Charles Village, Baltimore

by Gretchen Walkup
(Baltimore MD USA)

The 1st of March, 2012

The 1st of March, 2012

The 1st of March, 2012
The 10th of June, 2012
The 17th of June, 2012
The 28th of June, 2012

My front yard garden is in Baltimore, a city where many residents lack adequate access to healthy, affordable food. There are many food deserts and neighbourhoods where corner convenience stores serve as grocery stores. The city has made positive steps—in policy and practice—to alleviate these problems by supporting urban farming, edible landscaping, and other ecological practices—such as using rain barrels and planting more trees—to improve the quality of people’s lives and the visual aesthetics of the city. These efforts also improve the quality of air and water in the city.

Even though I live in a relatively safe, educated, and affluent neighbourhood on the fringes of Johns Hopkins University, there’s still work to do here improving people’s land use and control of rainwater run off. There’s a lot of pavement and too many tiny grass lawns. There’s also a lot of beautiful traditionally landscaped front yards that are water efficient and that provide strategic privacy and shade, as well as habitat for birds and bugs. My mission is to raise food in the front yard—visibly, not coyly. I want to have fun doing it and I want to inspire my neighbours to do the same. I have a back deck I’d like to “gardenize” eventually. I have a flat roof and I know I can use that, too. I’m thinking beehives and urban honey!

I like gardening. I like cooking. I’m an artist. I want to eat locally and sustainably and support small, local businesses. I also want to be self sufficient to some extent, so I have a garden. These photos show the evolution and growth of my front garden from early March to late June this year. It’s the first year I’ve worked this little patch of earth and the first time I’ve tried serious gardening in a climate this warm. I’m excited about what I can grow and how long the growing season is. Of course, I want to grow much more than I can fit into my garden. This year, and a few more in the future, is a complete experiment to see if I can pull off square-inch gardening. My plan is to add more perennials gradually and rely less on annuals, although they will always be interesting and useful additions. I’d like a red currant bush, some rhubarb, and maybe asparagus. I recently learned that if I can successfully overwinter my artichokes, they can be expected to produce for up to five years!

The earliest photo here, from March 1st, shows the full extent of my tiny plot—from the sidewalk back to the house is about 15 feet, which includes a walkway about two feet wide and a narrow bed right up against the house, also about two feet wide. The front bed has a footprint of about 11 feet by 11 feet, but the raised bed in this space has curved walls and there are stepping stones into the garden. Both reduce the surface area available for planting. In March, we had lots of spring garlic (seen at the back of the bed next to the walkway) and a few not-yet-blooming volunteer daffodils and tulips, leftover from the previous gardener’s unloved, overgrown mess. In April and May we also had spinach, beets, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, and some miserable sugar snap peas.

By early June, things have become considerably more lush and it’s getting too hot for cool season plants. In the front center of this photo, which was taken June 10th, our “fig twig” is surrounded by green and purple sages, pineapple sage, and lemon verbena. Also visible are nasturtiums, purple eggplant, artichokes, dill, red okra, our blueberry bush, and a volunteer tiger lily, also leftover from the previous gardener.

In the middle of the month, in a photo taken the 17th of June, the lacinato kale has become a dominant force and a nice contrast with the nasturtiums, beans, purple eggplants, marigolds, artichokes, and a thriving mystery plant (planted from seed and, I think, Turkish Egg Orange Eggplant—it’s blooming now and we’ll see what fruit it produces shortly).

By the end of the month, in a photo taken the 28th of June, things have become quite lush if not gravid. We’ve had three heat waves with several days each of 100-plus temperatures. We’re short on rain. The nasturtiums are not happy, but the fig twig is putting up new wood, the sages are going crazy, and I’ve harvested a few small artichokes and some red and green okra. We have plenty of lacinato kale and the winter squash I planted at the back of the garden under the blueberry bush has crept all the way to the front sidewalk. It might just overtake the entire garden! Also tucked in here: chard, several kinds of heirloom tomatoes and sweet peppers, tomatillos, green and yellow wax beans, speckled lima beans, zucchini and yellow summer squash, blackberries, chives and garlic chives, thyme, oregano, lavender, Thai and Italian basils, dill, rosemary, summer savoury, a green fleshed melon and an orange fleshed melon, yellow and green cucumbers, some heat tolerant lettuces, and non edibles—the previously mentioned tiger lily, some cosmos, and an “exotic” (variegated) geranium. I love going out to the garden in the late afternoon and “shopping” for supper. Soon we’ll be into the season of steady harvesting over the summer months and I’m thinking about what to plant in a few weeks for my fall and winter garden. I want to keep this going through as much of the winter as possible!

Do you like this front yard? Tell us why!

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Comments for Charles Village, Baltimore

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Jul 01, 2012
Color Kale-ibrated
by: Anonymous

That kale just jumps out at me. Great work and lovely colors. It's wonderful to see something so lush so close to JHU!

Jul 01, 2012
A concise garden
by: Chas Holley

This is a 'Kind of Blue' garden; everything is there for a reason. It reflects both the gardeners' practical horticultural needs and personality.

Jul 01, 2012
by: Anonymous

I always thought my small front yard was too small to bother with other than letting the grass grow. Now I have ideas for changing it out and getting a garden that actually contributes to my family's well being. Thanks for your inspiration. And the idea of perennials in the garden - what a great way to save on work as well!

Jul 02, 2012
It's Awesome
by: Roger Walkup

All that food coming from that very small place!

Jul 03, 2012
Setting a good example
by: Milton Litchard

It is nice to see a poxy little gravel patch transformed into a small food garden! Planning and zoning committees nationwide should take note.

Jul 04, 2012
by: Anonymous

I can't tell that you've been harvesting--so often, edible landscapes look fantastic until harvest starts, but yours is surviving nicely.

Jul 06, 2012
Very impressive!
by: Vinita Gilbert

It is lovely to see such a combination of beauty and practicality. It is amazing that so much food can be harvested from such a small space.

Aug 06, 2012
by: Anonymous

your passion for it and your hard work seems to pay off even though such a small space. keep it up! very inspiring!

Aug 06, 2012
Thanks, everybody!
by: Gretchen

All your comments are much appreciated! We've been able to harvest a small, but steady flow of produce - okra, lacinato, green and yellow beans, a few zucchini and eggplants. Earlier we had artichokes and spring garlic. I also have a lot of herbs and two chirimen (winter) squash ripening on the vine. It's been a difficult year with prolonged extremely high heat. All my tomato blossoms have been burning up, so no tomatoes! We're also in a fairly serious drought in this part of Maryland and it's been hard to keep everything watered properly. Had a bad aphid infestation and struggling a bit with squash bugs right now. But, that's gardening. Something new and different all the time!

Aug 09, 2012
So glad you got #1
by: DollarSeed

When Patty and I first discussed the contest, I had no idea what people were planting in their front yards, because I simply do not have one.

After looking at the photos and reading the story behind them, all I can say is wow. I am glad you took first place in this contest, because I know that you will find a good use/home for all of the seeds I've just sent out to you.

Keep up the great work!

Aug 09, 2012
Thank you!
by: Gretchen

Thank you, Dave - I'm really excited to have won and looking forward to having your seeds to plant! I'm already planning my fall garden and thinking about what I can do to make my garden even nicer next summer.

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