Last Updated on March 17, 2023
If you’ve considered growing vegetables in the front yard but are worried about what the neighbors will think, these front yard vegetable garden ideas from folks who’ve done it will inspire you to take the plunge.
A neighborhood of adventurous gardeners inspired each other to repurpose their front yards in lots of different ways, and the results are both beautiful and delicious. Find out how they converted their run-of-the-mill lawns into exciting places to grow food and community.
- Advantages of a front yard vegetable garden
- Inspiring ways to garden in the front yard
- Considerations when planning a vegetable garden in the front yard
- FAQs about front yard vegetable gardening
- WHY PLANT A FRONT YARD VEGETABLE GARDEN?
- MORE PEOPLE ARE PLANTING VEGETABLE GARDENS IN THE FRONT YARD
- GROWING COMMUNITY WITH FRONT YARD VEGETABLE GARDENS
- PLANTING A FRONT YARD VEGETABLE GARDEN: CONSIDERATIONS & TIPS
- FAQS ABOUT FRONT YARD VEGETABLE GARDENS
WHY PLANT A FRONT YARD VEGETABLE GARDEN?
If you’ve spent time considering the environmental impacts of our daily choices, you may have long since begun to view the typical American lawn as a problem in need of a solution. As we’ve covered here many times over the years, an eco-friendly landscape tries to eliminate climate pollution (like greenhouse gases emitted when we use fertilizer, pesticides, or mow our lawn), while reducing water use, supporting pollinators, and storing carbon.
We’ve explored a bunch of grass alternatives, from ground cover herbs to drought-tolerant ground covers to embracing the edible and medicinal plants that often get maligned as weeds, like creeping Charlie. (Here’s more on weeds you can eat if you’re curious.)
Environmental benefits aside, some people only get good sun in their front yards. While there are vegetables that grow in shade, many of our favorite summer crops really need sun, so the choice is the front yard or miss out on all those luscious tomatoes and melons. Not much of a choice!
More people than ever are choosing to challenge the prevailing norm of a pristine grass lawn in the front yard with all sorts of environmentally-friendly alternatives. One of my favorites is the front yard vegetable garden, though as you’ve probably gathered if you’ve read around on this site a bit, I’m also a huge fan of permaculture gardening and love perennial food forest gardens.
MORE PEOPLE ARE PLANTING VEGETABLE GARDENS IN THE FRONT YARD
Biking around town over the years, I’ve noticed a curious thing happening. More and more people have begun converting their conventionally-landscape front yards into abundant vegetable gardens. One neighborhood I passed through occasionally seemed to have a new yard transformed from lawn to food each time I went by. One day I stopped to find out what their story was.
I spent many hours talking with the group of neighbors growing vegetables in the front yard about how their front yard vegetable gardens had developed and what they’d learned along the way. I got the opportunity to tell their inspiring stories in a 2022 magazine article, but I wanted to share it more widely, so I’m publishing it here with minor revisions and new photos.
If you like it, I hope you’ll share it with people you know who might be inspired to try front yard vegetable gardening, too!
GROWING COMMUNITY WITH FRONT YARD VEGETABLE GARDENS
Seventeen years ago, three neighbors moved into a new housing development and began replacing their nondescript front lawns with gardens. Their evolving landscapes have reshaped the way their neighborhood thinks about what’s acceptable to grow in a front yard and has borne some unanticipated fruits.
An Idea Takes Root
When Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak and her family moved to the new development in 2003, the landscape left much to be desired.
She describes the front yard of the new house as “horrible,” covered with struggling sod and a few “gross” shrubs. She discovered that builders had laid the sod on top of construction waste covered with clay excavated when they dug her basement.
Kathy disliked lawns for environmental reasons anyhow, and she wanted to screen her home and family from the cars that sped through the curve in the road and had twice knocked over her family’s mailbox. “It was terrifying to have my kids playing in this yard with people driving through all the time,” she explains, so she began digging up the lawn and building a rock garden with large shrubs to create a barrier between oncoming cars and her family.
Each season she replaced a little more lawn with herbs, native plants, and large stones she obtained from nearby farms. She built raised beds along her driveway and planted strawberries, blueberries, edamame, tomatoes, kale, and other greens.
She wanted neighborhood children to discover the smells and tastes of the garden and planted alpine strawberries for them to pick throughout the season. “It’s a lot of fun,” Kathy says of her adventures in front yard food gardening. “It’s just a great big experiment.”
She remembers many conversations about plants with her next-door neighbor, Mari Casper, and another young mother across the street, Katie Casson, who also wanted to plant living screens to shield her family from passing cars. In the years that followed, the three began transforming their struggling grass lawns into polycultures filled with native plants and edibles that fed their families and educated their children.
Mari wanted a garden filled with flowers and fresh food that she could see from her front window. She didn’t want to waste water or have to worry about upkeep on a grass lawn, so she dug up her sod little by little. Though she admits “It was a lot of hard work,” she knew the perennials she planted would require less maintenance in the long run.
Mari also planted a cherry tree, raspberries, mint, and other herbs as well as annual vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, tomatillos, and hot peppers. She shared the idea of growing food in the front yard with other neighbors, who planted fruit trees and built annual vegetable beds.
The three recall a constant exchange of ideas and children, who played in each others’ yards as their mothers gardened. “These people were really instrumental in raising my children when they were tiny, and the garden was where we were doing it,” Katie explains. Together they made trips to nurseries, dug plants from others’ gardens to bring to their own, trucked in compost, and shared what they grew in their gardens. “We egged each other on,” Katie recalls. “One of us would be digging in the front yard, and we’d talk things through and try to decide what was best.”
She remembers that at the time, front yard food gardening wasn’t as common or acceptable as it is now, but the trio didn’t think of themselves as trailblazers. “We weren’t out to start a gardening trend,” she notes. Like her neighbors, “I didn’t set out to make a front yard garden, I set out to grow things and this is where the sun comes.”
When Stacy Nguyen moved with her family to the neighborhood in 2004, she had fond memories of her grandparents’ enormous garden in the country and wanted her kids to experience some of the wonder and joy of growing their own food as well.
When a neighbor living adjacent to the development invited her to garden in the tilled area between their houses, Stacy jumped at the chance. But then the neighbor moved away, and Stacy realized her front yard was the only place where she could get enough sun for the vegetables she wanted to continue growing for her family. Kathy, Mari, and Katie gave her a model for her front yard gardening endeavors, offering what she thinks of as “positive peer pressure.” She added raised beds for annual vegetables and planted perennial berries, herbs, and native flowers, as well as several fruit trees.
Multiplying Front Yard Vegetable Gardens
By 2015, when Mika Turner was looking for an empty lot to build on, the vibrant front yard gardens Kathy, Mari, Katie, Stacy, and others had built over the years made her confident that some of her unconventional approaches to landscaping would meet with more tolerance than in other places she’d lived.
Mika and her husband Isaac had grown up with gardens and wanted to grow food in their yards as well. Seeing so many nearby homes with food growing in front of their houses made the open lot far more appealing to them. “We won’t be as weird here as we were previously,” she remembers thinking.
Once their home was finished, Mika planted clover to stabilize and nourish the soil. She planted perennial shrubs and trees, including hazelnuts, pawpaws, serviceberries, currants, goumi, salad burnet, and sunchokes, as well as milkweed and cutleaf coneflower, both of which she uses in cooking.
With more time at home during the pandemic, Mika started an annual vegetable patch in the middle of the front yard where she grows several types of kale, cabbage, and salad greens as well as numerous herbs, tomatoes, and other annual crops. Now that she’s working more, she plans to replace it with more perennial food plants.
Mika’s sister, Midori Krieger, moved to Minnesota from Colorado to be closer to Mika in 2019. She bought a house a few doors down, planning to garden the front yard intensively as well. “We chose this house and this neighborhood because it seemed friendly to this approach,” she says. Midori immediately began smothering her lawn with her broken-down moving boxes and topped it with truckloads of compost, manure, and wood chips to create a thriving annual vegetable bed.
She grows tomatoes, garlic, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, beets, potatoes and leeks along with several perennial herbs and fruits, including cherries, plums, rhubarb, black raspberries, chives, horseradish, and asparagus. In spring she cooks maple syrup on a stove she built at the front of the garden. She cover crops the garden in fall with oats and peas, and follows Charles Dowding’s no-dig method to preserve soil structure. From across the street, Mari has greatly enjoyed watching the transformation of Midori’s front yard from lawn to garden. “It’s wonderful to see the space used,” she enthuses.
The most recent additions to the front yard garden club, when Rebecca and Nathan Hillman moved in two years ago, they hesitated at first to dig up their front lawn. The family had always had a huge garden and planted one in the backyard their first summer. The shade there, however, made it “pretty much the worst garden we’ve ever had,” Rebecca reports. They wrestled with their assumptions about what front yards should look like. “Is that weird to have a front yard garden?” Nathan recalls wondering. But encouraged by their neighbors, last year they decided to till up the front lawn and plant vegetables.
Now their tidy rows of peas, corn, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, onions, beans, and squash attract compliments from neighbors and passersby. Though Rebecca admits that it “hurt to cut into perfectly good sod,” she says “there’s never been a regret.” The front yard veggie patch, she explains, “is actually beautiful to us.”
Their three kids — Anders, age 11, Peter, 9, and Sheloa, 7 — each play a part in the running of the garden. Peter likes helping plant, Sheloa loves to weed, and Anders favors harvesting, though all pitch in energetically with every task. I was extremely impressed by the energy they put into weeding and harvesting while they chatted with me. The kids enjoy tending their front yard garden. “I like that everybody can see it,” Anders says proudly.
Unexpected Benefits of Growing Food in the Front Yard
In addition to the plentiful food they grow, the gardening group noted several advantages to their front yard vegetable gardens. They find themselves interacting far more frequently than they would otherwise, which has allowed them to exchange ideas and share materials many times over the years. Katie moved to another neighborhood in 2015, and she’s noticed that since she no longer spends much time gardening in her front yard, she sees neighbors considerably less. She admits missing those everyday meetings. “That level of interaction is not something you can just conjure,” she observes.
One season Midori ordered a truck full of compost, which she shared with the group. Kathy has invited numerous neighborhood children to sample berries, vegetables, and herbs over the years. Midori tends the apple trees Katie planted over a decade ago, and all share in the apple harvest. Surplus produce makes its way to everyone’s kitchens. Last summer Stacy and Mika pooled their cabbage, onions, and carrots to make kimchi shared among the neighbors.
Nathan and Rebecca toured Mika’s yard last season to learn about many fruits and vegetables they hadn’t encountered before. Mika has taught her neighbors to recognize and use the edible wild plants that pop up in their gardens. Midori built a seed library during the pandemic seed shortage to help share seeds with the wider community.
All greatly appreciate the socializing fostered by tending front yard gardens. In addition to the exchanges with one another, they’ve all enjoyed the opportunities to talk to the many passersby who stop and chat. “The fact that it’s in the front yard means we talk to each other, and people in the streets see it and talk to you about it,” Midori notes.
During the pandemic especially, Rebecca found that having the family out working in the front yard was a wonderful way to interact with both her neighbors and the many walkers who stop to comment or ask questions. “All of that stuff more organically happens when you’re not tucked away in your backyard,” she reflects. “You feel more connected with people because we’re out there more.”
A version of this article first appeared in the April/May 2022 issue of Northern Gardener magazine.
Interested in growing food in your front yard? Here’s what to know about starting your own front yard vegetable garden.
PLANTING A FRONT YARD VEGETABLE GARDEN: CONSIDERATIONS & TIPS
Before planting your own front yard vegetable garden, you need to give some thought to your priorities. If one of them is aesthetics, you’ll want to choose your plants and garden structures carefully (more on that below). If you’re looking for less maintenance, consider perennial plants, which once established, should require less work than a traditional vegetable garden.
THINK ABOUT AESTHETICS
Many people worry about their front yards having the messy appearance that backyard vegetable gardens often do. Consider how you can use food plants in ways similar to common landscape plants, such as choosing ornamental greens like rainbow chard and Russian kale, or flowering vines like scarlet runner beans.
Fruit trees and shrubs are another option. Plum trees, elderberries, and haskap berries all add beauty to the landscape as well as food for pollinators and luscious fruit.
START SMALL & BE REALISTIC
You don’t have to convert your entire front yard into a vegetable garden. You can plant individual vegetables in open spots of existing beds if you prefer, or just add one raised bed to see how it goes.
You’ll need to think about what you really have time for, as an annual vegetable garden will need more frequent watering and weeding than your traditionally landscaped yard. Try not to create a garden so big you won’t have time to maintain it.
CONTAIN THE PLANTS WITH RAISED BEDS
Raised beds — made of wood, metal, or stone — can add structure to a garden and keep things contained. You can build your own raised beds, or you can buy kits that make setting up garden beds easy. Raised bed gardens are also a good solution to less-than-optimal soil conditions many people deal with when converting a lawn. Instead of digging up the lawn, you can just build on top of it, covering the areas where you want to walk with a thick layer of wood mulch or planting clover pathways.
INCORPORATE PERENNIALS AND ORNAMENTAL EDIBLE PLANTS
Many annual plants have a tendency to get a bit messy — think leggy tomato plants or dying vines at the end of the season. And since annual plants get removed at the end of the growing season, the site may be bare for much of the year. Especially in places with long winters, this can mean prolonged periods of bare soil, which isn’t ideal aesthetically or for the health of the soil.
To maintain visual interest and also to prevent erosion, mix your annual plantings with perennials. You can choose perennial vegetables like rhubarb, or go for flowers to attract pollinators as well as compliments from neighbors. Sneak in extra food by focusing on the many edible flowers we have to choose from.
Perennial herbs are another smart choice, as herb gardens can easily resemble more traditional landscape plants. Sage, thyme, rosemary, lemon balm, and lavender will hold your soil in place while providing flavor for your table and food for beneficial insects.
FURTHER READING ABOUT FRONT YARD GARDENING
FAQS ABOUT FRONT YARD VEGETABLE GARDENS
Is it illegal to grow vegetables in the front yard?
In most places, it’s not illegal to have a front yard vegetable garden, but some homeowners’ associations (HOAs) may have rules about what you can and cannot plant. If you’re asking this question, you may be remembering the much-publicized case of the Florida couple forced to pull out their front yard vegetable garden. They fought back and won the right to garden in the front yard, and other would-be front yard gardens are helping to make the ‘right to garden’ law.
If your HOA prohibits food gardens in the front yard, focus on incorporating attractive herbs and edible perennial flowers. A decorative eggplant tucked into your flower bed likely won’t attract any negative attention.
Beautiful fruit trees like plums and apricots are another option for incorporating food-producing plants that look like more traditional landscaping choices.
What crops work best for front yard vegetable gardens?
Especially if you’re just getting started with a front yard vegetable garden, it’s probably best to choose crops that tend to behave themselves. Consider planting pretty greens like rainbow chard or dino kale, along with attractive herbs like thyme or lemon balm.
Plants to consider for the front yard vegetable garden include
- Scarlet runner beans
- Colorful kale varieties
- Rainbow swiss chard
- Hot peppers
- Lettuces and other greens
- Basil (including unusual colors like purple for a stunning herb garden)
- Thyme (creeping thymes as an herbal groundcover, or upright thyme)
- Lavender (both the flower buds and leaves can be used as a culinary or medicinal herb — learn more about lavender leaves uses)
–> Need some gardening gear? Check out our new line of t-shirts!
How do I turn my front lawn into a vegetable garden?
The easiest way by far to convert a lawn to a vegetable garden is using a method called sheet mulching. If you have a lawn, rather than dig it up entirely, lay sheets of cardboard down and cover them with soil or mulch.
The cardboard will smother whatever was growing under it. If the soil was compacted or clay, add lots of compost and manure on top, and eventually the worms and microbes will convert it into rich garden soil.
If you want to plant right away, you can lay a few inches of soil mixed with compost and/or manure on top of the cardboard and plant into that. As the cardboard decomposes, the plant roots will reach into the soil and break it up.
If your soil is compacted, clay, or of poor quality, adding plenty of organic matter is crucial to your plants’ success. You can bring in compost or manure to amend the soil, or use the “lasagna method” of sheet mulching, adding loads of compost, leaves, manure, and other garden matter to create soil your plants will love. More on the lasagna method from the Oregon State Extension here.
–> If you’re digging into a new area of your yard, be sure to call to have a utility locator come mark places where gas lines and wires are buried. Most states have a “call before you dig” number and will send out a locator for free.
Think you may try a front yard vegetable garden? Leave a comment about your plans!
Pin to save these front yard vegetable garden ideas for later!
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.