Friday, June 7, 2013

Rethinking the Garden

The peas got me thinking: I need more room for vegetable gardening.

This is not a new thought, of course. Every time I buy my seeds in the spring, I end up with a surfeit and no place to plant them. After several expansions, the vegetable garden is as big as it is possible to make it. And we've learned from experience that, between the twin challenges of limited sunlight and two--shall we say--boisterous dogs, the back yard simply isn't well suited to growing food.

Behold the violence inherent in the system.

Then I remembered this.

Big bed. Is that a chain link fence OR a support for garden peas?

One of the things I love about our neighborhood is it's old and settled. Best of all, there is no home owners' association and nobody telling you what you can or cannot grow in your front yard.

In the past, it never would have occurred to me that the Big Bed in front contained potential farmland. In fact, it didn't; the maple tree in the middle made sure of that with its dry shade.

It's been sitting on all flats for the 6 years we've lived here. DUMB AIRSTREAM.
Dumb tree. Dumb Airstream.

But then last year, this happened.

I admit it, I hated that tree.
And now the Big Bed is a sunny oasis, as you saw above.

The original scheme was to replace the giant, over-shady, over-seeding maple with another tree--a little tree, a decorative tree, one that knew its place and wouldn't send the front yard into darkness every summer, or double my weeding chores every spring by planting a trillion little maple seedlings in my flower beds. The new plantings I've done this spring were placed according to my expectation that a new little tree would soon appear and cast a (much smaller) shadow on part of the Big Bed.

Now I'm having second thoughts. I'm realizing I now have a lot more sunny real estate available to me. It's not as much as it appears to be above; the summer perennials have come in and there's a lot less free space. But there IS space, and I'm considering using it to expand our vegetable and fruit growing options as opposed to putting in that new tree.

I'm encouraged in this possible endeavor by Cristina Santiestevan, one of my favorite bloggers who lives at the Outlaw Garden. Christina, in defiance of her home owners' association's restrictions, grows all kinds of food in her front yard, and her front yard is spectacularly beautiful (check out her blog and see if her edible landscape doesn't put yours to shame like it does mine). The HOA's rules no doubt are intended to ensure that front yards are aesthetically pleasing and don't look like tilled farmland. Christina proves that you can grow edibles in a way that's beautiful and even fits with the flower garden aesthetic.

I love my fowees (flowers) too much to turn the Big Bed into a giant veg bed, but it seems to me there's room for everyone. The ugly chain link fence: a support for garden peas, cucumbers, and pole beans? The less-developed back of the bed: room for a blackberry patch (I have one cane I planted this spring). Bush beans and strawberries used as ground cover? Maybe, finally, a successful and permanent bed of asparagus? I'm becoming more and more interested in the possibilities.

(Speaking of asparagus, I've managed to not grow it two years in a row, despite planting the crowns in the spring. What am I doing wrong?)

One challenge to this plan is that dumb maple tree's root system, which makes digging in the Big Bed somewhat challenging. But if I'm growing from seed, that should be as big an issues, should it? (I wouldn't grow root veg in there for that reason.)

Who's growing food in their flower beds? What's your experience been? Any advice for the hair-brained?


  1. Since my original veg garden is under increasing shade (from the food-producing plum tree, but still), I've moved some edible plantings around. Blueberries are nice shrubs; those with reddish stems provide "winter interest" - so they can go in a prominent location. Strawberries make a good perennial groundcover. Blackberries line the fence along the driveway. Pole beans can grow in a decorative arbor, especially ones with showy flowers like scarlet runner beans.

    This is my first year moving edibles to the front yard. I've planted a few fish peppers by the front door - pepper plants are nice and neat looking, and these have interesting variegated foliage. I also dug up part of the perennial border by the rear entrance to put squash and huckleberries. I still have more peppers that need homes.

  2. I do grow some vegetables in the front yard flower bed. They are usually the kind with foliage that looks good with the flowers and do not need staking. Peppers, herbs, onions, radishes, bush beans, carrots, and squash make the list. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and potatoes do not.

  3. @Cherry Lane: I've got a couple of blueberry bushes in the bed right in front of the house, and of course you were there when I bought my blackberry, who's got a bunch of green berries in the Big Bed. I really like the idea of using strawberries as a ground cover; I'm thinking of transplanting as much sweet woodruff out of The Big Bed to the backyard this fall and replacing with strawberries.

    @Swimray, I just last weekend put seeds for a bush bean patch and a wax bean patch, plus a few cantaloupes. I'm really hoping they germinate and take off. Like you, I'm keeping my taters and maters in the real veg garden. ALTHOUGH I could see cukes on the chainlink fence; my mom did that and it was very successful.