Last spring, I decided to grow some of my own food. Without any raised beds (since rectified thanks to Mr. Green Bean) and a yard that was mostly lawn, I did what I could. I hesitantly tucked a couple tomato seedlings in amongst the lamb's ear and daisies in my backyard. In the front yard, I hid some thyme and oregano next to the Mexican sage and Penestemon. I hoped no one would notice. Thus, began my edible gardening.
A few friends were surprised that I would grow vegetables in with my flowers. However, as summer padded in, my tomato seedlings stretched beyond their cages and dangled their cherry red fruit over the dahlias and foxgloves. There was something romantic and old fashioned about them. By the time I harvested the last tomato in November, even doubting friends pronounced a tomato tucked amongst ornamentals wonderful and many swore they'd try the same thing next year.
Yesterday, waist deep in squash leaves, hair in my eyes, I pried the crabgrass out of the dirt where it was crowding the climbing Scarlet runner beans. "What have you got in here?" my neighbor from across the street asked, peering down into ever expanding green. I eased apart leaves to show off my baby banana squash, my preemie Potimarron. I clambered over the vines to point out my peppers and frown over the baby apple tree still recovering from a deer's feasting. I waved into the butterfly garden to explain that there were peas, lemon cucumbers and tomatoes lurking amongst the Cosmos and yarrow. Lastly, my kids bounded over to explain how big our sunflower forest had gotten. They ran between the scaling stalks and stood next to the biggest plant so that our neighbor could understand just how tall the sunflowers really were. "Taller than me!" my three year old announced.
A year ago, I would have been far too shy to plant vegetables in my front yard. Even last spring, when asked what I was growing, I gave vague answers such as "flowering vines, some plants." I couldn't quite spit out "pumpkins" or "beans."
A year ago, too, my neighbor might have responded differently than he did today. "What a great idea!" he marveled. "We should do that next year." In a way, I didn't expect his response. My neighborhood is very traditional - a grass and roses kind of place. But I shouldn't have been surprised. A different neighbor stopped me last week to thank me for "bringing up the neighborhood." She said that she had seen on the news how front yard feasting is very fashionable now.
She's right. Everywhere you turn, people are talking about edible landscaping, Victory Gardens, growing their own. The food revolution is here and it's exciting . . . and a bit scary to be the first in your neighborhood to replace lawn with lettuce. Here are some baby and not so baby steps for going from bashful to bodacious:
1) Plant some innocuous (e.g., not obviously edible) plants in flower beds. People won't blink at a a few of the following:
- blueberry bushes
- Swiss chard (Bright Lights looks pretty)
- pole beans that climb up an attractive structure
3) Put some lettuce or herbs in your window box - with or without flowers.
4) If you are up for a bigger step, remove a patch of lawn. Doing it in the fall allows sheet mulch and cover crop to improve the soil over fall and winter. We did this with our sidewalk strip last October and, although some of the newspaper and cardboard from the sheet mulch has not completely degraded, the soil underneath is loamy and rich.
5) Plan to replace lawn with flowers instead of edibles. For some reason, people find it more acceptable to grow flowers than vegetables in your front yard. As a result, it doesn't feel like a big step. A flower garden - especially one that features native plants - uses less water than lawn, requires less upkeep and will increase the biodiversity of your yard. My "butterfly garden" was mostly planted from seed (replanted successively through out the year) so it was cheap, mostly plastic-less and has a natural, lush look to it. Better yet, a brimming flower garden is the perfect place to tuck in peas, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers. With the swaying strands of Cosmos, Queen Ann's Lace, Mexican sunflowers and lavender, no one notices a stray vegetable here or there.Doing any these things will embolden you.
You will revel in the ability to run out front to grab some thyme for your pumpkin soup, to scoop up a few tomatoes for your salad, snip a couple snap peas for stir fry or harvest some baseball sized potatoes.
You will get to know your neighbors, if for no other reason than you'll be out front. As your garden grows, so will interest in it and discussion about it. Someone might even join you next year. While there is always someone crotchety who might complain, I find the more I connect with my neighbors, the less likely they are to complain about anything.
You will realize that there is no reason to be bashful. That vegetables and berries are beautiful, and, heck, its your yard anyway!
Last spring, I hesitantly tucked a couple tomato seedlings in amongst the flowers in my backyard. In the front yard, I hid some thyme and oregano next to the Mexican sage and Penestemon. I hoped no one would notice.
Next spring, I won't think twice about rows of tomatoes, eggplants or peppers. About mounds of potatoes, cucumbers or pumpkins. About climbing beans and sprawling peas or even corn.
My edible garden will be both bodacious and bountiful. And my neighborhood will be better for it.