Growing Curb Appeal: Planting the Front Yard With Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs and More
The Beauty and Benefits of Edible Landscaping in Your Front Yard
Parked neatly in front of her Bay Area suburban ranch home is an electric vehicle with a single bumper sticker that reads “Food Not Lawns.” To the left, Rosalind Creasy—a nationally acclaimed garden and food writer, photographer, and landscape designer—keeps her inviting Los Altos front yard tastefully blooming and landscaped with the unexpected: a profusion of fruits and vegetables.
There are no uniform rows or large raised beds, or signs of the farm tools and irrigation lines typical of designated areas for backyard gardens. Instead, it’s a planned outdoor living space filled with the bountiful beauty of plants and flowers in a dazzling edible tapestry weaving across her front yard.
Small orange squash dangle from an archway ready to be picked. Artichoke plants stand like silver-green sentinels on the border near the street. Large bright-blue painted containers are filled with towers of blueberries or show off the green leafy tops of the purple potatoes below.
Flowers attracting bees and other beneficial insects mix and mingle with planted vignettes of seasonal radishes, lettuce and herbs. A flowering vine intertwines its blossoms alongside an arbor of cherry tomatoes dangling bright ripe fruit from one of three arbors visible from this section of the lot. A dwarf Gala apple tree colorfully graces the side of the driveway, and the smell of rosemary fills the air from the fire-engine-red garden bench that invites you to sit and enjoy the view. A series of paths and small outcroppings of spaces lead visitors in this front yard garden of wonder.
From the street it is a stunning picture and gives the passerby a first taste of the mix and artistry that is possible with edible landscaping. Through a welcoming arch you step onto a brick pathway that leads into an array of vegetables, fruits, flowers, vines, trees and hardscape artfully balanced together on this standard-sized suburban front yard.
This is a front yard that breaks the rules and opens up possibilities for rethinking how to grow, enjoy and benefit from edible landscaping.
And Rosalind Creasy is a rule breaker.
She tore out her front lawn in the 1970s and transformed it into a revolving demonstration garden and showpiece for her life’s work: promoting and educating people on the endless possibilities and visual appeal of planning and planting edibles, with delicious results.
“I used to change it completely with a different theme every year. In the last few years, I tend to plant, grow and enjoy my favorites.” In pots and spaces normally reserved for shade trees, mowed lawns and common shrubs, or today’s rock gardens, Rosalind eats with the seasons and conjures up some of the best-tasting produce and cuisine. She also isn’t wasting any H2O on plants that don’t have value, following a simple philosophy: “If you water it and have soil for it, then eat from it.”
Using rotating themes and bringing back heirloom varieties from around the world, Rosalind has been able to showcase landscape design—both formal and informal—and photograph it for her books and recipes. Her first book, The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, published in 1982, is considered a watershed for home gardeners and landscapers who had never put the words “design” or “beauty” in the same sentence—at least not when describing plans for their backyard garden beds. Rosalind’s book, and its many updated editions, translate traditional landscape approaches, often designed around look and functionality, and match them with edible plantings so you can “have a gorgeous garden and eat it too.”
Plant like a cook, season to your taste
How do you get started? Rosalind says to be an edible landscaper you need to bring together design with the things you like to eat.
“Start with your favorites: what you like to cook and eat. We are lucky in this region to have the soil, sun and climate for most plants.” Rosalind encourages growing both flavor-making ingredients and plants that let you pick and enjoy, including fruit trees and berries, which she has discovered are a party-in-the-making for family and friends.
The next step is add in design thinking for seasonal blooming and harvesting, and how it will visually layer and look once grown in. Beauty, form and function play a role in making your edible plant selections, as well as the hardscape that surrounds them. Rosalind’s experience can provide a few starting tips. Adding curved pathways and seating areas can make a small space seem larger and more interesting. Use both high and low elevations for planting, adding towers, arbors, trellises and screens to get plants to grow up. And don’t forget about flowers, for color and the wow factor, and also to encourage bees and other beneficial insects. And finally, it is worth noting that soil preparation is critical in getting things off to a great start—and everyone should have a compost pile to regularly replenish the soil. (But this is something you can put in the backyard.)
Don’t feel overwhelmed. Rosalind encourages everyone to get started with edible landscaping no matter the size or shape of your yard, or if you have a yard at all. Herbs can be grown on a balcony, kitchen window or in a pot on the porch. Think edible when choosing foundational trees and shrubs too. Pomegranate, persimmon and citrus are perfect for our climate and require little care once established. Strawberries in pots, blueberry shrubs and thornless blackberries provide shape, a pop of color and unmatched flavor when picked at their ripest glory. Peppers and potatoes are easy starters.
Cultivate a space for gathering and discovery
Over the years, the value of Rosalind’s landscape of edible delights has become much more than a showpiece for her ingenious talents and storehouse for the fresh-picked ingredients for her favorite recipes. It is also a welcome mat for neighbors and visitors of all ages.
It is here the neighbors gather with their kids to pick from her favorite thornless blackberries for a spontaneous ice cream party or collect eggs from the blue wooden chicken coop set squarely in the front yard, along the brick pathway that mingles with vegetables, fruits and flowers.
Wait. Chickens in the front yard? Yes. A full-size chicken coop is neatly tucked into the front yard and accessed from within the space. You can’t quite see it from the curb because of the plantings that surround it, but the neighborhood kids know it is there and are regular visitors of the feathered tenants, who are as welcoming as Rosalind and the edible landscaped yard.
That’s one of the best surprises of an edible front yard: It brings people together for education and enjoyment and a whole lot more. A front yard transformed into an edible wonderland and outdoor living space invites everyone to take a new approach to planting, cooking and entertaining, starting right from the front of the house.
As Rosalind knows, it produces one more benefit to a front yard of bountiful rewards. This is curb appeal that grows a neighborhood.
ABOUT ROSALIND CREASY: Longtime Los Altos resident Rosalind Creasy is a garden and food writer, photographer, and landscape designer specializing in edible landscaping. Her first book, the award-winning The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, helped popularize the term “edible landscaping” now a part of the American vocabulary. It was followed in 1988 by Cooking from the Garden, which introduced the American public to heirloom tomatoes, mesclun salads and edible flowers. Rosalind has written 18 books on gardening and cooking; her latest is Edible Landscaping; now in its sixth printing. Among her many awards and honors, the Garden Writers Association recently installed her in its Hall of Fame.
Rosalind serves on the board of the Seed Savers Exchange. Her recent projects include helping install edible gardens at the Adobe Corporation headquarters in San Jose, a demonstration seed saving heirloom garden at the LA Arboretum near Pasadena and she is part of a design team working on an edible and native landscape plan for the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa.