This should be a legal front yard, no questions asked.
Growing up with Sicilian grandparents, I remember very well how their backyard was utilized for all kinds of vegetables and greens for daily consumption and canning, and included a grape arbor for basement winemaking. Maybe I wound up with the gardening genes from the other side of the family, though, because I have always focused on the ornamental side of the plant world (not that vegetable plants can’t be very attractive), and have been content to source locally for produce.
As an ornamentalist, though, I, too, fervently wish for the sensibility that seems to dominate American gardening to change, and if that change would be kick-started with the displacement of at least part of the White House lawn, I’m all for it. It would be a powerful symbolic act that would be seen by everyone, whether they garden or don’t garden. I get that. And from all the pictures I have seen—brother, does that landscape need a makeover!
I wonder though, if a drastic change in the way our first residence looks will truly empower the American gardener. Because that’s what I’d like to see:
I would like to see an end to corporations and municipalities trying to impose their dull, deadening models on the gardening conscious of America. I’d like to see people not only grow what they want, but to realize all the great possibilities they have. I’d like to see neighbors stop tsk-tsking at each other about what they do or don’t do with their front yards. I’d like to see housing inspectors pursue more important matters than whether someone has “high weeds,” and I’d like to see police take care of more pressing criminal issues than jailing someone because she didn’t water her lawn.
I’d like to see nurseries start offering a better selection of native plants and I’d like to see a garden chemical section that is not larger than many of the greenhouses. (For that matter, most garden centers have a better selection of resin animals than they do native plants. I’d like that to change.) I’d like to see funds for cooperative extensions grow rather than shrink every year (our extension service in Western New York is barely viable) and I’d like to see them to better outreach with that money.
I think this is a great moment for people to get inspired by gardening and inspired to stretch their ideas of what gardening can be more than they ever have before. It could start at the White House, but it might be just as important for all of us to start pushing for change at the local level, change that means bugging our council members, our city, county, and state representatives, and all the bureaucrats we can get to listen. Or just starting our own local movements—though eventually you do need to change ordinances.
It is an inspiring moment, but inspiration will take us only so far.