Thursday, November 14, 2013

Reimagining the suburban front yard

If you live in a suburban neighborhood, you can bet that majority of homeowners have perfectly manicured lawns. In my Long Island town, it is rare that a home does not have low cut grass and landscaping.

A former resident on my block was a gardener and planted native plants and her front yard looked like a meadow filled with wildflowers. I remember a few neighbors complaining that her house stood out and her front yard was not aesthetically pleasing. I never understood the complaints, because I thought her home looked more natural than the rest of the block. When she moved out, the new residents pulled out the wild flowers and landscaped the front yard; all was good and balance was restored on my suburban block.

I always wanted to plant in the front yard of my house, but was always nervous about the neighbors and that I would be going against the unspoken suburban code. 

Last week my urban food systems class went on a site visit to Joan Baron's residential home in Phoenix. It was during this visit, I realized there are people who are brave enough to step out of the norm and explore the various uses of the suburban front yard. 

When we first pulled up to her house, I was in awe. It was unlike any suburban home I had ever seen, especially homes in Phoenix.  She pulled out her front lawn and created an inviting space filled with shade(lots of trees), chimes, art, gardens, and more. I can only describe the set up as comforting and inviting. My classmates and I sat around in a circle and talked about design and creative uses of home space. 

The things she has created from her front yard and backyard are amazing. She has a garden, chicken coop, fireplace, rain barrels, solar panels, and an alley garden. 

What interested me when I moved to the Phoenix area, is that the homes have back alleys where the garbage is picked up. Most of the alleys I have seen are dusty, uninviting, unpaved, and some lightly polluted. Joan took her back space and turned it into an alley garden. 

Walking through her outdoor space made me realize how much space and resources we waste. Her backyard is filled with bees and insects and you can just feel that it is a live space versus one that is manicured and looks just like every other home on the block. 

I hope her home serves as an example of how homeowners can reimagine the suburban front lawn and perhaps encourage home owner associations and local governments to have relaxed zoning codes. 

I could foresee a return to interacting with neighbors and increased community involvement, if more homes were as welcoming as Joan's. 

If you would like to learn more about Joan's work, check out her website (, watch the video about the alley garden, or view the photos I took from the site visit. 


Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre: The front of the home

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre: One of the rain barrels 

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre: When the temperature rises, Joan uses bamboo to create shade for plants

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre: Outdoor fireplace

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre: Shade over the outdoor fireplace

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre: Alley garden

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre: How the alley looks behind other homes

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre: Joan showing the class sugar cane

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre: Front yard seating area 

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre: These plants create a barrier from the street, yet the area is open enough to create a welcoming space. 

1 comment:

Bob Brinkmann said...

Interesting post LIsa! I've seen similar yards in Florida, but not too many on Long Island.