Perennially yours; the front yards and easeways of my street


Front lawns are the outliers where I live. With a dense, mature tree canopy that provides cool shade in these dog days of early July, there’s not much hope of maintaining a lush green sward of turfgrass. Oh, there are maybe two houses on the street where the sun has managed to break through and, clearly, a diligent weed ‘n’ feed program is being maintained, but by far the majority of properties don’t even try. Expect shrubs, gigantic hostas, aggressive ground covers, and the few flowering perennials that will accept the shade and all-pervasive surface roots. I used to curse these limiting conditions, but I’ve long since made my peace with them.

It seems best to stick to the earlier tried-and-true varieties of many plants. My shrubs consist of Annabelle hydrangeas, h. quercifolia, some leucothoe, and a couple golden junipers. Perennials include athyrium ‘ghost’ which form a curving shrubbish line across the space, variegated polygonatum, brunnera, and lotsa, lotsa hosta. I am loving the miniature varieties; they can fill in but still maintain continuity.

Elsewhere on the block, I see interesting shrubs, massive stands of columbine and other shade perennials (always with the ginormous hosta), and maybe some annuals or a Japanese maple or two.

The thing that impresses me the most is that here’s an area where the usual front yard treatments—lawn, foundation shrubs, bright annuals for color—simply will not apply. And people are making the most of it.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Which golden juniper is it? I didn’t know there were shade tolerant varieties.

    As for alternative plants, why not heuchera, Phlox divaricata or stolonifera, podophyllums, corydalis and dicentra?

  2. I don’t remember, but their positions are such that they are getting better sun. As for the perennials, some of those are not really tolerant of the shade they’d have and some would not survive in the roots.

  3. A front yard garden needs colors; for example, I added hardy white Geranium, Heuchera ‘Frosted Violet’ and Astilbe ‘Fireberry.’ A friend suggests planting spring and summer bulbs; i.e., Martagons starts growing before hostas begin growing. There is a nice combination of pretty foliage of hostas (still growing) and martagon blossoms up to 40 buds per stem. Note: Martagon bulb are expensive but some hosta expert (lovers) must have Martagon I must have an astilbe as companion plant for hosta such as Astilbe chinensis “Vision in White” or Astilbe “Deutschland” (both white.)

  4. Well I do grow Martagons near hosta but the big problem now is the lily beetle. Martagons are their faves. But in any case, they don’t provide color for all that long.

  5. How great to live where front yard gardens instead of lawns are the rule rather than the exception! Every year, I convert more of my front yard to garden, adding mostly native trees, shrubs, and perennials. Whenever I give someone directions to my house, I say ‘it’s the one with the big garden instead of a front lawn’. Unfortunately, it’s the only one with more garden than grass!

  6. I planted masses of daffodils, dozens of colors and early, mid and late-season, all around my hostas. The hostas leaf out just in time to hide the daffodil leaves as they droop and wither.

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