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Earth Week—The Edible Front Yard

by Timber Press on April 20, 2011

in Gardening

Update: Congratulations to Beth Ann Daye, who won today’s drawing for The Edible Front Yard! Thanks to everyone for playing, and check in tomorrow for a giveaway of Small Green Roofs.

As gardeners, we are in the enviable position of being able to actually give back to the earth in the form of planting, land stewardship, and habitat creation. We’re celebrating Earth Week by posting content from some of our books and by giving books away. We’ll present 5 books that offer different ways to give back to the planet, and then on Earth Day we’ll have an extra BIG giveaway of all the books that we’ve given away during the week, plus a copy of The New American Landscape, which is about the future of sustainability in gardening.

We hope you’ll find some information that is useful to you in all the posts, and that you’ll have fun entering the giveaways every day. Just comment on the day’s blog post to enter.

Do you want to keep up with what’s going on at Timber? Go “like” us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter — we post pictures from forthcoming books, announce contests and blog posts, and solicit opinions and conversation from the gardening community online. We’d love to see you there!

Fine print: No purchase necessary. Winners will be chosen at random. Open to residents of the U.S. and Canada, 18 years or older, as of 4/20/2011. Entries must be received by 4 p.m. Pacific Time on each day. Void where prohibited.

Yesterday’s alternative to the traditional lawn was a meadow garden. Today’s is an edible garden, but not just any edible garden — author Ivette Soler thinks that an attractive edible garden is a must! She writes about why in the first chapter of her book, The Edible Front Yard.

Let’s face it — not many neighborhoods will be friendly to a no-holds-barred edible landscape. Economics is among the most pressing reasons for this since your property value is intertwined with the property values of your neighbors. If you do anything that might adversely affect the perceived or assessed value of your home, such as neglecting your property, using your yard as alternative parking for your cars, or planting a raucous farm out front, there is bound to be some pushback. Don’t forget about the power of curb appeal; a great looking front yard garden is a wonderful asset to your home. Why not plant your food with an eye toward the overall beauty of your front yard? I suggest a gentler approach to creating an edible garden in such a prominent location: integrate. Integrating fruits, vegetables, and herbs with ornamentals is the best way to approach a garden that has the extra demand upon it to look great all year long. By expanding our edible palette, we create pleasing planting associations that help our edible gardens look the best they can throughout the seasons. These gardens will literally stop traffic.

Beauty Matters

Anything you grow in your front yard has to work hard for you. You want that prime piece of real estate to look fantastic as well as perform for you throughout the seasons, so any edible you plant there is under extra pressure. It will be scrutinized. When dealing with the front of your home, we have to come to grips with the fact that beauty matters. Your front yard is a greeting to the world.

Before jumping into creating your new front yard edible garden, take some time to think about what you are about to do. It’ll be fun, but you are going public. When your vegetable garden is in the backyard, you have the freedom to “let it all hang out.” But out front you need to make deliberate choices that give your edibles as much ornamental appeal as any well-designed garden. This involves getting to know the vegetables, herbs, and fruits that give you not only the food you want, but also the ease of care you need and the good looks you crave.

The successful edible front yard garden all comes down to the right plant in the right place. We have to be brutally selective, following the same kind of rules used by ornamental gardeners, when choosing which edibles to plant out front. Yes, these extra generous plants do us the honor of feeding us, but when they are placed front and center they have another set of standards they need to meet. Here are my criteria for any edible plant to be included in a front yard garden.

1. The entire plant must have a pleasing form — it cannot stand on the merits of its flowers (or vegetable or fruit) alone.

2. It has to give me at least two reasons to plant it (such as color and form, or texture and seedpods).

3. Its leaves must hold up for the entire growing season. Some edibles have leaves that are susceptible to mildews, or are such heavy feeders that the foliage is just worn out by the end of the season. In the backyard, you can deal with it. In the front yard, plant something else.

4. If you must plant less ornamental edibles in the front yard because you have no other suitable space, pay extra attention to your hardscape. It’s a lot easier to overlook wilted cucumber leaves if they are supported by a beautiful trellis.


Everyone has a style: some of us are casual while others live to preen and have all eyes upon them. Gardens are no different, especially when they are in the front yard. By choosing to create an edible garden in public, you are telling people quite a bit about yourself. Are you an organized, hardcore food devotee who has grown your own fruits and vegetables for years? Your front yard should reflect your knowledge and passion, and you should invest in an infrastructure (what we in the garden design business call hardscape — raised beds, paths, patios, and trellises) that will make your garden as lovely as it is productive. Or maybe you are new to gardening but you want to have it all — an eclectic garden that feeds your eye as well as your family. You can integrate herbs, fruits, and vegetables into your ornamental plantings and create a fun, hybrid mix of garden styles. Your choices will be apparent to your neighbors and to all who pass by. If you make those choices carefully you will create a front yard food garden with style and flair.

So what is style?

All the choices you’ve made throughout your life — where you live, what you wear, what movies you like, whether you own a dog or a cat — add up to your style. You may not be aware of your style, but other people are. A large part of any design process is identifying style and figuring out how to translate it, and a good first step is to take a look at the things you love.

At the beginning of a project, designers will gather images, swatches, and small items that catch their eye. Patterns or repetitions of themes, colors, and ideas that emerge during this process will often influence or direct the design. It is hard to visualize a project completely in your head. At some point you’ll need to start seeing your inspiration in one place so that you can begin to focus on what’s working and what isn’t. A mood board is a simple tool used by designers in all different media — clothing, interiors, gardens, products — to help refine an idea into a concrete visual form.

Where You Dwell

The modern garden is a regional garden, especially when it’s an edible front yard. Observing the specifics of your region with an open eye can bring a tremendous amount of richness to the beginning stages of a design process. Let the natural surroundings or the history of your state, county, or city be your muse.

We no longer want the front of our home to look like a yard in Anywhere, USA. Tap into your region’s essential character — perhaps it is the classical, southern charm of Savannah, Georgia, or the eclectic, anything-goes attitude of San Francisco — and reflect that inspiration in the design of your edible garden. For example, in rough and tumble central Texas, aluminum stock tanks used by ranchers for feeding and watering cattle have been appropriated by gardeners. When these familiar objects are repurposedas raised beds, planters, and ponds, the look is beautifully grounded in place and says “Texas” loud and clear.

Your choice of plants can also speak volumes about your region. In Southern California, well-known for its citrus groves, a front yard lemon tree pays homage to an old Hollywood spirit almost as effectively as a palm tree — and you get juicy fruit as a bonus. The state of Washington is rich with apple orchards, and having crisp, delicious apples freshly picked from your front yard is a luxury that most climates can’t provide. Be guided by the specifics of your region.

Your side of town

Another step in this process is to take long walks around your neighborhood and carefully study the surrounding houses. Is your neighborhood uniformly planned with houses of similar color and architectural style? Or do you live in an area that is more multifarious? Take a look at how your neighbors have planted their front yards. If others have removed their lawns and replaced them with gardens, notice how those gardens use the space. You’ll see that homes that have a mix of plants surrounding them seem more grounded, friendly, and interesting than the traditional lawn and foundation planting.

Planting for where you live

Look at the plants in your neighborhood and pay special attention to what is thriving. Easy-to-care-for gardens need plants that do well in your area. Don’t discount plants even if they seem too common: there’s no such thing as a bad plant, or an unfashionable plant, only a plant that hasn’t been used well. Junipers, for example, are often considered dull and boring, but they can help create an evergreen rhythm to gardens in all parts of the country — hot or cold — and in all kinds of garden situations, from sunny to part shade. (Junipers also produce beautiful berries that can be used as spices in cooking and in herbal beverages — a natural partner to the front yard edible palette.)

While hobby gardeners will often hunt down and cultivate plants from different climates, it is always smarter to choose plants that are accustomed to the area in which you live. The USDA zone map divides the country into eleven hardiness zones, each of which shows a different area of minimum winter temperatures. Knowing what zone you live in will give you a good general idea of what plants will flourish in your area.

Visiting your local nursery and talking to the knowledgeable staff is a smart step to take before choosing plants. I have never met a staff member at a nursery who doesn’t love talking about plants and the best way to grow them. They will know which fruit trees flourish where you live, if you need tomato varieties that will ripen early in cool weather, or what type of lettuce is best for hot weather. Not only is every zone different, but your particular city, side of town, or even neighborhood may have specific variables that affect the way your plants grow. Getting advice from someone who understands the way things grow in your climate can save you time and money.

The Place You Call Home

Now that you’ve explored your environs and have seen what is happening plantwise in your neighborhood, take a good look at your house. When designing a garden in a front yard, the general style of the house tells me where to go. I often contrast the style of garden with the style of the house, but beautiful gardens can complement the style of a house as well. My definition of contemporary and traditional has more to do with the architectural approach rather than when the house was built. Let’s figure out where your house falls in this spectrum.

Contemporary home

This broad-ranging term identifies a style of building that focuses on function rather than ornamentation. Building materials are used in a straightforward way. Clean lines and open spaces are emphasized. Natural light is utilized to its fullest potential, so these houses have large expanses of glass windows and sliding doors. A defined relationship often exists between the indoor and outdoor spaces; breezeways and overhangs are important exterior features. Most contemporary styled homes are either one-story or split-leveled. The ranch and mid-century modern homes are examples of contemporary architecture.

Often, the indoor/outdoor characteristics of a contemporary home allow for a certain amount of interaction between the plantings and the architecture, such as the opportunity for planting under a breezeway, or maybe even creating a garden of thyme on a green roof. Since contemporary houses tend to have clean lines and defined edges, I like to contrast them with bold, big, raucous gardens that play against their streamlined nature. Dramatic plants look fantastic in the gardens of modern houses, as does an emphatic use of hardscape. Building raised beds? Think about building ten of them, with one crop in each bed. Use the simplicity of your contemporary home as a strength in your landscape design.

Traditional home

Traditional houses aren’t necessarily older, they just look that way. It’s a matter of ornamentation. Windows are smaller and more numerous, there might be pillars or porticos, columns or shutters, peaked or gabled roofs. There tends to be more symmetry, with the front door as the focus of the façade and a walkway that leads from the door to a sidewalk or driveway. Colonial, Tudor, Italianate, and Victorian are all examples of traditional architecture. Many new houses are built to mimic these styles — our suburbs are full of neo-traditional homes. They can be one-story bungalows or two-story clapboard houses but they all have the familiar feel of an all-American home.

Gardens that complement a traditional house often focus on creating a sense of the familiar and the comfortable. A front yard edible garden feels appropriate to these homes, many of which reflect time periods when victory gardens were de rigueur. Fountains, pottery, and other personal touches are pleasing in a traditional front yard edible garden. I also find these houses well suited to formal treatments, such as small hedges bordering the planting beds or decorative arbors for scarlet runner beans to crawl over. The overall effect will be one of charm and grace.

{ 73 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ang J April 20, 2011 at 6:01 am

I love this gardening style and am always looking for more ideas. Our front walk is lined with blueberry bushes, which are pretty and have colorful fall foliage in addition to their delicious fruits, and we also have a large bed of attractive and fragrant herbs.

2 Gerrad April 20, 2011 at 6:35 am

I have a vegetable garden and blueberry bushes in my front yard. I would love to read this book to get ideas on how to make it more beautiful.

3 Joseph Rohrer April 20, 2011 at 7:22 am

Less mowing and home-grown food sounds good to me.

4 Michael D. Barton April 20, 2011 at 9:34 am

My wife would like this book! Thanks for entering me…

5 Leslie April 20, 2011 at 9:34 am

The less grass I have the happier I will be. And herbs out front can be very pretty.

6 Megan April 20, 2011 at 9:36 am

I’ve been eying this book for a little while now because it is something that really interests me. I’ve been doing some food growing in the backyard for the past couple of summers and I’ve been thinking about how I can expand it into the front yard. Even reading some of the comments on this post so far have given me ideas! Very excited for this contest!!

7 chad April 20, 2011 at 9:36 am

Incorporating edibles into the landscape…long over due! walk around the front yard snacking rather than mowing!

8 Carol Manahan April 20, 2011 at 9:37 am

f you can’t plant something for yourself to eat, you can always plant something for the birds.

9 Scott Weber April 20, 2011 at 9:39 am

An intriguing concept, for sure, definitely hearkens back to the original concept for cottage gardening…having ornamentals and veggies in the front bed due to lack of space and sheer convenience.

10 Alison April 20, 2011 at 9:39 am

I would love some ideas on incorporating edibles with ornamentals!

11 Courtney S. April 20, 2011 at 9:43 am

Hurray for edibles in all parts of the yard!

12 Evelyn Hadden April 20, 2011 at 9:47 am

Sometimes the best (or only) place a person has for growing edibles is the front yard — how wonderful to have a book devoted to this site’s special considerations!

13 Chris brooks April 20, 2011 at 9:49 am

What a fabulous book! I was actually looking to do this in my front yard! This book would be a great tool! I hope I win it!

14 Nichole Borgal April 20, 2011 at 9:57 am

My dream is to have an organic edible garden full of herbs, fruits, vegetables and edible flowers!

15 Tara Ayers April 20, 2011 at 9:59 am

I’ve been working on my back yard and incorporating vegetables and herbs into that landscape, but I have been afraid of going edible in the front yard. “What will the neighbors think?” I would love to have a more creative view of how to make it work. Maybe I could even start a neighborhood trend, which I did with my backyard garden and landscape. That would be a lot of fun!

16 JulietH April 20, 2011 at 10:00 am

We had planned to re-do our front yard last year and convert from lawn to drought-resistant plants, but got waylaid by my pregnancy. Maybe this summer we’ll go for it again – this time with edibles in mind!

17 Tara Ayers April 20, 2011 at 10:00 am

Of course, just as I hit “Submit Comment” I realized that my e-mail was incorrect. This one has the correct e-mail. I won’t make everyone wade through my comment/entry twice.

18 Eva April 20, 2011 at 10:03 am

The more I think about it, the more I want to make my entire front yard into raised beds. I’m sure the neighbors would have a horse, but I’m not sure I care. :)

19 Jennifer K. April 20, 2011 at 10:06 am

I’ve been following Ivette leading up to the book release & would *love* to win it!

20 david schmetterling April 20, 2011 at 10:06 am

I’m always looking for attractive alternatives to lawns and this book looks like it has some wonderful examples!

21 Heather G. April 20, 2011 at 10:10 am

The less lawn, the better!

22 christine April 20, 2011 at 10:14 am

We are constantly working to add more edibles to our yards. Looks like something we need for our library.

23 LynetteJ April 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

I’m a first year gardener. This sounds like it might have some excellent ideas for adding some delicious beauty to our yard! :)

24 Jim K April 20, 2011 at 10:17 am

It is a great Idea of making the yard look great, and being able to graze while we are out there, I know the more fruiting plants I put in the more birds I have gotten to visit the yard, they seem to be eating bugs as well.

25 Judy April 20, 2011 at 10:21 am

I love the idea of incorporating edibles (and natives) in the landscape. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to take up a large portion of the yard for a traditional vegetable garden.

26 DOTTIE WILSON April 20, 2011 at 10:25 am

I don’t have a front yard. I don’t have a backyard. But I do have a fire escape that I’ve been gardening on, and many of Ivette’s ideas have seemed to work. Last summer she was invaded by evil gophers while I contended w/ psychotic squirrels. This summer will be better for both of us. I hope!!! Her book sounds most awesome, and I would LOVE to win a copy! :D

27 Janis Mack April 20, 2011 at 10:25 am

A great book to add to the ever-growing library!

28 Jon A Niedzwiecki April 20, 2011 at 10:37 am

I would love a copy. It would be a great sales aid for you and for me when I do Farm Markets and garden renewals this summer.

29 Laurin Lindsey April 20, 2011 at 10:37 am

Great information…inspiring too! I just designed a partially hidden veggie garden for a front yard : )

30 Robin Netzer April 20, 2011 at 10:38 am

Hungry for more ideas and would love to win this book.

31 amanda eberly April 20, 2011 at 10:40 am

very fun and great ideas for gardens!

32 Helen MacAndrew April 20, 2011 at 10:42 am

I think this book is a must have! I read their facebook page daily and am always reading about something in the book that I want to know more about…so I really want to win a copy!!

33 Beth Ann Daye April 20, 2011 at 10:45 am

This book would be perfect for my desired life style…

34 Laura Orcutt April 20, 2011 at 10:47 am

i am reading this book now that i picked up @ our local library. it was just what i was looking for and would love to add it to my permanent book collection so when we move to our new house i don’t have to keep borrowing it from the library :)

35 Lisa Hearley April 20, 2011 at 10:56 am

I love the fact that I can use my whole property to my advantage by growing organic. It makes my son happy cause he doesn’t have to mow anymore. I am unemployed and would love a copy of this book. ty

36 Samantha H. April 20, 2011 at 11:07 am

I was just considering buying this book, it would be great to get it for free!

37 James April 20, 2011 at 11:18 am

Would be really useful to get an American title. Coming from the UK i have suddenly realised how amazing it is to have such mild winters and long summers. I can’t believe how short the growing season is here, frost to frost!

38 Nessa April 20, 2011 at 12:10 pm

More people should have edible lawns.

39 Jennifer April 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm

It’s actually a dream of mine to have a thyme with stone path frontyard!

40 Kristina April 20, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I’m a fan of both Front Yard Food and Timber Press on facebook and would love, love, love to get my paws on this book :)

41 Brian April 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I’d love to win a copy! Love the blog

42 Carri April 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I LOVE my edible front yard! My neighbors are finally accepting it- I even saw one house in my neighborhood that installed beautiful raised beds in their front yard!

43 Cindy Lees April 20, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I discovered how beautiful edible landscaping can be several years ago . I had an extra pepper plant and no room to plant it in my small vegetable garden ,so I stuck in the corner of my flower bed. It was absolutely beautiful! A copy of this book would be very beneficial , because I am always searching for creative ways to use edibles in my landscaping.

44 Alicia @culinarybliss April 20, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I’d love to get this book! We are replacing some old bushes with food this season and would love some tips.

45 Laura S. April 20, 2011 at 1:01 pm

This summer I am on a mission to make my entire suburban yard edible. I have been wanting to read this book, it’s the perfect way to combine premature with suburban aesthetics.

46 Kari April 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm

My husband just went to the local community college and came back with edible plants for our front yard! Now we need your book so we can figure out what we are doing!

47 Jocelyn April 20, 2011 at 1:12 pm

What a great looking book. Love the idea of a complete edible front yard, and so much more pretty than a boring old patch of grass :)

48 jessica April 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm

A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit in.
I have three boys and am trying me best to teach them the value of the above meaning. People are forgetting how to do one of the most needed skills, how to collect and grow your own food. I would love this book!

49 Fiona April 20, 2011 at 1:21 pm

I saw this book in the bookstore here in Victoria yesterday and I thought, oo, I wonder if I might be able to WIN that from the lovely people at Timber Press.

50 abby April 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm

edible gardens are so beautiful every house should have one

51 Denise April 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I live in the Mojave desert and I am having one heck of a time with all this wind and sand. A garden is seemingly impossible. I would love to read this book!

52 Carol K April 20, 2011 at 1:39 pm

We’ve been incorporating edibles in our front yard since we lived in Georgia and that was the best soil! Here in Pennsylvania, we grow food for us and other visitors — from 2 legged to eight, as well as winged types. I’ve been considering turning the front yard into an orchard…

53 Theodora April 20, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I have been anicipating having an opportunity to see and buy your book! I still havent seen it at any of the Garden/ landscape events! I would love to have a copy!

54 Pam April 20, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Even the title-Edible Front Yard-makes me have happy thoughts of an endless neighborhood walkby potluck! Yummers!!

55 Theresa N April 20, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Great idea, no wasted space.

56 Jackie April 20, 2011 at 2:13 pm

I have lots of shade in the front yard. I would welcome ideas and suggestions about what I could plant that would be both edible and good to look at. I see raised beds in the subdivision, but they all get full sun. This book would be a welcome addition to my library.

57 meemsnyc April 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I dream about turning my entire yard into an edible landscape. That would be awesome. I planted a lot of fruit shrubs and trees this year. So I’m hoping we’ll have great harvests soon!

58 Juliet Gamarci April 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm

This sounds like a great book! Edible landscaping has been catching on, particularly in urban areas! My front lawn here in Austin is a wildlife magnet, I plant edibles for the birds and bugs since I don’t have enough sun to grow veg. For more examples of sustainable alternatives to the typical front lawn, two books I would recommend to are Fritz Haeg’s “Edible Estates” and Diana Balmori’s “Redesigning the American Lawn”

59 Loridean April 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Love to win, need help this spring with remaking my front yard edible friendly!

60 Ron Bansemer April 20, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Sounds fascinating. My mom used to talk about her dad’s Victory Garden during WWII … not just in the “garden”, it was all over the yard. Would love to try this!

61 Alison April 20, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Veggies beat the heck out of ornamental shrubs!

62 Wanda Eberly April 20, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Looks like a great book!

63 Lisa April 20, 2011 at 3:06 pm

I’m visiting in Seattle now and am thrilled by the number of front-yard veggie gardens I’m seeing here. These people are so with it!!!

64 Kel April 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Started a front yard garden last year, but need some tips regarding the attractiveness factor ;-)

65 Daisy April 20, 2011 at 3:15 pm

I’d love this. The advice and ideas look perfect for my neighborhood!

66 Kathy April 20, 2011 at 3:26 pm

I have a very tiny, so if I’m to plant edibles, it has to be in a highly visible area. This book could certainly help make it as pretty as I’d like.

67 Brad April 20, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Trying to use some of these concepts with rooftop gardening this year. Importance in blending function with, aesthetics and zone/region appropriate and native plant choices.

68 Lisa April 20, 2011 at 3:37 pm

It is a great day to grow more food!

69 Joy Huffman April 20, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Love to garden and like to see and read about new ideas on gardening….~joy

70 Ginny Sherwood April 20, 2011 at 3:55 pm

My 99 year old historic neighborhood in San Diego has two large and beautiful front yard farms!

71 Jan April 21, 2011 at 4:44 am

Great idea to plant edibles. Get rid of that thirsty lawn.

72 Tara C April 21, 2011 at 8:35 am

This looks wonderful! I’ve been growing organic veggie gardens with my kids for the last 3 years…but I still have so much to learn. Would love to win this book :)

73 Patricia Zedalis April 22, 2011 at 7:45 am

I contacted Fritz H. a few years ago and offered my front yard as a showcase. It didn’t work out but every spring I’m thinking about how to make this happen and get rid of all of that lawn. Looking forward to reading this book.

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