From front to back

It’s full-out spring here in New England, and it’s taken us all by surprise. Our usual calendar is January, February, March, March, March, June, but this year April and May seem to be asserting themselves.

Knock wood. When we’re getting frosts in May, you’ll know it’s my fault for jinxing spring.

The hotly debated question: What’s a front yard?

The upshot of all this is that I’ve been spending days digging, hauling, cutting, planting, and getting very, very dirty. We’re rebuilding the wood-fired oven we tore down, assembling the last of our hive frames in preparation for our bees, and trying to find sunny spots for the asparagus and blueberries that came via UPS this week – two weeks earlier than we were expecting them. We’re getting the boat up and running for striper season, we’re getting the power washer working to de-schmutz the house, and we’re trying to figure out how to take down trees without taking down the chicken coop, the garage, or the beehives.

It’s been so busy around here that I haven’t been able to write regular updates. I’ll post more on our activities soon but, in the meantime, I need your help to settle an argument. The hotly debated question: What’s a front yard?

I talked to my mother the other day, just after she’d seen my last post on full frontal gardening. (If you can’t count on your mother to read your blog, you’re in real trouble.) She’d read the piece, she’d looked at the pictures. “But dear,” she said, “that’s not your front yard.”

“What do you mean, that’s not my front yard?” I asked, somewhat indignantly. “Of course that’s my front yard.”

“That’s your back yard,” she said. “The pond is your front yard.”

This flummoxed me. The front yard is the area outside the front door. That’s where the strawberry beds are. Outside our front door. That’s what I told my mother.

“The door doesn’t define what the front and back are. The front yard is whatever the living room looks out over. The kitchen is at the back of the house.”

To understand how mystified I was by this analysis, you have to know that my mother is one of the smartest people going. She’s way smarter than I am and, in my entire life, I’ve only met a few people in her league.  It’s not often that I think she’s totally wrong.

If the smartest person you know tells you the front yard is whatever the living room looks out on, and you think that’s not true, the right thing to do is to re-examine everything you’ve ever believed about front yards, canvas everyone you know who might know something about front yards, and check with credentialed front-yard authorities before you tell the smartest person you know that she is mistaken.

That’s not what I did.

“That’s utter nonsense!” was what I said to the smartest person I know. “The front yard is where the front door is.”

The argument went on in this vein for several minutes, without resolution. So, dear readers, I’m turning to you to help adjudicate this disagreement. Here is a map, borrowed from my town’s excellent mapping system, of our property, outlined in blue:

The road is on the right (the east side). The pond is on the left (the west).  The blue circle near the center is a small marsh. 

You can see our driveway leading from the road to the structures near the pond. The smaller structure, on top, is the garage. The larger (although not by much), on the bottom, is the house. The driveway circles around, and you can even see two cars on it. 

Here, in case you missed it in the last post, in the picture of side of the house in question, which is the east side, facing the driveway:

Our front door (our only door) is on the left side of the photo, blocked by the tree. The pond is behind the house.

I have always considered the driveway side to be the front yard and the pond side to be the backyard. My mother has always considered the opposite. Kevin is agnostic.

Can you help settle this, once and for all?

25 people are having a conversation about “From front to back

  1. beachnitpicker says:

    By calling your only door your front door you’re begging the question. It can just as well be your back door. You look out your FRONT, living-room, windows at the pond, out your BACK, kitchen, windows at your driveway, chickens and BACK garden.

  2. I would define the front garden as the one that fronts onto the road that gives you your street address.

    The front yard is the one people casually passing by see, the back garden one away from public view.

  3. I agree with Lisa and Toria! In any event, in my case the “front garden” (as we Brits call it, lol) can’t be defined by my “front door” – as that is at the side of my house with only a passage way in front of it!

    In the UK also the front would most of ten be defined by where you enter/park your car.

  4. The smart money is always to agree with your mother, especially if she’s that intelligent 😉

    I can’t help on this one. Semantics isn’t my strength. I suppose if you redefine, or even remove, the concept of a front garden, then it might free you up to see the space without restrictions or preconceived notions. And then there’s no argument to speak of. Everyone wins.

    BTW – de-schmutzing? I LOVE it! So much more descriptive than “spring cleaning”.

  5. I always placed the front door spatially in my mind as the one facing the street, however the majority of my reference comes from small lots packed together in suburban neighborhoods where the “front” yards are postage stamps lining a shared road and the back yard is a wink bigger. My Dad’s property however sits on 10 acres and the point where the drive lets off could be considered the back door of his house even though it is the one entered and exited the most. I’m not really sure there is an answer here. I think in this situation it may be like saying the top of the earth is North and Bottom is south, it looks good on maps but there really is no “top” and “bottom”. For sake of argument or rather (not) I say just agree with your mother. As the old adage goes “If Momma ain’t happy nobody is!”

  6. All — I see my mother is getting some sympathy votes! I think what makes our yard hard to define is that there’s 600 feet of woods and marsh between the street and the house, so you lose the “frontness” of the side that faces the street. Lisa, Toria, and Ann have the straightforward definition that probably applies to most houses, and I think it applies to mine, too. Jen and Rodney are just sucking up to my mother. Beachnitpicker (here’s the big reveal) IS my mother.

  7. I would go with the front garden (Brit!) being between road and house – and therefore a complete irrelevancy with a drive that long. You could use the drive circle as a proxy … which is what you are doing, I suppose. My living room window faces over the back – because that is where the views are.

    It’s a bit like the difference of opinion I have with my mum – she likes houses where the sun comes into the kitchen in the morning, because, as a housewife, that is where she works in the morning. I don’t care about that – I’m up and gone in the mornings. I like houses where the sun comes into the living room and onto a private outdoor seating area in the evening – so I get to enjoy some of it when I get home. It is surprising how few would suit both of us!

  8. Entering the kitchen makes this a more difficult decision as well as where the house sits on your property relative to the street. As much as l love your mother (from reading y’alls book), I’m going to vote with you on this one.

    Our house is built on the side of ridge and we run into the same back/front of the house issues.

  9. I’d consider the drive side the front yard too. I wanted to say, though, that not all Mom’s are so supportive. Pretty much, except for the emails with links to posts I’m positive she’d be interested in, my Mom doesn’t read mine. At least, the times I haven’t sent links & have asked about certain posts, the answer has always been no, so pretty safe assumption. She gardens, loves birds & flowers– often what I’m writing about. My Mom shows me her love in other ways, but supportive of my blog… uh, no. So, you may want to call it small stuff and be happy she supports you. My partner & I had a similar argument, with him calling the drive side the front. The house has a shed roof, & I consider the high side the front, which is one of the long walls. The drive side is one of the short walls. Heck, I designed the house 5 yrs before he & I met, & had built 2/3 of it by then, so I’m sticking to my guns!

  10. From:, to confuse the issue even more…

    The front door plays a very special role in feng shui. Often described as the “mouth of chi,” the front door, is the entryway for energy into your home. Many people never use the actual front door, though, so they often ask if this affects their feng shui. The answer is yes. That’s because the front door is usually at the center of the home and faces the road — a symbol of water — which equates to wealth.

    A key feature of this door is that it normally is designed to face the view of a road, street, or other feature, such as a lake. Sometimes a house has a tremendous view of a valley or view of the city or lake at the back of the house.

    In that case, the “facing direction” of a house is where the most “yang” energy exists. In these cases, it would be at the rear of the house because of these terrific views. Architecturally, some houses are very small at the front and large and expansive at the rear. This would make the “front” wherever the large, open, and expansive side or view is.

    Again, this is uncommon, but it does affect what is considered the front or facing direction. So, look at your house to determine the most “yang side” when you are trying to determine where the front door is on your house. (For more information, see the Red Lotus Letter issue on Determining Your Facing Direction.)

    Use the door intended by the architect

    More common, is the broad expanse and open front of a house that is positioned facing the street. The door also normally faces the street. This is the most typical situation and it remains the standard arrangement for most houses — and it’s the door intended as the front door by the architect. It is also the place where a delivery person will go if they’ve never been to your house. Now that we have that established, let’s talk about why the “real” front door is so important.

    The front door to the house is the doorway of energy. Because it faces the street (a conduit for water), this is an opportunity for wealth energy to enter the house. Therefore, every time you enter your home through this door, you will be activating the entryway and creating an opportunity for wealth to enter your house.

    The front door is also a location of opportunity…and we all know that opportunities often bring greater wealth (raises, increased salaries, windfalls) with them. Also, a house that never has the front door opened is a house that’s low in energy — and that impacts wealth. Because the street is usually in front of the house (which means “water” is at the front), opening the door allows water energy to enter in the front of the house — the ideal location for water in feng shui.

  11. I would have to say that the front yard is between the street and the house. Using the living room and kitchen to determine front and back does’t work for every house. My living room and kitchen both look over the front of our propery, our dining room looks over the back. I don’t see how either one of you will “win” the arguement here, though it is your house, so call the yards what you will. At least until you mother visits.

  12. AlwaysLearning says:

    Who says you have to have a front and back yard; why not consider the whole thing your garden?

  13. Cape Cod Rose says:

    If you consider that BOTH doors leading out of the house are actually on the SIDE of your house and not to the front or back of your lot, then the whole “door” theory is right out the window. Either one of you could be right since the doors are 90 degrees to the front or back in either direction.
    I, however, agree with your mother in thinking that the front is the pond side.
    Besides, you use the water side to sit and relax and watch the boats go by just as others would sip tea on the front stoop chatting about the neighbors. Your out door shower is spitting distance to the new strawberry beds laying so neatly in your BACK yard, how could you possibly have an out door shower on the front of your house? I know, you’re going to say that that is where the plumbing was……

  14. The front yard is always the portion of property between the house and the street or road, even if your front door faces the pond. Man, you have a big front yard!

  15. Well, isn’t this a can of worms? For Laurie, it’s the high side (and I most certainly do appreciate my mother’s support). For Katie, it’s the Yang. For AlwaysLearning, it’s a moot point. For most, though, it seems like the space between the house and the street. Although some of you (a vocal minority, Cape Cod Rose) agree with my mother, I haven’t heard anyone second her definition — that the front is where the living room is and the back is where the kitchen is.

  16. I just found your blog and am really enjoying it!! I must say I LOL when you revealed that the first response to the post was from your mom! I’m afraid I’m with the majority, I’ve lived in houses where the livingroom window looked out on a 3 foot strip of sideyard, or the fenced in backyard, neither which could have been called a front yard by any stretch of the imagination.

  17. I’ve never, ever heard of the living room window defining what you call the space outside – quite bizarre. By your mother’s definition my back garden is really my front garden .. and heaven knows what she would call the front garden (by my front door and with the guest bedroom looking out over it). I have to agree with all the people above who call the area between the road and the house the front garden / yard. It’s the entrance to the property and is, therefore, the ‘front’ of that particular property regardless of how the house is configured.

    Of course, I’m British … so, what do I know!!??!!

  18. The front garden – a yard is paved, I’m a brit 😉 – is where your property meets the street (or in your case the access road).

    My Godmothers living room faces the same way as the kitchen. That would presumably completely flummox Beachnitpicker, just to add another variable it is also upstairs :).

  19. Hi T,

    What fun reading all the responses to this blog!! As a friend and present Cape Codder, I suggest you do as you please with whatever yard you have. You live quite removed from nosy neighbors and have minimal sunshiny areas. So use the space that you have to the best advantage. No offense to your Mom or others.

    As to feng shui…my poor little abode is schmucked!! I really don’t have a front door. Our downstairs slider is inoperable in winter due to the greenhouse; folks rarely use the back door; the only way to really enter is through the garage which leads to the bedrooms!!! Yikes…energy? wealth? Right!!!

  20. Tracy — Welcome! Glad to have you.

    Fiona — I happen to think that the Brits are the source of much wisdom, and some of the best television.

    Sarah — When it comes right down to it, the front yard has to be a judgment call. There are too many confounding variables.

    Jane — You’re right that the only thing that matters is what you do with a space. What you call it doesn’t really matter.

  21. This is certainly something I've not encountered before. I will have to give it some thought. But for now? I'm hella entertained! Well done.

  22. It's a bit late to reenter this controversy, but I'd like to report that my friend Gail (who has been in your house) agrees with me that it fronts on the pond. While I don't believe my opinion deserves special consideration because I'm your mom, I do think that having actually been in your living room, which feels to me like the front of the house, and kitchen, which feels like the back, confers at least a bit of authority. But perhaps I react this way because the livingroom was always called the "frontroom" when I was growing up. We can't escape our roots.

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