Front gardens: if you’re lucky enough to have one, you’ll know just how important they became during lockdown as a way to stay connected to friends and family, albeit at 2 metres apart in your one venture out that day. If you don’t have one, hopefully you got to temporarily make yourself at home in someone else’s.

Although the front garden hang out has largely fallen off the agenda for now (long may we be out of full on lockdown), such spaces continue to play an important role in establishing and maintaining community. Places where we may stop and linger between front door and garden gate; chat to a neighbour while putting the bins out; express ourselves through garden design or decor; or enjoy the view while off to work, wheeling a buggy around or on the school run.

They’re also great spaces for getting ideas for your own garden, backyard, balcony or patch – plants and flowers that suit the local soil and suburban environment, for instance, or that reflect the seasons, thrive in various aspects  (the North-facing gardens of Capel Road, for example) or illustrate how to re-wild paved over driveways.

If you’re reading this while supping on a cuppa in Tracks then chances are you’ve just walked past a fair few of these Forest Gate gems. It’s an area that’s lucky to have back-to-back streets full of them, helping to create a green corridor between West Ham Park and Wanstead Flats and pocket parks such as the Forest Gate Community Garden on Earlham Grove.

If you’re in the habit of doing a daily round, you might also have noticed that some plants appear to have established themselves as firm front garden favourites from small trees and shrubs to flowers, grasses, bulbs, container plants, herbs and fruits – hydrangeas, roses, foxgloves and Michaelmas daisies, you have been noted.

Which is where this offering for The Forest comes in, providing a regular ‘The Front Line’ edit of potentially perfect plant specimens for your Forest Gate garden: what to look out for, why they thrive here and how to use them to green up your abode. As a small taster, here’s a few old familiars to look out for this week although be warned: once you start peering into people’s front gardens, it can be hard to stop…

Mimosa (Acacia dealbata)

Some people rail against the colour yellow in their gardens. For me it’s the perfect pick-me-up on grey winter days or when the rest of the garden is still in hibernation state. The sunshine yellow-flowering mimosa  (Acacia dealbata) is the ultimate head–turner at this time of year if you have room for a small shrub/tree, growing up to 10m where conditions allow (south or west facing is best). This beauty is also evergreen and smells wonderful – look out for a stunner on Godwin Road just coming into bloom. For borders or pots, it’s time for daffodils to have their day from large trumpet heads to dwarf Narcissus ‘Tête-á-tête’.


Take advantage of perennial die down to focus on the evergreens that keep some lush colour going through the winter months. Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) is not one of my favourite plants (I’m forever trying to work out how to re-wild our front hedge) but it does create structure and if left unclipped can produce masses of delicate white flower for butterflies and bees. The Woodgrange estate and Sebert Road have a few larger specimens also much loved by visiting sparrows, flocks of which make it sound like the bushes are singing. The winter-flowering Clematis armandii at the bottom of Balmoral Bridge is another favourite.

Sonya Patel Ellis is a writer, editor and artist exploring the interconnectedness of nature. Author of Collins Botanical Bible (Harper Collins, 2018), The Heritage Herbal (The British Library, 2020), Collins Garden Birdwatchers Bible (Harper Collins, 2020) and the forthcoming The Modern Gardener (Harper Collins, March 2022) she is often to be found roaming around nearby Wanstead Flats or in her garden for botanical inspiration. See for more details plus signed books and botanically inspired prints. Writing for wellbeing workshops coming soon.

Photography © Sonya Patel Ellis