A lot of different reasons inspired us to rip out our front lawn; more room to grow food, the benefits of southern exposure, a love of gardening, the desperate need for some curb appeal . . . But we had no idea that none of those would prove to be the best reasons for replacing our lawn with a productive vegetable garden.
We’d lived in our house for nearly a year before we ripped out the lawn. We got to know our immediate neighbours on either side pretty quick; they were understandably curious when we put in our backyard veg garden before we’d even moved in. (Priorities!) Other than that, we hadn’t even seen most of our neighbours our first year in the house.
You don’t realize how much of a moat a front lawn is until you do away with it. A front lawn is about buffers and boundaries, conformity and anonymity. The only time we use it is when we’re mowing it, and we only do that because we don’t want to look bad compared to the neighbours. And as we all know, mowing the lawn doesn’t exactly lend itself to conversation.
I would never have guessed what a bridge our front garden would become. It demands we spend time in our front yards on a regular basis, in a quiet way inviting our neighbours to share our life. There is a vulnerability there, an intimacy, as we publicly move through the daily rituals of tending the food that will nourish us. And unknowingly, we’ve been cultivating not only vegetables, but community.
The gardens somehow gives us permission to not ignore each other. Some people still try the first time they walk by while I’m out there, but its hard to look away from the yard. They always look shocked when I put up my hand and wave good morning, but the startled expression always quickly dissolves into a smile and a wave back and often ends in conversation. The Italians and Portuguese always comment on my veg and give me pointers on my tomatoes, and even the Korean, Philipino and Chinese neighbours, who often speak little or no English stop to “chat”. One older gentleman gives me an enthusiastic two thumbs up everyday as he walks by. Our differences of age, language and race melt away in the shared simple joy of the garden.
We haven’t had a single negative comment about our decision to remove our lawn. Instead what we have is an unexpected sense of community, security and belonging. Our garden has become a means of sharing knowledge too, knowledge that at one time would have been considered essential and commonplace – like what a potato plant looks like. Or even, can you believe it – strawberries!? One friend even thought my irises were corn!
And when our lovely cat went missing early this month, I was touched to discover that not only was I looking for him, but so was the rest of our block. One little seven year old girl from down the street came by with her mum as I was watering to tell me that she had cried when she saw my lost poster, and that the two of them had gone out looking for our lost little guy. They have shared the joy of my garden, and now thanks to the community and friendship we have built, are also sharing my loss.
All of our initial great reasons to rip out the lawn have been diminished by the look of surprised pleasure on the face of a lady from the neighbourhood whom I’d just met when she commented how much she loved cabbage and I offered her one come harvest time, and to hear from folks out walking that they make a point of walking past our place to see what is new and how the tomatoes are coming along. The garden slows me down, and it slows down our neighbourhood. My biggest garden triumph to date was looking out the window to see two little straw-haired girls with their rosy faces completely buried in my forget-me-nots.
Talk about stopping to smell the flowers.