Grow Your Own Goodness – Winnipeg Free Press Homes

Lawns are a waste of space. Why not grow food instead and provide habitat for pollinators?

Cornelian landscape design

Repetition and the soft textures of native grasses give your design a purposeful look.

Cornelian landscape design

Massaging perennials is a key strategy for creating more visual impact.

Cornelian landscape design

Use the hard structural edges of your sidewalk or path to frame your garden.

The lawn uses valuable resources even when the weather conditions are as favorable as possible. Amid concerns about a warming climate and loss of ecosystems coupled with the current disruptions in our food supply chain, a well-manicured lawn feels like a waste of space. What if you created a more functional space that offers a greater number of possibilities?

By replacing your monoculture lawn with a diverse nature-based mix of flowering plants, herbs, grasses, fruit bushes and vegetables, you can grow a healthy, more productive green space that supports pollinators and lets you harvest and deliver fresh food right to your door – in this case your front door.

Janet and Charley Colatruglio have been living at their East St. Paul property for 30 years. They want to convert a 25-foot by 25-foot patch of front lawn, bordered by their driveway on one side and mature trees on the other, into a flower and vegetable garden. “Our backyard is too shady, so the front yard is our best option for optimal production,” says Janet. Charley has wanted to create a vegetable garden in the front yard for many years, but Janet has resisted because she was concerned about the visual appeal. “Now I think if we incorporate flowers, herbs and fruit bushes, we can meet both of our goals,” says Janet.

A growing number of homeowners are seeing their underutilized front yards as space for flowering plants and growing food. Good design is the foundation for success with your new garden and for drawing people towards it as opposed to away from it, say Shannon Bahuaud and Nik Friesen-Hughes, owners of Dogwood Landscape Design. It is largely about how to put things in place, says Bahuaud.

The key, they say, is to avoid making your new garden too complex with intricate patterns. Don’t try to do too many different things with a small space. Your eye needs a place to rest, says Friesen-Hughes. Massaging is a key strategy, he says, making it easier to identify your plants while creating more visual impact. Instead of planting an area with 30 or 40 different varieties of plants, create a broad splash of color by grouping one type of plant. “It’s easier to maintain a garden when you have larger clumps,” says Bahuaud. Some may want to make a small meadow, she says, but you can use the same native plants that are found in nature and grow them in large clumps so that they create visual interest. “It still has the same ecological benefits and the same low maintenance,” she says, “but it looks like an intentional garden—one that’s natural, nurtured, and communicates intent.”

Dogwood Landscape Design specializes in native Manitoba wildflower gardens, naturalistic perennial gardens, edible gardens and natural stone. Nik Friesen-Hughes and Bahuaud have transformed several residential front gardens into beautiful and functional landscapes that are environmentally sustainable and ecologically beneficial. Last summer, Bahuaud converted her small front yard into a vegetable and perennial garden with an emphasis on texture and structure. Raised beds and paths keep planting areas separate and defined and allow her to incorporate both food and native plants.

Even in a small room you can create space, she says. The boulevard forms one room and is where she planted herbal tea plants and medicinal plants as well as pollinator plants. A treehouse at the entrance to her front yard provides vertical interest, but can also be used to grow vines. Raised beds bordering her small property are planted with vegetables but serve a dual purpose as a low fence. The interior space is planted with perennial edibles such as asparagus and rhubarb. A narrow strip of natural bark mulch separates the raised beds from the pavement.

Decide whether you want something quite structured or a wild garden that is haphazardly planted with a combination of wildflowers, native plants and edibles.

“First, it’s a personal preference,” says Bahuaud. There are very attractive varieties of chard and kale that look beautiful combined with native perennials and wildflowers. Weaving in and out of plants is a sensual experience, she says, but if you’re growing food and want to maximize what you get out of your garden, choose a structured and organized approach that incorporates paths and access points. Paths make your garden accessible. Materials include mulch, pea gravel, natural stone and reclaimed brick.

“I like to experience the environment a bit more, so sometimes creating a longer, winding path can draw your attention to different areas of the garden.”

Also consider, Friesen-Hughes says, that while perennials and vegetables can intermingle, you’ll always want to manage areas with open soil and sow annual forage each year. Defining areas is a key strategy to help reduce maintenance when planting a space with herbs, native plants, vegetables and fruit bushes. But if you plant all native perennials, plant close, says Friesen-Hughes. “Planting densely shades the soil and prevents weed growth and reduces maintenance.”

There is a concept called orderly frames, says Friesen-Hughes. “So if you’re putting in a wild garden with the softer grass textures, use the hard structural edges of your sidewalk or porch or gazebo to frame and contrast with your wild landscape. Really pay attention to how the edges look and keep the edges to look clean. Consider repeating a few of the grasses and use perennials like wild bergamot and echinacea coneflower for a look that’s purposeful and groomed.” Some of Friesen-Hughes and Bahuaud’s favorite grasses include June Grass, Prairie Dropseed and Little Bluestem.

Execute your design correctly by using repeating groups, masses, good structure and contrasting textures. Also, vary the height of your plants, Friesen-Hughes says, and embrace seasonal changes in your landscape. “It is important to think about how plants will look after their flowering period and how they change during the season. In winter, grasses and perennials are key habitat for many beneficial insects.”

Consider the environment and light conditions of different parts of your landscape that you develop, as well as character changes.

What method will you use to remove your lawn? There are three main methods, say Bahuaud and Friesen-Hughes. One is the flip method, which involves lifting your sod in pieces and turning it over to break down and decompose. It is best to do this in the fall near the end of the season so that the roots do not have a chance to grow and re-establish.

Another method is to use a sod and compost the sod. Sometimes there may be someone who wants to take sod and use it to fill in an area. The third method is to spread and secure a tarp over the entire grass area. This last method will take longer.

Front gardens are meeting places where we connect with our neighbors and community. Why not switch from a traditional lawn to a more beautiful and diverse natural landscape and make it a conversation piece?

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