Gardens

An unused outdoor space is transformed into a functional front garden

Garden design: A modern and functional front garden

An unused front yard is brought to life. Author: Janis Nicolay

Gardens

An unused outdoor space is transformed into a functional front garden

A compelling contrast of textures brings this verdant Vancouver front yard to life. 

When the opportunity to enliven an outdoor space arises, few homeowners focus on the front yard, but for one Vancouver couple, who grew tired of walking down chipped concrete steps and passing worn-wood retaining walls to enter their home, it was the area they were most eager to renovate. In 2013, the pair enlisted landscape designer Sarah Carver of Haven Garden Design to devise a functional front garden that would make a glowing first impression (in addition to updating their backyard). “We wanted to create a strong sense of arrival when you enter the property,” says Sarah.

In order to achieve this, the designer used the house’s contemporary cube-shaped facade as the jumping-off point, opting for concrete slabs set in a geometric design to juxtapose the lush and textured plant combinations. The homeowners also wanted to establish a visual connection with the indoors, so Sarah strategically positioned the outdoor sitting area adjacent to the living room and had lights embedded in the concrete and interspersed among the plants throughout the yard. Now, the couple can appreciate the garden’s beauty from inside or out – whether they’re sipping coffee in the courtyard in the early morning or admiring the view from the sofa come sunset.

“They’ll often open up the living room window coverings when they entertain to animate the indoors at night,” says Sarah. The designer’s careful eye for detail makes the outdoor space more than just an arresting entrance. Float down the front steps and you’ll be taken by a tangle of large trees grounded by a rich palette of plants like chartreuse hostas and deep burgundy heucheras, which work with the hardscaping for a result that’s truly distinct. “It’s not about getting from A to B quickly,” says Sarah. “It’s about the experience.”

 

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Garden stats: A front garden featuring geometric concrete hardscaping juxtaposed with a jumble of lively and lush plant varieties.

Size: 25' x 33'

Focus: Low-maintenance part-shade perennials.

 

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For the walkway, landscape designer Sarah Carver opted for shorter stairs with deeper treads (14 inches instead of the standard 12-inch size), along with a large landing “to make the experience more comfortable and leisurely,” she says. Every aspect of the design follows a grid pattern, even the score lines in the concrete, which prevent cracking and lend symmetry and interest. In the evening, lights set within the concrete illuminate the stairs.

 

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To maximize every inch of space, Sarah had the concrete borders surrounding the courtyard raised to seat height and ensured they would be wide enough to accommodate outdoor cushions. “We knew creating a typical furniture layout would be difficult, so this is like built-in furniture that doubles as retaining walls,” she says. In the garden, a Japanese maple nestled in a nook beside the staircase offers privacy from the street, while purple plants, such as hebes and ageratum peppered along the edges, add colourful contrast. 

 

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Clockwise from top left: A vibrant green magnolia tree livens up the sitting area, even before exposing its brilliant white blooms (“I try to have something catch the eye, no matter the season,” says Sarah); deep purple heucheras conform to the garden’s quiet colour palette and deliver plenty of texture; to reduce maintenance, the designer sought out shade-loving companion plants like hostas and Japanese forest grass, which flourish under the same conditions; Sarah chose silvery purple Japanese painted ferns to lend the garden a contemporary feel and pick up on the grey tone of the concrete (“there’s a thread of consistency throughout,” she says). 

 

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5 easy care perennials: Give your garden long-term interest with these showy low-maintenance plants.

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Gardens

An unused outdoor space is transformed into a functional front garden