Farmer Marty always says that winter is the best time for gardening. Everything is perfect in your head, the possibilities are endless, and there’s not a bug or a weed to be found. So, let’s get thinking about the gorgeous home garden you are going to have next year. The most important thing that your garden will need is FULL SUN. No, really. If there’s a tree above your garden, you will need to cut it down. Or….find a sunnier spot, even if it’s in (GASP!) your FRONT yard.
My mama is a great gardener. I learned my first gardening skills from her, in the large backyard of the house I grew up in. After tending that lovely garden for many years, she and my dad moved to a different house with a much smaller yard, and my mom put in a much smaller backyard garden. But alas, nearby trees and a shed thwarted her efforts, and for several years, she had a very mediocre garden, due to her NIMFY attitude. Finally, about two years ago, I was home in Maryland for a visit and decided to spearhead a new and improved garden for my mom, not exactly in front but on the side of the house, visible from the road and on a slight hill. To level out the hill, we built raised beds and filled them with dead leaves and compost. If I remember right, we bought 4X4 pieces of lumber from Home Depot, and cut them to the lengths we needed. We basically made a 3 sided bed, with the hillside forming the 4th side, and the two shorter sides tapering off to meet the hill. There was a lot of grumbling from my dad, about “ruining the lawn.”
This is actually a perfect fall/winter project, because if you build your beds now and fill them with compost, leaves, manure, whatever, they have all winter to decompose, settle in, attract worms, and kill that ugly green grass underneath.
Since we built my mom’s garden, I’ve noticed more and more front yard gardens popping up around my neighborhood, and started photographing them for you, our dear readers. I LOVE the trend toward front yard edible gardens. I actually met my neighbor Alisha Scholer on account of her garden, since it required her to spend a lot of time in her front yard. She says she’s met a lot of neighbors this way. She has a few small raised beds and a lovely pole bean teepee, which overflow with bounty all summer long. Her garden is pictured at the top of this blog.
Others go so far as to remove their front lawns altogether, as my friends Tara Wolfson and Nathaniel Hoffman did, rather than build raised beds. You can remove the sod with a sod cutter, or start in the fall (or right now!) to sheet mulch with cardboard covered by a layer of leaves, manure, and compost. Their garden is HUGE. Here’s a photo.
Another garden that I loved in my neighborhood took advantage of the median strip between the sidewalk and the street. They grew quite a lot of food in raised beds, with low-maintenance rocks in between, and probably took advantage of the sunniest part of their yard. I don’t know who owned this garden (let me know if you do!), I think it was around 24th and Bannock or so. In the photo you can see how they covered one bed with bendable PVC and row cover for frost protection.
Another lovely raised-bed, front yard garden was constructed by my friend Katie Hartman. Raised beds have their advantages and disadvantages, with the main disadvantage, in my opinion, being expense. It takes a lot more soil to fill them than you will think. But often if you want just a little gardening, in a relatively neat and compact space, they can be a good option. Katie is starting a business to help folks install custom home gardens, see her sign to the right.
Boise is not, thank goodness, one of those urban metropolitan areas where you can hardly find a patch of dirt between the concrete to plant a seed. But for those who live in other places, I’ve always been amazed at the resourcefulness of some of the very urban gardeners I’ve met. Check out my friend Elizabeth’s balcony garden at her Maryland apartment, on her blog, The Bare Midriff.
Recently I visited the city of San Diego for a conference for work, and toured this urban garden, on a parking lot. So, all of the soil you see was brought in, and is only as deep as the raised beds. The gardener had his larger, deeper rooted plants like tomatoes and peppers, in pots, but the beds are sufficient for growing greens. He also had an awesome composting setup in back, to create soil right on site rather than having to bring it in. This was a for-profit urban farm, owned an operated by a Mexican immigrant. Most of his sales were in potted plant starts, and, lucky him, in San Diego’s climate you can grow practically anything.
Finally, I will leave you with this front-yard-madness photo that was emailed to me by a colleague some months back.
Apparently, the thing this young man missed most during his tour in Iraq was a grassy front lawn to walk on, so had his wife mail him soil and grass seed, so he could have some grass and some American soil in front of his tent. (Likely this is not legal, importing seeds and soil is usually restricted to prevent the spread of disease and insects.) But he got away with it, proving that the American front lawn is THIS culturally ingrained, but also proving that you can grow practically anything, anywhere. With enough inputs, that is. But if you’re going to go through the trouble, why not grow something you can eat, or at least some beautiful flowers? Even though you CAN grow a green lawn in a desert, apparently any desert, why? So many more interesting plants are waiting for you to discover.
Got a great front yard garden? Send us a photo!
That garden on Bannock is mine. My name is Jeff Anderson and thanks for the compliments. I’m friends with 25th Street Katie and Tanner. I feel ‘ve had great success with right of way gardening. The plants love how sunny it is and they don’t seem to mind the extra heat from all the asphalt and concrete. It also frees up the backyard for the kids to play in, although berries and fruit trees are being squeezed in back there too. I’d agree with your friend the best part of gardening outside backyard has been meeting lots of neighbors – its been fun trading tips and giving away what ever is over producing. Everyone asks about theft but so far it hasn’t been to be that much of a problem.
Also, not inorder to brag but more to give others a tip, the Horticulture society has a gardening contest each year. One category is called Community Improvement Projects. Right of ways, since they are ACHD property, fit in that category. I had to get a license agreement from ACHD to put in my raised beds, here is a link to that info…
Click to access License_Agreement_Guidelines.pdf
Anyways I’ve won that category twice in 2009 and 2011, each time collecting a really cool trophy paver and $300! The way the contest works is the garden/landscaping has to be new so that limits who can enter. I won twice because I expanded the original garden last year and entered the new part. The great thing is the contest favors the beginner. Anyways since lumber and soil is expensive this contest is a great way to offset the cost. 2nd and 3rd prize have $100 prizes I think. You get a botanical garden membership too! Here are the details from last year…
You’ve got a great blog. Stop by some time next spring once I’m back out gardening.
Thanks, Jeff for all the great info! I’m happy to have discovered who planted that garden, and I will stop by to visit sometime next spring! Bummer that you have to pay ACHD to plant there, but I’m glad you figured it out and got it done. Congrats on the contest, too. We entered that one once as a community garden and I think got $50 (we didn’t win), and I have been trying to convince Marty to enter the front yard category.