Growing edible plants in front yards is becoming an increasingly popular use of urban space. This information sheet will provide an understanding of the benefits to having a front yard edible garden, the rules surrounding the establishment of a front yard edible garden in Ottawa, and things that one should avoid or be cautious of when gardening edible plants in their front yard.
Benefits of front yard edible gardens:
- Productive use of lawn space by growing food such as vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Diverts water from grass into something that can be eaten.
- A very safe and healthy way to grow nutritious food, with no need for pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.
- In many circumstances, there is more sunlight on a front yard than a backyard, which allows for better conditions for growing plants.
- Enhances biodiversity and attracts pollinators
- Allows for experimenting with varieties of food that cannot typically be found in a grocery store.
- Can be used as a tool to educate children about growing their own food.
- Can be used as a way to start conversations with neighbours and passers-by.
- Can become a symbol of pride for the neighbourhood if it attracts people and is aesthetically pleasing for local residents.
- If part of the harvest from the garden is offered to those in need through a local emergency food distribution point, it can aid in the overall food security of a neighbourhood.
Regulations to be considered when planning edible front yard gardens:
- If planning to start an edible front yard garden on leased land, it is necessary to obtain written permission from the landowner.
- There are two relevant by-laws are: 1)Property standards bylaw 2013-416 and 2) Use and Care of Roads By-law (2003-498)
- The Property Standards bylaw 2013-416 refers to residential yards, and allows for plants, including edible plants, on front yards so long as they do not interfere with pedestrians or vehicles and do not pose a hazard or an obstruction of view to the public. Examples of violations would be cucumbers that extend onto the sidewalk, or corn stalks that obstructed a neighbour’s view of oncoming traffic from their driveway.
- The road allowance is the land located between the property line and the road. This area is City property. The front yard encompasses the area between the dwelling and the property line. The property line can be found in the plan of survey of the house. If you do not have access to your plan of survey, you can call the Land Registry office, which is a provincial office. Their number is 613-239-1230.
- The road allowance varies depending on the street and the zoning of the neighbourhood. The area is usually between 4 and 6 metres in depth. If you know your property line, you can measure from there until the road to determine the size of the road allowance. While this property belongs to the City, there is nothing restricting someone from planting edible plants on this land. However, doing so is at the risk of the grower, since the City reserves the right to use this land to access amenities that are usually underground, such as sewers and cables. There is no formal permitting process that the City has for this activity, but it also is not expressly prohibited.
- It is prohibited to build a permanent structure, such as a raised bed or a garden tool shed within the road allowance area.
- Front yard gardening should not interfere with the easement rights of either a neighbour or a utility. It is also important to consult the plan of survey to determine if any easement rights exist for neighbours or utilities to the area that you plan to use for edible plants. Easements are the right of either a neighbour or a utility to trespass onto the property in question. This could interfere with your gardening, and it is possible that your gardening could interfere with their easement rights.
- Zoning bylaw require that all yards be landscaped with soft landscaping, which includes edible plants, where there is an absence of hard landscaping (driveway, walkway, pavement, rocks). To find out more about bylaw, please visit the City of Ottawa’s web site.
Tips and Cautions:
- Before digging into any section of the yard, a locate must be done to determine if there are any underground infrastructure. This is a free service from Ontario One (1-800-400-2255).
- There can be vandalism, though this only occurred to a minority of those front yard gardeners who were interviewed for this. It may be helpful to have a sign asking people who are in need of food to take from a particular section of the garden.
- A few front yard gardeners cited urinating and defecating cats as their largest nuisance in their garden. Dogs walking by also may want to urinate on your edible plants. It was suggested by a gardener to use chicken wire fencing to surround the edible plant beds. This has been quite successful for him to prevent neighbourhood cats from using the garden as a litter box.
- With regards to the road allowance, be aware that the City can put salt on this piece of land in the winter, which may have a negative impact on the ability to garden that area during the growing season. It is therefore prudent to leave a buffer zone between the road allowance closest to the sidewalk or road, and where the edible garden begins.
- Growing vegetables in a front yard is a permitted activity in the City of Ottawa. Although neighbours may complain about the aesthetics of the garden, possibly even to Bylaw officials, the amount of support behind the garden will far outweigh the opposition from a minority of neighbours who have become accustomed to seeing groomed lawns in front of every house.
- Neighbours may have legitimate concerns about the garden that should be properly addressed. There was a case in which a neighbour complained that the drainage from the adjacent house’s front yard edible garden would negatively impact on that neighbour’s property. The front yard gardener hired an engineer to look into the matter, which helped to assure the neighbour and the City that the drainage from the gardener’s property was not negatively impacting on the other property.
- Make sure to do soil testing for contaminants on the land which is planned for edible front yard gardening.
- Be sure to call for locates from Ontario One before doing any digging (see Tips section).
- Make sure that all inputs, such as soil, compost and any other soil amendments are free of contaminants before applying them to the garden.
- It is important to always wash the produce, as it may contain a residue of dust and/or dirt from the street and sidewalk.
Front yard Community Gardens:
- A community garden can be as simple as three or more families working together to grow vegetables for their own respective families. It may also contain a Food Bank and/or a communal plot, as other community gardens do.
- Based on the above conception of a community garden, such a garden can be established on someone’s front yard, but it must comply with the general bylaws surrounding community gardens.
- The community garden should therefore be a neighbourhood-based initiative, as outside traffic is not allowed. Gardeners should be walking to the site, as opposed to driving a vehicle.
- Any other bylaws, such as noise bylaws and pet bylaws, must also be abided by when operating a front yard community garden. The privacy and the comfort of neighbours should be accommodated as much as possible.
- Take the time to explain the importance of your community garden to any neighbours who may have hesitations or concerns. Attempt to gain their support to ensure good neighbourly relations.
- The Community Garden Development Fund will not provide any grants for a community garden situated on a private residential lot with a home-owner on it. However, the fund could provide funding for a community garden on a private residential lot where the home-owner is not present, and the lot is therefore being leased out to the garden group.
- The home-owner should clearly establish the rules for the community garden in consultation with the gardeners.
- Send us your stories and pictures of front yard gardens and we will post them here!
- “My front yard edible garden has inspired several friends and neighbours to start growing their own vegetables. It has made visible to the community the joys and beauty of what has traditionally been an activity relegated to peoples’ backyards. Children are taught about the development of plants, which is especially important in an urban environment where there is limited exposure to that kind of knowledge.”
- – Debby Hanscom: Centretown
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- “Everyone in the neighbourhood loves it, and it’s given me more opportunities to spend time in my front yard to talk with my neighbours. We’ve had poor results trying to grow veggies in our backyard. The front yard has been a huge success though, since there’s much more sun, and the busyness of Main street means that our worst pest in the backyard — squirrels — don’t eat my veggies in the front yard.”
- – Amy Boyle: Rideau Gardens
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- “We started a front yard garden because we didn’t have enough space to grow veggies in the back. Our decision to expand the garden to the front yard was based on two things: we found mowing the front lawn to be a ridiculous and meaningless process, and our son wanted to grow watermelons. Melons take a lot of room to grow and we did not have the room in the back garden to accommodate it. We put in our front yard vegetable garden in 2011. We designed the beds in the shape of a Yin Yang and surrounded it by perennial flowers and shrubs. This year we have grown Brussels sprout, kale, cabbage, peas, lettuce and beans in the front yard. The peas, lettuce and beans have been harvested and the garden has been re-sown with beets, radishes, onions and more lettuce. The kids love it and ask us all sorts of questions, my son loves showing it off, and we allow the neighbours to pick veggies from it.”
- – Joanne Levesque: Orleans
- “No herbicides, no pesticides, and a form of entertainment. 25 years ago people were far more resistant. Today, the large majority of people seem to approve.”
- – Carlo Giuliani: Old Ottawa South
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- “My front yard garden is partially a public garden, where I allow people to nibble at the tomatoes and other veggies near my fence. Children from the neighbourhood especially love the unique bean and tomato varieties that their parents wouldn’t be able to find in a grocery store. People sometimes stop and ring my doorbell to thank me for the veggies that they harvest, but I’m usually in my front yard so I get the chance to talk with the harvesters. The rest of the garden is my own personal garden, which is less accessible to passers-by since it’s on the other side of my fence.”
- – Cathleen Kneen: Britannia
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- “I have never really thought about it as front yard gardening. I was running out of space and so slowly but surely started to use more and more of my front yard — which is the sunniest spot on our property — for vegetables and fruit trees or bushes. I also love the idea of people seeing food growing and the changing season. People stop to comment or ask a question or share their gardening experiences with me all the time. Seniors who live in a retirement home a few blocks away tell me that they have made my street part of their daily walk just so they can see what’s happening in the garden. I’ve heard a little boy exclaim ‘woah’ when he spotted the butternut squash growing among the vines beside the sidewalk. And, a lot of people just say how lovely the garden is, how they love to walk by. The elderly like to share advice — to tell me when something is ripe to pick or that my tomatoes need trellising. Each year I think of what new plants I can grow out front that is both aesthetically pleasing, interesting for the neighbourhood to see and also provides a bit of privacy for us! Vegetables are beautiful, especially when some are left to go to seed and are mixed among flowers. From what I am told, my garden is creating community and allowing some folks to experience how food is grown for the first time.”
- – Anne Janssen: Aylmer, Quebec
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- After finding out we weren’t moving this year for work after all, we decided to reclaim the excellent sun exposure out front to grow food. This is a permaculture bed, a cross of the ideas of hugelkultur and no-dig beds. The layers consist of mixed wood mulch on the bottom, overturned sod, paper and cardboard to prevent the sod from regrowing, dirt, and another layer of wood mulch to keep water in and prevent weeds from growing. The curved outline on the inside is based on the landscape concept that curved lines draw the eye gently around a space. It’s grown faster than any garden I’ve ever had! Produce at the back is safely ours, while flowers, herbs and produce at the front is up for grabs from passers-by, or us if they don’t get it in time. I’ve never met so many neighbours so fast and so congenially, what with having conversations all day long about what’s growing and offering something to taste. I hope to avoid complaints by helping the neighbours participate! They’ll get to grab some free seeds at the end of the season too.
- Jazmine Lawrence: Hull, Quebec