading table: Front Yard Gardens

 Front Yard Gardens by Liz Primeau

This book and I are old library friends. I first found it about five years ago, read it, enjoyed it, returned it to the library. It was based in the old Central Library in Gloucester Street. I used to make special trips to the library when I felt like browsing the garden section, or maybe cooking or craft or design. But every now and then I'd check if Front Yard Gardens was in, and if it was I'd borrow it. The last time I had it out was well before the earthquake, and it was one of the things I wondered about when I saw the pictures of the ravaged library after the quake - "oh no! Front Yard Gardens is in there!" - and I wondered if I'd ever see it again. I'd tried to find it online without success. Long story short, I found it (or possibly another copy) at my local library last weekend, and I was more than happy to renew our acquaintance.

 The book starts off with some interesting chapters about the history of lawns, and people's obsession with keeping a bare, but extremely tidy patch of lawn in front of their house. The author started off with just such a patch, but as she ran out of space for plants her beds began to encroach on the lawn, until she eventually decided: out with the grass! This was seen as a radical move in her neighbourhood until eventually neighbours embraced the change and some even planted front yard gardens of their own.

 The rest of the book is a range of gardens in different styles, but all accessible from the street front. (Well, almost all - there is also a chapter called Secret Gardens.) There are suggestions for everything from paving ideas to car parking to how to extend your garden so it meets up with your neighbour's, but still has a path for the postman to walk through. There are lots of lovely photos and the whole range of seasons is covered.

I've always loved the idea of having a remarkable front garden that becomes something of a neighbourhood landmark. I'm miles away from that yet - my front yard is a bit of a shocker actually, it hardly looks like someone who likes gardening even lives here. But every time I read this book I get ideas, so one of these days they might even come to fruition.

I did find the author's perspective interesting though - she lives in Canada and in her neighbourhood it was normal for there to be no front fence, just a perfectly trimmed and manicured lawn that stretches between house and sidewalk. There might be a shrub or two and perhaps a specimen tree, but anything else was frowned on. If you planted a garden you risked your neighbours complaining. (Luckily her nieghbours loved hers when it was done!) This seemed strange to me, as in New Zealand privacy is important and most people would have at least a small fence marking their space off from the footpath. And it's definitely more normal to have a front garden of some sort than not. Although, some of the newer subdivisions (the expensive ones) seem to have that American Suburbia vibe going on and they don't tend to have fences, but they do have a small sweep of lawn between the house and the street. 

I'm curious - what are front yards like where you live? Do you live in the land of the lush green lawn, are you fenced in, or have you designed a neighbourhood masterpiece?

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