When you garden in the city, you take your sunshine where you can find it. I have a tiny postage-stamp of a front yard, and a decent-sized back yard (for downtown). Neither one of them gets full sunlight, but from mid-June on the front yard gets blazing, baking afternoon light that vegetables seem to love. I had forgotten this when I started my garden this summer. Slowly but surely, though, I've been migrating pots and containers to the front of the yard, where they flourish, and scratching my head as I wonder about the best use for my backyard space.
Some of you may have heard the story this summer of a Michigan woman who was threatened with jail time for having replaced her front lawn with raised vegetable beds. In the end the charges were dropped, but things like this happen from time to time in the suburbs and in gated communities. In my 'hood, though, I think people are happy just to see something other than cars up on blocks, rampant sticky-buds, and abandoned, rusting home appliances.
Now, my front yard isn't going to win any beauty contests. The fence needs painting, the gate is broken, and there's a mud-pit where there once was grass. Still, people smile when they walk past, and they often stop to ask me what I'm growing. There's always some amazement when I rattle off my "grocery list": potatoes, chard, snow peas, garlic, radishes, tomatoes, fava beans, herbs, edible flowers, carrots, leeks, arugula, and some struggling squash plants... ground cherries... strawberries... did I leave anything out?
For a seasoned vegetable grower, it's easy to tell that I'm harbouring dinner among the pansies, cosmos, nasturtiums, and poppies in front of my house, but to the average passer-by, it all just looks like greenery. And I like it this way. Not that I object to front yards looking like mini-farms - I'm all for growing your veggies in any way that suits your schedule, your aesthetic, and your available growing space. But there's something fun about being able to sneak your edibles past everyone, and I love the way people react when they realize I have the makings of many meals just outside my front door.
There are a lot of inspiring books and websites about edible landscaping (aka "making your veggie garden look super pretty"). British gardening show host Alys Fowler's books, The Edible Garden and Garden Anywhere are both really fantastic (and her climate is similar to ours). Rosalind Creasy is the guru of ornamental edible gardening, and her book, Edible Landscaping, has just been re-released (it's excellent). Ivette Soler's The Edible Front Yard is a new book with lots of great ideas for creating a beautiful garden design with your fruits and veggies.
Of course, no matter what your vegetable garden looks like, it's all about what's coming out of it, and on to your plate. How about some delicious new potatoes? I cooked these ones up with chard, beet tops, and chives, and the next harvest got cooked and tossed with fava beans and dill (and doused with butter and lemon juice). Better than any store, that's for sure!