Front Garden Or Back – Which Do You Make the Most Attractive?

Back-Garden-ZinniaThis is a request I get often as a designer. The client will say…

“Make the front garden pretty, clean, easy to maintain, and minimal because we only use the back garden. Put the money in the back gardens. ” Realistically, a landscape budget is divided 35% in the front and 65% in the back. Many times clients want only 10% in the front.

Garden6-12-9Nandina Obsession from Southern Living in the pot.

I cringe when I hear this because the landscape should be looked at holistically and in a way to enhance the architecture and living space. Often, it can be 15% of the cost of the home, so that adds up to quite a bit of design. But the return on a good landscape design is almost 30%.


What About Long Ago?

Originally, the backyard was a place of work – a place of practicality. Those in rural areas used their backyards to support living, lest we forget the outhouse and root cellar.

The consumer culture of the fifties and sixties prioritized the backyard for relaxation and leisure instead of what had once been a place to grow food and support the household.

Dwarf Jacob's Ladder

Dwarf Jacob’s Ladder

Jump decades ahead, and we now have outdoor rooms where we make the link between inside and outside, having the connection between private and semi-public space begin to blur. Outdoor kitchens are an example. Gardens with open outdoor showers are examples of privacy blurred too.

Coming full circle, people began using their back garden space for growing fresh vegetables and herbs once again, even raising chickens and bees. Gardeners started to think more sustainably by purchasing directly from local farms or growing their own, rather than getting food that was trucked to supermarkets from distant places.

Vegetables became trendy and started popping up between the perennials. I did that for a few years and neighbors never noticed the tomatoes and peppers in the front garden or the lettuce edging. Being in the business, I am usually ahead of trends.

Experimenting with plants and plant design has always been one of my interests. Weeding and maintaining, not so much.


Always being busy in my job, I never had time to enjoy my gardens. I always say that will change, but it never does. Too many other interests consume my free time. But… I do love to see the garden doing well and wildlife partaking in all that is offered.

The pale violet iris in the center bed is almost done, but a flurry of Asiatic Lilies follow right behind. More iris on the way too. Depending on the year, the iris or Allium can bloom with the lilies. Behind lilies, gladioli are forming. What is nice about this bed besides it always has a new display on deck, the iris and glad leaves support the lilies. The boxwood keeps the roots shaded, moist and the tightly growing blooms contained. All the plants in this 7a micro-climate bed return and multiply each year too.

Take the tour through the galleries, clicking to see my back gardens. The cottage plants are on the west and near the house is the old-fashioned cut flower bed filled with self sowing biennials and annuals. There are a few spaces I forgot to photograph like my fern shade garden by the fountain with mini and mouse-ear hosta.



Look at yesterday’s post on the front garden and see if you think the landscape is set up in a typical budget for the front and the back. The backyard is a summer staging ground for the life it entertains.


Veronica ‘First Love’ Long-leaf Speedwell



A post is coming up on my containers that were started in April using perennials and bulbs mixed with annuals.  You can see them in this image above and a few are at the front entry. When they mature and tower, they will be quite beautiful I hope. All are great for pollinators too.


About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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29 Responses to Front Garden Or Back – Which Do You Make the Most Attractive?

  1. swo8 says:

    Your garden looks lovely, Donna. I lost a rose bush and a peony from last winter. Must get out and replace them.

  2. Nurse Kelly says:

    Your gardens are beautiful, front and back. I’ve never seen that moth that looks like a hummingbird! Wasn’t quite sure what that was! I think it’s wonderful to see the sustainability factor alive and well in gardens today, as well as the backyard chickens and bees! Love the way you write, too, Donna, it’s the perfect accompaniment for your beautiful photos.

    • Thank you. I think more and more people are wising up to sustainability. We live in such a wasteful society and all the materials used for our wants and needs have to come from somewhere, and usually from far distances. Gardens need water and one day that will be a contested commodity. I would love both chickens and bees, but the city does not allow them.

      • Nurse Kelly says:

        Hope that changes for you – it’s a fairly recent thing around where I live. Still don’t allow them in my neighborhood, but when and if they do, I’d love to have some chickens. And I agree, it really does come down to wisdom and being resourceful. Probably best to get used to living that way. 🙂

  3. David says:

    I recently moved to a new house with a much smaller yard (yahoo less grass to cut) but I will have to start a flower garden or two from scratch. There is nothing here except a couple of rose bushes in front along with a few daylilies. I know what I want to plant but persistent rain and other “new house priorities” have kept me from doing anything other than cleaning up and trimming what’s here. At least I have this blog with your advice/recommendations and photos to keep the fire burning in me to get something done as soon as I can.

  4. alesiablogs says:

    My grandparents in KY kept a rather large vegetable garden all the way into the late 1970s. I enjoyed fresh homegrown meals all my childhood until I graduated high school. My grandmother had to have been one of the most practical women I ever met. Obviously a learned response to the depression I am sure..I miss her wonderful meals to this day..

  5. Donna: Your gardens certainly look perfectly maintained. It’s funny: I don’t mind the weeding and maintaining, yet my garden is much messier than yours. I seem to be too busy with work projects, even though I’d rather be out in the garden all day long. Thanks for the info about return on investment. We’re starting to think about how much work/$$ to put into the landscaping as we contemplate selling this place within the next few years. We have oh, so much work to do on the inside of the house! It’s overwhelming to think about!

  6. Ah, Donna, waking up to this view can’t be anything else but bliss and a lasting smile throughout even the hardest days! 🙂

  7. Loretta says:

    Gosh, love reading your posts, I get all excited about replicating some of your do’s and don’ts into my own urban garden. Love both your back and front gardens, such a haven for the birds and bees and anyone that passes by. I tend to keep up with the front for color too, as folks around here love to walk by and I want it looking its best. 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. Interesting points about the history of how we have used our landscape. You have great gardens in the front and back.

    • Thanks Connie. I remember in architecture school learning all about the transition from city to suburbs. The gardens were much more important to life in the 1700-1800’s. They were important to wildlife too. Today, gardens are more discretionary by what people want and can afford. As much as they should be for greening up cities and suburbs, most folks don’t think in those terms for helping wildlife. It is evidenced by many city parks. They are often for aesthetics and recreation, meaning lots of mowed grass. I was noticing how when driving today, places along the freeway were being mowed after letting the areas go to meadow all year. I was thinking of all the birds and insects that were using that space. What is the point? No one walks along the freeway and the meadow flowers were still short enough that the did not pose a problem with visibility. Besides, who needs to see across the highway anyway?

  9. My front garden is really my show garden. I want people walking by to be amazed by all the color and the mix of plants. I do get that reaction sometimes, though there is also the WTF contingent. Partly this is a function of the front being the sunniest part of the garden, but it’s also that I am a secret showoff. As you know, the back is shadier, calmer, and more relaxed. I still work to make it nice, but it is not the focus. I have a love-hate relationship with weeding and maintenance. On the one hand it can be very calming, on the other hand there are times when I feel crazed when I feel that things are getting out of control. I love all the hardscape in your back garden. When we added a patio of pavers in the back I think it made a qualitative improvement.

    • Thank you for telling readers about your garden and experiences. I don’t think my neighbors think I am showing off, I bet they think I am a bit lazy because all they see me do out there is take photos. 😀 I just saw your front gardens and not that much is blooming yet, but you have much coming. My front garden is nothing but bloom and will be until fall. I just posted on the June garden before this post, you must have missed it. Hardscape is very important in organizing space and circulation, you found that out with your new paving. It should be installed before smaller plants and after trees. It is nice you have that central space and now can plant all around it.

  10. Very interesting post. I never thought about resource/money allocation between front and back gardens in terms of an X% here and X% there. My orientation was always utility, where do I need to put this, where can I pack in the most fruit trees/berry bushes, how can I get rid of more lawn because I hate mowing so much.

    Due our special dogs we have to have a fenced in back yard and that area is more utilitarian – mostly lawn for doggy business. The rest of the room in the back fenced in area is for durable specimens that can take some four-legged traffic, daylillies, sedum, dianthus. I keep the front of the yard for the pretty stuff I want to show off to the neighborhood.

    • Thank you. I had two big dogs also and they did learn to stay out of the gardens. The grass was always a mess though. It is why my gardens are fenced in too. The Akita needed to be kept from chasing down other dogs – not his friends at all. Now that both dogs are gone, the gardens expanded. Fruit trees and berry bushes would be nice, but a city garden can’t really have too much by the way of fruit. Espalier maybe along a fence.

  11. Your gardens are beautiful, Donna. I love this informative posting. I especially love that you use the terms ‘front garden’ and ‘back garden’ rather than ‘front yard’ and ‘back yard’. When we moved here from England, my children were very confused as they didn’t understand ‘yard’. They thought it was a police station like Scotland Yard. They compromised and called ours the yarden. Incidentally, our farmhouse is built so close to the road that we have no front garden to speak of. All my gardens are at the sides and back of the house. I give all my gardens equal attention. P. x

    • Thank you Pam. Being from near where you live and I grew up, gardens were always called yards. It took a long while to break that habit and i still call them yards to this day. Your kids calling them yardens is funny and cute. You have quite a few beautiful gardens even if the front is close to the road.

  12. Good to know the ROI for the garden. We have put a lot of work and $$ into ours since we moved here 6 years ago. We started in the back since that is where we spend the most time. Still lots to do in the front including designing new planting beds, although most of the standard builder plants have been removed and replaced with more wildlife friendly plants.

    • I had one property owner tell me that their house would not have sold for over 1.25 million without all the work we did to the landscape. Plus I did interior work on that home – a large bedroom/bathroom suite. It was pretty luxurious too. The next one over 1.5 M that sold on the same road, also had extensive landscaping designed by me. Landscaping really can add to curb appeal. They were the only two homes that got sold for over 1M in the area. Here, homes go more reasonable compared to the rest of the country, so this was a great return for them.

  13. Your garden is looking beautiful, Donna. I guess the spending patterns apply to non-gardeners because real gardeners would want to use every available space. We’re always running out of room for our lastest purchases.

    • Thank you, Carolyn. Extensive gardening actually has a negative pricing effect many times. The market to sell would be much smaller, so you are right that landscaping is different than gardens. Landscaping has much more hardscape and utilitarian/enetertainment functions, like a kitchen or pool area.

  14. I was just going to say I love the containers and look forward to the post on them…the back is looking gorgeous…I put more time in maintaining the front, and let the back go a bit more for wildlife and of course we have the veg and cutting gardens in the back. But I have several projects we are doing in the back to work on some issues.

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