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Front yard food as social experiment

Monday 24 May 2010 - Filed under Gardens

Julio's front yard
When you start to run out of gardening space in your own yard, the neighbor’s ignored front lawn starts to look awfully inviting. While I’m still weirded out by the notion that FOOD comes from OUTSIDE, I am curious about the process of growing edibles, and the challenge of making a vegetable garden that doesn’t look too much like a vegetable garden.
Turns out, with a little groveling and the promise of fresh food to share, some neighbors will actually let you stage a takeover.

Julio's garden
A few weekends of rainy day sod stripping, and TADA! I made a mud patch! Just for you, neighbor!

Julio's garden
Killing two birds with one stone, I used a pile of concrete rubble that had been in their back yard since forever, both to clean up the view out my kitchen window, and to protect the crops. The idea was to create a little moat of plants around a slightly raised bed. The outer ring is planted up with plants that will deter passing dogs from getting too close to the edibles.

Since my own garden is mostly flower-free shady characters, I’m heading the opposite direction with the sunny space next door, but planting on a budget. It’s fun to work with a completely different set of constraints for a change. Mostly transplants from my own yard and a few new additions I couldn’t find a place for: The border consists of sedum, sempervivum, canna, crocosmia, yucca, astelia, eucomis, and kniphofia. The middle bed has a couple bargain red bananas and a cardoon for ornamental effect. The actual edibles I promised are so far: lettuce, cilantro, parsley, peas, corn, tomato, broccoli, blueberry, and some herbs. My neighbors are from Mexico, and have served us meals with nopales, from opuntia or prickly pear cactus. If I can successfully get them to grow well and figure out which varieties are edible, I’d like to add a few prickly pear cactus, and a few peppers they said they would like, to the front of the bed. I’d be quite happy to end up with a garden that they would enjoy and use.
This is all new to me, who knows if it’ll work. It might take a little while for everything to come in, but I have high hopes for a decent looking garden by the end of summer.

Julio's garden
The rest of the neighborhood was all very curious about what I was doing, working in the wrong garden. Then one morning, I came outside to find someone had put their own mark on the garden. They had popped some solar lanterns into the ground. Still nobody has taken credit for the guerilla garden lighting, but it makes me very happy to see that the donated garden spirit is contagious.

milk carton bird feeder
Even more exciting, last week, a homemade milk carton bird feeder showed up on their single preexisting plant. I think the resident little girl has taken an interest in the garden! And that’s all while we’re staring at a dirt patch. I can’t wait to see how it catches on once it’s an actual garden. Maybe we can get the whole block gardening.

2010-05-24  »  megan

Talkback x 14

  1. tina
    25 May 2010 @ 6:53 am

    I sure wish you were my neighbor! I simply love the garden-what makes it for me is the concrete block edging. You turned a definite eyesore into a thing of beauty-it is all together now! By the end of the summer it will be stunning! You really did a fabulous job!

  2. Brittney
    25 May 2010 @ 7:40 am

    Wow great work in the neighbors yard no less! Clever to plant dog-blocking plants. I’d give up on the corn tho– its not the kind of plant you can just plant a couple of and get results (it needs a field worth for cross pollination). A squash like a zucchini will go crazy and make enough for both of you. Green beans are pretty dependable too.

    (fellow Portlander)

  3. Laura
    25 May 2010 @ 9:24 am

    Look what you’ve started! I imagine there are a lot more people on your block cheering you on than you imagine. Front yard gardening adds such a sense of community to a neighborhood. Well done!

  4. Loree
    25 May 2010 @ 9:28 am

    Wow Megan that looks fabulous! And how cool that others are joining in too…in a positive way even! Kudos to you for getting the ball rolling, I can’t wait to hear about you eating something from the garden…

  5. Grace
    25 May 2010 @ 11:22 am

    Megan~~ What an inspiring endeavor. Hats off to you! With the concrete, your design is exactly what you were going for–visually appealing. I love your gumption and I hope for abundant reaping of both food and friendship.

  6. Janet
    27 May 2010 @ 4:29 am

    Good for you Megan!! What a great neighbor.

  7. Jane/MulchMaid
    27 May 2010 @ 1:45 pm

    Nice work, Megan. What lucky neighbors they are to have your knowlege and creativity. I love that the vibes are increasing!

  8. Julie Smith
    27 May 2010 @ 5:38 pm

    What an amazing idea! And it looks incredible! I love how other neighbors have already added on to your creation.

  9. nonlineargirl
    27 May 2010 @ 6:57 pm

    What a great idea! When our corner neighbor started running out of space in her garden, she started gardening the next-door neighbor’s place (an older woman who wasn’t up to gardening herself). It was win-win.

    I front-yard food garden, and it works well. (though no one has brought me lamps or bird feeders) Keep in mind that corn needs a lot of water (unless you want inedible fake baby corns like I got one year) and cilantro and parsley bolt unless tended closely (ie, cut regularly before they put out flowers, something I have never really managed).

  10. tina
    28 May 2010 @ 9:35 am

    Thank you for the info on the bottle lights. Those are really cool. The hamster wheel in my head is a spinning around trying to come up with a way to make them for my garden now:)

  11. Karen
    30 May 2010 @ 8:04 am

    Wow, you have been cooking up some real magic here! I love this on so many levels. The venturing boldly into food gardening, the co-gardening with neighbors, the being out in front on the street where all can see… what’s gotten into you??!! :) Generous and bold, you are setting a great example. It is an experiment worth doing that everyone will learn from. What about a nifty little sign to explain what you’re up to? I bet you’d get even more donations of goods and maybe even offers of weeding help, who knows. I disagree on the parsley bolting, it never happens to mine until about this time (end of May) from last summer’s plants, and the foliage is still edible. My only comment about the screening plants is about exposure – if the sun comes from that direction, you probably want to keep them low so they don’t cast too much shade on your hot-weather crops like peppers and such, who need all the heat they can get. If you want more height this year or in the future, a simple teepee for climbers like peas or string beans, or beautiful scarlet runner beans, does take up some space but gives the flat ground a focal point. I’m so glad you are doing this, what a great project! Can’t wait to see the results.

  12. Karen
    30 May 2010 @ 8:05 am

    PS Next stop, parking strip??

  13. ricki - sprig to twig
    2 June 2010 @ 6:25 pm

    Good example of just how contagious gardening can be…going viral in a good way.

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    27 September 2010 @ 11:01 pm

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