How to Eat your front yard - ornamental edibles

By Marianne Binetti

Time to try a whole new way of “going out for dinner.” Imagine sitting on the front porch and simply reaching over to graze on golden tomatoes, purple basil and hanging strawberries. Or “go out” for desert to gather a basket of ripe blue berries to serve dinner guests - and ask those guests to join in the harvest as they arrive and walk to your front door.

You don’t need a plow or patch of earth to grow your own food. Take a fresh look at the space in the front yard, side yard, over head and right outside your window. When you turn your yard into an open-air pantry for fruits, vegetables and herbs - it’s a move towards much more than just convenience.

Growing fresh, gourmet quality food not only saves you money, it’s good for the environment, a great way to exercise and relieve stress plus front yard food gardens  build community and conversation between neighbors.
Beautiful, edible gardens are nothing new, as the French introduced the potager and the English the mixed flower and vegetable cottage garden generations ago when country folk moved to the cities. What is new are the easy-to-grow dwarf, native and wildly colorful edibles that make it easy to take any front yard from boring to bountiful.
Getting started is as easy as one, two, three with pots, poles and hedges.

Step One: Contain Yourself!
Just about anything can be grown in pots and in our cool summer climate growing heat-lovers such as tomatoes, basil, peppers and eggplant is the best way to take advantage of the sunny “hot-spots” in your front yard.

Place colorful ceramic or red clay pots on the concrete near the garage or up against South or West facing walls. Any heat-absorbing surface will release more heat at night to jump-start herbs and veggies.

Hang baskets of herbs, cherry tomatoes and strawberries from the porch. Add ivy geraniums for a splash of color. Hanging baskets can grab more heat and are out of reach to slugs, deer and pets. Mix feathery carrots with colorful leaf lettuce and upright cherry tomatoes in a window box at least 8 inches deep. Add trailing lobelia as a colorful skirt to your window salad garden.

No room for large pots in the front yard? Think herbal renewal and grow Mediterranean herbs in a row of small clay pots. Rosemary, sage and thyme are drought-resistant herbs that thrive in clay pots as small as 6 inches across. You can even add an outdoor shelf to a sunny window and grow pots of herbs where they are easy to reach from inside the kitchen.

In larger pots you can use the rainbow shades of Swiss Chard as the upright focal point plant for a mixed container of annual flowers. Cascading purple petunias look great in a pot of beet greens and onions, while marigolds mix it up with golden oregano and bright red sage. Can’t remember to fertilize your pots? Plant nasturtiums. Easy-to-grow from seed, happy in poor soil and all parts of the nasturtium plant are edible.

Step Two: Grow Up!
Take a fresh look at any vertical structures already standing in your landscape. Porch posts, fence posts, even mailboxes and bird houses on posts can all be supporting players to the edible stars of the front yard dinner theatre. A wooden fence is the perfect support for stringing twine that can train vertical gardens of pole beans and tall peas. Rest a section of wire fencing against a solid fence or use your chain link fence as a place to grow cucumbers, squash or mini pumpkins. Crops stay cleaner and ripen sooner when kept off the ground.

Build tee pees out of bamboo or metal rebar to create formal vertical structures that can do double duty as focal points in flower gardens and shrub beds. Simple tee pees make great supports for the beautiful and tasty “Scarlet Runner” beans. Next look at arbors, archways and split rail fencing as more opportunities to grow upward. Vertical gardens not only offer more harvest in less space but have a defined, formal and neat and tidy look that makes them very appealing garden accents in even the most traditional neighborhoods.

Step Three: Berry Delightful: Hedges and Groundcovers for the Shade
Rip out the diseased photinia and uproot that demanding laurel hedge. Why not grow the healthiest fruit on the planet and put in a row of blueberries? The birds and the neighbors will love you if you offer to share the harvest.

Plant partly-shaded slopes and rockeries with the intensely sweet Alpine strawberries and try the evergreen raspberries that will cover the ground along with native huckleberries, kinninnick and Oregon grape. The Native Americans enjoyed a rich diet of berries in this region - and their front yard was a forest.

Want to Grow and Know More?
Marianne Binetti has a new book “Edible Gardening for Washington and Oregon” from Lone Pine Publishing, and will be signing copies at Molbaks on May 29.

Join Marianne Binetti this September for a 10 night trip to France to explore Paris, Provence and The French Riviera. For more information go to www.binettigarden.com

bean teepee

Growing Scarlet Runner beans vertically gives them a more formal feel. This variety is edible and ornamental. (photo by Ed Hume Seeds)

marianne binetti book

Marianne Binetti will be signing her new book “Edible Gardening for Washington and Oregon” from Lone Pine Publishing, at Molbaks on May 29.