Ontario, Canada – My (Former) Front Vegetable Garden – Just 8 feet wide! [See it here]
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. And that’s when my love of quirky homes and gardens began.
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
Becoming A Gardener v. Societal Pressure
Fast forward to years later when I was creating my own first garden in another much littler 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.
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. Much to my surprise, no one said anything. 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 no one said anything. And better still, as the veggies grew and thrived, I started to meet neighbours I never knew existed.
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. Why have one type of kale when you can try six?
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 far away 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.