Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Edible Front Yard, a book review

When I heard that Ivette Soler (the Germinatrix) was writing a book about vegetable gardening my first thought was no way! Ivette is all about design and cool plants, there must be a mistake! It’s got to be a book on garden design, not a vegetable gardening book!

Well I was right, and wrong.

It is a book on garden design, and it is a book on vegetable gardening! Cool huh?

You’ve probably already read a couple of reviews on Ivette’s book, but I wanted to wait until I had a chance to finally meet her and hear her speak at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, in Seattle, before I posted my review. Here we are after having chatted a bit before her talk…(special thanks to Christina Salwitz, The Personal Garden Coach for taking our picture). Yes Ivette looks just like the wonderful effervescent personality that she is (she’s the cutie on the right)….I on the other hand look terrified, evidently my stressful almost 4 hour drive effected me more than I realized. Of course opinionated Ivette (that’s why we love her right?) wastes no time getting right to it. She starts off with this: “Let’s face it – not many neighborhoods will be friendly to a no-holds-barred edible landscape.”

And it’s this mind-set that sets The Edible Front Yard apart from other vegetable gardening books. It’s not a “how to book” for setting up a front yard farm (a term she illustrated with slides during her talk) it’s all about designing a front yard that just happens to be beautiful and produce edibles too. After all as she pointed out “beauty also feeds us.” This path is bordered by gorgeous and aromatic basil and you can see a silver artichoke (upper dead center) echoing the shape of the agaves on the right. Ivette has four rules she keeps in mind when it comes to planting an edible front yard and notes “While hardcore food growers might argue that any plant that nourishes and sustains us inherently beautiful, some fruits, herbs, and vegetables are simply not the best choices for an edible garden with an ornamental focus.” (hallelujah!) Her rules are:
1. The entire plant must have a pleasing form.
2. It has to give at least two reasons to plant (color and form, or texture and seed heads)
3. Its leaves must hold up for the entire growing season.
4. Use hardscape (to provide structure).

By using these “filters” she creates beautiful edible gardens, as illustrated by these photos (all of which are of her personal garden and hell strip, photos by Ann Summa). And yes all of these images feature agaves (this is the danger garden blog after all) but trust me the book is full of more broad examples! In this photo you can see a bit of her bean trellis in the upper right hand corner… And she includes a “how to” if you want to make one of your own. Her fabulous hell-strip planters speak to her “Texas roots” and she includes several under-construction photos, always a nice touch. Speaking on “planting for where you live” Ivette says “Look at the plants in your neighborhood and pay special attention to what is thriving. Easy-to-care-for gardens need plants that do well in your area. Don’t discount plants even if they seem too common: there’s no such thing as a bad plant, or an unfashionable plant, only a plant that hasn’t been used well.”

There are pages and pages of information on ornamental edible choices as well as plants that add structure and work well with the edibles. In fact in reading I learned that Bachelor’s Buttons are edible! Who knew?

One of many witty tidbits in the book Ivette also shares the best-ever description of a Grevillea flower “flowers that look like a toothbrush and a shrimp had a baby” here is a photo I took at the NWFG Show of an impossibly large Grevillea flower on a tiny plant. Her description is good yes!? So would I recommend The Edible Front Yard? Definitely (and not just because Timber Press sent me the book for free to review!). This is a book I wish many of my fellow Portlanders would read. You can grow food in your front yard and still have a beautiful garden…or put another way…you can have a beautiful garden which also has food growing in it! Really you can and this book can help you do it.

So a couple of other bloggers have reviewed the book and then given it away to a commenter. I’m not doing that, I like the book too much and I want to keep it! (selfish aren’t I?). I am however going to give away some vegetable seeds from Renee’s Garden, just the thing to get you started down the beautiful edibles pathway. Full disclosure…I received these seeds for free from Renee’s Garden when I stopped to talk to them at the Farwest tradeshow here in Portland last August, they are packaged for the 2011 season. The collection includes:
Tricolor Zucchini, Jade, Gold & Emerald
Farmers Market Lettuce Blend, Sweet Greens & Reds
Tricolor Cherry Tomatoes, Garden Candy
Tricolor Bush Beans, Gold, Purple & Green
Salad Scallions, Delicious Duo

Don’t they just sound delicious and gorgeous too?! What do you have to do to win? Just comment on this post…and yes…you must be in the continental United States, I’ll draw a random winner on this Sunday the 6th in the mean time, buy the book!


  1. Really nice preview of this book - I'm looking forward to picking up a copy. It always helps to get a sense of the spirit behind the author photos - thanks for that. And great photo of you two.

  2. Thanks for the review. The hubby and I are going to turn our North Tacoma front yard into mostly veggies this year, but I like the idea of focusing on both edibleness and beauty as well. ;o)

  3. Like you, I was so relieved when I realized that Ivette's book was not a farming manifesto! I am still kicking myself for missing her talk at NWFG (there was a bit of confusion over some missing friends involved) but I did manage to get back just in time to have her sign a copy of her book for me and I'm LOVING her approach. Now I just need her fabulous approach applied to a book on the Edible *Shady* Front Yard!

  4. Hallelujah!!! Function AND Design in the same book!

  5. I like Ivette's rules for picking plants that might be successful in a front yard landscape. I've used corn to fill in dead zones in the back, but the plants failed to look great for very long. Kale, however, is one of my favorite plants, both to eat and to admire.

  6. So much moralizing about vegetable gardening these days--this book looks like it has some ideas that I could really use. I recognize a kindred spirit in the pictures of her garden!

  7. thanks for this review! I'm not really interested in edible gardening but my wife is (she's interested in picking out what to grow and having me grow it!). Our current vegetable garden is already in our front yard, which as a whole needs lots of design help. I'm definitely getting this book to help us out.

  8. kate, yikes! (great photo). Truth be told I am a little jealous of Ivette that I won't be able to use a pole cactus as a support for my sungold tomatoes...

    Loriana, yay! What fun planing a new front garden. Are your neighbors supportive?

    MulchMaid, perhaps this (Edible *Shady* Front Yard) will be the book YOU write?

    Lauren, I know crazy talk!

    James, you reminded me of some neighbors we had when we first moved to Portland. They had corn planted as a front yard privacy fence! Perhaps I need to look into planting some kale.

    Jean, then your garden must be gorgeous!

    Ryan, yay! I hope you will love it and find some helpful ideas.

  9. How fun that you got to hear Ivette speak about her book, Loree! And how great to see a photo of you at last! I still haven't put my hands on a copy of Ivette's book, so I am happy to hear what you thought about it until I am able to read it myself.

  10. Pam, it was really fun, and nice to finally meet her! (just like it will be nice to finally meet you in July). As for the photo...I really do not always look like I am in pain!!! Seriously!

  11. What wonderful ideas! I'm inspired.
    I wish my yard looked like that middle picture with the path.

    BTW: I have an A. attenuata and it doesn't like Texas. I've told it to try and grow here, but it just sits and stares at me.
    OH well.
    David/ Houston

  12. Loree I LOVE that picture of us!!! And you don't look pained, you look mysterious and full of deep emotion (brought on by the drive in the snow!!!)
    I can't believe I only JUST now saw this review! DUH!!! What wonderful things you say! I am so pleased and a little amazed that my words and ideas are meaningful to smart, dynamic people - it makes me feel like I have arrived!
    I am so happy we had time together to sit and chat - and you were my touchstone. Nobody believes that I was so nervous until I tell them "Really, Loree had to come up to me right before the talk, while I was setting up the computer, and told me to breathe deeply!" I swear, without you sitting there I might have spun off into outer space!
    And I STILL owe you a "dangerous" care package! I have NOT forgotten!


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