How I Came Out As A Front Yard Veg Grower
When I was a teenager we moved from a small, suburban town to Cabbagetown in downtown Toronto, Ontario. It was (and still is) a neighbourhood of fabulous Victorian-era brick houses.
Ours was a rather grand 3-storey townhouse with a handerchief-sized front garden and a little more room in the back. Coming from a 1950s era suburb, this was a very exciting change, opening up an entire new world of fabulous architecture, culture, and somewhere to go besides the local park. And this is where my love of creative and innovative (which also happens to be old school) gardening really began.
New to the city, I explored every single street within 10 miles of our home, examining every house and garden, completely in love with it all. I became enchanted with all the tiny gardens spilling over to the sidewalks, making use of every bit of space available. Where I came from, gardens were limited to borders around the house and a veggie patch in the back yard. In the city, the gardens were densely planted, behind short fences, and incredible volumes of food could be grown with clever use of vertical space. It was functional, efficient, and beautiful.
I vividly remember watching as one man as reached over from his porch, and picked a handful of tiny tomatoes off the top of a tall vine, slowly dropping them into his mouth, one by one, giving a deep sigh of contentment with each taste. I want what he’s having, I said to myself.
Ontario, Canada – My (Former) Front Vegetable Garden – Just 8 feet wide! [See it here]
Becoming a Gardener v. Societal Pressure
Fast forward to years later when I was creating my own first garden in another (much smaller) city. Aware of the upper middle-class stigma attached to front grass-free gardens, and reluctant to face the protest of neighbours, I avoided removing the front lawn for years even though it was the only full-sun area I had. We were still coming out of the era where clothes lines had been banned and growing carrots and zucchini amongst the peonies and petunias was just too radical for some. I honestly feared the closer my garden was to the street, the more likely it was to be vandalized. It was a neighbourhood with very few gardeners (and many avid lawn groomers), so no precident had been set for those of us who wanted something other than a plain lawn.
Eventually my desire to grow food crops overpowered my wimpy self, and out came the lawn and in went the first raised bed. You’ve got to do these things where the sun shines.
I filled the bed with favourite vegetable crops and surrounded it with perennials to thwart the pests.
I had intentionally avoided getting permisison or consent from our neighbour (whose lawn joined ours) because I could not stand taking no as an answer! He was a very conventional person, and I’d already put in considerable efforts to (gently) steer him away from pesticide use with great success (just in time for them to be banned in our area anyways). Knowing progress comes best with understanding, I had hesitated to further disrupt things on our adjoinging lawns. But the need for good veggie growing space was too much and that one day I just went ahead and got her done.
And then I hid in the house, waiting for the complaints to start.
And waited some more.
Much to my surprise, there were none. Every time there was a knock on the door I was convinced a by-law officer would be there with a ticket in her hands.
Amazed by the power of sunshine after years of shade gardening, I followed up with two more raised beds, essentially covering the entire long, narrow lawn.
Again, there were no complaints. And better still, as the veggies grew and thrived, I started to meet neighbours I never knew existed who actually liked it.
While I was out working in the garden, they would wander over to ask about my plants, compliment the garden, and enquire about perhaps getting their hands on some of that lush romaine lettuce and those unusual looking sun ripe tomatoes. I was happy to share as I grew far more than I needed. How can you grow just one type of heirloom tomato? And why have one type of kale when you can try six?
I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it was that it turned out to be a non-issue. And, now, living in another town, and seeing the struggles that still go on with front veggie gardens, I still can’t quite believe it. I think I was still a lucky exception rather than the new normal.
Opposing Forces and Changing Times
Throughout the years I’ve seen front yard gardeners face bigotry, insults, vandalism, and legal issues, all because they choose to grow food where they have the space and sunlight. I admit I’m completely biased, but it seems incredible to me that anyone thinks they have the right to stomp on (verbally or physically) another person’s garden. I was thankful that we had apparently entered a new era (where I lived, at least) and the neighbours accepted (and liked!) my front yard edible garden. I can’t imagine the heartbreak of those who are ordered to remove them because of some antiquated by-law.
Somewhere in the past fifty years a stigma attached itself to vegetable gardening in general, as if it implies poverty and struggle and should be hidden away. As if food should be grown on farms over there somewhere, far from civilization (perhaps in that same faraway place where garbage goes…).
In recent years, with greater awareness about the environmental costs and effects of both lawns and long-distance food sources, food growing (and replacing lawns with low-maintenance perennials and native gardens) has become rather chic. Perhaps a little too much, like the latest eco poster child, but, whatevs. At least we’re making strides. This planet needs all the healthy green it can get.
It will be interesting to see how things continue to shift over the coming years. My hunch is the kitchen garden, whether it’s on a balcony, fire escape, roof top, or front or back garden, will become a welcome, essential part of many more homes. I know mine was the best pantry I ever planted.
Edible Estates by Fritz Haeg (Amazon.com) has wonderful examples of edible front gardens.
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