Edible estates

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(HOST) There’s a renewed interest in converting lawn space to garden space, and commentator Charlie Nardozzi says that this is the best time of year to start the transformation.

(NARDOZZI) I’ve been on a mission for years to bring the home vegetable garden into the front yard. The vegetable garden has been a back seat citizen for too long, relegated to some forgotten spot in the farthest reaches of our yards. It’s time to liberate our vegetables, be proud of them, bring them up front for everyone to see!

Well, I’m glad to see I’m not alone in my vegetable garden passion. There is a new movement called Edible Estates, which aims to remove as much of the suburban front lawn as possible and replace it with edible trees, shrubs and, of course, vegetables. Edible Estates is a brainchild of Fritz Haeg, a landscape architect in Los Angeles. He’s setting up demonstration gardens across the country to show how productive, and beautiful, a front yard can be planted in edibles.

The modern front lawn is just a space filler between the road and the house. While the backyard may still be a place to play soccer, have barbecues and lounge in a hammock on a warm summer’s day, the front lawn is rarely used. Think about it for a minute. When was the last time you actually saw people in their front yard doing something other than mowing the lawn?

Fritz Haeg sees the front yard from an artist’s viewpoint. He calls Edible Estates a conceptual land-art project as well as a radical act of gardening. He planted the original edible estate in Lakewood, California, he has another in Salinas, Kansas and is planning seven others around the country. A local art institution and horticultural organization sponsor each regional garden. The gardens will have a booklet describing what’s growing and how to reproduce it in your own yard.

Are you inspired? Well, here’s how to construct a vegetable garden in your front lawn. The first step is to get rid of the grass. You can rent a sod stripper, till the grass under, or lay newspaper, compost and mulch over the lawn to kill the grass and build the soil. I’m a bit lazy, so I chose the last method to remove my front lawn.

This fall, place four layers of newspaper over the lawn area. Use newsprint and not glossy paper. Wet it down as you go, so it won’t blow away. Spread a four to six inch thick layer of straw or hay over the newspaper and a two to three inch thick layer of compost over that. Then just leave it. By spring the lawn grass is dead; a few dandelions might pop through, but they’re easily hand removed. The earthworms will be munching on the newspaper and tilling up the earth for you, so all you have to do is plant your vegetables directly in the mulch.

I’ve been gardening in my front yard for three years, and not only am I getting great, fresh, healthy produce, I get to chat with my neighbors as they walk by. It makes my front lawn a productive, healthy and a social place.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.

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