No matter how small your front garden is, with careful planning you can make it a beautiful and pollution-busting space.
A front garden full of plants is a home, and provides food, for wildlife. Plants do have a hard time with pollution since the leaves need to ‘breathe’ – which means that anything that limits that exchange, such as airborne gasses or if the pores are blocked by dust and grime, will limit their potential.
To create structure: think about a hedge and a tree – both good defences for pollution. However small your garden is, good choices for trees are Amelanchier Lamarckii with their white blossom in spring, followed by black berries and good colour in autumn.
Cordon and espalier trees are space saving too, and offer screening. Stepover Apples take up very little space, as do Crab Apple trees. Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticle’ – an ornamental pear – is an exceptionally good tree for small urban gardens, with its upright, narrow shape, and branches that are smothered with white blossom early in spring. The leaves turn a vibrant red and purple in the autumn before falling and, some years, the tree will produce small inedible brown fruits. It does best in moist but well-draining soil, and in full sun.
Small urban gardens look good with topiary. Box is the choice of many London gardens, although it can succumb to box blight and box tree caterpillar. It responds well to being trimmed, and thrives in the shade and most well-drained soils (chalk, loam or sand). It’s excellent for growing in containers, as topiary, and for training as feature plants.
Yew Ilex Crenata and Lonicera Nitida are excellent alternatives, and are not as slow growing as people think. Yew offers all round greenery with red berries in the autumn. Choisya is also a good alternative as a hedge with its white flowers and glossy green leaves. Pittisporum too makes a great hedge, especially the Variegata, as its leaves add interest.
Walls and fences can be clad in small urban gardens. Trachelospermum ‘Jasminoides’ is evergreen with white scented flowers in the summer and is suited to the warmer micro climates of an urban garden.
Euphorbia Characias is great for front gardens as it is evergreen and architectural, offers year-round structure, and has striking acid yellow flowers which team up well with spring tulips.
Urban gardens need hardworking perennial plants – such as hardy geraniums which flower for a long time, do well in the sun or shade, and go well with many other plants. For a contemporary look, ornamental grasses tick the box. They look good for months and don’t take up much space.
One of the hardest looks to get right is the wild flower meadow with plants flowering everywhere. Instead: opt for defined flower beds, straight lines and solid planting. Structure works well in winter too. The easiest way to do this is with a clear path and big pots on either side of the front door.
– Kirsten and the Beautify Balham Team