Thursday, July 17, 2008

Feasting in the Front Yard

To my left, a vineyard spills off the road and up the hillside. A single hawk patrols overhead and bees burrow into the wildflowers at the vineyard's edge.

On the other side of the street, a gangly tomato bush leans over its cage to nuzzle the watermelon vine that sprints toward the sidewalk. Carrot tops and beet greens line the path to the Craftsman front door, gaily waving at passersby and the ubiquitous grape vine hangs over the fence top. Next door, a newly built French Country style home meets the street with rows of strawberry plants. Further down, a zucchini plant struggles under its weight . . . and the realization that it will soon be baked into bread.

Wine country is a bit more country than my suburban haunts. Here, as in Joyce's neighborhood, no one blinks at front yard feasting. Indeed, every lot proudly boasts at least one persimmon tree and many also host apple and plum trees. Fig trees are espaliered along the edges of homes and potatoes, eggplants and peppers greet the street.

Back in the 'burbs, I'll spy the occasional citrus tree in the front yard or an ornamental - not edible - plum. People won't look askance at an exposed sunflower but they do trot by weekly to examine my crawling pumpkin vines, over-wintered Swiss chard, slithering runner beans and dying tomato plants.

I'm not sure why we hide our fruits and vegetables. Snap peas are as beautiful as sweet peas with the added benefit that my kids can skip dinner after gorging on their offerings. The T-Rex sized pumpkin leaves are a study in greens and textures and potato plants? My friend swears they look like peonies. I rather think she's right.

I'm proud of my pumpkins and peas, my ailing cucumbers and fumbling borage. They offer depth and dimension to a street otherwise lined with manicured lawns. They also offer a chance to get to know my neighbors, to share the surprise of a potato in the flower beds, and even spread some "greenness" in an otherwise grass-filled world. Perhaps I have a little country and a little Gavin Newsom in me for I'll happily feast in my front yard any day.

* San Francisco City Hall photo from Slow Food Nation.


arduous said...

Now I miss the Bay Area. Lord, wouldn't I love an edible garden in front of LA City Hall! Or oooh! oooh! better than that, Beverly Hills City Hall! Wouldn't that be something.

Joan said...

I wrote a post about people changing their attitudes about having a lush green carpet. Yesterday my daughter and I started naturally killing an area of grass for our square foot garden. A friend was in shock we would do this to our yard.

Bobbi said...

I've been systematically getting rid of my lawn for 3 years now. I have a one acre yard, so I'm having to take it in steps. But my neighbors look at me like I've sprouted 3 heads instead of a sustainable garden!

Joyce said...

I know a LOT of people who tuck herbs into their frontyard flower beds. That's a great way to start, if you don't want to get rid of too much of the traditional look. For us, we're just gradually expanding the flower beds
and adding plants that are enjoyed by birds and butterflies. So, while the focus isn't on vegetables, it is on biodiversity.

Green Bean said...

Arduous: Yeah, right now is one of those times that I'm proud to live in the Bay Area. I'm going to SF this weekend for BlogHer and hope to squeeze in a visit to City Hall's victory garden.

Joan: Good post. We might as well have our yards be useful - provide food for us and a habitat for animals. I can't wait to read about your square foot garden - which just may change your friends opinion once it starts yielding deliciousness.

Bobbi: I have a tiny lot and even I have to do it in steps. Hopefully more and more people will be doing this, rendering it less shocking.

Joyce: Great point. I started with herbs in my flower beds - to this day, no one notices them. Also, greens like Swiss Chard and lettuce can be tucked in pretty easily as can peas which do look like sweet peas.

eco 'burban mom said...

I have many neighbors who PRIZE their grassy expanse of lawn. Seriously, don't let your dog pee on it or let a little bitty edge of your car tire park or drive on it - you will get a nasty note on your windshield.

So when I stuck green peppers and chile peppers into my landscaping beds eyes rolled. As I dig up grass for wildflowers beds and willy nilly stick things in with - with out buying plastic edging, my neighbors ask when I am going to "finish it". When we refuse to treat our grass for the clover and weeds, my neighbors complain that it's running into their lawns and causing it to spread. Then, come August when the remaining grass becomes brown and dormant in the heat, my neighbors will offer to loan me a sprinkler. No thanks! I'm all good! :o)

Theresa said...

This year I planted kale, leaf beats and chard in the planters at the top of my driveway - they look as nice as any of the purely ornamental plantings I've had in them in years passed, with the bonus that I get to pick my own salad!

Lori in webster groves said...

This is the first year of veggie gardening at our house, and based on the so-so results of our backyard garden, we'll be adding herbs and veggies to our sunnier front yard next year. Our neighborhood is a bit conservative, but I'm thinking purple pod beans, asparagus, nasturtiums, peppers and tomatoes will all be shifted to the front. Add in a few additional flowering growies around the edges, and it should all be pretty enough to appease the neighbors. Thanks for the great examples.

Wild Orchids for Trotsky said...

Great post - a good point well said! In our apartment we have windowboxes with basil and green chilies in them, growing nicely. And a hanging strawberry plant and a potted bell pepper. I would love to have a whole yard to plant veggies in!

Melissa said...

I don't have a yard, just a balcony, but I love the dwarf lemon tree I have - the flowers are the best smelling ever! And I was looking up at the balcony from the street the other day and realized I had flowers on my dill and they're just like any other flowers. I love when I see non-lawns at people's houses. It actually looks much more normal to me!

julie said...

I'm original from the chicagoland area and I've been in Sonoma county now for 11 years (wow- amazing to me since it was a bit of a whim when we packed up our cars after graduating college and headed out west) Anyways, since being out here we've never had a lawn. When we bought our house in Sonoma it had a good start with some planting beds but we've totally redone everything and we're trying to get as many edible plants as possible in our 7000 sq.ft. yard with 3 oak trees (those make it a bit more difficult b/c of the shade). But it was funny to hear the comments from our relatives in the midwest- they are floored with the idea of not having a lawn and also growing veggies in your front yard! It kills them. I think it's hysterical that they are so appauled by it. Veggies are so beautiful, why wouldn't you have them out on display for everyone to see?!

Robj98168 said...

Love this post, My fornt yard is home to a chinese golden plum, which I have been waiting to ripen soon I hope;carrots, peas, chard, cucumbers, pumpkins, huckleberry bushed, an elderberry bush, various herbs, and a tomato plant
The backyard has more tomatoes, peppers, more herbs, some strawberries and other edible goodies. I like having a garden in the front yard. It's different!

Melinda said...

Wahoo! Great post. And an interesting distinction - it's totally true: in wine country, nobody we knew would have thought twice about putting food in the front yard. Maybe that is because they're living in place surrounded by agriculture, so it's normal to see food plants.

I am so excited by the City Hall project - I read about it a while ago, and would have loved to see it!

And yay, Lori, for planting in the front yard next year! I've been working on my mother - she lives in a fairly front-yard-conservative neighborhood. But ha - we've planted scarlet runner beans right on the porch, to vine their way around the front columns. I'm so excited!

I would imagine that it just takes one person, like you GB, to open the eyes of the block. I would bet that there will be more vegetables making their way into front yards next year.

Green Bean said...

EcoBurbs: Your neighbors must love you! ;-) Next year, though, as food prices climb, they may be asking you for advice.

Theresa: That sounds lovely. Honestly, I think so many vegetables and berry bushes are beautiful. I bet no one even noticed. Just thought "how pretty."

Lori: How awesome! I do think you can easily tuck things in without anyone realizing. I did that last year and have gotten a bit more brazen with tomato cages in front now. I think I've broken my neighbors in. Happy planting.

Wild Orchids: A hanging strawberry basket - I've seen photos of those. They are so beautiful and the added benefit of no slugs eating your precious berries.

Melissa: I agree. It does look more normal. Lawns and a few neatly pruned roses is so pleasantville.

Julie: How great. It seems such a waste, doesn't it, to plug up the land with have with grass that does nothing but, well, lay there. Your yard sounds wonderful - despite your neighbor's opinions.

Joyce: I know you didn't comment again but I forgot to comment on how important I think it is to build biodiversity as well. I loves my bee/butterfly garden as much as my edible gardens - and the former is a lot less work. I love watching the array of different insects and birds that now visit my yard because of that garden.

Rob: You are right. It is different and, as far as mine concerned, different is interesting! I love to hear what you're growing in your yard.

Melinda: Isn't it interesting how even the fanciest homes in wine country boast a bunch of veggies out front? I do hope that more people will plant edibles and also flowering plants where their lawns were next year. Even if just one person on my block did it, it would be wonderful!

Woman with a Hatchet said...

I get a kick out of planting a huge variety of flowering plants in my front yard but discovered a new benefit during this year's remodel: ground dwelling bees. Have a look here.

My laziness in getting mulch spread left a huge window of opportunity for them to set up shop. I had no idea what those cones of sand were from until I watched a bee fly in. I knew I had a large native pollinator population for my xeric garden, but never knew where they lived.

So even if you're not growing food in the front yard, a wide variety of plants for pollinators and some bare ground will entice all manner of critters to come and stay. And then those pollinators will be ready to help with your tomatoes, zukes and cukes!

Stephanie said...

Wow-I wish I knew about that sooner; I might have tried to volunteer. Well, they probably only want SF residents volunteering anyway. (I'm in the East Bay.) I WILL try to go see that before school starts again though. It sounds amazing. (And I miss nice looking tomato plants. Ours haven't been doing well the past few years.)

I read your reply to your last post about the flower garden and how they do well even in heat waves, and I'm impressed. If we had a lawn, I'd have to pester them to look into some of that instead. ;)

Green Bean said...

Hatchet: I am so jealous of your bees!! And yes! You don't have to grow food in the front yard. You can grow flowers, let the weeds go. Anything is more eco-friendly than a lawn.

Stephanie: I thought about volunteering but apparently I was too slow! I logged back in and it was done already. I'm not sure if it was SF residents or not. I'm on the Peninsula. In any event, I plan to go check it out in person at some point. As to the flowers, I didn't realize you were local so you remember how hot it was a week or two ago. The flowers were the only thing in my yard not wilted or fried AND they are still crawling with bees and ladybugs.


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