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Kendra Poppy and her husband had two reasons for buying a house: to have a dog and to build a garden. Once they found their tiny 1924 bungalow in San Leandro, California, around five years ago, they jumped on the former, welcoming an older rescue named Bochy into the fold (and more recently a 3-month-old black Lab called Charlie). Then they got to work on the latter. 

Fortunately, Poppy had just joined the team at Yardzen (she’s now the head of brand marketing for the online landscaping company), so securing design plans for an overhaul was a nonissue. The tricky thing was most of their outdoor space was confined to the front yard, which was essentially a water-guzzling lawn with zero environmental or functional benefit.  “We wanted to not only save water and reduce the carbon emissions, but create a haven for pollinators and enjoy delicious fruits and vegetables from our garden,” shares Poppy. Ahead, the longtime green thumb reveals how they turned their yard into a sustainable, edible, and straight-up dreamy oasis. 

Begin With a Blank Slate

The front yard, before.

Step one: Secure a rototiller. The couple rented the tool from Home Depot in order to break up soil and turn it over for fresh planting—a laborious, repetitive process that was accompanied by some beers, Poppy points out. Next up, they sheet mulched, which essentially involves laying down cardboard and a thick layer of black mulch in order to deprive the grass underneath of light. This was followed by a six-month waiting period during the winter and spring as the cardboard naturally decomposes and they’re left with fresh soil to start anew. 

Go High-Low

Poppy knew she wanted tall plants—like corn and soaring sunflowers—in the mix to provide visual interest, privacy, and shade. With Yardzen’s help, the couple was able to come up with a placement plan that didn’t hinder the growth of lower growing buds. Between the beds? Gravel, gravel, and more gravel. “I love the look of it, plus it’s super-inexpensive and easy to maintain,” says Poppy. Laying out the stones and building the raised beds were the two big jobs the pair hired out. The rest they handled on their own. 

Grow According to Your Taste Buds…

Poppy’s plant choices are largely informed by what she and her husband want to whip up together in the kitchen. “My favorite things to grow are tomatoes. I could eat tomatoes every single day, especially with some type of cheese on them,” she says. Raspberries, peppers, cucumbers, and squash are other must-haves. Then there’s the pumpkin patch—some of the kids in the neighborhood have already claimed theirs for when fall rolls around. “They’re vigorous growers. I try to get them to at least 100 pounds,” she adds.  

…and What’s Good for the Roost 

Sprinkling in an assortment of native plants like Matilija poppies, which attract pollinators, is also essential to the yard’s health. There is also lots of kale around, but that’s primarily for the couple’s four (!) chickens. “One of my favorite memories of them was taking them out into the yard when they were little and they would dig in the dirt and find worms,” recalls Poppy.

When they’re not roaming around their coop zone on the side yard, the chickens are allowed to wander free, sometimes into other neighbors’ yards, where they’re welcomed with open arms. But when they are exploring Poppy’s garden, they act as mini assistants, kicking up the dirt to help aerate it, eating pesky bugs like aphids, and adding organic matter to the soil with their droppings. “They have a lot of fun on their front yard adventures,” she says with a laugh. 

Practice Deep Watering and Crop Rotation

Ever since switching to a lawn-free front yard, Poppy has cut back on her water usage significantly. Of course, though, her plants need a sip from time to time (every five to seven days). She tries to quench their thirst only in the evenings to prevent the H2O from evaporating quickly. “We really ensure the water saturates the soil, that way it keeps them hydrated for up to a week at times,” she notes. Another part of keeping the ground healthy is constantly shifting things around. “I never plant the same thing in the same place year after year,” she notes. 

Bring on the Hungry Neighbors

While it might feel strange to designate your front yard as your main play-slash-hangout space, Poppy notes that having everything out in the open has sparked a stronger sense of community. “I trust people if someone wants to come over and take a tomato; that’s totally fine by me,” she says. “It has really been this amazing opportunity to get my hands dirty, grow some food, and connect with others.”