Thursday, July 1, 2010

Creating My Edible Front Yard

- by Sarah Renfro, Renee's Garden Business Manager

The front yard of my Santa Cruz, CA house (20 feet wide x 40 feet long) has been a neglected, patchy lawn with uninteresting shrubbery since we purchased it almost 7 years ago. Over the years, I made half-hearted attempts to beautify it by digging out old shrubs, demolishing a dated brick planter box and planting some annuals for splashes of color. Still there was no unifying design and my house certainly had no curb appeal.  Here's what it looked like:

Edible front yard landscaping at Renee's Garden
Edible front yard - a before picture
Last year’s summer drought and watering restrictions inspired me to start the transformation process. The first step was to smother the grass (and weeds) by laying down cardboard and covering it with a thick layer of bark mulch. I opted to let time do the hard work rather than try to remove the sod manually. In addition to the mulch, I gladly left all of the leaves that dropped from my Liquid Amber tree to add to the layer of decomposing organic material. I also built three (3x 10 ft.) raised beds in the spot that gets direct sun for the most of the day.

My first child (a boy named Mason) was born in November and I knew that my husband and I wouldn’t have the time needed to continue tackling the front yard landscaping this year.

Edible front yard landscaping at Renee's Garden
It was time to call in the professionals. I contacted former Renee's Garden employee Joy Albright-Souza, ( now a residential landscape designer, to create a plan. Her trained eye and thoughtful questions resulted in a design that incorporated our interest in using the front for growing food with an attractive, safe outdoor living area for our growing family.

Landscaping in progress
Now that we had a plan, we needed someone to execute it. Joy recommended Baxter Landscaping (, who worked with us to break down the project into affordable phases. Owner Dave Baxter helped us determine the best value for our money and pointed out where we could save on materials or labor by doing some of the work ourselves.

Edible front yard landscaping at Renee's Garden
Watching through the front window, with my newborn in my arms, I was truly amazed at the speed and efficiency of the work crew. Within one day they had cleared the front and laid the pipes for the irrigation system. At the end of each day, it was fun to see the drastic changes that had taken place. Of course massive rain storms caused some delays but it did make the ground nice and wet for the new plants!

By early spring our front yard had been transformed. We now had three more raised beds in various sizes and shapes to complement the existing ones, an attractive fence to enclose our expanded garden and contain the dog (and kid), trellises on the front of the house, flagstone paths and best of all, a larger front porch with room to sit and enjoy our beautiful new view.

Time to get planting! My mom, webmaster Sue (and now Nana Sue), flew in from Seattle to help me get started. The permanent plants followed the edible theme - blueberries, citrus, artichoke, guava and passion fruit to name a few. Also drought-tolerant native grasses and herbs. Crops of early spring vegetables such as “Farmer’s Market” Lettuce, “Italian” Arugula, “Super Sugar Snap” Peas and “Easter Egg” Radishes completed the planting bonanza.

Front yard landscaping - after
Now it is early summer and we are enjoying the fruits (and veggies) of our labor. I’ve done multiple sowings of lettuce, arugula, radishes and carrots and my butterfly-attracting flowers - “Dancing Petticoats” Cosmos, “Persian Carpet” Zinnias and “Junior” Sunflowers - are starting to bloom. All of the beds are setup with drip irrigation – a true time and water saver! Instead of spending time hand watering every evening we are relaxing on our front porch, talking with our neighbors and marveling at the transformation that is taking place in our new edible front yard.

The fruits and veggies of Sarah's labor

Here’s a list of the Renee’s Garden varieties in our new garden:

Lettuce “Farmer’s Market”                            
Squash “Summer Scallop Trio”  Radish, "Easter Egg"
Chard “Bright Lights”          Carrot, "King Midas"
Scallions “Delicious Duo”    Bean, "Edamame"
Peas “Super Sugar Snap”    Melons, "Three Flavor  Mix"
Watermelon “Rainbow Sherbet”    Squash, "Delicata & Butternut"
Gourds “Wings & Warts

Flowers:                                      Herbs:                           
Nasturtium “Creamsicle”          Arugula, "Italian"
Nasturtium, "Cherries Jubilee"  Alpine Strawberries,"Mignonette"
Cosmos “Dancing Petticoats”  Chives, "Fine Leaf
Sunflower “Junior”   
Zinnia “Persian Carpet
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