In the Garden: June 2018

By Rhiannon Allen

Point Roberts gardens vary dramatically in their configuration and size. However, a common design here on the Point and throughout North America is what I call the ‘front yard/back yard’ layout.

You know the basics. There’s a road, then an area that can be gardened, then a house, then some amount of land behind the house. There is also a strip of land on either side of the house, although the width of these strips can vary from tight to rather generous.

If you think about this layout, it provides the opportunity to develop three distinct gardens: front, back, and sides. Unless the side areas are very generous, the gardener is freed from tying front and back gardens together aesthetically.

An arbor leading to the backyard..
Photo by Rhiannon Allen

The gardener can simply use the sides as shady passageways from one garden to the other. An arbor, garden art or maybe even some shade plants might be all that is needed to make a nice transition from scene one to scene two. How liberating! No need to develop a grand garden scheme. No need to commit yourself to one and only one garden style. Go for two distinctly different front and back gardens if you want.

Three gardens on the upcoming Point Roberts Garden Tour on July 15 are good illustrations of front yard/back yard design. The first is a hidden gem; it sits on a side street, with a tall fence and privacy hedge that screens a small orchard from prying eyes. The owner has taken advantage of a south-facing front yard to grow fruit trees that will nourish the family in summer and autumn. This small orchard is sided with sun-loving roses and perennials, playfully set off by driftwood and unusual cacti skeletons that hark to hotter climes.

This is a geometric summer sun garden where one can gaze on sun-loving plants punctuated by reminders of beach and desert, equally reminiscent of sun and warmth.

Now pass through the narrow shady side, past the wicker reindeer standing guard, into the somewhat shadier rear garden. Splashes of color are everywhere. Curving herbaceous borders and carefully selected shrubs are set against a background of large trees that provide privacy from the rear neighbors.

The impression is one of an English country garden, quite different from the geometric front garden. I find the effect charming. When you visit this tranquil garden, look for furniture tucked into garden niches where near, middle and long views of the garden can be appreciated at one’s leisure.

Right next door to this garden is another tour garden that illustrates the front yard/back yard design. Here a different approach has been taken, one which intimately suits the owner.

Originally from a culture rich in family and gardening, this world-wandering family has finally put down roots in Point Roberts, both literally and figuratively. As with their neighbors, this family uses its front yard to grow fruit trees, including a peach tree grown from a pit that sprouted in the compost. However, the dissecting driveway has allowed the gardener to devote one side of the front yard primarily to family activities with a small playground, a grass lawn that is soft on children’s feet, and a delightful jumble of wading pool and toys. What light-hearted fun!

The back yard, in contrast, is designed for sitting and sipping, with flowering perennials, a greenhouse, and a vegetable garden. There is a range of temperate South American plants, notably a Chilean Notro tree, also known as Chilean firebush, carefully planted in homage to family. Hibiscus, lilies, and gladiolus provide a cosy floral backdrop to this happy yard.

Down the hill, a third garden uses its front yard to reference the nearby beach. Open to the street, a ‘sunset’ deck sided in driftwood allows the family to hail passing neighbors while enjoying a view towards the beach. The ‘sitting and sipping’ of our previous rear garden is front-and-forward here, much in keeping with the family’s 50-year history in this sociable neighborhood. Against the house, driftwood, beach cobbles and a crab sculpture complete this charming ‘life is a beach’ front yard.

Pass under the home-made wedding arbor festooned with honeysuckle, roses and climbing hydrangea, past a delightful potting bench, into a completely different back garden. Raised borders provide splashes of color against a hedgerow of primarily native shrubs, and old family tools can be spotted here and there in both the side and back garden. Alpines and succulents cover edges of raised beds, and vegetables and herbs occupy sunny spots. And don’t miss the water harvesting system that hydrates these plants, so prominent in the back garden.

If you have a front yard/back yard layout, you are sure to find inspiration in one of these gardens.

Thanks go to Sandy James and Jane Pratt for their input. Garden Tour XV is Sunday, July 15, with tickets going on sale on Sunday, July 1.

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