You must have sun to grow vegetables and fruits, and often our sunniest spots are in the front yard. Personally, I love the look of a highly productive food garden, enhanced by colorful flowers and herbs. But vegetables are short lived and inevitably have yellow leaves and straggly end of life issues. How do we make these sometimes less than perfect but very delicious plants visually acceptable to our neighbors?
To keep your front landscape looking beautiful while growing and harvesting foods, focus on three main components: edging, evergreens, and upkeep.
When you keep clean edges to your garden beds, driveway and walks, it gives the appearance of being cared for which is what most neighborhoods want. People may disagree with your choices of plants, but if you keep edges trimmed, their fears of a potential eyesore are relieved. It calms the overall view of the front yard, so the less structured nature of the vegetables appears contained.
You can create a clear edge with a heavy layer of mulch right at the lawn line, or by edging with a hard material like stone, brick or wood. Raised beds can be built that match the materials of your home in color or form. Then you might blend the raised beds into the landscape with perennials or small shrubs on the side facing the street. You can actually grow substantial amounts of edibles in attractive pots. But remember that bigger is better for growing vegetables, and they will likely need daily watering if in containers. Once the edge is defined, a regular run through with a weed eater will give the landscape a neat, even “crisp” appearance.
Evergreens are the second component to an attractive edible landscape. Because vegetables grow to maturity quickly, die and then are replaced, there will be regular periods where the beds have empty spots or the plants are past their peak. If you have evergreen plants and shrubs in place around the garden, they will hold the structure through the ups and downs of the season. Rosemary is an excellent perennial for this purpose as is the sweet bay laurel shrub, and both are edible. You may also have creeping thymes and oregano, spiky chives and savory sage adding both beauty and food value.
For stronger evergreen elements, there are endless choices of colors and sizes of shrubs, ranging from yellow toned chamaecyparis to purple loropetalums or blue cedar and spruces. Black seeded Simpson lettuce has yellow tones, eggplants are purple, and kale and broccoli are blue. Choose your evergreen colors to accent your vegetables and everyone will think they are ornamentals. Adding perennial flowers will tie the whole image together as well, especially when color, plant height and timing of flowering coordinate beautifully with the vegetables. Flowers will also bring in beneficial insects to keep your plants healthy.
The final component to successful front yard food gardens is upkeep. Keep dead leaves picked, old plants pulled, and gangly plants staked. A two-inch layer of mulch will hold weeds at bay and reduce your labor. If you grow vining vegetables or indeterminate tomatoes that reach six feet or more, choose trellises that are sturdy and fit with the style of your home. Perhaps invest in a permanent structure, such as a metal one with a sculptural quality that can serve as a focal point, or wooden arbors that easily support vigorous vines.
Featured photo – Front yard vegetable garden / Jeana Myers
Jeana Myers, PhD, is the Horticulture Agent for Wake County. For gardening questions, contact the Extension Master Gardeners of Wake County at 919-250-1084 or email [email protected]