Front gardens or front yards are more usually associated with domestic residences rather than commercial buildings, but similar principles of good design apply to both. Many clients will be focussed on the design of their back garden – the private personal or family leisure space. However the front garden is the space that provides instant first impressions and ‘kerb appeal’ to visitors and passers-by. It makes an immediate statement about the building and its occupants and is an integral part of the entire landscaped setting. The front garden is infinitely more challenging and tricky to design precisely because the house usually dominates and the space in front of it is frequently both small and utilitarian.
When you visit prospective or new clients for the first time arrive just a few minutes ahead of your appointment. Don’t hurry to the main entrance. The approach to the building will provide you with multiple clues to lifestyle, leisure interests, concerns with outward appearances and the setting of the house. Car parking areas and the setting and signage of office buildings will be good indicators of the perceived corporate and public status of the company.
Observe every detail. Don’t take photos at this stage – it might be considered intrusive by your clients (or office security staff) before you have even shaken hands. You can do this later in the consultation after you have taken the opportunity to explain the importance of the front garden. Look at the materials, colours and condition of boundary walls, hedges or fences, and adjacent views and buildings.
Note surfaces and their gradients – concrete, gravel, tarmac, lawn and their condition. Notice the style, period, size, height and construction of the house and how it relates proportionately to the front garden space, – whether it dominates, or sits comfortably in a wider landscape. The make, model and registration plate of any parked cars are often status indicators. Note if space exists or is needed for a camper van, caravan or motor bike.
Is there a garage? How is the back garden accessed? What kind of planting exists? It may be desirable to screen the house from passing traffic, pedestrians or ugly structures directly opposite. There may be street lighting Where there is a driveway it may have little or no vision splay at the entrance.
Frequent problems include a lack of clear visual indications directing the visitor to the main entrance. Another is too mean a space or ‘apron’ in front of the main entrance to allow the visitor to feel comfortable and not pushed too close to the door. One of the most common front garden problems is an oversized tree or trees, planted without consideration of its height and spread at maturity and the resulting imbalance and reduction of light to the building.
Your observations will equip you with useful information before your meeting and enable you to make suggestions early on to optimise the relationship between building and front garden space.