Front Yard Vegetable Gardens

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

I’m fortunate to know lots of gardeners. They are a quiet bunch for the most part and sometimes rather eccentric. But they are on the forefront of an environmental movement that is making a big difference in our community: turning front yards into vegetable gardens! It begins as the gardener runs out of room in the backyard to make more garden beds, and starts looking wistfully out the front window at the expanse of green lawn. Going from backyard to front yard is like going to a different country.  The vegetables out back are grown organically with manures and compost. There are honey bees and birds and butterflies attracted to the flowers growing among the vegetables. The front lawn is a pristine deep green thanks to synthetic fertilizers and weed killers but lacks the vitality and delight of the backyard.

For most people turning the front yard into a vegetable garden takes some negotiating with a significant other who likes the lawn, but the idea of not having to mow week after week often tilts the balance.

So what happens when you turn your front yard into a vegetable garden? In the beginning, neighbors eye you suspiciously, worried you’re going to lower property values. By mid-June, as you’re starting to get some good produce and butterflies are flitting about, people are a bit curious and start to walk by on your side of the street. A neighbor kid on a bike asks “Whatcha doin’?” when you’re out shoveling compost onto the new beds. By mid-summer, tomatoes are coming in strong, and the guy next door is hanging out watching you build a vertical wood structure to handle the squash that wants to grow out into the street. Finally, come Fall and pumpkin season (hey look, Halloween decorations are already growing right in the yard) you realize you know the names of some of your neighbors. And you’re going to have to plant a bigger garden next year to plan for sharing the bounty with your new friends.

It is a lot of work converting a front yard into a vegetable garden. There can be serious digging involved. You have to change your practices from lawn management to building safe and healthy soil. You have to keep things tidy and attractive. The rewards of front yard vegetable gardens are many. More food, more space to garden, more people who understand the relationship between food and the environment, and best of all, sharing late summer produce with friends and kindred spirits right in your own front yard!

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Floriferous! Designing with Annuals

Our Favorite Wildflower Seeds

More color. More flowers. These are the most common requests I hear from clients and friends who have lovely gardens full of perennials but whose gardens at certain times of the year still look a bit too green. Annuals planted in large drifts or patches is an easy and very colorful answer. And with certain annuals, they reseed themselves so it’s almost as if they are perennials…you don’t have to do much to get them to return each year.

To get this effect of a burst of color in your garden, you’ll want to try a “specimen planting”. This is an intense patch of just one type of flower. It can be many different colors of the flower but just one kind of flower gives a vivid look.

Here are my favorite specimen plantings:

Cosmos bipinnatus in a tall mix of pink, white and crimson is a favorite in gardens.  They grow about waist high and don’t really need deadheading.  There’s something old-fashioned and timeless about cosmos that people love to have them as regulars in their yards.

Four O-clocks.  I was excited to see this new addition to the catalog this year.  Not as ubiquitous as cosmos, they are a magnificent part of a garden, especially when planted somewhere you can see them outside your kitchen window when you’re preparing dinner. They really do stay closed during the day and open around 4 pm.  They aren’t adapted to daylight savings time….so it might be more like 5 pm in your yard.

Zinnias.  These are the annuals you wish you planted, come mid-summer. Each bloom lasts a long time, is perfect for cutting, and the specimen planting provides a tall sturdy vibrant color.  Another old-time favorite for a good reason: they are great flowers.

Chinese Asters. This is another new addition to the catalog this year that inspires me.  Midsummer and fall, in particular, are times that don’t have the variety of colors people desire.  The perennials of this time tend to the yellow/orange range  Chinese asters are a great burst of purples and pinks and creamy whites that have large flower heads that make them perfect for cutting. They’ll handle full sun, but I’ve seen asters thrive in areas with dappled shade where just a little shade enhances their color in the blazing August sun.

These four are my current favorites for annual specimen plantings. Add in other annuals like poppies mixed throughout the garden and maybe the calendula mix in the vegetable garden, and your garden will “pop” all season long.

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Taking Care of the Bees and other Creatures this Fall

Planting Flowers for the Bees

What’s your favorite flower this year?  That’s the question our local gardening magazine posed to its readers this issue.  Many candidates came to mind, but I realized my criteria in Fall for a good flower is one that blooms late to feed the bees and other pollinators that are still around scrambling for nectar and pollen to sustain them or their babies through winter.

So my favorite flowers right now include the dandelions that have responded to our recent rains with a bloom worthy of Spring.  Every time I see a dandelion now, I don’t respond with a desire to pull it, but with a word of encouragement because it’s not a weed when it has a happy bee gorging in the middle of the flower.

Other favorites that are feeding bees and other creatures:

Cosmos are tough annuals, and still blooming despite some frosty weather.
Scabiosa has won my garden awards for several years for being the last flower blooming in November.  It’s one flower I keep deadheading instead of leaving the seed because I know it makes new flowers as long as it can.
Violas and Pansies planted now will make flowers to please me and the bees during warm spells this winter.

As always, there is one really important thing pollinators and especially bees need in Fall:

WATER.  At my house, the seasonal ditch dried up in August, and standing water is rare in our arid climate.  I keep water in the birdbath and in the flat little saucer with pebbles for the bees.  I notice signs that other bigger creatures like the squirrels and rabbits and field mice sneak water when I’m not watching from the bird bath top that I left sitting on the ground. I got pretty angry with the ravenous rabbit over-population this year, but when I see one lonely bunny hunkered down in the dry leaves under the trees, I can’t help but leave water out for her.  I know I’ll be rewarded with hungry baby bunnies in the Spring, but as the cold winds of Fall send chills through the gardener, my heart goes out to all the creatures who live outdoors during the long winter season.

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Squash Bees

Checkout These Wild Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

 

My friend and local pollinator expert Niki fretted greatly this Spring because there weren’t any bees in her yard.  She grows her native plants and large vegetable gardens in her yard that is surrounded by typical perfect looking suburban lawns. Despite her pleas with neighbors, they maintain suburban perfection by pouring pesticides and synthetic fertilizers on their lawns, and over time, the bee count in her yard has dropped precipitously.

But there was no fretting during a recent tour of her garden.  There were still very few honeybees but the garden was abuzz with many native bees and native fly pollinators.

Niki eagerly led us over to her huge squash patch.  She did the usual humble gardener thing of apologizing for her garden and how poorly the plants were doing.  Naturally, her plants were double the size of anything in our yards. We walked right into the squash bed as she gently lifted a giant leaf so we could see…a “Squash Bee.”  With great animation, she described how one bee comes early in the morning and throws itself completely over the pollen…and then proceeds to eat all day long.  This bee seems oblivious to us and looked like it was lounging in its own little opium den, covered in pollen and eating as much as it could. Niki lowered her voice and said, “Sometimes there are two bees.”  The male comes first and then is joined by a female…and the two of them spend the day in a frenzy of mating and eating, mating and eating (she watched). Once they finish one blossom, they moved to the next one.

There are two genera of native squash bees, Peponapis and Xenoglossa, and they are specialist bees. Cucurbits are all they pollinate.  And they are very resourceful and start pollinating earlier in the morning before the honey bees are even awake.  So take a look under your leaves one morning and peer deep into squash blossoms.  In areas with healthy squash bee populations, there can be as many as one bee per every five blossoms.  Another marvel of the natural world….hidden in plain view before us.

Of course, while you are peeking under giant squash leaves, don’t forget to look for that pest of the squash kingdom…the squash bug…and pick it off and throw it away.

The International squash bee survey: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=16595

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes