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It was the right thing to do! We didn't just make a front garden - we reclaimed our front yard. Coffee in the morning usually brought us out front. However, as the heat over the summer grew, the more we found ourselves sitting on the front porch, rather than in the back yard. Despite the fact that it now has ample shade, the back yard faces south - and when Ottawa hits steam-heat mid 30's in July and August - the deep shade and breezes in the front are truly attractive. But this is really the first year since we moved in, where we stayed to look at the flowers as well. We set up a table and chairs and moved the dining room out for the summer.

We live in a close-knit neighborhood, but it still felt like reconnecting to the neighbors. As Michel across the street said, if you are sitting out front, you are inviting conversation. And it's true. There were days it felt like we were running a coffee house on the front porch. The front gardens became a magnet for neighbors gathering, to talk plants or just chat. People we didn't know stopped to talk and ask questions. People slowed in their cars, even pulled over to talk as well.

The plants loved it too. Most of the perennials were from the back yard, and even acknowledging the terrific summer we had, grew more in one year than they had in five in the back. With sun from dawn to early afternoon, they seemed to enjoy being shaded from the most intense heat of the latter

part of the day. The raised beds dried out very early in the spring, encouraging early blossoming. The thick wood chip mulch did keep down the watering, despite weeks of drought - and did not attract the hoards of insects some had predicted. We had practically no weeds - both of us remarked how little work went into maintaining it, especially in comparison to the back where both weeds and insects are a problem.

If there are any regrets, they are moot. Despite the fact that there is hardly any grass left, the deep curves did make cutting the lawn a bit of a drag - but we still love the adventurous shapes we made, and wouldn't change them. The shapes, as well, make them challenging to water efficiently Perhaps it would have been an idea to imbed an underground watering system. But then, this front yard renovation was to have been done on the cheap, and watering systems aren't!

The better than normal growing season produced results we had not envisaged for the first year. By mid summer, the gardens looked as if they had been there for years, not months - as the comparative photos which follow amply demonstrate. We can only say if you are tempted to do a similar thing to your front yard - do it. You will not regret it - and you will likely start a neighborhood trend, as we have managed to do!

September 1998September 1997
01 01a
The deep fingers the beds form make grass cutting and watering a challenge, but are very successful in drawing the viewer into the yard and making the remaining grass seem more luxurious. The iris loved being high and dry, growing better than they ever did in the back yard.
02 02a
We moved from sparse planting to pruning in a few short months. It wasn't especially over planted -everything just grew like wild fire.
03 03a
A flowering front yard is like a magnet for neighborhood conversation.
04 04a
What a difference a year makes! Rudbekia, iris. coral bells, actually everything grew like weeds.
05 05a
Despite the luxurious growth of a summer garden, each fall the underlying structures and forms are revealed - and you see them until the snow lies so deep, they are once again obscured. Each spring, it melts to reveal the same underlying forms and backbone of evergreens.