How to have a vegetable garden when the light is all wrong in your back yard.

Yes, you can still have a vegetable garden when the light is all wrong in your back yard.  Plant in the front yard!  You may be thinking that a front yard vegetable garden will be unsightly, or perhaps you live with a Homeowners Association which prohibits vegetable gardens in the front yard.  Trust me, you can make it happen, and it can be beautiful… it’s all about planning.

My husband has been planting vegetable gardens since I’ve known him.  When we first met in Richmond, Virginia, we lived in apartments in The Fan…. there was no garden space there.  Stephen was working for a paper distributor in an industrialized part of Richmond, and he got permission to build a garden between the warehouse and rails.  Great sun, horrible soil, and a tricky situation for watering… but he raised vegetables.  Many residences later, we were now married and building a home in Earlysville.  Certainly, there’s plenty of space for a garden?  Well, of course there was, but I, in my immature youth, decided I didn’t want to look at an unsightly vegetable garden and relegated Stephen’s garden to the rear of the property.  Today, the garden is no longer “Stephen’s garden” but is OUR garden, and I lovingly view it from kitchen and dining area every moment of my time at home.

virginia gardner, real estate agent, charlottesville

You might not want for this sort of garden to be the entrance to your home, but there are ways to incorporate vegetables into your front yard that, as long as you keep it tidy, can be beautiful and productive.

I spend a good bit of time each Spring planning our vegetable garden, whether I am considering crop rotation, soil development, vegetable varieties, companion planting, or which ornamental pollinating plants I will be incorporating into the garden.  If you are considering a front yard garden, the more time you invest in planning upfront, the more successful will be your garden, and the happier you will be with its aesthetics.

Structure will be an important element of your front garden planning.  The first thing I would do is plan my borders at the street and between myself and my side neighbors.  Maybe begin with a fence, if your HOA will allow it.  If they will, you can plant fall- and summer-blooming clematis and grapes along the sides.  At the front, I would plant a hedge of something like Mountain Laurels, perhaps I would plant those along the street, with the fence on the inside of the hedge to provide support for trailing vegetables.  The next thing I would do is plan my planting beds. Using hoses, “draw” your beds on the ground, incorporating enough space between them for a path which is wide enough for a wheelbarrow or cart.

Think about your sunlight, tracking where the sun rises and sets and how many hours of sunlight different beds will receive each day.  Keep a notebook with this information and you will save yourself time and failure, because you will know where to plant what.

Remember also to think through how you will provide water to the garden.  I read a lot of garden blogs, and many gardeners depend on Mother Nature solely for their watering.  I, on the other hand, give MN a little assistance.  The best garden watering is by way of soaker hoses — saves water, does not encourage mold and fungus, and isn’t as obvious to prying eyes who want to know what you are watering.

If you can be patient and wait a year to begin planting, try this…  Create a v-edge around each new planting bed.  With your shovel, break up the soil inside as much as you can.  Here in Virginia, this will not be easy… that red clay can be impossible.  For one year, pile leaves and grass clippings from your back yard the the yards of neighbors onto the bedding areas… Let it just pile up.  You’ll be creating a lovely place for earthworms and other tiny critters to begin breaking up your rock hard soil, and one year later, you should have reasonable soil to begin your gardens.

virginia gardner, charlottesville real estateWhat to plant?  I would start with limited variety, so you can see how the garden works.  Herbs are a great way to fill in a garden bed… Rosemary, for example, will be green all year, and certain varieties can grow rather large, so it might be a good structure builder for your beds.  Squash plants will become large, but they are low growing, so place them towards the house, with your pollinators facing the street.  Good pollinators include almost any blooming annuals, but also perennials.  Day lilies, asters, bee balm, blanket flower, borage (this is great for encouraging beneficials and discouraging pests), cosmos, gaillardia, geranium, sunflowers, poppies, verbena, all will attract bees to your garden, while create a flowering oasis.  Think about incorporating pots into your garden, for annuals as well as some of those vegetables.

Keeping your garden tidy will be an important element of the front yard garden.  Plan ahead by purchasing bamboo stakes and garden twine, to stake up pepper plants, for example.

For more about front yard gardening, I suggest subscribing to The Outlaw Garden, written by a suburban gardener with an HOA. As she says, “I think the term “outlaw” goes way beyond the where of your garden. It’s also the what (mixing tomatoes with flowers?) and the how (using landscape techniques to make those veggies really shine?).”   Cristina is located in Virginia, so she’s a good source for the Charlottesville gardener.

Happy garden planning!