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Home > Feature Articles > Landscaping > Landscape Design for Sustainable Urban Environments

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Gardening is as old as villages...but front lawn productivity seems to be a new twist on common sense survival strategies!

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Garden Spaces Belong Upfront and Center

The concept of tilling one's front yard is not a new one. In 1942, as the U.S. emerged from the Great Depression and mobilized for World War II, Agriculture Secretary Claude R. Wickard encouraged Americans to plant "Victory Gardens" to boost civic morale and relieve the war's pressure on food supplies — an idea first introduced during The Great War and picked up by Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain. The slogan: "Have Your Garden, and Eat It Too." Soon gardens began popping up everywhere, and not just American lawns: the Chicago County Jail, a downtown parking lot in New Orleans, a zoo in Portland, Ore. In 1943, Americans planted 20.5 million Victory Gardens, and the harvest accounted for nearly one-third of all the vegetables consumed in the country that year.

Occupy the Land in a Productive, Non-toxic Way

Twenty-five million U.S. households planted vegetable and fruit gardens in 2007, according to the National Gardener's Association, and that number is expected to increase by several million this year.

The waiting list for the USDA's Master Gardener Program, which involves nearly 90,000 volunteers in all 50 states who educate and assist the public with horticulture projects, is getting longer every year, says Bill Hoffman, National Program Leader for Agriculture Homeland Security.

Even urban dwellers are returning to the land with the wait for community gardens in some communities stretching to three years.

A California-originated project known as "Edible Estates," helps homeowners trade their mowed and ornamental lawns for artistic arrangements of organic produce. Los Angeles-based architect Fritz Haeg launched the campaign in July 2005 with his Edible Estates project that took on a life of its own. "EDIBLE ESTATES: ATTACK ON THE FRONT LAWN, A Project by Fritz Haeg" is the movement's initial book that proposes the replacement of the domestic front lawn with a highly productive edible landscape.

The average American garden has proven to be an accurate social and economic barometer. Rising fuel prices in 1975 spawned a similar gardening boom to today's, with nearly 49% of the population growing some sort of produce. Then, as the prosperity of the '90s trickled down to American yards, the pendulum swung back toward manicured lawns and aesthetics over sustenance.

How do you start? Where do you put a garden? What's best to grow in your location?

Gardening isn't always simple -- but it is fascinating, challenging and delicious. And that's part of life's challenge!

Check with your county-based Agricultural Extension Center for classes, Master Gardener program and information about soils, weather, and plants that work best in your region.

The national Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) aims to improve economic, environmental, and social conditions in the United States and globally -- A directory of Local Cooperative Extension System Offices is available

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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