As a child growing up in the 70s I can remember the front lawn being the playground. No-one had front fences so it was often one long paddock to run in. Sadly those days are gone – not through the lack of front yards but simply because the world has changed.
Fast forward to my own home some 35 years later; we converted almost the entire front yard into a garden with an open fence [to keep the dogs out and the kids in]. I spent literally months working in the front yard, landscaping and planting natives, herbs and vegetables. I got to know all of the neighbours, I learnt what grew well in the local soil, and what the possums ate first. I learnt all this because I was activating my front yard – it was a simple function of being there often, and of the fence being transparent… it actually became a little pocket of ‘community’ in our street, and the neighbours regularly enjoyed the surplus produce.
At about the same time as this front yard experiment I discovered a book called ‘Edible Estates’ by Fritz Haeg, an architect and artist in the US. I was lucky enough to find it in a funky bookshop in the middle of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, itself a hotbed of some fantastic urban sustainability initiatives going on right now, some of which I’ve already posted about. A link to the 2nd edition site is via the image below – you can access online each of the case studies and supporting imagery.
Edible Estates is a case study journey through a growing number of homes in the US [and now also the UK] where residents have converted their huge and functionless front lawns into edible gardens. It’s a great read with heaps of fascinating ‘before and after’ photos.
“Edible Estates is only tangentially about lawns and food. Its primary concern is ‘people and their relationship to each other and to their environment” [Frieze Magazine, book review of Edible Estates]
Many of our suburbs in Australia mandate significant front setbacks to our homes – it’s planning law. At the same time most of us have fled our front yards because we don’t feel safe in the streets. Front walls do not lead to neighbourhood safety (quite the opposite) – intense activation and resident surveillance of our streets is the right way to go, and updating our front lawns into productive (and beautiful) gardens is a surefire way to get to know all of your neighbours.
We’ve since moved, and I’m doing it all over again. I can’t reveal all of my plans here (my wife reads my blog) but I will reveal some photos as part of a sustainable streets series that I’m currently drafting.
Have a look at your own street and try to imagine an overlay of front edible gardens and busy gardeners… what would it feel like?
[Whilst researching this post I came across several articles from the US and UK where local authorities were seeking to make front yard veggie gardens illegal. Perhaps they need to watch The Castle?]