Now that Mother’s Day has passed, it’s finally safe to plant stuff in your yard. Yay! Here are a few tips on establishing and maintaining your front yard in a hood-appropriate manner.
1. This requires some unrealistic luck and planning, but if possible, buy a house from hippies. I don’t mean to stereotype, but hippies are often excellent gardeners. We were lucky enough to do this and our front yard is xeriscaped through no effort of our own.
If you don’t manage to buy a house from hippies, I recommend planting some perennials in your front yard. Perennials that do well in the Denver area (by “do well” I mean stuff the former homeowners planted that we haven’t killed) include: irises, false indigo, lavender, crocuses, and drought-friendly ornamental grasses. There are a few perennials in our front yard I haven’t identified (I will update here if/when I someday figure out what they are). Our front yard has passively acquired a lush crop of Virginia creeper from our back yard and the neighbors’ yard. Virginia creeper is all over Denver. I’d be happy to give you some for free. It’s great for dressing up a chain-link fence, but be careful, because it’s very aggressive.
2. Take advantage of free shit. If you can be quick (Free stuff goes fast!) and are able to stomach the farm and garden classifieds on Craigslist (I have a hard time because there are horrible animal things, like bunnies for pets or food.), there’s often free stuff to be had there. Also, when you live in the hood, there’s a good chance someone somewhere wants to encourage and assist you in improving your yard. Look for programs like Denver Digs Trees (free trees for certain neighborhoods) or the neighborhood garden festival (free seeds and nice plants). If you benefit from any of these programs, consider giving back by volunteering. (Trust me, you’ll get a warm fuzzy feeling when you take a walk in your hood and see new trees you helped get planted.)
3. Find a cheap place to buy shit. You can buy dirt, plants, and planters from Home Depot or Lowe’s. If you’re a rich person who likes to support local business, you can buy your stuff from Paulino Gardens, which is very, very nice and has an amazing selection. Chances are, though, you’re not living in the hood because you’re rolling in cash. In that case, you don’t want to spend a lot on plants. This means you want to go to Al’s Pine Garden and Nursery. Like Paulino, it’s a local business. Unlike Paulino, it’s tiny and cheap as hell. Spikes and vinca vines for your planters are $.99. (They also have a nice selection of hot pepper seedlings you can’t find anywhere else.) Buying stuff here means you’re in for a little extra work. When you get petunias, for example, you get a bunch of petunia plants growing in one container (instead of one petunia plant per individual cell like you get at the more expensive stores). You’ll just have to dig out each plant with a little garden shovel, and the really tiny ones might not make it. It’s okay, though, because if you follow my next tip, you should have a few backup petunias, just in case you need them.
4. Don’t overfill your planters. In fact, you should underfill them. You want them to look sad and desolate at first. This is for two reasons. First, the fewer plants you have to buy the less money you’ll spend. Second, watching the slow, gradual progress your tiny plants make is a pretty exciting thing to do when you live in the hood and don’t have much money to do anything else.
5. Use only what you need. Okay, this tip is stolen directly from Denver Water. Look. It’s dry here and the people in charge of providing our water want us to use as little as possible. That’s why they’ve set it up so the more water you use, the more expensive it gets. Don’t be one of those people who calls up Denver Water when your bill is so high you can’t believe it and has a guy come out to check your meter for leaks and while checking your meter he has to squish squish squish through your waterlogged lawn, which, by the way, is the greenest lawn on the entire block and no you don’t have a leak. (Don’t worry. This isn’t us. We don’t even have a lawn.)
6. Be prepared for some annoying maintenance. In addition to the usual garden work like weeding and watering, you’ll be picking up your share of empty Flaming Hot Cheetos bags and the occasional chicken bone that your dog tries to eat so you have to pry it out of her mouth with your fingers even though you’re a vegetarian and that totally grosses you out. At one time or another, you’ll have a plastic bag stuck in your tree or a pair of shoes over your power lines. This is annoying but hey, it’s better than people judging you for the condition of your lawn.
7. Speaking of lawns, don’t bother having one in front of your house. If you live in the hood, chances are your front yard is pretty small. Fill it with drought-tolerant perennials and be done with it. If you want a little patch of lawn for your dogs or your kid, put it in the back yard where it won’t get pooped on by random dogs, covered in litter, or dug up by some bored kid while his mom watches and doesn’t say anything.
8. Don’t get too fancy. This is the most important tip. If you live in the hood, there ain’t nothing wrong with a little bump and grind and a chain-link fence. Using old, partially broken, mismatched, and otherwise imperfect pots and accessories is encouraged — it’s cheap, environmentally friendly, and avoids filling your yard with shit that pretty much screams, “Hey, fancy, rich people live here! Rob us!” (Of course, anybody can be burglarized, even us.) If you fill your yard with nice planters, people will just steal them anyway, even if they’re empty. One year, our plain terracotta pots were stolen. They didn’t even have plants in them at the time. Terracotta pots aren’t exactly fancy or expensive, but somebody thought they were worth stealing. We replaced them with even cheaper plastic pots. Don’t get too aggressive with pink plastic yard flamingos or other artificial fauna. Although they’re likely to establish the sense of ironic kitsch you’d like to convey, they’re just going to be jacked unless you manage to snag one kind of sorry-looking flamingo from a thrift store for like $2. That guy will probably stick around.
In terms of how nice you want your house to look from the street, count the number of houses on your block and divide by two. For example, if there are 10 houses on your block, 10 divided by 2 is 5, so you want to be approximately the 5th nicest house on the block. This means you’re not the nicest house on the block, which is going to be broken into soon, and you’re not the worst house on the block, which has at least one boarded-up window, gang symbols on the garage, and sad Christmas decorations displayed year round.
Basically, you want your yard to look nice, but not too nice. Everything in moderation, especially in the hood.