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Emma Townshend: 'Your front garden is the face you show the world - and it's about time I made mine a bit more welcoming'

Our gardening correspondent has let the wisteria grow over the windows, and the melianthus to grow 7ft tall

Emma Townshend
Friday 14 August 2015 19:05
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Protecting her privacy: Emma Townshend in her garden
Protecting her privacy: Emma Townshend in her garden

From dangerous attention- seeker to possessor of immaculate tastes, through to couldn't care less what anyone else thinks: what is your front garden saying about you? And is it what you meant? One person plants a single row of identical pale blush roses and thinks it looks tremendous. Meanwhile, the rest of the street sees it as yet another indicator of undiagnosed control freakery.

There's an endearing oddness about our front plots – for a start, they're the only place many of us have to express ourselves creatively in public. Which leads to all those tiny ponds with 3ft-high working windmills, fishing gnomes, stegosaurus topiary, crazy dahlia fireworks, dead houseplants, elaborate bin and bike shelters, and hedges that are colonising most of the pavement.

Front gardening is also often sociable. When I first moved in, I spent months quietly digging out the back garden while forming grandiose private schemes. Then it was time to make a stab at the front. Within an hour, I'd chatted to what felt like almost all my new neighbours: greying ladies buzzing back from an early morning's work through the shopping list, with a bagful of food on each arm, happy to lean over the wall and give me their advice; Kindly Neighbourhood Stoned Bloke offering, while a bit out of it, to help me with heavy labour; a man stopping to tell me his grandma had grown "those" – pointing at some cannas – back home in Grenada.

The front garden charmed people. A rosemary bush, planted as a tiny plant by the step on to our path, grew over several hot summers into a raidable resource for residents roasting lamb. One of my sweeter, more sentimental neighbours made a rosemary bouquet to lay in Princess Diana's memory, and occasionally was to be found sniffing the plant in his professional capacity as an aromatherapist. That single herb was a community event in itself.

But while I like a community event as much as the next rabid cake-baker, bunting-hanger and table-trestler, I can also be a curmudgeonly loner who doesn't really want to have a conversation with anyone. And that's where the garden says it all. That means no more rosemary, and letting the wisteria grow over the windows. I leave the melianthus, never a small plant at the best of times, to grow 7ft tall. I let it fall, leaning over the path, so anyone who wants to ring the doorbell on a rainy day will get wet just trying to pass it. I wasn't exaggerating, you see, when I said "curmudgeon".

In fact, when Google Street View first went online, my brother sent me a screengrab of how my own house appeared on it: it was barely visible beneath the greenery. "Ha ha!" he wrote, "You foiled those privacy invaders! They will NEVER be able to look in YOUR windows."

It's taken me a long time to see how unwelcoming this is, in all sorts of ways. Lately I'm interested in making life easier, not just for my long-suffering postman and assorted other delivery people, but also for myself.

For all these reasons, I've cut back around the front path, trying to rethink the way the planting works. I miss the rosemary and its out-and-out welcome – in early spring to bees, and later to human Sunday-lunch makers. And I miss stroking its fragrant leaves as I go back and forth every day.

So, as thoughts turn to the end of summer, and new resolutions to be put into effect, mine is to render my front path more welcoming. Starting with planting a new rosemary; scented plants under my hand, for winter and summer, never more than hip height; no more looming giants and dripping-wet climbers.

So, rosemary and scented geraniums it is – and a viburnum for floating, pungent scent on cold, still days as spring begins to flicker into being.

Four more ways to pep up the frontage

Rosmarinus officinalis 'miss Jessopp's Upright'

A tall, sprightly rosemary with a good flavour. Pretty blue flowers in late winter attract the first bees of the year. £8.99, crocus.co.uk

Pelargonium 'Cola Bottles'

Gingery cola foliage offers a mischievous scent as you fumble around for your front-door keys. £5, scentedgeraniums.co.uk

The Alnwick Rose

For those searching for that undiagnosed control- freak look, a fragrant peach of a rose. £21.50, potted, davidaustinroses.co.uk

Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn'

A garden favourite for its perfect perfume on winter days, with pink flowers on bare stems. £16, burncoose.co.uk

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