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Vegetable garden front and center instead of the backyard
By Eileen O. Daday | Daily Herald Correspondent

Bill Zars/bzars@dailyherald.com Megan Hill and her family have created a giving garden in the front yard of their Arlington Heights home.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Bill Zars/bzars@dailyherald.com A butterfly rests on a zinnia in the Hill family garden.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Bill Zars/bzars@dailyherald.com Megan Hill picks some tomatoes from her giving garden.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/11/2010 12:01 AM

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Doug and Meghan Hill of Arlington Heights love to garden. No, really, they love gardening.

One look at their front yard, confirms it. Yes, that's right. Their front yard.

The young couple has done a reverse spin on the traditional suburban yard: they've planted their vegetable garden in the front and they have their children play out back.

"We have lots of big trees in the backyard and not a lot of sun," says Meghan Hill, who grew up in Barrington. "There were not a lot of options. We needed a lot of sunshine, so we planted in front."

Their rows of vegetables take up the entire front yard, and their trellises, raised beds and mature plants extend across the traditional 50-foot wide yard. The garden is large enough that it produces more than the Hills can consume, so they donate their surplus to the Wheeling Township Food Pantry.

"Our clients love it," says Maryann Hernandez, food pantry coordinator. "The vegetables just disappear, so now we dole them out to clients after finding out what they like."

The Hills live on a busy street in the historic section of downtown Arlington Heights, which means their garden is highly visible.

Even so, Meghan Hill says they have not received any negative comments from neighbors. If anything, she hopes they have inspired a few people to return to the land and raise their own food.

As it is, the Hills are committed to organic gardening, and not just going without pesticides. They have filled their raised beds with organic soil and have a composter in their backyard to decompose organic matter into vital nutrients they can add to their soil.

"Our biggest problem is the mosquito abatement trucks that spray at night," Hill adds. "We have to cover our plants when we know they're coming."

The Hills come about their penchant for gardening,rightly. Oh sure, Meghan Hill's parents, Paul and Marcia Bowen, used to sell flowers and vegetable plants at their store, Bowen Hardware in Arlington Heights for years.

But the seeds were sewn, she says, in college, where she met her husband.

They met as underclassmen at the University of Oregon, located in Eugene. The campus is situated on the southern end of the Willamette Valley, which is the heart of Oregon's agriculture region.

"We had a community garden even in college," Hill says.

She describes the University of Oregon, and the state itself, as very progressive and that influenced the couple to think more about the environment and sustainable living.

When they moved back to the Midwest and settled in Arlington Heights, they converted an older bungalow into a more modern day home that meets the needs of their young family. But gardening remained a big part of their lives, and they want their children to be immersed in the land, as well.

"We want our kids to know where food comes from," Meghan Hill says. "They help us work in the garden and they go to the food pantry with me. They love it."

The couple started gardening in a community plot through the Arlington Heights Park District program, but found it increasingly difficult to manage with their young children.

Gardening right out their front door has eased their lives considerably. They first planted an herb garden in place of a row of evergreens under their picture window. Now flourishing are parsley, basil, sage, cilantro, coriander, chives and lavender, as well as nasturtium, which is an edible flower.

This summer was the first time they planted the entire yard and they have had good results. Their early plants came in nicely, including cucumber, eggplant and carrots. Now, they're harvesting a bumper crop of tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, beans and even strawberries.

Already they have planted some late season crops, like broccoli, spinach, carrots, Chinese cabbage and mustard greens. They also plan to build tunnels for their plants as the temperatures drop in an effort to extend their growing season.

"Things have really come up well," Meghan Hill says. "We'll just see how long we can go."