As the weather warms up here in Eugene, Oregon, we enjoy spending more time outside. For most homeowners, the privacy of a back yard provides the greatest opportunity for relaxation and enjoyment, while the front yard remains more formal and primarily serves as space for circulation. Despite the more public nature of the front yard, we at Lovinger Robertson Landscape Architects believe it is a rich canvas for outdoor living. Let’s delve into this frequently viewed but often overlooked space.
When visitors approach a house, the front yard is the first introduction to the home. It prepares guests for the character of the individual homeowner and responds to the vernacular of the neighborhood. Context plays a strong role in the perception of a front yard; an aesthetic that ties into the surrounding properties creates a powerful sense of neighborhood cohesion. The front yard also gives homeowners an opportunity to express their values to the public. A xeriscape or vegetable garden in the front yard communicates sustainable principles, and is all the more visible amidst a sea of lawns. A more subtle transition from the context, such as a turf-alternative like micro-clover, can create a dialogue with the neighbors and minimize the need for irrigation. Lawn space lends a serene respite and is a valuable element in design; however, the front yard can provide a richer experience when that lawn is thoughtfully combined with other types of vegetation.
While front gardens are generally considered a counterpoint to the more private back garden, not every property has an equal balance between these two realms. Corner lots or lots with large building setbacks often result in homes with ample front yards and meager or nonexistent back yards. In these instances, the role of the front yard should evolve to serve more private functions. Subdividing the garden space – either through careful arrangement of plants or through fences and hardscaping – can create outdoor rooms that extend privacy into the front space.
The front yard also is a valuable opportunity to physically and mentally transition from the public realm to the private realm. In a previous blog post, we explored the power of thresholds in creating meaningful outdoor rooms and transitioning into more personal spaces. The front garden is rich with design opportunities to shed the pressures of the larger world as you move toward the home. Close attention to the solar aspect and surrounding vegetation will help define the character and clarity of the entry, as will carefully choreographed outdoor lighting. The presence of vehicles strongly affects the cohesion of the front yard and entry experience; providing some separation between the car and the entrance to the home will preserve the serenity of the home, while maintaining ease of access is important for function. Thoughtfully balancing the many needs placed on the front yard results in a space that is simultaneously welcoming and thoroughly usable, expressing the personality of the homeowner and engaging with the character of the surrounding neighborhood.