In the Garden:
New England
July, 2011
Regional Report

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Eggplant and beans provide a bountiful harvest while dahlias and balloon flowers add color to this front yard garden.

The Edible Front Yard

With all the buzz about sustainability, local food production, and edible landscaping these days, and with Michelle Obama putting in a kitchen garden on the White House lawn, you'd think that someone deciding to convert grass to vegetables would be looked on in a positive light. Well, that wasn't the case recently in Oak Park, Michigan, a city of around 30,000 in the southeastern part of the state.

When sewer line work left her front yard torn up, homeowner Julie Bass decided to replace the grass that had been there with vegetables. She erected five large, wood-sided raised beds and planted tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, and more. She expected to harvest some delicious home-grown produce. What she didn't expect was to be charged by the city with a crime.

According to Oak Park's Director of Planning and Technology, Bass is violating city code that requires all unpaved parts of the front yard to be planted to grass, shrubbery, ground cover, or "other suitable live plant material." Veggies don't fit his idea of "suitable," and he ordered them gone. Bass refused. She's been charged with a misdemeanor and is awaiting a jury trial.

Fortunately, the village of Essex Junction where I live is much more enlightened, so I get to enjoy the sight of the front yard garden of my neighbors across street. These avid gardeners have a shady back yard, so they have planted an interesting and attractive mix of edible and ornamental plants out front. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and cranberries are planted along with irises, hardy geraniums, chrysanthemums, and coreopsis. Apricot and sour cherry trees add lovely spring flowers to the landscape and delicious fruit later in the season. A big bed of green beans is accented with a large planting of bright red dahlias. Far from provoking outrage and criminal citations, this edible landscape receives lots of admiring comments and interest from strollers in the neighborhood, maybe even provides inspiration to try something similar themselves.

I recently went on a garden tour that is an annual fundraiser for a local performing arts theater. This gave me some more ideas on pleasing ways to incorporate edibles into the landscape. In one garden, some of the sunniest, flattest land was along the long driveway that led up to the house. Beds of tomatoes, squash, peppers, and berry bushes lined the drive. With annual flowers mixed in, they were both attractive and accessible. More vegetables consorted with flowers in beds that edged a shaded patio under a raised deck.

Another garden I visited on a corner plot had a small, shady front yard, but a large, sloping, sunny side yard. An expansive circular bed covered the area, filled with flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruits in an informal cottage garden setting. Trellises added visual interest and vertical growing space. Many paths wove through the garden, dividing it into various sized beds, with stone steps accommodating grade changes. There was even a small greenhouse set in one corner. The entire effect was charming and bountiful.

So don't feel that edibles are out of the question if you lack space for the traditional rectangular vegetable plot. Even if space isn't an issue, mixing edibles and ornamentals allows for all sorts of interesting landscape design possibilities. And if your municipality or homeowner's association doesn't take such an enlightened view, rally some like-minded gardeners, start a petition, and show city hall that edible landscaping is a growing idea!


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