Turning front yards into edible gardens

We have 32 million acres of lawns about to blossom all over America, but most folks still don’t know what to do with the front. What’s it for, anyway, since it provides no privacy, and most folks do their gardening, socializing and recreating in the patch of green behind the house? Is the front lawn just the vestigial cousin of that expanse of land in front of English manors or Chateaus, communicating to the world to keep out?

Joan Baron doesn’t think so. Baron, a sculptor, ceramicist, green building guru, and environmental artist—she’s not afraid to use the word "shakra" in casual conversation—turns front yards into edible gardens, neighborhood centers, feasts for the eyes and the mouth.

Take her own front yard, a little bit of paradise in an unsuspecting spot: before a tract house in suburban Scottsdale, Arizona. There she’s planted a garden that slips from her property line onto her neighbors’. “Gardens are about sharing,” she explained, so in exchange for letting her grow spinach and fresh cilantro, among other goodies, on their land, she offers fresh food. She catches rainwater in a steel cistern that she hasn’t hidden behind the house, but displayed prominently in front of it. She crafted a “living wall” of stalks of ocotillo cactus that undulates through the yard, surrounded by brilliant yellow Arizona poppies. She chopped up the concrete driveway—“It traps the heat,” she said—and used the pieces to craft a walkway.

The project is a makeshift traffic-calming element, too, with passers-by slowing down to take it in. And that’s what she wants—nosy neighbors. The more who learn from her projects what’s possible, the more sustainable metro Phoenix will become. Already her neighbors have pulled the grass—not sustainable in the desert—from their yard and have slowly moved in Baron’s direction. “It’s one house, one street, one neighborhood, at a time,” she says. “And then the world."

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