Urb gardens

How one city street sprouted three edible front yards

Ricardo Velasquez tends his garden at the corner of Arroyo and Plumas streets.

Ricardo Velasquez tends his garden at the corner of Arroyo and Plumas streets.

Photo By kat kerlin

Over the past year, something has been happening on Plumas Street in Reno. Along a three-quarter-mile stretch between Urban Road and La Rue Avenue, front yards are being taken over—by vegetables. Three homes that, a year ago featured grass or weeds now grow fat-leaved squash, snarled tendrils of pole beans, rows of green peppers, Swiss chard, onions.

First, near the north end of Plumas, is the garden of Bruce McLeod. If you don’t notice the beets, carrots and garlic growing among the poppies, you can’t miss the large Scottish signs scattered across his home’s maroon fence. The land held weeds before, and it’s technically on city property, making him a “guerrilla gardener.” The 65-year-old retired construction worker laughs at the prospect. He’s no subversive; it’s just where the sun shines best.

A few blocks down, where Arroyo Street meets Plumas, Ricardo Velasquez tends his radishes, lemon cucumbers, tomatoes and rows of chile de arbols, which are bound for tamales and salsas. Bees buzz in and out of a border of cosmos. This lush, green, orderly garden is at the house of his brother-in-law, Marvin Cruz, as Velasquez’s Sparks apartment doesn’t have space for a garden. He and his two young daughters share their harvest with Cruz and his wife, Estelle.

“I come here twice a week and grow my garden,” says Velasquez. “This is my best thing.”

And farther south, on the corner of Plumas and Urban Road, is a well-recognized white house with a red door. More than a dozen raised beds full of squash, wheat grass, herbs, peppers and broccoli are laid out English garden-style. They were newly built by homeowner Jeff Lowden and planted by his wife, Jay Jay Lowden. The Reno natives moved into the home last fall after living the past few years in Los Angeles. This spring, Jay Jay told her husband, “All I want for Mother’s Day is a garden.” She’d only had a lemon tree and an avocado tree in her yard in Los Angeles and dreamed of much more. The benefits, they say, have been worth it: They eat more healthfully, their kids are learning where their food comes from, and, by planting vegetables where lawn once was, their water bill has decreased.

The urban gardening or “edible lawn” movement has been growing, whether popularized by an economy that’s prompted people to become more self-sufficient, distrust of mass-distributed food, or media that’s shown everyone from 20-somethings to Michelle Obama planting vegetable gardens. But ask the owners of these edible front yards why they garden, and being trendy is not a factor.

“Like the old saying goes, ‘You reap what you sow,’” says McLeod. “It’s fun to watch things grow. It’s very nutritious; it’s very fresh food; it tastes better. It has exercise benefits. I’ve always been a hard worker all my life, and it’s an extension of that. When you work hard, you get rewards, and the reward is to eat what you grow.”

“I just wanted the experience to garden” says Jay Jay. “I’m thrilled to eat off my land.”

And while recent history has relegated veggie patches to the back yard, Jay Jay says of their front yard placement, “It was never a question. It was just a good use of our space.”