On the home front
For the past 27 years I have made Manchester my home. I have settled in South Manchester, having lived in a few different places from Longsight to Chorlton, and having also explored other Greater Manchester territories through work, such as Bury, Oldham, Denton...Cadishead.
Whilst roaming the city, I have always been curious of people’s front gardens, these private spaces very much on public view. Front gardens are like a little display of what goes on in people’s lives and their personalities. Some are very neat, others are more free flowing and forgiving. I have also come across white goods and rotting mattresses on display, and here I fear that either the law or the medical professions are likely to be involved.
In the past few months, I have collected some photos of front gardens that I found inspiring, plus a couple where I have had a hand in creating. They are not some kind of Houzz or Pinterest showcase, they are much better than that. They are personal and functional, many have a drive, but more importantly they have the added function of producing food, for humans, wildlife, or simply for the souls of those who come past them.
See the photos below. From left to right, and going down, here are some of the features I particularly like about these front gardens.
Liz's, also referred to as 'the farm' by her neighbours. This big front garden is a glorious mix of edible and ornamental, definitely making the most of a South facing plot, and refusing to have an extended drive.
Ruth and Dick's. I have a vested interest in this garden, as this is one of my projects. It's just brilliant when customers are happy to investigate something new and I'm glad they opted for a grassed drive. It won’t be perfect grass, but it is green and living.
Maggie and Nik's beautiful Himalayian birch and revolutionary gate. Remember: there is always space somewhere for a tree, even if it is a small one.
Ali, Molly, Tom and Simon's free spirited wildlife garden, where they planted a mixed natural hedge for their boundary, and nurture a positive attitude towards long grass.
Rae and Jex's garden with its beautiful fig tree, and a serene take on horsetail, which cannot be defeated. I like how their car is surrounded by vegetation.
Linda’s sociable front garden. This is one of my designs, where the lawn was removed to make space for shrubs, herbaceous perennials and a tree which provide all year round interest. The front garden has become a space for pottering about and striking up many conversations with passer-bys.
Sara's non existent front garden. But yet she has created a permanent ray of sunshine on her doorstep by looking after the most beautiful potted rose. See also the photo of the rose in May when it’s in full bloom.
Kate's. I used to love coming to my friend’s house and be welcomed by clipped shrubs and free flowing herbaceous perennials and climbers. It felt like an embrace even before she had opened her front door. Now that her house has been sold, how long will her garden resists a concrete assault. I cannot bring myself to go and check if it's still there.
Like other big cities, Manchester has very much surrendered itself to private car ownership and as a result front gardens are disappearing for more motor convenient surfacing and access. I still remember the addresses of many lush hedges, old ladies' prized roses or large clumps of magical perennial sunflowers, which are now long gone. The planning laws to ensure sustainable urban drainage in front gardens, do very little to maintain any kind of greenery outside people's front doors.
The argument for keeping front gardens green isn’t new, see the article from The Ecologist dating back to 2015. Front gardens are desperately needed to sustain wildlife, help with climate change and air pollution. They are also about our own health and wellbeing. Imagine if all you ever saw whilst on the streets of Manchester were cars and concrete. In some cases when people commute by cars, their front gardens might be the only bit of greenery they will interact with during the day. This is particularly true during the Winter months, where we can be cooped up from house to car to office and back.
Recent research led by the University of Sheffield demonstrates the importance of plants in front gardens, and their positive impact on people’s health. See full article here.
Although I understand the pressures of urban and motorised life, I'm a driver too, it still breaks my heart each time I see a front garden being completely paved over or turned into a drive (of sort). In some cases, there clearly isn’t the space for car parking...as demonstrated by the front bumper against the living room wall, and the other end sticking out onto the pavement!
I have even seen a £1 million South Manchester property with the most ridiculous excuse for a front garden. This Victorian house had a magnificient eco renovation treatment but the front garden had been completely re-surfaced with all vegetation removed, the only planting added was a lonely pot with a bay plant, a symbol of victory: in this case, over nature.
I very much hope there can be a reversal of trend, and that house owners will soon come to their senses and dig up their drive or some of it to make a bit of space for plants. But maybe here too, it’s time the law and the medical professions intervene.
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All photos and artwork are my own.