When (Design) Rules Are Made to Be Broken: Front Yards
Sometimes, perceptions are as big a problem as actual “rules” are.
In my research for this Break-the-Rules series, I’ve found two dichotomies involving front yards. For many people, there aren’t really do/don’ts about front-yard design so much as there are things that we perceive to be “wrong uses” for front yards.
The other reality tends to be that of the dreaded Homeowner’s Association. Many areas are rife with these HOA organizations that have often-strict guidelines about what a homeowner can or can’t do in their front yard that they’ve paid scandalous amounts to own, because God forbid you upset the balance of the universe by planting one too many rosebushes or something.
Since there is little logic one can use to fight the more Draconian Homeowner’s Association out there, we’ll ignore their existence and pretend that, for the rest of the world, anything goes.
Here at BuildDirect, we think front-yard living isn’t just a way of proving you’re as (ab)normal as the rest of the block, but instead offers a way to maximize your home’s value by expanding the usable area, and also gives you a way to reconnect with the community around you.
Another thing worth pointing out is, if you do Google “front yard design rules,” you’ll actually find a lot of smart advice about diversifying plant choices for the seasons, how to economize space, and more. All of these things are worth considering, but we don’t think your front yard is only where you should plant your Japanese Maple and your American Beauty roses.
Here are three not-exactly-widespread front-yard uses that we’d love to see more homeowners consider, both to improve their lifestyle and also boost the sense of community around them.
It sounds a little out-to-lunch, I know. Make it so you can wheel out your barbecue or fire up an outdoor range in the front yard? But what if you have to share food? What if the neighbors come over?
Oh, yes. Sharing. Imagine the possibilities. How about simmering a giant pot of chili out front, gathering the neighbors, and watching the big game on an outdoor screen together? Get them to bring some potluck. Heck you don’t even have to invite them. It’s like Field of Dreams, cook it and they will come. “You got free food? Hey, I got beer! Hey, Bob, Jim’s got chili! Bring your brownies.”
Even better, though, is the idea of grilling up your family’s dinner on a summer night and being able to be that involved and watchful parent who’s hanging out in the front yard while the ‘hood’s kids actually play soccer on your street.
Food brings us together. This has been true since the dawn of humanity, and silly H.O.A. rules aside, there’s probably no law saying your barbecue’s only allowed in the backyard.
I Smell Victory (Gardens)
We’ve lost self-sustenance in the last century. We’ve gone from being an agricultural society to the average American being 1-2 generations removed from the farm.
We’re also a generation of people who are living, on average, two paychecks from catastrophe. Growing your own food isn’t quirky “Age of Aquarius” behavior, it’s part of how we help ourselves become healthier in mind, body, spirit, and wallet, while helping end the Greenhouse Gas dilemma of shipping most of our food from hundreds, even thousands of miles away.
Food gardens are beautiful too. Orderly rows, fancy stakes, colorful variety are all ways of keeping your front-yard garden aesthetically appealing. It’s also a way to remind others just how wonderful it can be to walk outside and unearth your next meal.
When you’ve got a food garden in a visible spot like the front yard, you become a resource for your whole community. Neighbors can learn from you about how you get such amazing tomatoes, or give you tips on fighting pests when growing lettuce. You’ll know who’s interested in taking your zucchini surplus off your hands (and maybe rewarding your green thumb with a double-chocolate zucchini loaf).
You also become a community watchdog in those hours you’re out there plucking and preening in your garden. Active, present neighbors help deter crime in communities, you’d be that neighbor who’s out there, aware, and actively deterring the baddies in the world.
Just Gonna Sit Here A While
For some reason, most people live under the delusion that sitting areas are to be a singular thing for most yards. Say what? You’re only allowed one patio set and a bench on the property?
Don’t be silly. The sun moves, you know. Daily. All day long.
Zoom goes the big sun, across the sky. And yet the prevailing wisdom is “get an umbrella that bends”.
Nay! Get more seating areas! MORE IS MORE, I SAY. A table and chair here, a bench there, some lounges there. More, more, more.
My aunt and uncle lived across the water in a house that was once owned by an award-winning gardener. They brought the lands back to their glory and it was a great matter of pride to them. She didn’t want to just sit in the one spot to look over her land, she wanted to experience all of her property. And for what she paid for that land, why wouldn’t she?
Over the years, they established six different spots to sit on that ¼ acre parcel of land. One on every side of the house, as well as one in opposite corners of the property. At the front, there were two spots. No matter what the time of day, they always had a place or three to enjoy complete shade or direct sun, whatever they wanted. Most importantly, they knew every neighbor on every side of them, and frequently talked to folks walking through on their way to town.
Use Your Property, Front & Back
Your home is your most valuable asset. It’s not just about the resale value down the line, it’s about getting everything you paid for every time you enjoy your yard. Your home includes your community, and the more you make yourself a part of your front-yard world, the more you’ll break the cycle of disconnected communities.
To create community all around you, stop thinking of your front yard as the pretty packaging for your home, and turn it into a hub of activity, not just for you, but for connecting with those who live around you.