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Whatever happened to vegetables in the front yard?

Some people say 2009 was the year the lawn died and everyone started putting in front yard veggie gardens.

But between the cost of water and the on-going drought, many L.A. householders are now exchanging "farm-scaping" for gravel and succulents.

At Fink Farms, the water for the lawn has been turned off, but we're still working the plot.

In 2009, the economy belly-flopped.  Emptying the piggie bank onto a lawn got a lot less appealing. First Lady Michelle Obama took out part of the White House lawn that March for an organic vegetable garden, and citizens across the land followed suit.

It made a lot of sense:
  • What does anybody really do in the front yard these days? Most people prefer to socialize in the privacy of the backyard.
  • Edible plants can be just as lovely as traditional "ornamentals" -- think of silvery lavender leaves, purple tipped basil and ruffled lettuces.
  • Organic vegetable gardens require less maintenance, energy and water than lawns -- AND don't require the petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides that traditional lawns do.
  • Getting your vegetables from the front yard instead of the grocery store is the epitome of eating  in season and locally. You can pick your vegetables when they are ripe and avoid the energy and ecological costs of transportation.
Landscape designer Rosalind Creasey and author, blogger and L.A. garden designer Ivette Soler have been blurring the line between edible plants and ornamentals for years.

But sadly water conservation efforts have been as effective as RoundUp in wiping out front yard vegetable plots as well as the lawn. When the water companies started offering financial incentives for replacing lawns with drought-resistant plants, decomposed granite or other forms of hardscaping, homeowners rushed to pull the plug on the lawn.

So, these days, LA neighborhoods are dotted with eye-numbingly symmetrical gravel pits.

Soler and others point out that vegetables and herbs still have a place in a drought-resistant garden. Many hardy herbs -- marjoram, sages and thymes -- grow well in our Mediterranean-analog climate -- as long as plants with like needs for water are put together.

For the moment, Fink Farm is a towering, wandering rectangle of greenery surrounded by prickly, golden dead grass. Maybe someday, when the budget for a landscaper builds up, we'll have edibles stashed around the entire waterwise yard.

Maybe at last the herbs won't be suffering in harshness; they will be out in the front yard nestled beside succulents.

Tomato Report

After harvesting full colandars of tomatoes every week or so, we're in a lull. No more red tomatoes but heavy clusters of green ones that will be turning soon. We thinned out the base of the vines a little more and have been cutting off suckers below ripening fruit. The bad news is that we're seeing signs of tiny black insects.  We've dosed them with organic pest control and hope we can stay on top of the problem long enough to finish the season.

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