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Homeowners disagree about what the landscape -- especially the front yard -- should look like. There are reasons behind every front yard.

Sometimes it's an urban/suburban/rural matter of style: We are pressured to make the front yard look like the neighbors', we accept what the landscaper suggests or we live with what was there when we moved in. Sometimes our style reflects our philosophy or personality -- how organized or casual we like things. At times it's an environmental or ecological choice, as in "the price for using pesticides and fertilizers is too high; I don't want to harm living things and want it to be natural." Or the yard may belong to a real gardener with strong convictions about plants and style.

And often the landscape style is just about time or money, for tired working people (overwhelmed by commitments or kids) or retirees (now too busy or not up to the work anymore), who vaguely know what they might do about the front yard but just can't get there. Most likely the way your front yard looks has something to do with one of the above.

Where natural meets neat

I admit to a personal bias, preferring a naturalized and casual landscape -- which would look downright unkempt in many a suburban neighborhood. And sometimes I advocate landscape practices that shock the "Neat & Tidy" club members. It became apparent when I talked with a nice gentleman -- we will call him Adam -- the morning after I spoke on TV about letting the chopped up leaves decompose on the lawn:

Adam of Suburbia: "I was going to rake up the leaves and heard what you said, but I'd better get all those leaves out of the shrubs at least -- and get the weeds as well."

Sally of The Garden: "Oh, but see, it's so good for the shrubs to have leaves decomposing under them -- just like in a forest. The leaves provide organic matter, and get some nitrogen to the plants and improve the soil. And they block out weeds, so we should really rake even more leaves into the shrub border!"

Adam: "Well, maybe so, but that looks messy and I want -- actually I have to have -- a neat yard. I really like a clear line between the trimmed shrubs and the lawn -- where there is mulch, neat mulch, and where it's soil then nothing untidy growing out of it."

Sally: "Ah yes, hmmmm . .

Middle ground

And that's OK. It's Adam's yard and style, and he -- all of you -- get to choose the look. Nevertheless, whatever your style, there are some best horticultural practices that can benefit every yard and garden -- like getting some compost (organic matter) into Adam's border under the neat mulch. Those best practices are what I will be advocating in future weeks, and will make every effort to adapt the principles to your (or Adam's) style. (But still, dear Adam, I would rather see some perennials and a few leaves in there! To be continued.)
Sally Cunningham is an educator in Consumer/Community Horticulture with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County, and gardening book author.