Back in 1990’s Jules Dervaes was fed up with his lawn. Fed up with the time and water spent caring for it and getting nothing in return, he smothered it under a layer of newspapers and mulch the yard was transformed into an urban edible garden providing not only food but income for his family. Recently Chow magazine interviewed longtime lawn liberator, Jules Dervaes, about his growing efforts and how a new wave of urbanites have recently join in transforming their lawns to gardens.
Excerpts from EAT YOUR YARD
Aesthetically Pleasing Edibles
Pasadena, California, front-yard vegetable grower Jules Dervaes stresses that because the front yard is essentially a public space, it’s important that edibles be planted in an aesthetic fashion. “If you are going to do something different,” says Dervaes, “you’re gonna get nailed if it’s not beautiful.” Rosalind Creasy, author of The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, uses flowers and pretty blue-glazed flowerpots in her front yard in Los Altos, California. “Most people when they get in trouble is when they just take out a piece of lawn and put in tomato plants,” she says. “Why not be kind to your neighbors and put in a nice-looking vegetable garden?”
Dervaes—whose former lawn now sports more than 50 different plants, including fig, plum, quince, and apple trees; herbs; broccoli; fennel; greens; onions; and edible flowers—says that he and his family are “very conscious” that being different comes with responsibility. “I put [in] a lot of money and a lot of time,” says Dervaes. “Almost every Sunday my son and I are out there working on the front yard so nobody can say they don’t like this.”
Back to the Land
Dervaes believes that a desire for self-sufficiency—spurred by food transportation costs, the economic downturn, and global warming—is motivating people to reevaluate the idea of lawns. “They’re actually taking matters into their own hands.”
In Pasadena, Dervaes says he’s gotten requests to hold weddings in his yard, and folks stop by to take photos. “In the city if you can turn ordinary cookie-cutter lots to where people are saying they want to be married here, well, that’s special,” he says. Others use his yard as a model, bringing spouses by to see what can be accomplished. One man even told Dervaes that after visiting Dervaes’s garden, he couldn’t fall asleep. He was still up at midnight planting seeds in his front yard.
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