Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Front yard vegetable garden

As recently as one year ago, this blog post title would have been even more incendiary than my recent political commentary.  It has amazed me just how quickly Americans have about-faced their historical horror and begun embracing the idea of growing crops in the front yards of their urban and suburban homes.  What had been radical is now not even new, and the only bleeding edge I can lay claim to is the finger that I cut pulling weeds this morning.
I kid you not - there's even a book explaining how to work your munchie magic amongst driveway, car, front walkway, and foundation beds.

Downsampled screengrab from Amazon featuring the cover of "The Edible Front Yard" by Ivette Soler (aka The Germinatrix on Twitter).   
I had been planning to start growing edibles in my front yard for years, but the time and effort required to develop my back yard made me slow out of the blocks on this one.  Even now that I'm non-radical, I thought I'd show you the very beginnings of how this front yard crop-raising trend can be made to work in greater Houston, because we have our own special set of challenges here.
Here's Phase 1 of our front food foray.  I will do a separate step-by-step post on the construction of this thing, but from the outline in the grass sod, you can get a first feel for the finessing of it.  This location originally had a standard builder-installed curved foundation planting bed ("mulch bed") constructed on grade, which is strongly sloped here for lot drainage.  We tore out that bed and installed the rectilinear stacked stone garden you see above. We had to infill the previously-curved bed footprint with grass sod patches which will grow to become fully blended with the main lawn in a few more weeks. 

The main feature that distinguishes this kind of approach from a typical raised bed is that this is installed on the level rather than following the lot grade.  Leveling the stone allows for successful stacking and makes the right-hand edge of the bed appear to "dive into" the earth, because that part of the lawn is at higher elevation.  It becomes a semi-isolated garden into which specialized soils can then be placed. 
It doesn't look much like a vegetable garden, does it?  I am in full agreement with Outlaw Garden's "Ten rules for growing vegetables in the front yard".  Many of those rules pertain to esthetics.  The front-yard vegetable gardeners who have made national and international news for fighting with their HOA or municipal authorities (sometimes to the point of being threatened with incarceration) usually were the ones who made the mistake of making their gardens look less sophisticated than they arguably ought to have been.  People don't generally argue with attractive property investments, even when they're unconventional.  A few of my neighbors asked how much this Phase 1 creation cost us.  I replied, "It cost a friggin' fortune because that rare stone you see there had to be transported from Oklahoma." And then I quote them the cost figure and they reply, "Oh, that was worth it - I would pay that much."  (More on the cost issues in a later post when I talk about the build specs). 

As Outlaw Garden notes, one of the golden rules of front-yard vegetable gardening is to include ornamentals.  That makes the thing look less utilitarian and more decorative.
Lantana from Maas Nursery.  The poor thing lived three years in a pot before this location was finally ready to receive it. 
I forget the name, but I really like this plant.  It flowers almost continually.  I got it from Faith's Garden Shed Naturally about two years ago and it, too, lived in a pot until I could get it transplanted here. 
No matter how small the budget for a front-yard garden, everyone can afford marigolds.  This hardy annual can generally be bought at big-box home improvement stores for less than one dollar per plant. 
So with the larger lantana and the what's-his-name ornamentals anchoring both ends of the garden and the smaller marigolds interspersed for good measure, here are the edibles that I'm starting off with:
African blue basil. We do eat it, but it will also make stunning flowers when it gets larger. 
Sweet basil in the purple variety (it probably has a variant name but I can't recall it), which doesn't stand out very well against the similarly-colored mulch.  We eat basil by the fistful. 
Lavender.  Love the smell, even if I'm not inclined to eat it (some people are). 
Sweet potatoes.  Suburbanites sometimes use these as ornamentals, either as ground cover or as climbing vines, and often don't even bother to harvest the potatoes. 
Crookneck squash.  If it grows to be as large as the one in our back yard, I'll have a management issue on my hands.  But I'll also have more calabaza con puerco.   
Cowpeas (black-eyed peas).  I haven't grown these before, so this is an experimental year for these. 
So there you have a glimpse of Phase 1.  More to follow in future posts. 
It's not as easy as it looks, I'm afraid, nor is it as inexpensive as I'd like to be.  But according to my neighbors, it was well worth it. 

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