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Front Yard Vegi Gardens Are Okay (in Richmond, CA)

dodge vegematic with winter squash

Rumors have been circulating that fruits and vegetables might be illegal to grow in the front yards and hellstrips of some Bay Area cities, but the city of Richmond investigated and found that there are no ordinances against them. The investigation came from the top, from our mayor, Gayle Mclaughlin.

‘“If it is indeed a Richmond law, I would like to ask the city attorney’s office to change/cancel this ordinance and bring it to council for a vote ASAP. I would be happy to sponsor such an ordinance change.” 

Assistant City Attorney Mary J. Renfro came up with the definitive answer, reached after consulting the city’s Health, Public Safety and Welfare and Zoning codes. 

While some legal provisions require yard maintenance and “prohibit nuisance conditions that might attract trespassers and vermin,” none of them suggests that it is impermissible to grow fruit or other edible plants in the front yard.

It’s good that the mayor checked on vegi gardens and established that they’re okay, because there has been a front yard vegi garden movement in my Richmond Annex neighborhood for the last couple of years. Six gardens within a block of each other grow vegetables (these are small blocks with 2-5 houses per block, so that’s a high percentage) and, a couple of blocks away from them, another one converted their lawn to vegetables three months ago. 

onions

onions and juniper

The first of the gardens, the one that began the trend, is a front yard of veggies grown in raised beds of mortared stonework from the juniper/ivy era of California landscaping. It is far and away the tidiest of the gardens, and it produces an impressive quantity of food throughout the year. Even when large sections are only bare dirt and small seedlings or when the plants get raggedy at the end of their harvest period, the walls and the orderly planting style and to some extent the pom-pommed junipers always make it clear that this is a well-maintained garden.

carrots and juniper

Photos of more gardens are below.

winter squash

beans

beans

squash

squash and dying lawn

squash and beans

corn and beans and dying lawn

Separate yards, but similar designs. The second one has copper around the vegi box for slugs and strips of reflective tape for birds.

tomatoes

tomatoes and vw

sunflowers

sunflowers

A couple of yards that could technically be called backyards or side yards, because they are behind fences and accessed by the back door, but the fences are right up flush with the sidewalk and the gardens are visible from the street so I’m including them. Both of these gardens expanded into their respective hellstrips this year.

squash and mexican evening primrose

squash and mexican evening primrose

squash

squash

fresh greens

greens

doe, a deer

doe, a deer

I’m not sure how this yard fits in, but I like it.

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9 Responses to “Front Yard Vegi Gardens Are Okay (in Richmond, CA)”

  1. July 8th, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Town Mouse says:

    It’s interesting how things change. Here, a street that had a lawn in front of each house now has about 30% drought tolerant plantings and, I think, two veggie gardens. Great pics! I should go snap some street pics as well….

  2. July 8th, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    KDilley says:

    I love this post! This is exactly what inspires me as I walk through a neighborhood.

  3. July 9th, 2009 at 8:56 am

    michelle d. says:

    I’ve seen only a few front yard veggie gardens in Marin and most of them were in the lower rent town of Novato or funky Fairfax.
    I think Marin is too conservative and or concerned with their property values and perceived aesthetics to plop in a veggie garden in the front yard.
    Then again, the houses in Marin usually have enough property to have a veggie garden in the back yard.
    I’m wondering about the reasons why people choose their front yard for a veggie garden.
    Mine is in the front because that is where the sun is.
    I wonder what inspires folks to plant vegetables in their front yard ?

  4. July 9th, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Brad B says:

    Too much trash and dogs passing by our front yard for me to feel comfortable growing veggies. A shame because it’s large and sunny, but so is the backyard. The drought tolerant planting will have to do for the front.

  5. July 10th, 2009 at 12:41 am

    Bird says:

    Fantastic veggie garden pics – so inspiring when people sacrifice their lawns! I’m really intrigued by the idea that it would be even considered possible that a vegetable patch could be illegal, why would that be? Is it the water usage or something like that?

    Many food plants are beautiful – lovely flowers, architectural shapes and interesting growth habits, and as these pics prove their containers can be made into a feature too. Old fashioned cottage gardens would have cabbages among the Hollyhocks because you only had a tiny plot and why limit what you can grow there? Thanks for sharing these. Oh and thank you for visiting my blog too, and apologies for not coming over to your place till now 🙂

  6. July 10th, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Susie says:

    I designed a front yard veggie garden for a client last year. She figured if she was using water then she may as well be watering something edible. I’ll have to go back out & take some photos. She was in a corner lot so, we put fruit trees along the sloping side area & espalliered on her garage wall. I designed decorative pathways in a sunray pattern thru the front yard alongside her existing entry walkway. Along with the edibles, I added some drought tolerant ornamental plants so that the street side presentation would still be beautiful.

  7. July 11th, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    ryan says:

    I’m maybe not the best one to say why people might object, but the rumor come from a dispute between the city of Berkeley and one homeowner. The city says they cited him for building a raised bed structure in his hellstrip (which is actually public space), while the homeowner claims that the city is citing him for growing food in his front yard. I’m keeping my distance from the dispute, so I haven’t linked to any of it, but it’s gotten a fair bit of press.
    I think neighbors and homeowner associations sometimes object with the belief that it will negatively affect home prices. Basically, people want gardens to look like someone is tending them, and the fear is that vegetable gardens will have their ragged periods, because they are geared towards production rather than ornamental value. I think it helped a lot that the first vegetable garden in the area was always kept so tidy. That garden always looks better maintained than almost any other yard in the area.
    Mixing in ornamentals or surrounding it with ornamentals is a good idea.
    I think the reason for planting vegetables in the front is that sense of watering something edible, like Susie says, and using the space for something productive. Also, sun and space are reasons; some houses don’t have much of a backyard.
    The thought of all the passing dogs makes me skeptical about growing veggies in my own hellstrip, but we have cat issues anyways, so maybe I should put some plants out where the best sun is. Some of these gardens are a month ahead of our own veggie garden.
    I’m glad folks enjoyed the photos.

  8. July 11th, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    lostlandscape(James) says:

    Even if the backyards are perfectly suitable for veggies, growing them in the front definitely makes a statement. My neighbor next door doesn’t have much room left in the back, so their front has bananas, a loquat and a pear mixed in with their ornamentals. A house a couple miles away has a front yard full of corn–talk about using big ornamental grasses!

  9. July 11th, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    ryan says:

    A neighbor from Iowa, perhaps? Corn definitely has a bold form.