Three months ago Hamilton Avenue resident Catherine Bock started digging beds in her mother's front yard to plant corn, beans, chard and herbs as part of a way to build community and to please her ailing 90-year-old mother, Trudy, she said.
Bock had moved back to her mother's home after living in Sweden for 28 years after the elder woman fell and broke her pelvis.
"I decided that the best thing for her would be if I lived with her until she passes to help her and make her life as comfortable and enjoyable as possible," she said.
Bock decided to add baby chicks to the backyard and vegetables in the front to entertain her mother. The cornstalks are now 7 feet tall and produce tasty ears of corn.
But not everyone is amused.
Her next-door neighbor has expressed a strong dislike for the new look, she said. (The neighbor did not respond to the Weekly's requests for comment.)
Others also call it an eyesore. Few people, pro or con, wanted their names published, however.
"With all the beautiful homes and landscape of Palo Alto neighborhoods, particularly the Crescent Park section, having a vegetable garden as a front-yard landscape is just not aesthetically appealing for the neighborhood. We certainly wouldn't want to be the neighbors living either next to it or across from it," said a resident named Nicole, who otherwise supports the idea of people growing their own vegetables.
A resident who asked to remain anonymous said she isn't opposed to a mix of vegetables and fruit in front gardens so long as the overall look is pleasing.
"The current vegetable garden with rows of corn and other crops ... makes no attempt to blend in with the gardens of the neighborhood and screams 'farm.' As a neighbor of such I would be dismayed to have that garden next to mine after I had spent much time and money renovating and upgrading my home.
"This is not a farm community. At the very least the potential crop gardener should have been sensitive to her neighbors and inquired of them ... as to whether it would bother them to have a vegetable garden adjacent to their front yards," she said.
Bock said she did not inquire of her neighbors before starting on the garden.
Los Altos landscape designer and edible-landscaping expert Rosalind Creasy said interest in front-yard vegetable garden designs is snowballing. Every couple of weeks she receives a request for such installations, and her revised book, "Edible Landscaping," sold out in five weeks, she said.
Creasy has maintained a front-yard vegetable garden for 35 years with no complaints, she said. But she "doesn't just put in a square of vegetables and tie it up with old stockings." Inter-plantings with vegetables and attractive flowers can make the vegetable garden as gorgeous as anything looks in a flower garden, she said.
"My garden of strawberries, figs and tomatoes was the two-page center spread for the May issue of Better Homes and Gardens," she said.
Not all of Bock's neighbors oppose the garden.
"I think it is a great idea. It reminds me of victory gardens during World War II that I heard about," said Marlene Prendergast, whose home on Chaucer Street had a victory garden in the front yard during the war.
"We are certainly in a movement to eat healthy organic vegetables. It seems like a better use of water for vegetables than for a thirsty lawn," she said.
Another neighbor who lives around the corner said she enjoys walking her dog past the garden.
"I think having a garden there is a wonderful example of being environmentally sensitive. So much better than just having grass that you water, fertilize and weed and just looks good — you hope. ... As long as they keep it neat and tidied up, I don't see the problem, although they may have to deal with theft. I have a very old persimmon tree in my front yard that is accessible form the front sidewalk, and one fall morning a few years ago I awoke to find it stripped bare," she said.
Bock said she sees the garden as a gathering place, where residents and strollers stop by to take in the rural ambiance and chat.
"It's like a front-yard psychologist. They tell me about their mother who died and what's going on in their lives," she said.
Dana Avenue resident Karen Harwell has had a front-yard vegetable garden since 1971.
"I've been growing corn and tomatoes for years. ... We turned it into Dana Meadows," a children's garden where neighborhood kids come to learn about the plants and bugs, bunnies and ducks that Harwell keeps.
The garden hasn't hurt neighborhood property values either, she said.
"A few years ago all of my neighbors got a letter from a real-estate agent. A family wanted specifically to buy a home on the block because they wanted to be near the garden. The agent said if anyone is selling to please let them know."