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Useful Tips for Avoiding Jail Time while Vegetable Gardening in Your Front Yard

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Disguise your vegetable garden: plant Sweet Peas and Nasturtiums in amongst the Edamame and Strawberries

One of our sister blogs, Eat Drink Better, just wrote about a Michigan family who is being threatened with financial penalties and jail time for simply growing vegetables in their own front yard. Persecuting people for growing food is difficult to fathom, but similar oppressive restrictions and bizarre city ordinances seem to be an issue nationwide.

So before you get caught picking cucumbers in your front yard, are slapped with a fine, and charged with a misdemeanor, here are some sneaky strategies you can try to disguise your subversive gardening acts. You can always resort to planting edible flowers and herbs among the veggies in your front yard, and Big Brother will be none the wiser.

This method of stealth edible gardening is worth a try if you are unfortunate enough to live in a city with an ordinance dictating what types of plants are “suitable” for your front yard. I am very much in favor of working to change such local laws that are misguided and often outdated; but in the meantime, the following tips may help keep you out of handcuffs.

Grow Edibles that Double as Ornamental Plants

I have Scarlet Runner Beans growing up an attractive trellis in my front yard. The showy scarlet flowers with lush green foliage attract attention and people are shocked to learn that,  yes,  they are also an edible heirloom bean.

Salad greens with Calendula and Borage flower petals

Propagate Edible Flowers

I love flowers so I plant them among my vegetables. There are many attractive edible flowers, including several that are grown strictly as ornamental plants: calendula, the violet family (including Johnny jump-ups, violas and pansies), roses, chrysanthemums, and nasturtiums, to name a few. Edible flowers make colorful additions to salads and desserts, and rose petals have many uses. For starters, you can make rosewater, sugared rose petals, and rose petal jam.



Pineapple Sage attracts hummingbirds

Landscaping with Herbs

I’m a big fan of growing herbs. If you want to feel like a pampered foodie, grow some choice aromatic and flavorful herbs in your garden to have fresh herbs available whenever you need them. Cooking with fresh herbs is a great revelation if you’ve only used dried herbs.

Some of our favorites are: French tarragon, rosemary, thyme (including lemon thyme), basil, cilantro, sage, and oregano. Lemon verbena and Egyptian chamomile are wonderful for teas, as is mint; and don’t forget pineapple sage with its abundant flowers. I could go on, as they are mostly easy to grow, attractive, have pretty flowers and amazing fragrances.

Sage and Lemon Thyme double as both culinary and ornamental plants

Leverage Companion Planting

Besides several raised beds in our front yard for growing edibles, we included an herb garden, which includes edible flowers and native plants. Many herbs are reputedly good companion plants to vegetables by providing flowers that attract pollinators, by discouraging insect pests, and by excreting substances through their root systems that benefit certain vegetables and fruit.

According the research done at Ecology Action at their test garden in Willits CA, some herbs and flowers are especially beneficial to spread throughout the vegetable garden, such as borage, basil, calendula, tarragon and marigolds.

Leading by Example

It is both disturbing and extremely sad that growing food plants in your front yard garden may get you a misdemeanor in some cities, as happened to Julie Bass in Oak Park, Michigan. But I believe that it is worth leading by example (if you can avoid criminal charges), and working towards changing the aesthetic and attitudes in your own neighborhood. You may even end up helping to restore a more sane understanding of our food and where it comes from.


Caution: not all flowers are edible, for example Sweet Peas are NOT edible. Always check when in doubt.

Photos: Urban Artichoke
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