Steele: A case of building community one front yard at a time

After selling my nursery seven years ago, I made a wise choice to buy a house in old Glenmore.

  • Sep. 2, 2011 5:00 a.m.

After selling my nursery seven years ago, I made a wise choice to buy a house in old Glenmore.

While in high school, I remember the first houses being built there on the Marshall family’s cherry orchard.

Today the area has many beautiful mature trees making it a special place to walk.

In September the streets will again be filled with children, parents and even grandparents, walking and cycling to the neighbourhood school.

This creates a lovely community atmosphere.

I quickly discovered a great way to meet my neighbours and create more community when I removed all the lawn from my front yard to make a series of test gardens.

Because I spend a lot of time in my front yard, I began to meet the children.

They stopped to ask me about the plants and what I was doing.

One boy asked for seeds of something he really liked to take to his teacher to plant in a garden at school.

A young girl was very concerned someone might steal squash from the plants I was using to suppress weeds.

In October, I was delighted to show her my big harvest of winter squash.

Parents and other neighbours began stopping to chat as I worked in my gardens. It’s like the old front porch visiting and I love it.

This opportunity would not have happened if I had kept the traditional front yard of lawn and just spent one hour a week in it behind a noisy anti-social lawn mower.

Many gardening tips have been swapped in my front garden. One neighbour suggested tanglefoot to keep ants from putting aphids in my apricot tree. From a very deep hole in her garden, another neighbour showed me how incredibly invasive trumpet vine can be.

Gardeners across the street from me have copied my raised vegetable boxes and added oak barrels of squash that are spreading over some of the remaining lawn.

This may be enough to kill it off and make way for more vegetables next year.

Seeing what I have done, many have begun removing parts of their front lawn to put in various combinations of shrubs, ground covers, perennials, ornamental grasses and vegetables.

More people are growing food and excess produce is being shared along with growing tips.

Deliveries of mulch and topsoil are being shared. Tools, plants and seeds are being shared.

Neighbours are caring for each other’s gardens when someone is away.

Walking in the neighbourhood is even more enjoyable with all the new gardens to look at and gardeners out front to chat with. All of this is wonderful evidence of building community one front yard at a time.

If you are interested in taking out some of your lawn, you might find my two night  ‘Introduction to Xeriscape’ gardening classes helpful. Classes begin Sept. 14 or Oct. 4 or 5. For more information check the OXA website below.

Gwen Steele is executive-director of the Okanagan Xeriscape Association. Learn more about plants for the Okanagan at:



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