A “Lawn Safe” sign sticks up in the front-yard gardens in Sandy Stott’s neighborhood. Courtesy of Sandy Stott

Most days, as I set out for some foot time, I walk to our driveway’s end and turn left. By the time I’ve adjusted my cap, rejiggered my sunglasses and caught stride, I’m at our neighbors’ front yard, which does two things: slows me a bit and wrinkles a smile across my face. Sure, I’ve passed by hundreds of times in all seasons, but my response seldom varies. And when it does, it’s because I need to pause for a dollop of wonder.

This is my favorite yard in town because it features front-yard gardens, a series of 11 raised, wood-framed beds that host a half-dozen gardeners from nearby houses. There is, as the saying goes, always something new to see.

The other day, it was the border of daffodils that somehow (no one was talking) had lined the tulip bed on the left side of the yard. The tulips were unfurling spring as they should, getting set to send up flower stems, but the daffodils had risen as rogues and quickly gone to flower.

“No idea where they came from,” said one of the yard’s owners, “but we’re happy to have them.”

“Good for them,” I thought as I resumed cadence.

Other beds, as yet unturned and unplanted, offered a shaggy assemblage of weedy hope, sort of like a photo of me and my friends in our early 20s. As I set out for the Town Common, I was, as ever, a smile to the better.


When I returned, I thought to send a note and ask for a bit of garden history. Here’s some of what I heard back: “Our lawn has never been a gorgeous lawn, but that has never bothered us. We have maintained it, meaning we have mowed it once in a while, but we never watered or fertilized or spread herbicides or insecticides on it. Over the years, we have read more and more about the ecological disasters lawns can impose, and we want to contribute to that disaster as little as possible. Before we even thought of Front Yard Gardens, we had built a couple of raised beds there. It was win-win: we could reduce our lawn, while growing a few vegetables. Then, as natural progression, we invited neighbors who caught less sun on their land to create gardens on our sunny front yard. Another win-win. Now we share food, flowers … and stories; it may even be that talk is our main crop. We couldn’t be happier with how it’s turned out.”

A large measure of the pleasure I find in the front-yard gardens stems from their variety; like a blended neighborhood, these 11 beds set up some unusual pairings and relations. Annuals peer up at the milkweeds, sowed as monarch butterfly rest stops; the squash begins its annual visitations, easing over the ground in riverine bends to visit the zinnias. Cherry tomatoes (ever the optimists) hang like ornaments well into the fall. And even as I am often intent on my day’s walk, the social fruit of conversation sometimes gets me to pull over for neighborly news.

Community note 1

On Earth Day, I joined around 50 other citizens at the Cathance River Education Alliance and Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s offices on Neptune Road at the Landing for some therapeutic clean-up of five locations in Brunswick. Supplied with collecting bags and common purpose and led by fellow citizens, we got our instructions from CREA’s Caroline Eliot, posed for a few photos and then set out with intent to clean.

Three of the locations were in the Mere Brook watershed, along roads in its east flank, where passersby had discarded coffee cups, wrappers, boxes, bottles and the ubiquitous cigarette butts (which Eliot reminded us are composed partly of plastic that will — with no small irony — outlive us all). Two other groups dispersed to downtown Maine Street (Androscoggin watershed) and Pleasant Hill Road (Maquoit Bay watershed). We found plenty, bringing back bags stuffed with refuse.

But before we set out for our sites, a number of us located those sites on a new map created by the town geographic information system specialist, Jessica Hanscom, who worked with town Environmental Planner Ashley Charleson to create that map. It identifies each watershed in town, and its LIDAR (light detection and ranging)-derived elevation feature shows how our land’s topography directs water in those watersheds. There is not, of course, an inch of Brunswick that doesn’t contribute flow to a watershed, and so the map offered a powerful reminder that we live linked lives, that none of us lives outside of a watershed; we live within one … and each of us affects its waters.

As I joined others gathering tossed trash along Pleasant Hill Road (Maquoit Bay watershed) along the straightaway that divides Crystal Spring Farm’s lands, I could see both the vernal pools on the north side and the incipient ravines and brooks on the south side. Neither needed a burden of trash nor did the soils of the organic farm adjacent to those waters. We scoured the roadside.

Community note 2

On June 6, Brunswick and the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust will sponsor a yardscaping workshop offered by Ali Clift of the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District via Zoom or in person in the Town Council chambers. The workshop is free (though reservation is requested), and Clift will help us learn and imagine how our yards can be configured and kept healthy without heavy reliance on chemicals and pesticides that both undermine soil health and harm our watersheds. Sign up at cumberlandswcd.org/conservation-shop/p/spring-yardscaping-series.

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick resident, chairperson of the town’s Conservation Commission, and a member of Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Board of Directors. He writes for a variety of publications. He may be reached at fsandystott@gmail.com.

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