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Front Yard Gardens

The Martha Stewart Show, March 2009

Have you ever thought about using your front yard for a fantastic vegetable garden? Artist and gardener Fritz Haeg believes front lawns can be turned into "edible estates" filled with delicious homegrown vegetables -- an innovative idea that's sure to impress everyone on your block.

Fritz began by planting four edible estate gardens in Kansas, California, New Jersey, and London in an effort to take a space that was previously polluted, wasteful, time-consuming, isolating, and unoccupied, and transform it into a beautiful, productive space that reconnects people to their food and neighbors.

The front lawn is one of the few spaces that many of us have in common across this country. It cuts across all geographic, religious, ethnic, and economic boundaries, so it really is quite a powerful place in our culture. For many of us, the front lawn comes with the home that we buy, and we continue to take care of it as a reflexive habit without thinking. By introducing the possibility of an edible garden here instead of a typical lawn, Fritz is reminding people that they have a choice about what happens on land they own.

Because the gardens are out in front, facing the street, they become demonstration gardens. Instead of hiding it in the back, everyone on the street gets to watch the garden grow, and even those who don't grow their own food learn something by watching their neighbors garden. At first, the garden may be a shock to some neighborhoods used to conformity. But as the garden fills in through the first season, most people will grow to love it. In a place that was previously vacant, with no life, the garden also attracts birds, bees, and butterflies, almost like a little wildlife sanctuary in an otherwise unwelcoming landscape. In some cases, these gardens give neighboring families license to follow suit, though maybe not to this extreme -- perhaps they'll begin to sneak a few tomato plants into their front landscaping behind the lawn.

When deciding to turn your front yard into a vegetable garden, there are a few things to consider. Introducing edibles in front can take many different forms: For some it might be just a grove of small fruit trees, or a bed of edible flowers, or a formal herb garden. In most ways, the things to consider when putting a garden in front are the same issues you would face in laying out any garden, except that everyone is watching! It's always good to have a soil test done, and to consider the history of the lawn, and whether pesticides have been used. Raised beds are a good option for avoiding the existing soil, and they create a good structure for a front lawn garden.

Other issues really depend on the climate. In a northern climate, there is a large part of the year that the garden will be dormant and not producing food, so some might be concerned about how it might look during these months. This can be helped by including trees with a nice structure, or a good annual mulching strategy, but keep in mind -- a front lawn doesn't look that great in the winter either. In a Southern climate, however, you can have summer crops and winter crops, growing food year round.

With a front yard garden, aesthetics become a big issue. For most of us, the front lawn tends to be more formal, and the backyard more casual. But, the design and aesthetics of the front yard edible garden can be infinitely diverse depending on the tastes of the owners. An edible garden also raises issues about exactly what is considered beautiful in landscape -- for example, many think a dead stalk of corn in the fall with beans growing up it is really beautiful, where others might find it unattractive.

Growing Vegetables Vertically
Various structures can be used quickly, easily, and cheaply to give some height and interest to the garden. Edibles such as beans, squash, cucumbers, and peas need something to grow up, and this becomes a way to make it more of an object in the garden instead of a trellis or lattice that becomes a wall or divider.

Pea Brush
It's traditional to use black birch branches, but you could use branches culled from pruning trees and bushes in your garden. Stuck into the ground in a row; trimmed to a desired height, the pea plants can climb up through the twiggy skeletal structure of the branches and naturally anchor themselves with their tendrils.

Twine-Star Supports
These are easily made with just stakes and twine. Simply drive five 1-by-1-inch stakes into the soil, or to the bottom of a pot; stakes should be long enough to stand 4 feet above the soil. Then plant a seedling in the center, and wind the twine in a star shape around the stake at 6-inch intervals.

Bamboo Teepee
With some quick twists of twine and a bundle of bamboo poles, you can easily make a variety of supports for climbing plants. The tepee is the easiest structure to erect and it is also the most versatile. In the vegetable garden, a tepee can turn beans, peas, tomatoes, and even cucumbers and melons into an edible obelisk.

To make a steady tripod, push three poles into the ground with their bases at least 1 foot apart. You can increase the number of poles per tepee -- four poles for a pyramidal shape, more poles for a wigwam. Pull the tops of the upright poles together and bind them with twine.

Resources
Special thanks to artist and gardener Fritz Haeg, author of "Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn," for sharing this information. For more information, visit fritzhaeg.com. For more helpful gardening information, check out our vegetable garden center.

Comments (3)

  • AprilChicago 4 Feb, 2011

    I'm so pumped about gardening in my front and back yard this year!

  • Ange1a 24 Jan, 2011

    Imagine what our world would look like if even half our homes had even one fruit tree in the front yard to share with the neighborhood, or anyone walking by who was hungry...We'd have friendlier communities, healthier people and less families who go without adequate food. This is a great way to help take care of our environment, and do our part to help each other out!

  • jay_chua 8 Mar, 2010

    Bamboo is a great material for making your front yard more presentable.
    I used to live in Asia, and bamboo is lightweight, easy to take care of, and also resilient to weather condition.

    Teepee trellis is a classic garden structure and supports peas, pole beans, sweet peas, and morning glories with ease. You can use it not only for your front yard, but also backyard. Indeed, Teepee is a good way to save space especially your yards are small.

    Jay Chua
    Publisher, PorchSwingSets.Com