From Grass to Garden
by Toni Sicola
(Alameda, CA, USA)
the grass when we first moved in
When we moved into our first home in November of 2012, I knew that my gardening adventures were about to begin. Gone were the days of killing basil in the kitchen windowsill! I was going to seize the day and turn the tiny space I could call my own into a fully edible property. After all, I was in California, one of the most hospitable places for home gardens. The following spring, I started in the back, building my very first planter box all by myself and filling it with delicious edibles while my husband was away one weekend. My initiative inspired him to design another more complicated box, and by the time we were finished in the back of the house, we'd resolved to transform the front as well. We just had to wait until the next year when we had more money to spend, a new growing season, and a solid design.
Fast forward to spring of this year, and the project began. We started by tilling the front yard, which at this point was mostly comprised of dead grass. We'd stopped watering hoping that might make it easier to get rid of. It wasn't all that easy to be honest.
As for the design, we knew we wanted to have mostly dryscaping to conserve water, but we weren't sure how it would look to do dryscaped food gardening instead of using desert plants. We ended up walking through our neighborhood and driving around taking pictures of other people's gardens for inspiration. After a pretty thorough survey of Alameda, Castro Valley, and parts of Oakland and seeing virtually nothing that quite accomplished what we were going for, we decided to just do it. We followed through on planting mostly food in a desert setting and hoped for the best. I bought all the supplies (flagstone, pea gravel, Mexican river rock, mulch, and dirt), and my husband came up with a design that worked for our front yard area, which gets morning sun and partial shade for most of the day.
We planted sugar pie pumpkins, carrots, leeks, and lemon thyme in the sunniest section of the yard, a fig tree surrounded by basil, cilantro, and flowers in the back corner; grey and yellow zucchini, sugar snap peas, japanese eggplant, jalapeno, and sweet heirloom peppers in the next bed over; and fennel, spinach, cucumber, scallions, garlic chives, yellow bell peppers, borage, and pineapple sage in the front bed. We also planted a number of bee-friendly flowers in each bed.
What we ended up with was unique to us, because we were able to mix in a number of our favorite elements from other people's dryscaped yards but do it with almost 100% food! The non-food plants in this garden were added for color and to attract more bees, which worked out quite well considering we now have 15 pumpkins ripening out there right now.
I'm really proud of this project, which took us about 3 full weekends plus extra time on weekdays after work to complete. Working so often in the front of the house brought the neighbors out of the woodwork to walk by and let us know what a great job we were doing. It has been fun to talk with folks interested in creating front yard gardens of their own and sharing what I've learned through this experience. I'm looking forward to seeing how the garden grows and morphs as the seasons change and we replace old plants with new ones.
Right now, we're enjoying the yellow and grey zucchini shredded into "veggie spaghetti;" the giant cucumbers for Greek salad and Japanese sunomono; the squash blossoms for an amazing gluten-free vegan finger food; the basil for pesto and caprese; the fennel, spinach, scallions, and pineapple sage in a delicious lentil soup, and the cilantro for taco night using collard greens from the back yard as taco shells. (Don't get me started on the food we eat from the back!) I have posted both the "veggie spaghetti" and the squash blossom recipes on my blog at www.cultivatedwellbeing.com.
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