September is a most excellent time of year to observe your neighbours’ front gardens as the success of their efforts is abundantly apparent. If you have spent any time walking along your community’s sidewalks lately, you will have noticed who gardens in front of their home, and who does not. We have just come through the hottest, driest, most challenging summer in many decades. I have no statistics to support my statement, but I would venture a guess that 90% of my neighbours have given up watering their grass, relying upon Mother Nature to bring it back to life with autumn rains. The lush green lawns where owners have watered and watered this summer definitely stand out. But anyone can have lush green grass with timely fertilizing and regular (and expensive unless you are fortunate to not have a water meter) application of water.
The gardens that are most impressive, however, have gone way beyond grass. First of all, they all have full or almost full sun during the day, eliminating those who face north. Secondly, variety and colour that attracts the eye is abundant. Annual flowers such as petunias and geraniums are typical standbys because they demand little effort and bloom from spring until frost. The talented gardeners who keep to a budget have planted many different bulbs and perennials that bloom in turn throughout the growing season. This year, I have noticed more vegetables being grown in the sunny front yards, sometimes alone, sometimes mixed in with flowers and shrubs. What a delight! One family specializes in sunflowers of several heights and colours, bordered by potatoes – beauty and practicality. On another walk, I counted at least seven varieties of squash crawling over the narrow strip of lawn that borders the sidewalk (a nod to the cultural norm of the street) along with tomatoes heavy with fruit. All this is backed by colourful flowers both annual and perennial – a creative mix of vegetable and flower garden all on display to enchant the walking neighbour. (There is probably more in there, but I was doing my best to keep my feet on the sidewalk and not trespass.) We have in our community a few marvelous rock gardens which look as if they need minimal maintenance, a mistaken notion by some of the lawn people. Just stop weeding and primping for a few weeks and see how untidy things become. The truly minimal maintenance people have been inspired by the desert communities of the USA and turned their patch of land into gravel and rocks, sometimes punctuated with trees, junipers and other arid plants. Even these gardens add variety to our typical grass monoculture landscape.
In older communities such as mine, the trees are mature. They create a canopy and character to the street missing from newer neighbourhoods where front garages take precedence. It always is saddening to see a large tree come down, but heartening when a new one is planted. Giant spruce trees in front of your windows can make your house really dark; understandably they sometimes have to go. You may not have planted that particular tree, but if you take it out, you have the choice of what to put in its place. The savvy home-owner knows that a new baby tree will grow into a beautiful mature one in the future, enhancing your front garden and the enjoyment of your home, for you and future generations. In gardens, as in many things, one style does not fit all. Whether you favour gravel and stones, vegetables, flowers or grass, the bones of the garden are the trees and shrubs. Go for a walk and look around with new eyes. You may find inspiration for next year.