If you’ve wanted to start growing food but don’t have much space, the answer may be right in front of you — your front yard, that is. Front yard vegetable gardens are a growing trend. Nevertheless, some people don’t even consider growing food in the front yard because they think it might look messy or lead to neighbor complaints.
Those folks should think again, according to Natalie Carver, horticultural director for Love and Carrots, a company that designs, installs, and maintains urban vegetable gardens for homeowners throughout the Washington D.C. metro area. “A well maintained vegetable garden is going to look beautiful,” she says. “I think a lot of folks don’t know that vegetables are essentially really good looking.”
Why Grow Food in the Front Yard?
For some people, growing food in the front yard is the only option due to space or sunlight issues. Some homes don’t even have a back yard, or it’s taken up by a parking pad or an alleyway. Maintaining a grassy lawn requires resources, like water and lawn mower fuel, to maintain. Why not put that energy into growing plants you can actually eat?
Front yard gardens can also be great community builders. “I love working in them because you actually meet people walking by,” says Carver. “For homeowners, you’ll actually get to know your neighbors. You’ll be outside and talking to people, which is more of the social side of gardening that brings people together.”
Before digging in, it’s best to check your city ordinances, which might have rules about things like how far a garden needs to be from the sidewalk.
When designing a front yard garden, Carver likes to incorporate vegetables from the brassica family, which includes kale, collard greens, and broccoli. They grow upright to a few feet tall with big, thick green leaves. Planting a few varieties of different colors can be quite beautiful. Tuscano kale, for instance, can have dark green leaves, which contrast nicely with a curly red variety. “There’s one called red boar that’s deeply curly so you get a cool texture,” says Carver. Some of these leaves will turn a darker shade of red in winter. For even more color, plant rainbow chard. The bright lights variety has cheerful red, yellow and white stems.
Around the brassicas, Carver suggests incorporating a border of plants from the allium family, which include garlic, leeks, onions, scallions, and green onions. She likes their upright, long green blades and their fuss-free maintenance. “You plant them and basically don’t touch them for a couple months,” she says. They’re also a great companion plant for kale because they repel some of the bad insects.
Carver suggests adding a few containers of plants throughout the garden to get things off the ground and add structure, but don’t go overboard or the garden may start to look cluttered.
Accent with Flowers
Carver says Love and Carrots often incorporates annual edible flowers into the corners their vegetable gardens. Not only do they provide a colorful frame to the garden, they serve other purposes. “They feed beneficial insects, they feed butterflies, they feed birds, and they also attract good bugs that will eat the pests in the garden,” she says. Then, when you harvest your salad greens, you’ll have a few edible flowers for a beautiful garnish. Carver’s favorites are violas, calendula, and bachelor’s buttons.
Herbs for Everyone
Even the smallest yards usually have room for herbs. They’re evergreen so they’ll look good throughout the year in some climates. Carver suggests sage and lavender for their silvery leaves, and also thyme, rosemary, oregano. “Those you can plant right into the ground and mulch the base of the plant,” she says.
Maintaining Your Garden
To keep both your plants and your neighbors happy, good garden maintenance is important for a front yard garden. Tomatoes, for instance, can start to look huge and scraggly if they aren’t pruned correctly or aren’t trellised in tall tomato cages. Mulch liberally in your pathways and between perennial areas with an undyed mulch to keep weeds at bay and the garden looking neat. Prune off yellow or brown leaves as they appear.
If critters are eating your garden, Carver suggests using soft, black bird netting, which is see-through, over the garden beds. If that doesn’t work, you may need a waist-high rabbit-proof fence or deer fencing.
Be a Good Neighbor
As Carver points out, front yard gardening can be a great community builder. Neighbors will be curious about what you’re doing or might have good tips to share. When it’s time to harvest, be sure to share or swap some of your bounty with your neighbors. They will thank you for it.
If don’t have a yard or want to offer your front yard to a neighbor to garden, check out Shared Earth, our website that connects people who have land with people who want to garden or farm. Search listings and message with nearby gardeners or landowners to get started on your next garden!
Follow @loveandcarrots on Instagram to see more garden ideas.