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Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 23, 2011

Throwing tomatoes

Neighbors feud over what's planted in the front yard

by Sue Dremann

A front-yard vegetable patch in the Crescent Park neighborhood is raising eyebrows as well as corn stalks.

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."

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at


Posted by garden, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I drove past this veggie garden and it's beautiful! Actually, it looks nicer than most of the other yards on the street.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2011 at 1:39 pm

If they finished the fence, it would look a lot better!

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Reminds me of the old PBS sitcom, Good Neighbors, known as The Good Life on BBC.

Posted by ActiveBiped, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 27, 2011 at 5:49 pm

What a passel of cowardly snobs! I've been past this place and it looks lovely. Bock has her priorities straight: caring for & pleasing an ailing parent is much more important that what the narrow-minded neighbors think. Good for her. It also helps the environment much more than fertilized lawns and gardeners with smelly lawnmowers and leaf blowers. Think of what it's doing for the bees.

Posted by Catherine, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2011 at 8:25 am

The reason the fence isn't finished is that complaints forced us to get an encroachment permit. This has taken 8 weeks but we got it so we will begin working on it as soon as we can get together a work party after the climate ride ends Oct 6th. Web Link

Posted by homegirl, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Sounds like a bit of green envy going on out there...the ability to grow ones own food is the best future skill you can teach anyone. Where I live, we already have plans to 'shut off' the area from the mobs of idiots that will come north in search of food when the cow paddies hit the fan. That's right, 'you can have my crops when you pry them from my cold, dead hands'...
Seriously, PA is so petty. What's it to you if someone is growing corn in front of you? Do you just feel like a moron when you pay .99cents an ear @ WFM? I'll bet that's it.

Posted by mmmmMom, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2011 at 9:11 pm

The vegetable garden is WONDERFUL!! What an improvement over the ridiculous lawns around it. Supercilious "shallow alto" neighbors.
Keep on gardening!!!!!

Posted by high schooler, a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 28, 2011 at 10:00 pm

is this a joke? how on earth does this story even merit an article? it's almost as if PA online wants Palo Altans to take the face of this small minority; stuck up, snobbish, and arrogant. the fact that those people interviewed did not want to give their names shows just how unmerited their opinions truly are.

Posted by homegirl, a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Sorry, it's not a joke. Shallow Alto shows how deep it's "community" roots go. Shallow, at best. Take your skills to the real level of survival- then you can pass judgement upon people with actual common sense. Darwin's Theory will prevail.
Oh, I forgot, you all can survive on the El Camino Ball Park H2O bladder for a day or 2. Happy Ramen Noodle Day!

Posted by registered user, SteveU, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 29, 2011 at 7:05 am

We have a Lemon and Tangerine trees in our front yard. Some of our neighbors have other fruit trees and gardens (includes a small corn patch).

Why should we be forced to pay for 'Organically Grown' produce, when it grows in our yard with a little water and TLC. Not all backyards are suitable (or available) for growing food. Front yards may not be suitable or safe for children or pets to play in. That leaves the front yard as the best chance for proper sunlight exposure.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2011 at 9:13 am

I would like to say that I would love to see a vegetable garden much more than some of the neglected yards, or even some of the so called drought resistant desert yards, that I see in my neighborhood.

I do have a question though. How do the owners of this garden keep the scavangers, both animal and human, from pilfering the produce?
The fruit from my trees get picked by both.

Posted by Crescent Park resident, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I live nearby so pass this garden daily. I don't mind the garden. What I do mind is the overall trashy look of the place. Get rid of the plastic furniture, rusty wagon, piled debris, and other trash that shows up from time to time.

Posted by peacemaker, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Homegirl: are you trying to start class warfare in Palo Alto? Save the nasty comments, please, and do learn how to spell judgment.