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By garden designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin. Andrew Fisher Tomlin looks at improving your front gardens whilst being aware of the environmental impact.

I've spoken about front gardens through before. It's probably the most important area for improving the appearance of your property and certainly the part of your garden that you will see every day. But it's also the most neglected part. In the past year there have been several surveys about the impact of a garden on property prices. Generally a great front garden can add between 8% and 12% to the value of a property. That must be reason enough to spend a little money and improve your front garden!

More and more homeowners are recognising the value of a great front garden and have different requirements that will help improve the front of your house. Off street parking, renovated tiled paths, bike storage and hiding bins are all major requirements but there are three factors you always need to think about.

Driveways and water run off
There is a trend towards people creating driveways and car parking on their own front gardens. Most are created with great respect for the house whilst others do more harm than good. And I don't just mean aesthetically. Great expanses of brickwork are not attractive and even those with the tightest spaces for a car can retain some element of green space.

We are fast loosing street trees both on the public highway and in front gardens. There is no reason why you can't retain a tree in your garden and still manage to park in it. A small garden tree such as a Sorbus 'Joseph Rock' or Amelanchier lamarkii can really bring some scale into the space. Hedges are being lost but you can keep the hedges between you and your neighbours.

Even a small bed under your front window can make a huge difference. Not just to the look of the garden and parking but it will also enable water to drain off the surface and into beds. There is an increasing problem of front gardens being paved over and rainwater running into over-used storm drains and causing flooding. Some beds and simple drainage structures can avert this.

After a decade of people boxing themselves in with high boundary walls we are now starting to see the impact of this in our roads. High walls are not generally attractive but more than anything they have become a security nightmare. I don't mean to whip up feelings of insecurity but high walls can hide burglars and muggers. We are now designing much lower front boundary walls on the advice of the police. Combined with an attractive hedge - such as holly or beech - and sometimes with railings, we are able to build boundaries that reflect the character of the house and it's setting.

I'm sorry to have to bring this up but there is a good chance that whatever you do to the front boundary you will need to check planning requirements. If you live in a conservation area you will definitely need permission both to remove a boundary as well as put a new boundary up whether it be a fence or wall. Even if you don't live in a conservation area new boundaries often require permission, especially if they are over 1m in height and off street parking will require the involvement of the local authority to drop the public path and kerb from the roadside. You must always check with your local authority beforehand and much of this you will find on their websites including application forms.

The good news is that almost anything you do to the front garden, especially off street parking, will add value to your property. Take a walk down your road and see how different people have designed their gardens. What would work for you and what materials would be in keeping with your house? Just remember one simple rule to make it green and inviting

By Andrew Fisher Tomlin

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