Stroll the shady streets of east Sacramento and you may discover something surprising: front yards full of food.
Where once only camellias and azaleas grew, lemon bushes offer juicy fruit along with glossy foliage. Fragrant thyme, mint and oregano freely mingle with petunias. Lipstick-red peppers peek out of manicured flower beds. Shiny strawberries punctuate ruffled green borders.
Other food plants are easier to spot. Green beans wind up trellises. Cornstalks stand sentry at fence lines. Lawns give way to pumpkin and melon vines, tempting passers-by with their almost-hidden treasures.
This being Sacramento, of course, there are plenty of tomatoes, bursting out of their cages with clusters of fruit.
Front-yard tomatoes? Such a scene would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. But now, everybody everywhere wants to get into “edible landscaping.”
That’s the impetus behind the East Sacramento Edible Gardens Tour, which will be held next Saturday. Six east Sacramento gardens — most grouped within walking distance — will be open to the public as part of a fundraiser for Soroptimist International of Sacramento. Proceeds from the annual event will support the Tubman House, which provides homeless parents and children with housing and support as they rebuild their lives.
In its third year, this unusual garden tour focuses on food and the creative — and attractive — ways edibles can fit into suburban landscapes.
When this tour first started, edible landscaping seemed like a novel idea.
“Now, everybody thinks it’s very nice,” said tour chairwoman Susann Hadler. “They see these gardens and think, ‘What a great thing to do!’”
More than 1,000 patrons took part in last year’s Edible Gardens Tour, Hadler noted. “It’s quickly become one of our major fundraisers.”
What surprised Hadler was how many more gardeners wanted to become involved with the edible tour.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “The response is amazing. Our gardeners are so enthused and they’re all hands-on. They’re really excited about what they’re doing and they want to share that (enthusiasm) with others.”
Next week, the featured stops range from a neighborhood community garden tended by about 10 families to an art-filled oasis with artichokes and zucchini framing the outdoor sculptures. Master gardeners will be stationed at each garden to answer questions. Music will be provided by members of the Sacramento Symphonic Winds.
“We have all the gardeners hustling to get ready,” said Janine Yancey, one of the tour’s hosts. “We’re very excited.”
Ty and Janine Yancey had space for a garden, but not the expertise. The couple bought a home on 38th Street with plans of replacing it with another house.
“We built a guest house on the back of the lot and tore down the original structure,” Janine Yancey said. “In the interim, we’re growing a community garden.”
The project started “with just a bare lot,” she added. “I credit Ty for taking the ball and running with it. He passed out fliers and organized our neighbors. We started the garden last year, but this year took it to new heights.”
The Yanceys discovered they had neighbors with green thumbs and years of vegetable-growing experience. They also learned by doing. With the help of a landscaping friend, the Yanceys and their neighborhood gardeners installed drip irrigation and decomposed granite walkways. Decorative stones outline the individual plots.
Tom Bushnell, one of the neighbors, heartily approves. He’s among the group that tends a sunny plot of tomatoes and peppers on an otherwise very shady street.
“It’s lovely, isn’t it?” Bushnell said as he watered on a recent day. “I can’t wait for my honeydew melons. Everybody’s got something growing. It’s the most luscious stuff.”
The vegetables are delicious, but even better is the camaraderie.
“The best thing about this garden is we’ve gotten to know each other,” Bushnell said.
Added Janine Yancey, “All of us are totally engaged with the garden. It’s a focal point. We chitchat, hang out, just relaxing. It’s become our little meeting spot.”
There’s space for all ages to get involved. Bushnell points to a hot-pink row of hand-painted signposts, created by the Walsh family for its “just tomatoes” garden in the group plot. Children had added mirrors and other baubles to brighten their veggie space.
“How cool is that?” he asked. “It’s just so fun.”
Inspiration grows wild in these gardens.
“One of the things I kept hearing last year was, ‘I can do that!’” Hadler said. “There are so many ideas that people really will incorporate into their own gardens. They see how people created space for edibles even if they had no space. They put herbs in pots on their doorstep or cucumbers on a trellis. People pick up on their doable, practical ideas.”
Families are encouraged to bring their children on the garden tour, Hadler said. Kids under age 12 are admitted free.
“Kids see things,” Hadler said. “They get excited. They’ll point out vegetables as they discover, ‘That’s where tomatoes come from!’ Cherry tomatoes right off the vine are so sweet. They want to eat them. It’s a great way to introduce kids to vegetables.”
Each of the gardens has its own personality. Mike and Juliana Horrell’s Peter Rabbit Garden has an outdoor bunny pen set among abundant herbs and vegetables. Susan and John Stine’s Sunshine Garden is sprinkled with sunny mosaics to match the bright light.
Heirloom tomatoes, grapevines and lavender mix with unusual fruit trees in the Circle of Life garden of Donna and Josh Pane. Trish and Tom Uhrhammer turned the vacant space between two homes into a private but shared edible paradise. Outdoor art populates the creative “garden rooms” of Eric Geiger and Phil Klamm.
Food plants often do double duty. In these edible landscapes, herbs replace lawns and shrubs bear fruit as well as screen walls. The results are as attractive as any ornamental garden.
“Everybody in Sacramento talks about farm to fork,” Hadler said. “Here, it’s garden to dinner table, every day.”
And there’s been no push-back over the front-yard tomatoes.
“If anything, it’s the opposite,” Janine Yancey said. “People say we have a park on our street now.”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington