It's common to see evergreens, hostas, shrubs and annual flowers in front yard landscapes. But Westerville residents Ken Brown and Gail Gross-Brown have taken a more creative, edible approach.

It's common to see evergreens, hostas, shrubs and annual flowers in front yard landscapes. But Westerville residents Ken Brown and Gail Gross-Brown have taken a more creative, edible approach.

Last year, the couple, who have lived in their McVay Woods home for 23 years, transformed their front and back yards by incorporating their food garden into the regular landscaping.

"Our yard is beautiful and functional," Brown said.

According to Brown, several neighbors have small, traditional square gardens in their backyards. "We're the first who turned it into landscaping," he said.

This year, their front yard garden includes butternut and yellow squash, cabbage, green peppers, jalapeo peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, pole beans, snow peas, cauliflower, lettuce, Japanese eggplant and sage, all mixed in with rose bushes, traditional plants and shrubs.

"We put it in front specifically for two reasons: One, we have a black walnut in the back and it's hard to grow near black walnut," Gross-Brown said. "But the main issue is, in other communities they have porches to gather people around and become neighborly. We don't have that in our neighborhood."

But they did have land. The couple wanted to plant a garden that people would stop to look at and that would spur conversation among neighbors.

Their garden spreads to the backyard, where herbs and strawberry plants have been planted around the deck. On the deck, Gross-Brown has a container garden, which consists of more tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs among a beautiful array of tropical plants.

"It's very rare to see an urban garden in suburbia Westerville," Gross-Brown said. "It's been really entertaining to have people walk past our yard and say, 'Oh, what's that pretty purple plant?' 'Cabbage.' 'You mean the kind you eat?' 'Yes, the kind you eat,'" she said.

In addition to being a source of food, their plants also act as decoration, color and texture for their landscaping.

"We've used things like strawberries as a ground covering; it goes all around our deck. So in the spring, there's this huge crop of strawberries," Brown said. "When they're done yielding fruit, they still serve a purpose."

Lettuce, which is well past its prime, has been kept up as edging for the front garden.

Also in the front, Gross-Brown planted squash, which produces bright yellow flowers, to contrast with pink and red roses.

"We have eggplant this year because I wanted a deeper purple," she said.

Gross-Brown said she chooses what to plant based on color, size and texture.

"I want it to look nice and artistic," she said. "That is why I have different heights and different textures."

The biggest components of the garden are the herbs.

"I have two kinds of parsley, three kinds of basil, six kinds of thyme, two kinds of oregano, two kinds of rosemary, just in the back," Gross-Brown said.

Growing their own produce and herbs has proved beneficial, saving them money at the grocery store, she said: "I haven't bought lettuce since March. I haven't bought green vegetables this summer and I eat a tremendous amount of produce."

"The other benefit is it's all fresh, it's all natural and it's here," Brown added. "We get ready to have dinner; one of us goes out and picks the salad. So we eat it within an hour of it coming off the plant. It's full of the vitamins and nutrients and none of the chemicals."

According to Gross-Brown, homegrown produce tastes different than store-bought.

"Lettuce is sweeter and softer; the texture's very different. The cabbage, again, is sweeter," she said.

Gross-Brown said she had four goals for the garden: to increase socialization, build community, save money and make the garden intergenerational.

"And I've accomplished all four goals," she said.

Through their garden, the couple have gotten to better know their neighbors and vice versa.

"These subdivisions are geared to people being inside and in their backyards. It's really unfortunate because I think people do lose that sense of community," Brown said. "What Gail has done has just brought people out. The kids, the adults, strangers will be walking by they just stop and kind of ask what we're doing.

"It just gives them an opportunity to actually talk to someone they wouldn't necessarily otherwise talk with," he said.

With their children grown and moved out of the house, Brown and Gross-Brown grow more food than they can eat, so they share some of the bounty with their neighbors. Any extra is taken to local food pantries.

Gross-Brown would eventually like to start a plant-sharing or plant exchange program among neighbors and the community.

The garden is all part of their efforts to be environmentally friendly, or "socially responsible," as they call it. They have installed a 55-gallon rain barrel, which is attached to a downspout. The collected water is then used on the plants.

They also collect what would otherwise be wasted water from the sink and shower.

"It is amazing how much water would go down the drain," Gross-Brown said.

"We get about two gallons per shower, just warming up water," she said, explaining that they place a bucket in the tub to catch the water that runs until the temperature is right for showering. When the bucket is full, they use it to water plants.

"We collect enough to keep all the plants in the house watered and a lot of the plants outside watered," Brown said.

Continuing their efforts to be socially responsible, the couple has established two composting bins and a compost pile in their backyard near a creek. They recycle organic food and paper, creating compost to add to the garden next year.

Although the garden is hard work and demands everyday attention, Gross-Brown said there has been only one setback: "The rabbits this year," she said with a laugh, explaining that the rabbits have eaten their snow peas and about a dozen squash.