Fern Alder is proof positive that it takes just one person in their street to get everyone to clean up and green up their act — notably, their front gardens.
Watering her plants one afternoon outside her terrace house in Rochester, Kent, garden designer Alder looked down her road and thought, Wouldn't it be wonderful if every house had a front garden full of plants instead of rubbish?
'There are so many benefits that reach beyond improving the value of your property. As you fill your garden with plants, there's less room for rubbish'
So she scribbled an invitation, stuck copies through all her neighbours' letter boxes, and the next Sunday afternoon, fuelled by tea, cakes and Alder's enthusiasm, as well as £500 start-up from two local ward councillors, the Full Frontal community project was born.
Now, three years later, every house in Alder's terrace street has a flowering front garden that has collectively won the RHS It's Your Neighbourhood award, while the initiative has spread to 12 neighbouring streets, the high street, a primary school and community centre.
Wasteground is overrun with wild flowers instead of litter, and a former dumping ground for has-been furniture is now a bee and butterfly haven, courtesy of 20 diverse buddleias donated by the Natural History Museum, where Alder designed a butterfly garden.
"Full Frontal is spreading through Medway, Faversham and Maidstone," says Alder. "Last week somebody came down from Newcastle to ask me about starting up there, and people are joining down in Dorset. There are so many benefits that reach beyond improving the value of your property.
Planting up your street makes a connecting green corridor between larger green spaces: it's well-documented that butterflies won't fly across a large concrete area. The house martins, swallows and swifts that were here years ago disappeared, but now they're starting to come back.
As you fill your garden with plants, there's less room for rubbish, and we've found that last night's kebab wrappers are no longer thrown over the garden wall. And we've solved the dilemma of how to hide the council bins: we've moved them all into one corner so now we've got more room in our gardens for plants."
'Everything grows from seed, so it's cheap, and so many edibles look good when they flower, like carrots and leeks'
Once you spread the word, local companies are remarkably helpful, says Alder. The Co-op Community Fund, set up to support community projects, has been a constant source of funds; a local go-karting venue has donated old tyres which serve as water-retentive containers; Suttons have supplied seeds and Southern Water has handed out water butts.
"A lot of the money goes on compost, as well as bulbs that I buy wholesale from Gee Tee Bulbs; we all decide which bulbs we want to grow so there is a visual thread down the street," says Alder. "We've had scarlet crocosmia, alliums, ixias and white hyacinth."
Bulbs aside, each garden has its own personality. "I'm a garden designer but I have to sit on my hands and not tell people what to do because they need a sense of ownership. I just point out the value of having an evergreen base, and I'm on hand to give advice if anybody wants it."
This year, however, Alder plans a foodie theme for Full Frontal. "Everything grows from seed, so it's cheap, and so many edibles look good when they flower, like carrots and leeks. One of us is growing beans for everybody so that come May, when we're on show as part of the Chelsea Fringe, we'll all have runners beans growing around our front doors."
Alder's initial idea was all about plants, but a couple of months in, she realised it had become a whole lot more. "When everybody was outside, working in their gardens, swapping plants and sowing seeds, it became about people, too: neighbours becoming friends in the community. It's magical that plants have the ability to bring people together."
* To find out how to get growing in your street, visit fullfrontal.org.uk.
Photographs by Sarah Cuttle/RHS