From Front Yard to Food Yard
By Megan Cain | Photos By Amelia John Photography 0
In our fast paced, info-centric world, it can be a relief to spend time with your hands in the soil creating something concrete. The emotional and spiritual benefits of gardening bring an additional, often unexpected, layer of pleasure and joy into life. Slowing down, connecting to and understanding the rhythms of the natural world and being in the present moment all nourish our souls in ways that are similar to how vegetables feed our bodies.
Humans have been tending fields and gathering harvests for thousands of years. Here in Wisconsin, most parts of the state still have a strong agri-culture. For many of us, neighbors and friends are growing food for our CSAs and markets. Gardening brings us more in touch with the people who grow our food. We may stop and chat with our local farmer about her beautiful red peppers or ask him for a local broccoli variety recommendation.
Designing a Garden
When the Schells hired me to help them design their front yard garden, Lisa already had some ideas for layout and features. She had spent time searching in books and on the Internet for images that inspired her. Without knowing it, she was already in the first stage of the design process—gathering inspiration.
When thinking about starting a new garden or revamping an old one, it’s wise to spend time envisioning what you want your garden to look like. What styles of gardens are you attracted to? Do you prefer cottage gardens with overflowing, colorful borders or the more neatly lined up raised bed gardens? Are there certain colors and textures that catch your eye while perusing your favorite garden magazine?
Browsing garden photos on the Internet is a great way to gather design information. Pinterest and Evernote are great places to collect the images that represent your garden vision.
Because the Schells’ property receives full southern sun, they chose to locate their garden in their front yard. Although the backyard is the traditional spot for a vegetable garden, more and more homeowners are electing to install front yard gardens, not only for the logistics of sunshine but as a wonderful opportunity to get to know neighbors. A vast expanse of front lawn doesn’t encourage relaxing and socializing, but a vegetable garden needs regular care. That means more time spent in the front yard watering, weeding and harvesting, and plenty of opportunities to say hello to and answer questions from curious neighbors.
Lisa had already been paying attention to what her family ate regularly. When she was ready to expand her garden, she knew exactly what she wanted to plant. This is a great exercise: before running out to buy seeds and seedlings, take some time to think about what you purchase at the grocery store each week. What’s difficult to find or expensive to buy organically? Can you grow some of those vegetables at home? Even though it sounds like common sense, it’s important to plant what your family eats so you are making the most of the time and energy spent on the garden.
While there is always work associated with gardening, it is possible to create a beautiful space that produces a lot of food without unnecessary work. Laying out the garden in a permanent design of beds and paths is a key to longer-term low maintenance. Permanent beds can mean building traditional lumber raised beds, or it can mean simply outlining the beds with logs and rocks or other materials you have on hand. Many gardeners prefer a simple mounded raised bed without reinforced sides. The material and style doesn’t matter. The important thing is to have a defined garden area, allowing you to focus energy and resources on the part of the garden that matters most—the planted beds. You’ll save the time usually spent tilling and redesigning the garden layout each spring, and keep permanent paths thickly mulched so you don’t waste time weeding those areas.
Lisa’s garden already had several lumber raised beds, so we added a network of mounded beds that served as additional production areas in the center of the garden. This gave her a clear garden design that would carry over from year to year. Lisa’s garden is fairly large for a city dweller, but she built up gardening experience with her existing raised beds before expanding, so her decision to significantly increase the family’s garden size was a conscious one. In general, it’s best to start small and be successful rather than create a garden that’s too big and becomes overwhelming. Setting yourself up to be successful so that gardening is an enjoyable experience means you’ll be more likely to continue gardening for many years to come.
Many gardeners create a two- to five-year plan for their landscape. The Schells originally wanted to build a stone or brick path leading from the yard entrance to the front door. After getting several bids from local contractors, they decided to push the project back a year. They also pushed back plans to build a fence in favor of spending the first season acclimating to their expanded garden. Other items on their list for the future included planting perennial vegetables and fruits like asparagus and raspberries. It’s important to remember: don’t take on too much the first year. You can slowly add to the garden as you gain more experience growing food.
Because the Schells’ garden is in a highly visible part of their property, it was important to create some additional interest and color with perennial flowers, trees and shrubs. The front of their yard now features a perennial flowerbed running the width of the property along the sidewalk and along the path to the front door. We planted a selection of colorful and low maintenance flowers with various bloom times to accent the vegetable plants. The family could also plant herbs and annual flowers in these borders to complement the perennials.
As Lisa Schell’s family is discovering, a well-designed vegetable garden feeds the body and soul. One afternoon that first season, the kids were tickled to discover six different kinds of butterflies fluttering around the garden. The kids could also regularly be seen snacking on sun warmed cherry tomatoes and fresh-picked green beans. The neighbors popped by to see what the family had growing and were sometimes sent home with a taste of the harvest. The family’s table was filled with food they were proud to have grown themselves.
Whether your garden is in the front yard or back, set aside time this season to create a space that’s a highlight of your home landscape. With a little planning and a bit of extra effort, your garden can inspire deep joy and supply your family’s dinner table with beautiful vegetables all season long.
Want to design and install your own amazing vegetable garden? Megan will be teaching an online workshop this fall. Put your name on the waiting list at creativevegetablegardener.com.