Edible front yards are the ultimate expression of the Victory Garden. They are also the most revolutionary reasons for the death of the American Lawn. While a native or xeriscape garden might be more palatable in conforming to established zoning, code and Home Owner's Association rules, the edible garden flies in the face of conformity and places food plants front and center in the neighborhood's sight lines. For some front yard gardeners, this has become a battle ground and a cause, for others, it has become a positive point of contact with their community.
At first glance, vegetable gardens have any unruly appearance if not scrupulously maintained. My tomatoes look pretty scraggly by season's end. Truthfully, my tomatoes are not what I had in mind and an ideal edible front yard candidate. In The Edible Front Yard, Ivette Soler outlines how to choose the correct edible plants to ensure an aesthetically pleasing front yards. She spends a considerable amount of time listing ornamental edibles that will be both pleasing to the eye and pleasing to the palette. Her choices focus on the form of the plant, its flowers, and how well it holds up during the space of the growing season. Hardscape is key; well planned and executed paths, growing beds, and trellises help neighbors over look wilted or spent vegetables. I loved Ms. Soler's approach and would love to build a front yard edible garden using her guidelines. However, I would only go with the front yard edible approach if I was unable to build a vegetable garden in the backyard due to space, poor orientation to the sun, or other issues. Front yard gardens must deal with scavengers, especially of the two-legged kind. I blew a fuse when some one stole plumeria cuttings. Imagine what would happen if they harvested all my fruiting vegetables? Secondly, front yard edible gardens need more constant care. If they are front and center for everyone to see, the gardener will feel obligated to keep them looking perfect. I certainly can't do perfect, especially at the end of the growing season when both the tomatoes and the gardener are spent! I have plenty of space in by backyard for my vegetables. I could turn the front yard into a victory garden, but that will cost me more time than I am willing to pay right now with a full-time job, family and friend responsibilities, and participation in gardening clubs and other hobbies.
Some municipalities find this gardening approach far too revolutionary for their tastes. Recently, Orlando authorities have threatened Jason and Jennifer Helvengston with fines of $500.00 per day until they remove their 25 by 25 front yard vegetable garden. Strangely enough, the authorities are demanding the Helvengstons install grass even though vegetable gardens have a much more carbon friendly foot print than the monoculture of a pesticide and water guzzling lawn. (Please click here for further details in the original article.) Another gardener, a blogger from Toronto, had the opposite experience. As she slowly “came out” as front yard vegetable gardener, her neighbors have accepted and liked her front yard garden. In the right social climate, front yard gardens can connect neighbors, allowing them to meet and share ideas (and food) in the more public sphere of the front yard (instead of hidden away in the backyard). I suspect that rules will continue to be broken and municipal regulations over the content and usage of front yard space will continue to be fought. But there will continue to be more acceptance, especially in a community where people want to know where there food comes from.
So garden on, front yard gardeners! I may not be able to join you at this time, but I stand with you in solidarity for the right to produce one's own food and the right to rethink and change the ideas of what the American front yard landscape should be.