Front yard vegetables
Philosophy professor Tamar Rudavsky works in the thriving garden in the front yard of her Clintonville home.
Turf wars are nothing new for Tamar Rudavsky and her husband, Richard Brody. For 25 years at their former Worthington home, these Boston transplants battled over grassy lawn space for their kids versus a lush vegetable garden.
Rudavsky, a philosophy professor at Ohio State University, gradually gained ground on the debate as their children grew up. Her gracious husband, a protein biochemist, gave up more of the lawn. But in 2006, when the couple became empty nesters and as they were purchasing a smaller home in Clintonville, Rudavsky negotiated a front yard vegetable garden because the backyard was too shady.
“Within two weeks of moving in, I dug up the front lawn and planted my first fall crops,” she recalls.
Rudavsky may have been a front yard gardening pioneer six years ago, but today she finds herself in the midst of a revolution. Her sentiments are strong. “I think lawns are ridiculous,” she says. “You have to tend to them, water them and fertilize them, so I’m not convinced that this is how people should use this space.”
According to Ivette Soler, author of newly published book, The Edible Front Yard, Rudavsky isn’t alone. She’s part of a trend related to the economic downturn, the sustainability movement and an increase in urban farming. “People are rethinking how to best use their property,” says Soler.
Rudavsky, who was initially worried about others’ perceptions of her garden, says many people have approved as they pass by their property, which borders the Olentangy River bike path. The Clintonville community also has been very accepting. “It’s a very eclectic neighborhood, not one that demands edged sidewalks or frequent mowings,” she adds. One neighbor has a grassless front lawn filled with perennials, for example.
Because the vegetable garden is so public, Rudavsky had to give greater thought to its design aesthetics. “It had to be visually interesting and not an in-your-face-oh-that’s-vegetables garden,” she says.
First, she framed the front of the property with an attractive bed of perennials and roses. Then, she placed raised beds in a geometric pattern: Eight rectangular beds radiate from one shaped as an octagon, which is in the center. Throughout the garden, she intersperses color with sunflowers, marigolds, red trellises, patches of purple and green leaf lettuce and many other ornamental edibles.
“People don’t realize how beautiful okra and squash blooms are,” she says, adding that passersby also are attracted to the vegetables. “People want to stop and take their pictures with the eggplants.”
The location of Rudavsky’s garden has grown into an educational situation, too. “It’s not intentional,” she says, “but being on the bike path people are constantly coming by April through September and asking for garden tours and advice.”
She instructs beginners to start with one or two raised beds that are 4-by-6-feet or 3-by-4-feet in size. She recommends building a wooden frame or purchasing a pre-made one, and filling it with good soil. Next, she suggests choosing plants, especially those with fruits and vegetables you like to eat. For example, try a spaghetti-themed garden with tomatoes, peppers and herbs.
For more discreet front yard vegetables, Rudavsky says gardeners can simply tuck vegetable and fruit plants in their landscaped beds. She plants blueberry bushes alongside roses.
“They’re beautiful and turn bright red in the fall,” she says. “So, why plant burning bush for fall color when you can have a colorful blueberry bush and its fruits, too?”
She says her children, now in their early 20s, were surprised as youngsters to learn most people purchased their berries at grocery stores. “I would send them out to harvest veggies for dinner and they would sneak off to pick berries and eat them surreptitiously,” says Rudavsky. “Raspberries, blueberries, cherries and strawberries never made it into the house.”
Today, their passion for fresh, home-grown produce lives on. Her son, who now lives in Brussels, made a recent, rare call to his mom seeking advice for growing tomatoes. And, last season, her daughter potted vegetable plants in containers at her college apartment. Even her husband enjoys the fruits of the garden, although he still tends a 200-yard strip of backyard lawn.
Teresa Woodard is a freelance writer.