Gardening Gone Wild has a post up now for their Garden Blogger’s Design Workshop examining front yard gardens. Nancy J. Ondra writes “… the front yard can be the perfect space to let our garden-freak flag fly”. Well, that’s just screaming for us to write a bit about how we skipped the “garden-freak flag” and went right to “freak flag” with our front yard. We were not gardeners when we bought our house. In fact, “little to no yard” was very high on our list for what we were looking for in our next home — until we walked into the backyard of an open house and fell in love. Not long after moving in we decided getting fresh veggies from our local CSA was so great, growing our own veggies could only be that much greater, right? So we built a few raised beds and got all set to put them in the backyard. The only problem was we had only lived in the house for one Autumn and one Winter; the more we watched Spring come in the more we realized our backyard, with its giant shade maple was… well, shady. Not good. The front yard, on the other hand, was positively drenched in sun. Every day. All the time.
The house was the first one we’d lived in as adults that didn’t have an HOA. A friend of ours once described the beauty of not having an HOA thusly: “I can plant a tree in my front yard — upside down if I want to!” Looking at our pile of raised bed frames and our gorgeously sunny front yard we decided we’d proverbially plant that upside down tree and do something shockingly daring. We were going to put a vegetable garden in our front yard. Living in semi-rural New Jersey we’d seen plenty of vegetable gardens and micro-farms in people’s side yards. Plus our little house is tucked at the end of a dead-end, so it’s not like too many people would see it. And aren’t vegetables as pretty as flowers? What, exactly, we asked ourselves, would the problem be if we have tomatoes and garlic instead of roses and morning glories? So up came the sod, down went the beds, and in went the veggie seeds.
The more we worked on the garden in the front the more we discovered something amazing — all our fears of our neighbors hating us for sullying the street with an unconventional yard were for naught, as more and more of them dropped by while we were working to comment on how nice it was to see the sunny yard being put to good use. Since our street leads to a large wooded preserve with nature trails, we get a lot of foot traffic past the house; as the garden started growing we’d see people stop to look, some even walking into the yard to examine it more closely. How many traditional front yards draw passers-by in like that? Also, while everyone else’s yard was petering out in late summer in the dreaded NJ August, our yard looked like this:
Of course, living in Central NJ means deer and deer mean deer fencing. And deer fencing is ugly no matter what’s growing inside it. Particularly if you line the front of the yard with 12 heirloom apple and peach trees, each with its own cage of deer-repelling plastic mesh, and then enclose a 26 foot by 20 foot raised-bed garden with the same eye-sore fencing. Something had to be done. Borrowing a design from an historic house we had both adored for years, we had an intricate white fence installed around the garden proper, and had gray pea gravel laid on the paths. Suddenly our homey front yard veggie garden and dopey split-level suburban house took on the look and feel of a grand estate!
At first the fence seems impossibly tall, but the minute we stepped inside the gate and into the garden space we discovered the fence had almost magic properties. The entire rest of the world fell away. The sounds of the neighborhood grew distant, and the calls from the birds in the woods softened. And the garden itself seemed to expand hugely, until it became the largest and nicest “room” of the house. It was just impossibly peaceful, almost studious in its serenity. In short, it was the perfect space for gardening.
This is our first Spring with the new fence and paths, so we haven’t seen it surrounding a riot of pepper bushes, lush potato and tomato plants, and jaunty basils. Right now the beds are still looking pretty dormant.
Not many people opt to put vegetable gardens in their front yards, but sometimes you’ve got to let Mother Nature dictate your gardening actions. If she wants the sun in the front yard, then that’s where the veggies have got to go. There is no reason why we should let a silly thing like “what the neighbors will think” keep us from enjoying a summer harvest grown twenty feet from our front door.
We’d love to see more and more people taking this approach and growing vegetable gardens in the front, where everyone can see how beautiful a vegetable garden can be, and where everyone can share the joy of marveling over how a little seed can grow a towering cornstalk or a giant pumpkin.