Grow Food, Not Lawns

Why would anyone want a lawn? Sure, it makes a great space for kids to play, but most homeowners are literal slaves to their lawns: mowing, weeding, and dumping tons of toxic fertilizers every year. Lawns are also thirsty, and with climate change, water is getting sparse – and expensive. So why not get a life, save the planet, and eat tasty local food? These three San Francisco gardeners have successfully turned their lawn wastelands into valuable crops.

Photo credit: Emme Levine

Daphne Alden is an affable young mom with a lovely garden close to the venerable Palace of Fine Arts. She transformed her raggedy looking, poisonous-plant infested yard by calling Star Apple Edible Gardens. One year after the transformation, her 25’ X 25’ garden is replete with a wide variety of edible plants: Lush purple-leaved tree collards, blueberries, beans, cucumbers, rhubarb, potatoes, celery and basil. To foil thieves, the front yard has plants not recognized as food – a lovely privacy hedge is really culinary bay. Plump blueberries were hidden among the Myer lemon, English Thyme, Lime Thyme and Sage. The best part, as Daphne says, is that, “My older daughter started to eat salads now that she can pick her own lettuce.”

Photo credit: Emme Levine

Cool crops do well in her sandy amended soil year round: kale, lettuce, radicchio, squash, chocolate mint, Greek oregano, and a lovely large cilantro that produces edible flowers. Jessica will let the ducks roam the garden – they eat snails with relish – a win-win for all.Out in the not-so-sunny Sunset, Jessica Ryder and her two roommates (Gabriel Cole is the proprietor of Fare Resources) took out their lawn themselves to plant an edible DIY garden. What makes her 50’ X 20’ garden unique are the three resident white Pekin ducks – the lone male will become a meal later on (can you say Aflac?), but the two shy, quietly quacking gal ducks will stay and produce about 200 eggs a year, enough for the entire household.

An ariel view of Lois Tow’s converted yard.

The front yard is dotted with the creeping perennial Yerba Buena (good for tea) as ground cover. Like miner’s lettuce, no one would recognize these as edibles. Out back, the three 4’ X 12’ raised beds are tucked with beans, onions, kale, lettuce, and fennel. One corner has a very rare apple tree – the White Pearmain is well suited for coastal areas. Two bushy African Blue basils thrive much more than my own Genovese basil. A pepper plant bundled up with plastic for more heat actually produces. Lois’s recipe for lettuce soup sounded like just the ticket to help me thaw out from our mid-day chat. Lois Tow lives in fog – like a giant cauldron letting loose great swaths of white steam – just without the heat.  Her home is on the downslope of San Francisco’s highest point: Mt. Davidson at 938 ft. above sea level. Lois enlisted professional help – Casey Allen with San Francisco Landscapes Corporation hauled out her old swing set and transformed the lawn into raised beds, using cobblestones that once lined San Francisco’s streets. Plum trees keep the squirrels happy, while gophers rip through and munch everything that is not encased in chicken-wire mesh baskets sunk into the sand-based soil. Slugs, snails, skunks and birds take nibbles here and there. Suffice to say eking out a garden in this seemingly hostile environment still yields some sweet surprises.

If you’ve always wanted to be an urban gardener – why wait any longer? Let these three innovative ladies inspire you to lose your lawn and plan an edible yard.


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