Back to Reality: Renovating our Front Yard to Remove The Lawn and Add Edibles
A dead lawn is not a pretty picture. We need to do something about it but neither Helpful Husband or myself have any interest in lawn care.
So what is your motivation for making changes in the garden? My motivation is reality. We are finally facing reality. It rains a lot in the winter here and is dry in summer. So without irrigation the lawn is dead from May to September.
Meanwhile the fringe of green and blooming shrubs (including the Michel Trudeau rose but mostly just leftovers from the previous owners) are still alive even though our irrigation system imploded three years ago. It is time for a change so we completely renovate our front yard in a slow and methodical way. We keep the overall costs reasonable and the environmental impact positive. Our goal is to keep it nice but not too fancy. We probably should have removed the house too but that seemed extreme.
It all started with Helpful husband. He had better things to do so he stopped mowing or watering the lawn. Also, he wanted to tear out and replace our old concrete driveway to make it wider. So we asked for a second opinion (my idea) and concrete guy nixed the idea of removing our paved drive – mainly because it is still in good shape. But the 10 foot wide drive barely leaves enough room to pass the parked cars without dragging dirt off parked vehicles. And after navigating the tight space, guests still have to walk up a set of steep stairs to reach the front door.
So with pencil and paper and I do what I usually do for clients: a front landscape redesign starting with more parking for all our toys and vehicles. We have two trailers (one for kayaks) and one for general hauling of landscape materials. We have a van for camping and we have a car. So beginning in 2016, we flatten the right side of the yard, building a small wall to contain the plants, and we create extra parking for gear.
We have a small view from our front yard so it is important to keep new plantings low. We agree to leave the existing shrubs and trees – but add no new trees. We also want to use this very hot dry space to grow some of the things that really need heat and drought. We add plants that tolerate deer (mostly) and our overall goal is “pretty as well as ornamental and edible.” We also love hummingbirds and we want to encourage them. And mostly I want the new approach to the house to be welcoming. No more dragging past cars or climbing steep steps to enter the house. We add a wider approach and shallow, wider stairs.
Artichokes are real people pleasers because they are edible, deer-proof and interesting. When we start using them along our side boulevard people stop to ask about them. So we use them again in the front. What fun.
Okay- seriously – last point: I fall in love with watermelons when my grandkids ask me to grow them. They thrive in heat so the sunny front yard seems like the best place to add melons. And so the planting plan evolves to include seasonal watermelons, deer-proof food such as onions, garlic and leeks and blooming Salvias to feed hummingbirds. (I love Hot Lips Saliva because they last well into fall even though they are not always hardy and usually die over winter.)
We start the big landscape redesign with the right side of the yard in 2016. We replace a slumping, sprawling planting area with a short wall and we gain a level gravel parking area for utility vehicles. Using gravel instead of hard surfaces everywhere ensures moisture penetrates the ground instead of running off into the roads and sewer system.
We start killing the main lawn in the fall of 2016. The first step in killing a lawn is to cover it with cardboard and wood chips. We get the cardboard at various grocery stores and the free wood chips from arborists pruning in our area. We are re-using instead of recycling. A positive thing and so easy to do.
So this is our new front yard: it is more accessible (several shallow stairs instead of one long run of steep stairs, easier to look after, easy to water efficiently, fun to sit in and enjoy in the evening, and a great source of interesting edible and ornamental plants. One of the biggest surprises is that snapdragons have planted themselves and are obviously deer proof. We have taken out our lawn and use our spare time to care for our melons and artichokes and hummingbird-attracting Salvia. Oh, and having a glass of wine to enjoy our view on our new patio.
Timeline for Front Yard Design and Install:
June 2016 – Start and finish the right side of the front yard to allow more parking right away.
September 2016- Kill what is left of the front lawn with cardboard and wood chips
June 2017 – Start and finish walls and large planter on left side of the front yard.
October 2017- pour concrete steps to house and sidewalk to join the two sets of steps.
April -June 2018 – Fill planters with soil and shape planting beds. Add a top-dressing of purchased wood mulch so entire planting area is filled with soil and topped with mulch. Plant salvia for hummingbirds and watermelons for grandchildren. Fantastic results with 17 Flower Dragon watermelons in total the first summer.
May- June 2018 – Finish laying and finishing giant tiles over smooth concrete steps and sidewalk. Bring in gravel and set out chairs to start enjoying front yard patio area.
March – May 2019 – Soil settles in our giant planter so I add more garden soil and then plant onions, leeks, garlic and Sweet Beauty watermelons. Helpful Husband and helpers Heather and Brennan install LED lighting under the stair treds. I bring plant pots, bought years ago for this project in Kelowna (Dogwood Nursery), to the front steps where they can finally be enjoyed this summer!
Patio Party: TBA
Donna Balzer is the Brand Ambassador for BCGreenhouse Builders and she has two greenhouses in her big backyard.
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