Thursday, July 26, 2007

Rebel Gardeners Risk the Law for Forbidden Fruits (and Veggies)

From the Associated Press: Front Yard Veggies Improve Diets, Homes

This upbeat title was replaced in our local newspaper with the slightly more ominous, "Front-yard vegetables fill tables, but rile neighbors."

Used to be, in the U.S. suburbs, in the days of big front porches and convenient back alleys, that the front of the house was for show and socializing, while the back of the house was for service. That's why the kitchen garden was stuck in the back -- rows of vegetables weren't pretty, no more than rows of laundry hanging out.

Then came the post-WWII suburbs and the ranch house, with the loss of alleys for garages, garbage, and delivery. The front became the service entrance, and people moved their living spaces to the back.

Where did the vegetable garden go to? Into oblivion. Just before the turn of the century, about 30% of food was produced at home. By the post-war years, less than 10% was produced at home as people ripped out old-fashioned victory gardens and replaced them with landscaping and in-ground swimming pools. And the number continues to decline. Today less than 3% of food is in the U.S. is produced at home. (See Kitchen Gardeners International: What is KGI? for statistics -- of course, some of the perceived decline may be due to the enormous increase in agribusiness production during the 1950's.)

Now, rising gas prices and the subsequent rise in consumer prices, plus an increasing awareness of global issues and a desire to "live green" has aroused a new interest in gardening. But with urban and suburban land at a premium, and houses in modern 'burbs sit in postage-stamp-sized lots (which is nothing new -- houses in this town built during the 30's were also on tiny lots). Where do you put a veggie garden? Some folks solve the problem by ripping out the lawn, whether it is in the front or the back of the house.

But if you live in a neighborhood where covenants or municipal codes govern what you can do with your front yard, and front-yard farmers risk running afoul of the law. When people think of "vegetable gardens," they think of the old-fashioned American kitchen garden with rows of corn and peas in the summer and bare dirt all winter, not something they want to look at as they drive through suburbia. Or around here they think of little hippie houses with a mad tangle of half-neglected herbs, some of them legal.

Yet with a little inspiration from the French potagers and from the "edible landscaping" concept, people are designing beautiful front gardens with herbs, salad greens, berry bushes, and other food plants that are as nice to look at as they are to eat. What would look nicer: a French-inspired kitchen garden with neat paths, patterned beds, trained fruit trees, and clipped herbs, or a dead brown lawn? (Okay, dead brown in the winter for you folks back east, dry and brown in the summer for us folks out west.) What some front-yard gardeners are finding is that while their gardens may cause raised eyebrows, they also bring the neighbors over to talk, often for the first time.

I know my house, and some houses around here, have shrubs in front instead of lawn. I've been sneaking chard, tomatoes, and other edibles in the front landscaping for years, and this year I'm determined to take out the increasingly ugly concrete pad that the former owners used as a basketball court and replace it with raised beds. We'll see what the neighbors have to say about that!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

This weekend's project: flagstone paths

A yard of sand, a pile of salvaged flagstones, a sorta cool (though humid) weekend, et voila! -- my new flagstone paths.

Okay, so it wasn't quite that easy, as my aching shoulders will attest.

The stones originally came from my grandmother's house, and where she got them from, I don't know. My mom had them for years, and when she sold the old homestead last summer, I hauled as many as I could find home intending to use them.

This summer, I decided, I'd have me some stone paths. I ordered sand last week, and spent this weekend excavating the woodchipped paths. The old woodchips went in another part of the yard, and I dug out a few inches of dirt all along the path (the dirt pile is just visible by the fence). I filled in the excavated paths with sand, and sank the stones into the sand. Some are still a bit wobbly, so I'll keep working on individual stones to make them more stable. There was enough stone to do about 10 feet on the other side of the sidewalk, this 25 foot path, and the 15 food fork off to the left, plus a few large stones for stepping stones and some smaller ones to pile up at the base of the pole that holds up the bird feeder. The smaller stones lining the path are ones I've been digging out of the yard ever since we moved in here about 10 years ago. I need a few more to finish the edging of all the paths, so I'll have to look around and see where I can find some.

Next project: That horrid concrete pad in front of the house that the former owners put in as a basketball court, and is now cracked, mossy, and ugly, is going to go. In its place will be a raised bed potager. Alas, the old "hobbit tree" of a crabapple has died and I'll have to take it out later -- I'm leaving it in until fall, since the Lincoln Constance rose that's been scrambing up it still casts some shade on the house. Once that's out, I'll be putting in some fruit trees in front.

The renovations never end, do they? But then that's what gardening is all about. What fun would it be if you got to the point where you said, "I'm done" and had to stop?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friends of Bush Gardens Plant Sale

If you're in or near Salem, Oregon, and are planning on visiting the Salem Art Fair this weekend, don't miss the Friends of Bush Gardens plant sale. I put in a 3 hour shift this afternoon in the plant holding area, and saw lots of gorgeous plants going off to new homes. There were hummingbirds visiting the crocosmias, which I'm sure the amazing Gretchen Carnaby ordered just for demonstration purposes.

The Bush Gardens surround the historic Asahel Bush House Museum. Of course you won't want to miss the gardens themselves, and the historic greenhouse. House tours are going on all during the fair. The Bush House was home to Asahel Bush, who founded the Ladd and Bush Bank (the original building is now a branch of U.S. Bank). In 1953, the Bush family donated the house and land to the City of Salem, along with much of the original furnishings, making it unique among the historic houses of Salem.

Among the offerings at the plant sale are heritage roses grown from cuttings taken from Miss Sally's rose garden. I also spotted lots of fantastic herbs, rock garden plants, lovely foliage plants, huge hanging baskets -- and of course came home with a few goodies myself!

The sale has a holding area for people who want to buy plants and park them while they look at the rest of the art fair. I spent my shift trotting plants out on a cart as people pulled their cars up to pick up their plants. If you're in the area, come on down!