Personally, I have nothing against a bit of lawn, but I certainly don’t need 2000 sq. feet of it!
During my eleven year residency, the lawn has been converted to landscape and edible plants in 2 or 3 major shifts, working forward from the rear of my property, leaving only a walkway of lawn the length of the house, plus a small area (12 x 12 feet) to lounge upon and sink my toes into.
As of 2005, only 600 sq. ft. of lawn remained at the front of the property (hence, the front lawn, approximately 500 sq. ft, with a slight slope), but it wasn’t until 2008 before there was enough incentive for me to consider another conversion. The previous conversion of 500+ sq. ft. seemed to have me changing plans and plantings for 3 years, a typical gardener thing. This, on top of needing to reconfigure the oldest converted area, which had been thrust from a dry-shade niche go full sun, with the removal of a neighboring sequoia and silver maple from my southern aspect.
At one time I considered removing sod and replacing with lawn “substitutes” such as the durable small thymes, brass buttons, Corsican mint, Virginia blue creeper, Irish or Scotch moss, but my experimental trials with the mint and Virginia creeper in other parts of my yard made me decide against the idea. Their tendencies to show up anywhere beyond their desired areas, harbor slugs, and require considerable weeding (grass and clover grow just fine in among these tight ground covers), beyond a considerable monetary investment didn’t sit well with me.
During the summer of 2008, I helped my westerly neighbor remove her 25+ year-old juniper hedges that separated out front yards, and planted some 8 plants of various blueberry cultivars in mid fall, to initiate our first communal edible landscape.
Over the winter, visions formulated of grapevines and espaliered or standard dwarf fruit trees, plus more intriguing varieties of berries replacing my front lawn, but somehow didn’t seem right. Alas, my new dwarf peach, apricot, and columnar apples would be delegated to the house yard, as would the young hardy kiwis, which would eventually climb a pergola, specially designed to shield my view from a glaring outside light in another neighbor’s back yard, made apparent with the absence of the sequoia. (With due acknowledgement and thanks that the new residents there now use the light sparingly.)
A design for the front lawn refused to take shape, and I felt reluctant to make succinct plans. Although mowing this area was not one of my favorite activities, it was far less work than the amount of maintenance that would be needed, once converted to a landscape. I was never a slave to the grass, letting it be self-fertilized with residual grass clippings, and letting it go moderately brown during the summer, with only a monthly soaking in mid-July and August. Any moisture in the fall brought back “the green.” Yes, I had a few weeds to pursue when the mood striked. A new garden would be more work; still I was tired of mowing semi-weekly 5 months of the year.
The residence is located in Corvallis, Oregon, situated in the agricultural Willamette Valley in western Oregon, where one “can grow almost anything” provided the plant is frost tolerant, or can mature its fruit within a fairly short season. It is also the “grass seed growing capital” for much of the world. Grass grows anywhere you want and don’t want. We literally breathe grass pollen here, and allergies abound. Although there are a percentage of residents who cultivate their lawns, a vast majority actually let grass brown out and “die” once summer arrives. When rain returns in late summer and fall, the grass magically greens itself. The biggest energy expenditure is in the mowing of lawns, not irrigation or fertilization, though herbicides are used to keep many lawns weed-free, as well as for keeping the grass from invading other areas.
The property is also within the boundaries of a homeowners association, which fortunately has “mellowed” in its administrations of some CC&R details (codes, covenants, restrictions) over its 30+ years of existence. The prevailing motto is to “be considerate of one’s neighbors” and observe basic municipal vegetation codes. And, although there are no restrictions to having an edible garden in the front, I would be the first person to do so.
There was “curb appeal” to consider; I wasn’t sure neighbors would care to see that much space undesigned and barren while I was in progress, even if they understood. I already had veggies growing in the main house yard. I might have to plant a giant pumpkin patch just to cover the ground!
The epiphany came one March afternoon, as I finished mowing during a brief sunny interlude. While I was feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of designing and filling the space, it came to mind, “maybe other neighbors would like to have some space to grow some vegetables.” Everyone does not have the time, energy, or inclination to invest in establishing a full-blown garden, and I knew several neighbors didn’t have adequate sites for sunny vegetable needs. Not to mention the ability to take control of our own food quality as much as possible, share resources, and share the bounty beyond ourselves if yields were that high.
“If I provide the space and the soil, would there be takers?” I wondered.
As it turned out, YES!
No solo pumpkin patch after all!
With six interested participants the project could begin!
View the continued process in the blog archives beginning in May 2009…
See links to other subtopics “About the Project” under the PAGES menu in the right column