A Front Yard Garden: Eye-Sore or Rightful Use of Space?

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Living in high-maintenance suburbia comes with a ton of positives and negatives.  On one hand, I can walk down the street and be fairly confident I will cast my eyes on pretty manicured lawns. A Trans-Am on cinder blocks with a blue tarp covering it, or an old rusty RV in the front yard wouldn’t last 10 minutes in my neighborhood without someone calling a tow truck company.

On the other, living in suburbia does come with restrictions.

I can’t build a super cool salvaged wood shed for my garden tools in my front yard, or build any additional garden boxes on the side of my property.  So when I read a recent New York Times article about gardeners across the nation who are facing the courts and even jail time for refusing to give up their front yard gardens {which are against HOA codes}, it peeked my interest.

front yard garden{photo credit - Sustainable Transition}

The people in the article, who are all short on space, are growing gardens in their front yards for all sorts of reasons. Some simply don’t have the backyard space, and the front yard is their only alternative, and some just want to grow a few herb plants out front.  Their neighbors have complained at the lack of “ground covering” {read:  grass}, which violates their neighborhood codes.  The opposing sides say it lowers their property values and is an eyesore. What? Vegetables an eye sore? What about all the people who have brown patchy lawns and weeds? Wouldn’t a nice maintained row of vegetables out front look better? Am I off my rocker here?

Anyways, the article got me thinking about my YOU.

Many of you grow gardens in containers or small corners of your yards.  Do any of you have gardens in your front yard?  Do you think people should be allowed to turn their front yard into a garden if they live in an organized neighborhood?

Do you think it’s possible to get everyone in a neighborhood {or at least the majority} to agree on an answer?

~Mavis

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Comments

  1. rachel whetzel says:

    When we lived in the city, I tore out our front lawn, and put in a garden. My neighbors thought it looked nice, as did the many MANY pedestrians that walked our street, and stopped to say so. My front yard was THE only space I had that got enough sun (on the rainy Oregon Coast) to plant a garden. Our backyard was consumed by an in ground pool we couldn’t use more than a week a year. lol

  2. I live in high maintenance suburbia as well. No front yard gardens allowed. However, this summer, I noticed that a neighbor had tucked a single squash plant into a flower bed right along the sidewalk. What a rebel!

  3. I just read an article posted on FB about this issue with a couple in Florida. Frankly I think it’s insane that anyone would take issue with someone growing a vegetable garden. In today’s world I think all efforts to be more self-sustainable should be applauded, not levied with fines and court dates.

    A well maintained garden is never an eyesore in my view, and I don’t see how anyone could claim it lowers property values. I think a person should be able to grow any kind of garden they want on their own property.

  4. you have to check this blog http://www.lepotagerurbain.com/! I know, it’s french, but you only have to select english and it’ll be translated. It made news all around the worls past summer!

    In my little town, we have no problem with front or side garden. Near where I live, there’s this place where they have a whole field next to their home as a garden, right at a street corner!

    • Thanks, I love the posters they link to.

    • That’s so fantastic! Did you see the before and afters at the end? A mere 6 months later & they both look so much younger, obviously due to a healthier diet of their own homegrown vegetables. My neighborhood is sort of on the fence about front-yard gardens. We could never blanket the entire yard, but I’m sure we could get away with “borders” and maybe a circular bed of something attractive. I grew tons of basil last year next to my plumeria (we live in central FL, so the plumeria itself was a challenge).

  5. We used to have vegetable plants in our front yard in the border areas. We still kept a grassy area and some flowers, but the vegetables were practical foliage – and really, the peppers and green beans and sweet potatoes grew green and lush in the harsh full sun conditions that caused most other typical yard plants to grow brown and sickly in the summer. I doubt that most people even noticed that the well-manicured row of bushes lining the front walk were peppers instead of some other bush. The ones that did notice thought it looked great and were hopeful that we would pass along some produce. We were careful to only plant things that looked nice and could be incorporated into the landscaping. We also were careful to not plant anything that would be easy targets for vandals to pick and throw and cause a mess (yes, you can throw a pepper or green bean but it won’t have as much mess as a ripe tomato or a pumpkin.)

    So many plants can truly be considered as either flowers or edibles, ornamental or edibles, etc that I really don’t think people should be splitting hairs about the kind of plants that people choose to put in their yard! I know that this has become an issue in many areas with xeriscaping as well. I say to let people think outside the grass box if they want to. Seriously, anyone who cares enough to work up a plan and maintain a yard that is xeriscaped or a garden will probably maintain it better than 90% of the people with standard grass yards.

    As to property values. Having moved and bought a house in the last couple of years, I can tell you that as potential buyers we were more turned off by overly restrictive covenants than we were by someone’s landscaping. Maybe it is just us, but I don’t think so. Sorry for such a long post. It just really strikes a cord with me!

  6. The precise reason we chose a home in a neighborhood without a functioning hoa… nobody is going to tell me what I can plant in my yard! Sheesh…. yes there are a few homes with trashy yards (only a few), but it’s worth it to be able to keep chickens & grow vegetables in peace!

    (English teacher moment— your interest was “piqued”.)

  7. I think that most people who would spend the time and money into turning their front yards into gardens would be the type to maintain them well. Even in winter, empty garden beds don’t look any worse than dead grass does. If you live in an HOA, you can often just ask permission to do what you want (to get approval, it especially helps if you include great pictures of beautiful gardens with your application showing how great it will look). We live on an Air Force base in privatized housing, so aren’t allowed to do much either, but we got permission to put in a long raised bed garden along one fence wall in the back yard.

  8. How funny you should mention this. I just called my city of 50,000 yesterday to ask if there was any such restrictions. While the first lady who answered said it was not allowed and she has never seen any vegetables in a front yard, I later got a better answer because she offered to transfer me to someone with the code # or law about it and that man said there has never been a law here. I should be fine. I explained I have a 3′ fence in front of my house surrounding the front yard with manhattan euonymus in front of that so it’s not like my vegetables or herbs would be on the front curb. He thought I’d be fine. I said I wanted to check because I didn’t want to do a lot of work and then find out it had to be torn up. I wrote down his name. Last year we cut down a big elm and then the grass that only liked shade died so I have a big bare spot I could do a lot with. I recommend calling first. I don’t live in a high maintenance area but if I did I would probably try to get something in writing from the city first if you are planning anything major. I know it would be important not to block the view of cars pulling out. For example, from little school children walking by. I was told my bushes needed to be under 3′. While the idea of 6′ bushes or bamboo surrounding the front might be fun, it won’t be allowed.

  9. I also want to say that I love the idea of front yard gardens. I hope to see a lot more of them! Oh and I called my city to ask about chickens. I was told to call the animal shelter. They said I can have up to 15! I’m not planning on that many but I didn’t think it would be that high a number. Also, they don’t discriminate against roosters he said which totally suprised me. The chickens must be 50′ away from any property like a house or garage of a neighbor. I have yet to build my chicken coop but I’m working on it. Also, I thought it would be great fun to grow a sunflower house and then feed the chickens all the heads after the plants are done.

  10. I’ve been thinking about turning my front yard into a garden for years. This may be the year I do it! I don’t think my neighbors will mine but I may be in for a surprise, we’ll see!

  11. What a timely post! I was just about to send you pictures of us turning our front yard into a garden! It’s the only place we have sun. I’m the crazy lady with the playhouse chicken coop and we don’t have any sun in the back where the chickens are. Plus, its pretty small and that is where the kids play.

    So, although we rent (landscape is our responsibility per lease), we decided to invest the time and energy into the space. I started with 3 raised beds in August, but it wasn’t enough space for me. So, my husband and I toyed with lots of layouts and decided to take the plunge. Had 6-8yds of topsoil delivered yesterday and between the afternoon and this morning I had it all spread. The space is about 1000 sq ft. It has a 36″ border of lawn around the edges since we are on a corner lot and don’t want to invest in a fence. Just this morning I had 2 neighboors stop and chat with me. One guy said,”your making the rest of us look bad :) ”. We aren’t going to do raised beds, just added enough soil to raise up the soil level about 4″. Going for a more organic sweeping layout, rather than structured so we’ll be incorporating lots of herbs, flowers, and veggies.

    I also have a DIY seed rack with grow lights setup on our screen porch. We’ve had high 70′s weather for a week (Charleston, SC), so its been nice to get this project going. Rain tonight, then back to our normal temps of highs in the upper 50′s/60′s and lows in the upper 30′s/40′s. Another month and I can put seeds in the ground and transplant some of my seedlings!

    Oh, and if I’m considered a rebel and people complain, I will wear that like a badge of honor!

  12. Mavis,
    I just sent you pictures of my front yard garden last night (and my back yard chickens). I have more if you’d like to see them. I tried to focus a lot on the appearance and design of my garden, since a lot of people would be driving and walking past. I actually never heard a complaint about my garden and got lots of compliments on it. I never asked permission from anyone! We are not part of an HOA but I still think it’s important to keep your yard looking decent for those who have to look at it every day. The idea of using what land I own to produce food for my family and others instead of growing useless grass is so very appealing to me. Rosalind Creasy’s book about Edible Landscaping and Ivette Soler’s book The Edible Front Yard are both very inspiring and give lots of ideas of how to keep things looking attractive.
    If I experienced any opposition to my garden, I don’t know what I’d do… I sure wouldn’t want to give it up without a fight. It’s MY property! As long as it’s no devaluing someone else’s land, there shouldn’t be a problem with what I do with it.

  13. I’ve been growing food in my front yard for 4 years. I just don’t get enough sun in my heavily wooded and shaded back yard. I started by tucking in tomato and eggplants with my ornamentals, corn next to the tallest part of my front porch, and strawberries under a tree, etc. I cleared out a frameless 8×20 ft area to plant my veggies in the middle of my yard, but hit solid rock, in 3 places – though everything grew wonderfully. Then 2 years ago, I started shopping at Aldi’s when they were selling 4×4 composite planter boxes. I’ve bought them 2 years running and will continue to do so. Aside from a 3×8 frameless bed of asparagus, I now have 2 4×12 rectangles in my front yard. Though I’m thinking that if I pick up a couple of new planters this year I will divide them so that I have 4 – 4x8s. I’ve also hived the strawberry’s in 2 large frameless swathes, plus a decent sized fig tree.
    I’ve planted specific veggies at neighbors request. And have had wonderful luck with annuals that reseed themselves.

  14. Susan Reid says:

    Hi from Australia Mavis! We have a great gardening show on T V here called “Gardening Australia” ( available on ABC iview if you can get that app). The host Costa spent most of last year showing us how to develope the verge in front of our houses into vege and herb beds.!

  15. Susan Reid says:

    Check out this whole street of from yard garden in Sydney , Australia. http://milkwood.net/2012/05/31/a-whole-street-of-verge-gardens/

  16. Not the front yard, but the side and back yard flower beds are now veggie beds. Can’t do the front yard because it is small and dominated by a beautiful dogwood., too shady. In addition we have one raised bed in the back, and a ground plot, with plans for two more beds this year. The other side of the back yard is for my four hens, who have a new moveable fence to keep them out of my veggies, they ate all my fall cabbage and bok choy plants!
    Its funny you should bring this up because I had a conversation about HOA’s and town laws regarding chickens this morning. She lives in a subdivision with an HOA which was originally run by the developer but got taken over by the residents, and she is quite happy now. Chickens are not allowed. We didn’t talk about gardens. We specifically looked for a house that was not in an HOA so we could plant and raise what we wanted. We are quite happy.

  17. I personally think some of the most beautiful front yards are those that have gardens in them!

    As to property value…I remember when our daughter wanted to plant her gardens in the city, the realestate agent told her that the gardens would actually increase the value of the property!

    I love gardens, and do have them in my front yard containing perennials, annuals, edibles, evergreen landscaping shrubs, and even a mini pond. I have always received compliments on them from both neighbors and visitors. But I don’t live in an area with HOA codes.

  18. Wouldn’t be allowed in my neighborhood, can’t even leave a car out of the garage overnight and yards are even stricter. You can do what you want in the back and many have gardens and everyone has at least an acre. So that is plenty of space and then no contention about front yards, it keeps the neighborly peace. There are plenty of neighborhoods without restrictions so those wanting to live freer can and those that like structure can get that too. Something for everyone with choices is always good.

  19. I didn’t see anyone mention WWII Victory Gardens. Boy, people have forgotten our history in the last 60 years. I say let people grow what they please and help the family lower their budget.

  20. I love front yard gardens and grew tomatoes and pumpkins in a flower bed next to my house last summer and I plan to add more vegetable plants to the front yard this summer. I’d love to remove some of the lawn and add some raised beds. I live in the desert and spend a fortune on water every summer, and vegetables require less water than grass! We also have fruit trees in the front and side yards, but we don’t have an HOA. That being said, I think it’s very important that people who do live where there are restrictions get permission before breaking rules. People should always be aware of the rules and be ready to follow them before moving into a property.

  21. We were lucky enough to build our own house and chose a neighborhood without an HOA and got to design our own house. We made the foot print as small as possible and the front yard is also quite small. We kept the land on the sides and in the back so we had room for food, beauty, and play.

    If the garden is well cared for, I’d say it was a good idea, a little odd because of what we are used to, but good. I’ve seen neighbors with pumpkin plants through the flower beds and it looked nice. The one time we went to Disneyland, I noticed that much of the plant life was edible… .makes since while you have little ones running around.

    • OK, my comment makes me sound,well, not like me. LOL. I think edible gardening can be beautiful and useful and see no problem with that. I was just thinking of how messy my garden ends up looking because we expect the children to help out and learn and grow from the experience. I wouldn’t want to put that type of garden in the front yard.

      • why not? if that is where you have the space, why not let the kids (and anyone else) learn there? My kids helped me this morning with spreading topsoil and I was more than happy to teach them along with maintaining patience for their exploring (and mess ups). i think our society has become followers and not leaders. They do what everyone else does….lawn, green meatball shaped shrubs, etc.

        Time to teach kids where their food comes from and how to grow it! Edible plants are just as gorgeous as flowers, shrubs, and grass…..even more beautiful in my opinion. Its just not the “norm”…..and that is what people are uncomfortable with. Get over it! Food doesn’t come from the grocery store. Putting it in the front yard makes people stop, think, wonder. Nothing bad came from that…..EVER!

        • Get over what? If you bought into an HOA and then changed your mind about the regulations, it wouldn’t be right to defy them. You are the one that signed the contract after all. Go through the proper channels to effect change. And by all means, get it changed so people can garden. That is one ridiculous rule.

          I was referring to my own circumstances and how our veggie garden ends up in chaos by the end of the season. I don’t think that our garden would help anyone change their minds about growing food. LOL And that is because I DO teach my children and let them learn by application. I have 11, aged 20 to 20 months, and I let them ALL make the rows, plant the seeds, pull the weeds, harvest, and then process. My oldest is pursuing a degree in landscape/horticulture. My husband is from farming stock but hates gardening and my parents planted an entire acre when they finally had property. And if you recall, I originally planned for lots of space in my yard for growing food. We have dedicated probably 30% of our half acre to edibles and I’m establishing more for when we can finally see the ground again. And you would think our garden would be better, but then there is how our growing family and the economy affected our ability to garden. So me, knowing me and my background… well your comment seems misplaced.

          I feel your frustration. But the reason HOAs were invented were because someone didn’t want to see someone else’s (insert whatever) in the front yard and wanted more people like them to live by. Then they moved and someone else moved in, obviously sold on the neighborhood and now has to comply… the guys that moved make sure to set up an HOA the next place they live and it perpetuates. I made sure we did NOT have an HOA where we moved. And although I disagree with HOA’s, I understand why people want them.

          Study society and history a little more to understand our current societal situation. I agree, it is mind boggling to think that growing food in your front yard gets people all riled up. But maybe as a society we are growing up a little more in this subject.

          Our access to technology has created an arena where sound bites are the norm. This discussion should be just that… a discussion, not a sound bite.

  22. I love the front yard garden. I live in Seattle and we dug up our parking strip 2 years ago and started planting vegetables. Tons of people comment on the corn each year. And I agree wtih you Mavis. My garden looks much better than the lawn that I will let die. I prefer to spend my water bill on food to eat.

  23. Last year I was busy planning a wedding, so my gardening didn’t get very far. This year, however, I have grand plans! I’m planning two large pot’s of Burpee’s new container corn on either side of our front steps. I’m going to a bunch of strawberry plants as edging in the yard. Hops are going to be planted on our trellis. Not sure what else is going out front, because I need to measure my plots and layout my garden. Perhaps container basil and tomatoes in our driveway.

  24. Yes I do! I incorporate flowers and veggies in my front yard, and am going to drastically add more veggies amongst the front yard stuff this year too, it’s where i have all day sun! I grow herbs in my backyard, and part shade things. I also am lucky enough to have a large area go garden in at our family farm , where I have plenty of space, and I do grow lots and lots of veggies, but plant lots and lots of flowers among them! It makes the garden (s) look pretty, AND lots of flowers are beneficial to the veggies.

  25. I live in manicured suburbia where people don’t even have gardens. In the midwest! — I never imagined that would be the case. My neighbors are all pretty sure I’m crazy, but they love the chickens, and are always curious about the yard. Half of my back yard is still covered in concrete, but I’m hoping to get that torn out and made useful this year. The front yard is still a disaster of sickly lawn and nothing else, and I’m hoping to do some edible permaculture out there this year (snuck in amongst lots and lots of flowers). I actually had to apply for a “non-commercial farm” permit with my city because of the apple trees I planted. So now, I’m torn between not pissing off the neighbors and plowing under the front yard to grow produce. Curious to see how others have coped with this in stringent neighborhoods!

  26. Shirley Hull says:

    Living in the country without any restrictions allow me to use my land as I please with many gardens and chicks & roosters. I abhor the “greens” in the upscale neighborhoods; such a waste of water & the chemicals necessary to keep it green like a golf course; guess they got more $$ than common sense as to the environmental damage they contribute to. Even when I “had” to live in town, I always found a place for some veggies in the flower gardens. I would never choose to live ANYWHERE that put any restrictions on what I could do with my soil.

  27. I live in suburbia and garden on my front lawn. In fact, I started a whole blog about it (www.beltwaybounty.com). My neighborhood has no HOA, but people’s lawns pretty much conform to the same image: grass bordered by azaleas. A few people have landscaped their front lawns with liriope but that’s about as adventurous as it gets around here. When I cross into the city (DC) I can find a few more front yard gardens.

    I do the front yard because that’s where the sun is! There are lots of big old trees around here and they keep the bag yard pretty shady.

    Even though our front yard stands out — we also have a tin goat and a bean tee-pee — most people seem to like it. At least the ones that comment to me! The kids in the neighborhood love it and always come to explore and pick tomatoes. We’ve met a lot of our neighbors this way, always being in the front yard.

  28. I think that only those who are ‘green with envy’ would complain about a visible garden. shame that this would ever be an issue.

  29. Susan Reid says:

    What is HOA?

  30. we live in Los Angeles county in Southern CA & we purposely didn’t buy in an HOA community because we didnt want to deal with the restrictions. and while I love the unique 60′s retro ranch homes in our ‘hood it does get kind of gross with some homeowners who aren’t that into upkeep – yes, i’m talking to you lady with the horrible rusty RV! i just try to pretend that her creepy ‘is-he-a-serial killer’ son doesn’t live there…. plotting….

    anywhooo…. we grow herbs in our front yard planters under/around our roses (we inherited the old lady roses with the house & my 5 yo daughter wont let us root them out.) this year i am going to add garlic to the planters!

  31. Thanks so much for sharing this story (and asking these questions). I had read a similiar-ish story (http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2012/04/illegal-curbside-garden-flourishes/1728/) that is one of my favorites.

    I think the sad and unfortunate thing about the LA Times story is that it WASN’T HOA codes they were breaking. It was super vague city ordinance codes that were left for interpretation.

    My personal feeling — let a person garden where they want to garden! It’s good for the community.

    P.S. I have 3 boxes in my front yard… I grew strawberries, watermelon and cantaloupe in them last summer and my neighbors thought it was cool! :)

  32. Angie Smith says:

    If/when I own a home, I will likely grow food everywhere! Grass can be good, I guess – if I have goats to feed. ;) Sometimes, when I’m driving around, I think of what I would grow in this or that person’s front yard…

  33. Suzi Perry says:

    I hope to incorporate a little frontyard gardening this year. I live in Bremerton, Wa. My biggest problem is the bed I want to put some veggies in is dominated by a huge, beautiful Wisteria bush and it shades the whole bed! Nothing I have planted there seems to survive and grow. Does anyone know of any vegies that would do well in that kind of area? Would appreciate any ides or comments. Thanks.

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