Front Yard Farming

front yard farming

front yard farming

Imagine a Los Angeles where front yards consisted of fruit trees and vegetables and herbs instead of lawns. Often, most of the sunlight on a property descends in the front yard, making it the preferred location for edible plants.
Converting the front yard to a minifarm is clearly not for everyone, though most people are showing interest in developing more diverse landscapes. As baby boomers get older and spend more time around the house and in the garden, they often conclude that a lawn is just not worth the trouble it requires.
Lawns are not necessarily bad. Research has shown that lawns significantly cool the air in hot, arid city environments. A lawn also represents the classic neat and tidy look – an oasis of orderliness in a graffiti tagged, often chaotic urban landscape. There is also the plain truth that certain ornamental and vegetable gardens require just as much work as a lawn, and sometimes more.
Yet since the 1960s, an awareness of shrinking natural resources has gradually taken hold. In the garden, this translates into making the most of every gallon of water and every square foot of space. People have begun to wonder about the usefulness of pouring thousands of gallons of water on their lawns, when nothing with any taste or fragrance or color is produced. Even if lawns required less water than AstroTurf, their cold, predictable, ungiving nature would be a strike against them.
One innovation in recent years is the replacement of front lawns with plants that require little water. Ornamental grasses have gained some popularity, as have gray-leaved plants, California natives, exotic succulent trees and cactuses. Dry-climate flowering shrubs with herbal interest – rosemary, lavender and scented geraniums – are increasingly in demand. New species from Australia and New Zealand appear in nurseries every month; butterfly bushes, sages, mahonias and gooseberries attract a diversity of insects and birds. Most of these plants have minimal water needs.
The first step in transforming a front yard is to create a path that runs
from the sidewalk (or the street) to the front door. The path can be straight or winding. Make it out of brick or flagstone or decomposed granite. A path running through a yard or garden will immediately involve you in what is happening on either side of it.
You might now consider subdividing the two parcels of your new yard even further, with each small plot accessible from a side path. The more you divide your yard, the easier and more inviting it will be to visit your plants. You will be more of a grower than a watcher of plants. Once upon a time, in colonial America – from Virginia to Massachusetts – front yards divided in this manner were urban growing grounds for fruit trees, vegetables and flowers.
Foundation planting – the placement of plants along the front of a house – should usually be avoided. In most cases, such planting merely covers a stylish facade, interrupts clean architectural lines and obscures vision. You cannot see the house for what it is, but neither can you see the plants – only their front half is visible – for what they are. Also, shrubs are soon dead on the side that rubs up against a building.
Screen planting along property lines is also generally a mistake. Dense screens of shrubs or trees often just take up space and block sunlight to the rest of the garden. If a screen is unavoidable, try to make it out of dwarf to medium-sized fruit trees.
The idea of edible landscapes is appealing to most people. Probably the best ground cover – certainly the easiest to start from seed – for this purpose is lettuce. Four to six weeks after planting, leaves can be picked or
cut, a little at a time; in this manner, harvest will be extended for several months. Lettuce gives a clean, fresh look to any garden. Combine yellow, green and red leaf varieties. Achieve similarly colorful, leafy looks with green and purple basil, or with green and red Swiss chard. Constant harvest of any leaf crop also will prolong productivity, and prevent bolting (seed production) when the weather warms.
One group of plants that provide an enormous variety of colorful fruits are the peppers. Whether you prefer sweet or hot peppers, you will find varieties bearing red, green, yellow, orange and purple fruit. Shape is also multifarious with peppers. You will find peppers that resemble cylinders, cubes, pyramids and globes. Others could be mistaken for string beans or cherries. In the valleys around Los Angeles, it is best to plant Solanaceous fruits (peppers, tomatoes and eggplants) by mid-March. Plants should be well- established and setting fruit before the heat stress of summer begins.
Tip of the week: Ornamental or flowering peaches, plums, almonds and pears (these plants are grown for their flowers, not their fruit) are in bloom. Prune them as soon as their flowers fade. After pruning, they will immediately begin forming flower buds for next year’s bloom.

Kyle Rove / / CC BY-NC-SA

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