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Simply MJ 

by Mary Jane Butters

See You on the Front Porch -- When the next thunderstorm rolls in, take a break and watch it from your front porch. Gather together some neighbors, grab a kid or two, and let the summer evening work its magic on you. Leave the TV inside and let the show begin -- outside. Protected by the roof, you can smell the rain and count the seconds between lightning and claps of thunder. Having a front porch "sit" used to be a form of entertainment. It's still cheap fun and well worth the effort. Bring out a card table and roll some dice. When the rain stops, take a stroll together around the block. If you find others enjoying their porches, take a minute to visit.

Rambling from house to house is a good way to experience being a good neighbor, not to mention picking up some decorating ideas along the way. Most people put a lot of effort into caring for older homes and celebrating their place in the community. Older homes usually have front porches. The addition of a front porch not only adds beauty to a home, but is a way of saying, "Yes, I want to participate as a neighbor." Hanging baskets, pots of flowers decorating the steps, a few chairs for visitors and even a small table for an occasional meal "out" suggest a sense of place and grace.

If you live in an apartment complex, making it unlikely that you can design your own front porch, think of other ways to spend time out front. Speak with your landlord about the possibility of planting some flowerbeds to gussy up the landscape, and talk with other apartment-dwellers about getting together to build or purchase a bench. Even complexes with historically poor reputations will cause passersby to take an interest in what's going on. Did someone new purchase the building? Is it a new landlord? No, somebody living there decided to take it upon themselves to plant some flowers and figure out a place to sit. Perhaps a local garden club would be interested in helping out, particularly if they could install a plaque recognizing their efforts.

Now if you live in a newer suburb, where the developer's idea of a front porch was to stick a two- or three-car garage in the front of the house, you have a challenge, but the possibility of creating a neighbor-friendly front porch still exists. It may be that a large beautiful deck already enhances the backyard, overlooking plenty of trees, shrubs and gardens, but the front of the house seems lacking somehow.

Invite some friends over, take your chairs off the deck in the back and take a seat in your front yard. Offer up some food and a cool drink before you start brainstorming.

It may be as simple as extending your front steps and adding a wooden porch onto the front of the house. Perhaps a more natural patio in among the shrubs would suffice. Move your chairs to a location and try it out. Is there enough shade to keep you protected? Are there perennials planted nearby that scent the air? A sitting area surrounded by lavender may be appealing, or even a nibbling garden, including plants like chives. Perhaps you'd rather build a small rock wall curving around the front of the house, overflowing with annuals so that each year it's different. How about a swinging loveseat with an awning? Whatever you decide, your daily life is more likely to include other people if you spend time on your front porch rather than hidden away inside your home.

If you already have a front porch, but it's used mostly for storage (snow boots, shovels, firewood, recycling, etc.), then start cleaning. Simplify, organize, sort and move all the stuff that doesn't need to be there. You won't believe how good it feels, first to sweep, then to hose it down, getting rid of the dust from past seasons and making room for a front porch with style. Soon, you'll find yourself filling a vase with flowers, adjusting the placement of your favorite chair, and, at long last, parking yourself for a sit--front porch style.

Publication date: 06/12/03

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