You may have noticed us, if you’ve ever driven in the Nottingham Woods neighborhood of Denton. We’re hard to miss. We’re the only fully developed front yard on Nottingham Drive between University Avenue and King’s Row. We used to have the famous Food Not Lawns sign out there, but unlike the perennial food, medicine, and pollinator attractors in the yard, the sign deteriorated in the harsh Texas weather. However, we’re still hard to miss. When going North on Nottingham from University, we are just over the crest of the hill on the west side. The yard is full of an abundance of native perennial food plants along with some annuals, lots of berries, herbs and flowers. The gigantic hibiscus plants along the curb, in front of the sunflowers are stunning, as are the numerous cascades of ornamental sweet potato vines, which are also edible, along with their tubers.
When Nichole purchased the property at 2809 Nottingam Drive in 2012, the front yard had an oak tree, and a few ill-placed evergreens that were slowly dying due to their proximity to the incredible radiant heat from the pavement of the driveway and the street. Of course, there were the hedges as well and some monkey grass around the tree, but other than that, it was just grass, and not great grass either. Too bad they didn’t let it grow back then, it’s full of food—largely, dollar weed, dock, wild lettuce, and lambsquarter.
The yard developed from that to what we have now, out of necessity. We had had a big issue every rainstorm. Water would run in front of the house, and sometimes get quite deep. Soon after Richard and Nichole joined forces, there was a large storm and the water was nearly up to the windows. Richard dug a ditch to move the water quickly from there into the yard, but we didn’t want to waste that glorious, free water, so he dug a half ring on the north side of the tree and piled up berms. The water stayed on the property for a good long time with that having been done. We decided shortly thereafter to grow in those mounds/berms. The first year was mostly basil, flowers, sweet potato and comfrey.
The second year, we built a parallel berm, dug a swale and started planting perennial food plants, nitrogen fixers, berries, understory trees, fruit trees, a lot more natives and… well, we sort of just went wild. We were so happy seeing the way the water flowed, that we were sure we could have a great food-producing front yard garden with minimal watering.
At some point, I contacted Heather Jo Flores, one of the co-founders of Food Not Lawns and discussed the garden with her. She encouraged us to start a chapter of Food Not Lawns in Denton. She sent us a sign, a teeshirt, and some stickers. (We have since had the stickers reproduced through Denton County Sticker Company, a task they did for us for free of charge because they believe in our cause. So, if you see a Food Not Lawns sticker on a vehicle or a drink cup in town, it was probably printed by Kevin Willingham.)
Becoming the official chapter heads of Food Not Lawns-Denton was a proud moment for us, and got us a lot of recognition from the neighborhood, not all of it good. Some of it very bad, but we got so much support from the community. People walking by would often stop and chat, want a tour, want some education. Many came with health issues and would stay and talk for an hour. The best thing they wanted was to do the same thing in their yards. We were making an impact, by example.
We were lucky enough to befriend several tree services in town who deliver wood chips semi-regularly. We have raised the level of the front yards on both sides of the driveway by at least 6 inches. All those woodchips, once thoroughly saturated, really maintain the moisture level across the gardens wherever they are. We always encourage folks to use wood chips. Worms love them. We had an area of the driveway that was covered in chips for several months. When we had a chance to move them into the garden, we found hundreds of big, fat worms, and nothing could be better for your garden that those wiggly aerators.
Our Food Not Lawns front yard has 4 pomegranate trees, 4 persimmon trees, goji berries, a vitex (chaste tree), which the bees adore, Texas sages, ornamental sweet potato vine that has shown itself to be perennial, even this far north, several mulberry trees of different ages, bronze fennel for the black swallowtail butterflies, loads of lavender-blueberry ruffles, basil, lemongrass, dock, and all the other native perennials mentioned earlier. Our herb spiral is so full of herbs, it looks like an herb mound with sage, Mexican mint marigold, French Tarragon, onion chives and garlic chives, basil, various thymes, rosemary, spearmint, chocolate mint, lemon balm, and somehow a blackberry cane popped up in there. So far, we haven’t had the heart to cut it out. Also in the yard is an abundance of dewberry, blackberry and raspberry canes, along with chaste berry/aronia berry, blueberry and strawberry plants. From every nook and cranny, you find ginger, phlox, canna, Texas lantana, roses, hibiscus, morning glory, lilies, turmeric, dill, parsley, basil, irises, turks cap, peppers, Mexican sour gherkins, passion flower, figs, onions, garlic, prickly pear cacti, Wandering Jew, various oreganos, Texas desert willows, even two Witch Hazel trees and probably a few handfuls of things I’m not currently recalling. And that’s just the front!
All of this said, we have not mowed our front yard in three years. Think of all the time, human effort, gas, air pollution, ground water pollution, and noise pollution saved from just the action of growing food in the front yard. We encourage you to try it and if you need any tips, just give us a call.