Originality has not been what springs to mind when looking at most front yards, but now people are starting to tweak the conventions by putting native plants front and center on their properties. There are around two hundred species of native plants that are eminently suitable for the formal or semiformal areas of our homes or businesses. In those cases, there is no need to confine them to our back yards. They add curb appeal to any property while simultaneously supporting the songbirds, butterflies, and other critters that so desperately need our help to survive in a suburban or urban environment.
For anyone who prefers to keep their shrubs and flowers up against the house, there are plenty of neat-and-tidy native plants that do well in that setting. Recommendations can be found on the foundation plantings page on the Plant NOVA Natives website.
For those interested in rethinking the layout of their yard, there are many ways to do that.
Pictured here is a front yard in which half the space has been filled with native plants (as opposed to turf grass, which is non-native and therefore does not support our local fauna.) The small number of species planted in large masses makes a strong impact while minimizing the expertise needed for maintenance. The tree has been protected from soil compaction and lawn mower damage, both of which are a risk to trees surrounded by turf grass.
A planting bed along the sidewalk would have the advantage of capturing stormwater runoff before it hits the street. Runoff from impervious surfaces and lawns causes degradation of our streams and the Chesapeake Bay. If taller plants are used, they can create a sense of privacy and make the space more usable.
A curved planting bed in the middle of the yard can be easily mowed around and could consist of flowers for those who like to garden or a small grove of native trees and shrubs for those who don’t.
The entire yard could be replaced by native plants along curved paths. The easiest design would consist of trees, shrubs, and groundcovers. Losing the lawn is seldom a problem, since most people don’t run around on their front lawn anyway.
At the other end of the effort spectrum, planting a single native shade tree in the lawn would confer the most benefit for the least amount of work.
Famous American ecologist E. O. Wilson urged us to set aside half of the Earth’s surface for nature, thus enabling us to preserve biodiversity and avert mass extinction (including our own extinction). That goal cannot be achieved by setting aside deserts and mountaintops and keeping the rich lands for ourselves. The set-aside land must include areas such as our East Coast that support the most biodiversity. Most of that land is privately owned, so it is up to each of us to contribute anything we can. Considering how much of our suburban/urban land is covered with built structures, any piece of land that isn’t occupied by a building or road would best be devoted to native trees and other native plants. Instead of adding to habitat loss, our front yards can be part of the solution while beautifying our properties and increasing home values. For details on designing a landscape using native plants, see the Plant NOVA Natives website.