by Amy Stross
Front Yard Overview
We lamented for several years about how our suburban, working class, 1950s ranch house, neighborhood, and community were not ready for progressive edible landscaping and permaculture practices, and how we would be known as outcasts if we gave it a try. We actually searched high and low in city and rural areas for the perfect homestead to move to, where the "grass would be greener," so they say. But nothing seemed to fit or came easily, and we finally decided that we were going to have to be who we were, right where we were, and face judgement from the neighbors. Our tenth of an acre was going to become a fully functional mini homestead, complete with front yard edible permaculture gardens, since most of our full sun exposure is in the front yard.
In 2010 we tore out the yew bushes lining the front of the house and replaced them with red and black currant bushes and black raspberries.
In 2011 we got more daring. We broke ground on Phase One of our rainwater catchment system. We disconnected the gutter, added a rain chain, and dug a trench to carry the water over to a rain garden that would slowly filter down and gravity-water the rest of the yard/gardens. A berm lining the downside of the trench became the "asparagus berm". Through this process of digging up the front yard, lots of garden beds were added, including a strawberry patch and 3 dwarf cherry trees lining the street. The perennial edibles include asparagus, black raspberries, cherries, currants, several types of mint in pots on the front porch, strawberries, and thyme. The annual vegetables included basil, beets, broccoli, cayenne peppers, edamame, pole beans, swiss chard, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes in the front yard. Our edible landscaping feature of 2011 was the Year of Red: Ruby Red Chard, Cayenne Peppers, and Tomatoes.
Phase Two of the front yard system, which we hope to start this year (2012), will include disconnecting one final downspout to connect to a 350-gallon tank, and adding in at least two more annual garden beds. This year we'll have the same perennials, and as far as annual edibles go, we are growing basil, bell peppers, eggplant, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, okra, snap peas, and turnips. Our edible landscaping feature of 2012 is the Year of Purple: Purple Beauty Peppers, Rosita Eggplant, Red Russian Kale, Kohlrabi, and Burgundy Okra.
What's even more beautiful than our edible creation in a tiny front yard is, surprisingly, the deepening of relationships with our neighbors. What we were afraid would drive the neighbors away, actually drew them in. Neighbor after neighbor would stop by while walking the kids to the bus stop, walking the dog, or driving down the street to inquire about what we were doing, and share their advice or favorite memory about growing/eating food from the garden. We had to keep a written list of all of our new acquaintances' names so we wouldn't forget them all!
It wasn't all roses from the start, though. Our neighbors K and R warned, 'You put tomatoes in the front yard and the neighborhood kids will steal them all!' To which we replied, 'Good!' Later in the season, they brought bags of peppers over to trade.
D, the widower down the street grumbled, 'Don't you have a BACK yard?' But as he saw how beautiful and prolific our heirloom tomatoes were, he frequently stopped to chat about the garden, and even said, 'You should set up a vegetable stand on your driveway - I would buy your produce!'
E and B introduced themselves while walking the dog one day. They are Boy Scout Masters in the area and were excited to see our project, ask gardening questions, and inquiring about badge projects for the kids. They showed up later in the season to trade cucumbers for tomatoes.
A strawberry harvest helped us patch a relationship with M and M down the street - a misunderstanding from years before that had led to silence between our households.
J and K, two separate backyard neighbors who both retired early on disability from the carpentry and steel trades respectively, frequently gossiped with each other from their decks about other neighbors' inability to keep a pristine lawn. They kept their distance from us until their curiosity got the best of them and they came over for a mid-summer tour of the front yard garden. They were so impressed that J offered up a portion of his back yard for us to add more edible gardens.
One neighborhood boy who makes money cutting lawns, inquired about adding his lawn clippings to our compost pile, and now many of the neighbors bring us their yard waste instead of sending it to the landfill.
We had gardened for years in the backyard, but the front yard is where minds are changed and community is built.
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