The front garden for so many houses gets used as a parking spot. That isn't really an option with our front garden! The slopes make some other things tricky too, like mowing grass, or digging. Like the back garden, when we moved in it was just grass.
The steps run down approximately one third of the way across the garden. Both sides have steep slopes at the top, then a flat patch, then another slope down to the concrete in front of the house. I think it faces sort of East-South-East, so it gets quite a lot of sun. We are on a bus route, with double-deckers going past around every 20 minutes, so it is fairly exposed.
I had brought with me some herbs from my last patio, so the first bit to change was the lowest slope just outside the kitchen door. Rather than terrace it, I dug it all out by hand around the stones that were already in there, and planted into the slope using the stones to create loose terracing. It started out with some rosemary, thyme, chives, oregano and parsley. Two of the rosemary bushes have thrived, but one died back. That's been replaced with a french lavender. There are some alpine strawberry bushes around it, left over from the strip next to the path. And it's planted through with iris, daffodil, snowdrop and grape hyacinth bulbs, from various pots! It's been very successful, and cooking has benefitted.
The alpine strawberries were started in my last house, and in this house the obvious place to put them seemed to be a narrow flat ledge on the upper side of the flat section of the path. I did quite a rush job of digging this out, and just lobbed them in quite late in the year. The pot they had been growing in had a layer of dwarf narcissi and snowdrops in the bottom, so they got planted out at the same time. The strawberries have been amazing. They produce masses of fruit for about half the year. They have shaded out a lot of the weeds (which is fortunate) and I always cut them back hard in the winter, which gives the narcissi and snowdrops a chance to come through.
The rest of the top slope started with a small round bed, with a cordyline surrounded by asters and some dianthus. Slowly but surely I have expanded the planting out from there, until finally we dug out some terraces on the other side and used the excess soil to kill off the rest of the grass. The narrow third of the garden is now planted with ornamentals, with some bigger shrubs to fill (eventually) the slope up to the road. This is to let the birds have some roost space, to protect more of the garden from the Northerly winds, and to stop us needing to mow the top slope. Unfortunately, they haven't quite filled out yet! The cordyline died in the winter of 2008, and has been replaced with a conference pear tree. The view up the steps has changed dramatically.
The other side of the front garden has gone through several iterations. I knew I wanted to grow some veg, and given that the front garden was not going to be used much and got more sun than the back, it made sense to put the veg patch on the flat section. Initially we went for a circular shape, cut into the grass with a strip next to the path.
We used bricks left over from a driveway refurbishment at my Gorgeous Girlfriend's parents to make four paths in the circle to create four beds. The strip is used for ornamentals, ideally to entice pollinators to visit! The first season was good, but we quickly discovered that the grass kept encroaching on the circle and the little bits that were left were an even bigger pain to mow. Also the wind up the slope from the south is a huge problem. The cane supports for the beans all leant to one side. We put a low fence up, designed to let the wind through but slow it down.
The following year the plans got a bit bigger, and we decided to terrace the front slope using railway sleepers. This was an absolute pig of a job, because the garden is on chalk and flint. We got there though. These terraces have two purposes - to act as a set of steps to the main veg bed, and increase the available growing area. A small water butt out front was added and a leaf pit was dug slightly into the top slope.
They also marked the start of some bigger fruit-growing ideas. I put three currant bushes, one each of red, white and black, into the terraces. Two apple trees went into the top slope nearest the road, with the aim of eventually giving us more privacy from the buses (and fruit, of course!). A thornless blackberry was planted into the remaining patch of slope next to the terraces, and will be trained along the front of the sleepers. A double-u cordon pear was planted in a large half-barrel against the house.
The soil in the terraces is some of the worst in the entire garden, and is going to take quite a while to improve. There are some herbaceous perennials in there, with more bulbs, but the remaining space is being used to grow longer term leaf crops, such as parsley, chard and sorrel, and perhaps some bush tomatoes.
My cane structures for the beans got more impressive in the second year, but were still not up to the job. Four years of a Cambridge Engineering degree beaten! (I clearly should have paid more attention in structures... )
Permanant metal obelisks arrived in 2009. The veg patch now fills the entire flat patch, with a line of bricks taken from the old fireplace marking the edge between decorative and functional. The leaf pit also suffered from the wind and the bindweed, and has been replaced by an attractive(!) compost bin. The plan is to alternate filling the compost bins in the front and back each year, so each gets a full year to rot down. The soil in the main veg patch does seem to be improving. I'm primarily trying a no-dig, crop rotation approach, but I do dig the potato quarter. I'm hoping this will help to build up the soil life, but the digging every four years will avoid compaction issues. I also use green manure. I'm trying a mixture of trefoil and red clover as underplanting for my beans and the courgette/squash quarter this year. I plan to chop it back rather than dig it in, and add that to the compost bin.
The top section closest to the road now has the two apple trees doing nicely, and in an effort to reduce the mowing to pretty much nil I'm trying to cultivate a meadow! This is being edged by rosemary and lavender, which over time I'm hoping will form a good low hedge and help it to look a bit neater. Right now it is mostly grass and daisies, but these things apparently take time.
The plans (as ever) are big, but the garden is definitely coming together. I've learnt so much already, and I think we've only just begun...