Veggies With a View: Front-Yard Gardens

Veggies With a View: Front-Yard Gardens

Article by Linda

Veggies With a View: Front-Yard Gardens

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This front yard garden in the upscale Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles initially drew groans from owner Judy Kirshner’s neighbors, but it slowly became a popular spot for visitors over the years. The plot contains about 50 varieties of vegetables, 12 winter herbs, nine kinds of flowers and 12 fruit trees.(photo: Eco Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

If you really want to engage your neighbors, plant cherry tomatoes or berries that can be picked while passing by. Plant something for this specific purpose, and put up a sign that says, ‘Yes, please pick the cherry tomatoes.’ — Wendy Weiner, owner of the Front Yard Farmer

Tired of mowing your front yard? Try harvesting it instead. A front-yard vegetable garden is one way to brighten up the block while adding healthy fare to your dining experience.

“We’re seeing a splurge of homeowners using their small front-yard garden space — formerly used for flowers — to grow vegetables and other edibles, such as herbs and fruits, because of the increasing desire to eat more locally produced and organic fruits and vegetables,” said Craig Jenkins-Sutton, co-owner of Topiarius: Urban Garden & Floral Design in Chicago.

Check your local ordinances first. Front-yard vegetable gardens are not legal everywhere. If you get the green light, bring out your green thumb.Space Strategies

You don’t have to live on a large lot to enjoy an awesome vegetable garden. Even those in cramped quarters may produce crops worth crowing about.

“The key is to maximize the available square footage and to take advantage of all the available sunlight,” said Jenkins-Sutton. “Most vegetables will require a minimum of four to six hours of direct light each day. To create the most productive front-yard vegetable garden, installing traditional raised beds on the ground and on front porches is an excellent strategy.”

Raised beds are ideal for front yards and porches because they allow for a significantly larger volume of soil than would otherwise be available in a small or confined area, providing ample space for growing a variety of vegetables, including tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, eggplant, peas and beans, said Jenkins-Sutton.

For even smaller spaces, he suggested “pot-sized” vegetables that have been specially bred for tight squeezes, such as Tom Thumb tomatoes, Gold Nugget carrots and Spacemaster cucumbers.

Another benefit of raised beds is the ease of adding soil amendments to increase fertility and maximize drainage. If space doesn’t allow for raised beds, you may use any available container as an alternative, Jenkins-Sutton said. Be sure to add drainage holes, and because plants love soil, use the largest containers possible for the available space.Hedging Your Veggies

Hedges and other garden dividers are decorative and practical, highlighting sections of the yard, dividing walk and play areas from do-not-disturb zones and defining property lines. Front-yard gardeners have several options.

Garden blogger Dianne Venetta, author of the BloominThyme blog, prefers herbs to traditional vegetables for creating lasting hedges.

“Unfortunately, most vegetable plants have fairly defined life cycles and will not continue to grow and produce year after year,” Venetta said.

But herbs will, which is why she recommends rosemary or lavender as a decorative, fragrant hedge alternative. “I love the idea of using lavender and rosemary on corners of one’s home,” Venetta said, “because when brushed by the wind, these plants release a wonderful scent.”

Rosemary is cold tolerant and a strong grower, Venetta said. Trimmed back, it will grow bushy and big. Lavender does not grow as big and would serve more as decorative trim than a privacy fence. Venetta recommended cutting it back each year to maintain a healthy plant.

Wendy Weiner, who teaches clients how to create attractive and functional gardens through her business, the Front Yard Farmer, uses trellises with pole beans, fences lined by raspberry bushes and even sunflowers.

“On the arched entrance, I usually have a climbing bean, such as Scarlet Runner Bean, which is one of the more showy of the climbing beans,” she said. “Its magenta flowers attract a lot of bees.”

Tomatoes are also attractive, as are tomatillos, Weiner said. “Tomatillos grow with a husk around their fruit, making them a curiosity to passers-by.”

Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping Inc. in Los Angeles, recommended mixing plants for hedging. “A combination of edible vines, like berries or grapes, mixed with an evergreen vine, like a passion fruit, can create privacy throughout the year, as well as food,” she said.

For small spaces, Venetta recommended anything from the lettuce family, rotating varieties seasonally. “Using vegetables as part of your home’s landscape in a decorative fashion is best,” she said. “From lettuce to beets, carrots to strawberries, these plants would make nice borders around walkways, as well as suffice as low hedges for a multi-tiered hedge design.”Planning Your Plots

For the ideal front-yard garden, the materials you use and the crops you choose are almost equally important. Improper materials can leach potentially harmful chemicals into the soil, Jenkins-Sutton warned.

“Natural stone or untreated and rot-resistant lumber, such as cedar, are good examples of products to choose,” he said. “Newer products, such as recycled decking products, are also options.”

As for containers, anything that will hold soil will work, he said. When working with containers, make sure the soil stays evenly moist and aerated, but not saturated or compacted, to allow the roots to get the oxygen they require.

Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping Inc. in Los Angeles, recommended planning your plots around crops that have predictable rotations from season to season.

“For example, beans in the fall, lettuce in winter and eggplant in spring could be one dedicated plot,” she said. “Another could be radishes in the fall, broccoli in the winter and tomatoes in the spring. This strategy makes planning and harvesting the easiest.”Invader Alert

Squirrels love vegetable gardens. So do deer, rabbits and even family dogs.

Rabbits and pets may be held at bay with fencing, Jenkins-Sutton said. He suggested burying fencing at least six inches below the surface to keep rabbits from digging under, with openings kept to a minimum to keep them from squeezing through.

“Squirrels and deer are much more difficult garden adversaries,” he said. “Short of building a fence fortress around and over the entire garden, use a variety of deterrents, from organic sprays to sensors that trigger sounds/sprinklers when invaders get too close.”Growing Good Neighbors

Front-yard gardens also serve a social function that can make you the hit of the ‘hood. For a “neighborly” garden, Aoyagi recommended planting close to the street instead of enclosing the area with greenery, as you might treat a more private area.

“If you really want to engage your neighbors, plant cherry tomatoes or berries that can be picked while passing by,” said Wendy Weiner, who teaches clients how to make attractive and functional gardens through her business, the Front Yard Farmer. “Plant something for this specific purpose, and put up a sign that says, ‘Yes, please pick the cherry tomatoes.’ “

To stimulate passer-by curiosity, put up signs offering the names of specific plants or saying, “Guess what this is?” Another helpful sign, Weiner said, asks dog walkers to keep their pets out of your garden.

To be a good neighbor, keep your front-yard garden fully maintained, attractive and appropriate to the surroundings so it doesn’t become a neighborhood eyesore, Weiner said.

“I built raised bed boxes in my front yard for utilitarian reasons,” she said. “In doing so, I was able to lay them out in a way that I found attractive and balanced within a classic suburban yard. I like the way the wood has weathered. I wouldn’t paint them showy colors.”

If you want to add whimsical features to your garden, consider what they might look like when everything has died back. “I prefer to give the plants the leading role in the garden and let a well-tended plant stand on its own,” said Weiner. “Too many whirligigs and ornaments can be a distraction.”The Veggies of Your Labor

“The most important thing to remember in front-yard vegetable gardening is to have fun,” Jenkins-Sutton said.

“Making a connection to where our food comes from, understanding the difficulties of food production, recognizing the taste and nutritional benefits of growing vegetables and, most of all, the satisfaction of the first vine-ripened tomato are invaluable lessons for people of all ages,” he said.How to Decorate an Apartment Entrance.

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