The front porch is a uniquely American piece of architecture. From the mid-1800s to just before World War II, it was a central part of home life. The family gathered there to rest, talk, enjoy the cool breezes, and nod to the occasional passing neighbor.
With the advent of affordable televisions and air conditioning, people moved off the front porch and into the TV room. The back yard, no longer occupied by vegetable gardens, clotheslines, outhouses, and chicken coops, became the new, more private focus of family life.
Happily, front porches are making a comeback. As communities become friendlier to pedestrians, folks are moving back onto the front porch to relax, talk and watch the neighbors pass by.
The front porch has several purposes. It is the face you present to the world. It is the interface between the landscape and the interior of your home. And with the limited space available to us it can be another living space. Porch furniture, fans and, of course, plants can create a place that is a comfortable transition from yard to indoors.
Containers can express your personality and compliment the style of your home—be it formal, cottage, modern or just plain funky. You don’t have to be strait jacketed by tradition.
Once, while walking by a brownstone in a swanky New York City neighborhood, I was totally charmed by a cheerful cascade of cherry tomatoes spilling out of the ornately carved window boxes.
You can add lettuces, carrots with their ferny tops, parsley and other herbs and vegetables to the flowers in your window boxes and hanging baskets, and the homeowners association will never realize you are gardening on your porch.
You don’t have to be limited to a couple of urns on either side of the steps. Groupings of pots on the stairs, in corners or flanking windows and doors add a lot of visual appeal. And don’t be afraid of color. Pots and plants are available in a dazzling array of hues, bold or pastel, that can make a wonderful splash when grouped together.
Front porch plants can change to reflect the seasons, just as your landscape does. Go ahead and use those wonderful cool weather flowers like ranunculus, then change them for zinnias and lantana when the hot weather hits.
One idea is to create a rotating container by sinking an empty pot in the middle and planting ivy and filler plants around the edges. Drop in the current flower in bloom—tulips, Easter lilies, then calla lilies, and on to hot house hydrangeas or whatever catches your eye at the garden center or florist. You could even add a vase of cut flowers.
Caring for your front porch plantings is easy enough, but does require a few minutes of daily attention. Be sure to water regularly, fertilize, deadhead spent flowers and cut back overgrown plants. Pull out tired looking plants and add new fresh ones.
As the world circles round and vegetable gardens, chicken coops and clothes lines (but hopefully not outhouses) reappear in our back yards, retire to the front porch for a truly relaxing break from your hectic day.
Pat Brothers works at Atlantic Avenue Orchid and Garden Center in Raleigh.