Lawns into Gardens: an act of horticultural rebellion


I have a goal for this year: to tear up most of the front yard and plant a vegetable garden. We spend all our time in the back, so the front yard is almost never used. It’s south-facing and surrounded by a large cedar hedge, which many people have pointed out is an asset. I think what they mean is that the neighbours don’t have to see my act of horticultural rebellion, but I don’t really care; hedge or no hedge, it’s time for the grass to go.

I’m not a fan of lawns. Of course a lush, well-manicured lawn can be beautiful, but it’s a sort of insidious beauty with a dark underside, spelled out in the little warning signs that say (more or less), “Keep your kids off here for the next 24 hours because it’s been sprayed with poisonous chemicals, but after that you can pretend it never happened and roll around like usual. Oh, and if you get a rash, just hose your kid down.” Lawns are costly, from the pesticides to the water, and are actually quite dull for kids to play on. There’s hardly anything to do on a lawn if there are no dandelions, clover or weeds to pick.

About growing one’s own vegetables, however — now we’re talking! I look at my front yard and see a huge chunk of wasted land, potentially fertile and productive land, that could produce fresh organic food to feed my family. Not only would I have a great reason to get active outside with my kids, I’d also save money on groceries while teaching them how plants grow. I have wonderful memories of working in my aunt’s big kitchen garden, digging for potatoes, picking pea pods, and plucking juicy ripe cherry tomatoes. It’s absolutely thrilling, especially for a child for whom many things are miraculous.

I’ve done a bit of reading online and have discovered that there’s tremendous opposition to front-yard gardens. Mark Bittman wrote about Jason and Jennifer Helvenston of Orlando, FL, who were threatened a $500/day fine for planting vegetables in their front yard. The city was saying that only 25% of a front yard could be allocated toward vegetables and fruit. While it seems utterly ridiculous to me that a city can dictate something like that, Fritz Haeg explains in Bittman’s article that it’s about perceptions of beauty: “[These battles] are about reconsidering our basic value systems and ideas of beauty.” Bittman points out that urban gardening has tremendous potential. If 10% of American lawns were used for growing food, it could supply one-third of the U.S.’s fresh vegetables needs based on current consumption rates. After all, lawns are the biggest crop in the States, three times greater than corn, and covers 50,000 square miles.

One major hurdle, however, is that even if someone loves the idea of front yard gardens, most of us (including myself) know very little about growing vegetables. We’ve become so alienated from food production that it’s hard to know where to start. That’s where a cool new idea comes into play: farmers should make house calls! Imagine if you could hire a farmer (similar to a CSA share) to come plant a garden in your front yard and teach you how to care for it. It’s a brilliant idea, and one that I’d certainly benefit from if there were any willing farmers around. But since there aren’t (as far as I know), my veggie gardening will be mostly a trial-and-error experiment this summer. I’ll head to the library instead and make a lot of phone calls to my mother, who heads a successful community garden. In the meantime… Step 1: Wait for spring!

Related posts on Feisty Red Hair:
A Saga of Feathered Fowl
Sometimes I dream of becoming a farmer


7 thoughts on “Lawns into Gardens: an act of horticultural rebellion

  1. We are grass free! I love that our kids can walk outside and forage from the front yard. We installed an edible rain garden last year which allows us to infiltrate our stormwater on-site and get the benefit of currants and blueberries in return. It’s pretty awesome.

    We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood and city where this is becoming the norm. As an urban planner, I spend some of my time helping jurisdictions remove barriers to urban agriculture so that transforming lawn into lettuce is possible. It seems like such a waste to me to have extensive landscapes maintained and watered for appearances only when the same spaces could be beautiful AND delicious!

  2. Wonderful idea!
    I think many people with young kids hang on to their lawns, thinking it’s necessary for play-space…but the funny thing I’ve noticed in our neighborhood is, the kids don’t seem to have much interest in a plain lawn. They come into our yard to poke around the garden!
    I hope you have fun with your garden – I loved getting out there and ripping out our lawn when we first moved in. (But it’s only fun while you’re still young and strong, so enjoy it while you can!)

  3. Great post! I’m planning growing an herb and vegetable (fennel and rhubarb) border along the front walk way to my new house, as soon as it warms up. I’m also going to plant amaranth in my window boxes, so I can eat the leaves and harvest the grain later in the season. I come from a long line of farmers so all these yards around me now with no gardens seem like wasted space to me. My husband and I figure the more garden we have, the less gas we have to waste on the lawn mower!

  4. There is a couple near our survey that do the same thing. Vegetables one year and the next it is flowers. It is really nice to walk past their front “lawn” and see how well kept it is.

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