When I moved into my wife’s house ten years ago, the front yard grew nothing but weedy grass. Some people call this sort of thing a “freedom lawn.” I understand the concept, but our freedom lawn enslaved me behind the mower every week.
We both garden, so as time allowed we gave the front yard an edible and ornamental makeover. Over the years, slices, circles and squares of freedom lawn were swapped out for colorful and tasty gardens. Our front yard is barely fifty by fifty, so from above it looks like a Whitman’s Sampler box--but one composed of gardens rather than chocolates.
(Driveway on left is to the south. The street above is to the west. And me, I'm on the roof taking the photo, so bottom of the picture where I am is east and to the right is north.)
My wife likes to cook and we both like to eat so we planted edibles near the front door first. A big bed of herbs, artichokes and alliums colonized the narrow strip between the driveway and front walk on the south side of the yard.
And the mulch is as perennial as the plants. Nine years ago we used a permanent 2” layer of Cabernet-colored gravel to cover the soil and suppress the weeds. The rich color sets off the grays, blues and greens of the lavender, bearded iris, candytuft and other plants. A surprising benefit was that many of the plants happily reseed themselves because the gravel mimics their native soil in the Mediterranean basin.
Next we created four diamond-shaped raised beds for vegetables on the west side.This vegetable garden lies on our path from house-to-car and back. So it’s easy to keep things tidy. We pick ripe vegetables and pull a few weeds as we come and go.
You can’t have food without water so a 300-gallon galvanized horse trough on the east side, next to the house, holds water lilies, thalia and hibiscus. It functions as a water garden and decorative rain barrel in one. We dunk our watering cans in the trough to replenish our container plants on the porch. An unexpected bonus: the water’s surface bounces rippling waves of sunlight through the front window and onto the ceiling of our living room.
As we replaced freedom lawn with plant beds, my wife asked if we could keep some grass. I made all the usual arguments against lawns: pollution and noise from mowers, little support for wildlife, requires too much fertilizer and so on. She waited patiently, looked me in the eye and said, “Well can we have a Lawnlet?”
I was converted by her logic and her neo-logism. Our Lawnlet on the northern side of the yard is no larger than a king-size bed; just big enough for two gardeners and a black Lab named Molly to sprawl on. We lay on our backs to watch the clouds tumble along or sit up face-to-face with peonies in their season.
There’s much more going on in the front yard then when we started. But we both probably work in the garden much less now than when I was mowing weekly. And none of it feels like a chore.
Frank Hyman gardens with his wife, Chris Crochetière at their home, Bayleaf Cottage, near downtown Durham, North Carolina.