Harriet McFarlane is just what you'd want in a neighbour. She bakes, she's got a Band-Aid when little kids scrape their knees, and a few words for every walker and jogger who passes her Moore Park home.
She knows the history of the houses and is happy to share interesting tidbits about them. Plus, she's happy to snip off a bit of the mint she has planted on the boulevard between the street and sidewalk in front of her home, which she shares with her husband, Ivan. Making yourself a mint julep? Salut!
On any given day in the warmer months, you will encounter Ms. McFarlane planting, trimming, weeding and transplanting. An avid gardener, she's always tinkering with the mix of plants at the front of her house. And there's a good chance you'll see her picking caterpillars and pests off the leaves of her raspberry or current bushes.
Ms. McFarlane, with her edibles planted in her front yard, is known to bake a mean raspberry pie or two every summer.
Front yard gardens boasting vegetables, herbs and berries are a burgeoning trend, and not just in Toronto.
It's true that in neighbourhoods such as Little Italy, Little Portugal and Chinatown, front yard foodstuffs have long been the norm. But now, homeowners in areas from the Beaches to Moore Park seem to be turning whatever sunny spots they have in front into edible gardens. There doesn't seem to be any one reason.
"I moved my berries to the front a few years ago because they just were not doing anything in my back garden," Ms. McFarlane says.
"Now I have the berries, and a number of herbs, including both pink and yellow echania.
She and her husband are planning to add some pots of tomatoes this year.
Felicity Morgan and her husband Peter have a vegetable garden in front of their Moore Park home, with plantings of lettuce, peas, tomatoes and a dozen herbs.
"I wanted my kids to associate food with gardening," Ms. Morgan explains. "Besides, we had really bad grass out here and some trees that were just weeds.
"We started last year with grape tomatoes and peas as well as herbs, and it took off. We were eating pesto made from our basil on our pasta until well into February. If you haven't noticed any front yard food patches, perhaps you're just not seeing them. The notion of straight rows of beans or carrots with stakes and strings is so yesterday. These gardens often combine vegetable plants with flowers and stone pathways, and the results can rival a non-vegetable garden in looks. (The Tate Modern Gallery in London commissioned artist Fritz Haeg to turn a front lawn into a vegetable garden, and the result was a beautiful creation that incorporated beans, marigolds and vines.)
Meredyth Hilton of Artistic Gardens, a Toronto design/build company, points out that her clients sometimes look at their expanses of green lawns and envision a more productive use.
"During the war, when my mom was a girl, ... every inch of growable space [at her house]was used for vegetables and produce in a victory garden," she says. "I can see the pendulum swinging that way now. People want to be part of an environmentally friendly lifestyle. And they want to know where their fruit and vegetables come from. It is ridiculous that we go to a store in July and the beans are grown thousands of miles away!"
At Sheridan Nurseries on Yonge Street in North Toronto, the trend is clearly demonstrated in sales. Manager Amin Datoo points out there has been an increase of 30 to 40 per cent in sales of vegetables and edible plants.
"Our suburban locations have always done well with vegetables and so on," he says. "But this is a lot bigger for us now. People consult with us for help with growing their gardens and they will plant where they get the most sun.
"Planter gardening is huge," he adds. "This year we had 12-inch pots of tomatoes available for Mothers' Day and we sold out."
These gardens often include plants whose edible parts you won't be able to find frozen at the supermarket. Marguerite Hunt, another Moore Park resident, has a front garden that is untamed and lovely, with a variety of flowers, including nasturtiums. She tops her salads with the flower and reports that it is delicious.
"Not only do they make the salads very pretty," she says. "The nasturtiums add a special flavour - something like capers."
Not all plants that can enhance a salad are found in a well-weeded garden, however. Ms. Hunt uses the leaves of young dandelions in a salad that also includes mashed potatoes, sour cream and crushed bacon. "It's a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe," she explains.
"My father used to make it. You have to use the dandelion leaves before the plants have flowers and wash them very well."