Pay attention to the front yard as well as the back

Duane Campbell
Duane Campbell

I guess we’re no longer rural. They tore up our road and put in a sewer system, wasting three grand worth of septic system work, and repaved the road. Then they tore up our road and put in chlorinated water, forcing us off our mountain spring well, and repaved the road. Then they tore up our road and put in storm drains, eliminating our drainage ditches, and repaved the road. I’m not always fond of progress, but I think they are done now.

This has forced me to think about something I have been avoiding for years. For decades. Curb appeal, though we don’t have curbs. Yet. I garden out back, and I only see the front briefly once a day when I get the mail, so it was never a priority. First-time visitors find it hard to believe that a gardener lives here when they pull up out front.

It’s not barren exactly. There are flower beds planted with leftovers. Come mid June, late June, after I have squeezed in all that I can out back, I put the excess in front for color, and depending on what is excess, it can look not so bad but hardly good.

Often it is knee-high dahlias and mirabilis, four o’clocks, because both multiply and produce many tubers that can be stored and planted the next season. They bloom freely and can be fast, easy, and impressive. Right now a blaze of red, several Heat Wave dahlias, border the front porch (smothering my saffron crocus I just noticed).


Another way to get quick fill is with seeds that grow big fast. Nasturtiums for example. Or even bigger, castor beans. And mirabilis can be saved not only with their roots in the basement but with fat seeds easily planted in spring (though the roots from prior years will produce bigger plants).

One strip along the road had tulips planted a few years ago, but they weren’t the kind of tulips that last for long. And for the summer a blue flowered plant, maybe a weed, took over. At one end was a rose planted two decades ago, Carefree Wonder, the only thing I really liked out there.

As it happens, several things came together at once. Confluence. I had a number of roses in an area out back that have needed moving for a couple of years, at least, and I had been avoiding the brutish job. A couple of compost piles were ready to break down. And I just got several bags of grape hyacinths and Moulin Rouge tulips from Longfield Gardens ( to be planted together. Plant the tulips, add a couple of inches of soil, plant the grape hyscinths, and cover for a two layer effect.

As I dug into the soil of the bed, I was reminded of the yellow clay I had started with out back so many years ago. I dumped several inches of compost on the bed and spaded it in several times, pounding the clumps apart with the back of the fork. Then I planted the bulbs, which was much easier in decent, loose soil. People who buy a drill to plant bulbs need to rethink their gardening techniques.

Then I decided to make it three layers, with bulbs and roses. I horsed three different roses out of the ground and planted them in the newly improved bed. Planting them kicked out some of the bulbs I had just planted, but they were easy enough to shove back into the ground nearby. I checked the weather report and saw that we were getting a decent rain tomorrow night. Otherwise I would water them all thoroughly with a hose, not a sprinkling can.

Then there is the misshappen redbud tree. Twice it had split to the ground, and each time it resprouted before I could dig out the roots and grew to an ugly 20 feet. A couple of years ago I got a red leafed Japanese maple for that spot. Maybe I’ll get it done this fall.

Duane Campbell is a nationally known agricultural expert. He can be reached at 12 Burgess Road, Towanda, PA 18848