NW Flower and Garden Show—Edible Front Yard

by Ivette Soler

This enlightening talk by Ivette Soler follows her newly published book, The Edible Front Yard. She is an engaging speaker and quite convinced me to plant some veggies (okay, I’ve been convinced for a long time, but now I have renewed interest and enthusiasm!) She pointed out that lawn is the largest irrigated crop in America, using resources without giving anything back. We spend millions of dollars on lawn care. Why be the same as everyone else? Show your individualism with a well-designed garden, not a lawn, she proposed. Create a social space in your front yard, which is often the sunniest spot on the property. It’s the perfect place for growing food, which is easier than most people think. She repeated that good advance planning is key to this process. She showed photos of gorgeous mixed gardens—the right way–and also photos of a front yard with just corn planted and nothing else–the wrong way. Get the curb appeal with a careful design, using a mixture of plants. Combine edibles and ornamentals and think like a designer, she said. Here are her six tips to keep a focused space and have cohesive plantings.
1. Contrast color. Use red/rainbow swiss chard, freckled lettuce, red sails lettuce, purple basil and sage. Darks add mood, drama and complexity. Purple Japanese eggplant and silver thyme work well too.
2. Contrast form. This is the plant’s outline. For an eye pleasing garden, balance the forms. Arching or fountain shape–lemon grass, daylilies, chives, kale or chard. Mounding–rosemary, lavender or roses. Prostrate–groundcovers like nasturtium, sweet woodruff, or oregano. Verticals–corn, beans, peas.
3. Contrast texture. This is what is inside the shape or the tactile quality. Texture is what separates a good garden from a great garden. Fine–tiny leaves like chamomile, rosemary, juniper or fennel. Medium–salvia and most plants. Course–big and bold such as rhubarb, artichoke and corn. Grassy–Important for a dynamic garden, movement. Grasses, lemongrass and chives. Rubber (a new Ivette Soler category)–succulents and tropicals like agave, aloe and banana.
4. Repeat yourself. Garden designers hate the number one. Groups and repetition keep the focus and provide stability. Ornamentals help edible gardens look good in the beginning, as the seeds are starting out.
5. Choice specimens. These solitary pieces add drama, solidity and grounding. Espaliered apple tree, golden hops or grapes.
6. Mix it up. Combine edible plants with ornamental plants with helper plants (medicinals). Play, think and enjoy. Artemisia has insecticidal properties. Catmint keeps on blooming and won’t stop. Euphorbia is a gopher repellant. Juniper is great and yarrow can be a lawn alternative. Use unusual combinations like a cactus as a trellis for a cherry tomato plant.
She urged us to make associations between our plants to create a complete garden. If not, we are just collecting plants.

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