Onion Lawn

The Man With The Onion Lawn

Take a look at Nadarajah Asokumar's front yard. At a glance you'd think he's standing in the middle of a rather healthy but wildly overgrown patch of grass, but if you look closer you'll realize that these are onions, in three dense but tidy rows. Until recently, I lived about a block away from Mr. Asokumar's home on the northern edge of Parkdale, and I'd marvel at its precision and lushness every week on my walk to the local No Frills.

As his son explained to me, his father has been doing this for four years, squeezing a bountiful crop from their tiny front yard with an efficiency that's truly impressive.

There are 200 onion plants in every square foot of the garden, which means a total of 10,000 onions to be harvested when the bulbs reach maturity after 90 days, almost all of which the family uses for their own consumption.

Harvest time doesn't mean a barren patch of dirt for the rest of the summer, however - leaning down, Mr. Asokumar pushes aside a thicket of onions to reveal eggplant and chili pepper seedlings planted amidst the onions in a precise grid.

Mr. Asokumar's family were farmers back in Sri Lanka, and their front yard garden was their best chance to yield produce from a lot whose back yard is paved over with asphalt, though even that bit of square footage is covered with white plastic tubs full of soil and thriving pepper plants.

The Asokumars have experimented with a variety of crops in their sunny, south-facing little plot every year, with almost uniformly excellent results that get the maximum return from the tiny space. This year, the onions are sharing the lawn with tomatoes, while the edges are ringed with climbing beans and winter melon, ready to climb up the fences, and a row of lush buttercups border the sidewalk.

The flowers are a nice decorative touch, but Mr. Asokumar admits that they're also a nice barrier for dog walkers whose pooches piss on his produce.

Mr. Asokumar says that the neighbours - most of whom have parking instead of lawns on his side of the street - have never complained, except for his next door neighbour, whose view of oncoming traffic was blocked by the corn they grew on the narrow strip on the other side of the front walk.

They took it out, and replaced it with a less vertical crop. While I can't help but admire Mr. Asokumar's energy and undeniable green thumb, I don't think I'd have the patience to turn my own front yard into a similar high yield garden plot, even though it's a far more clever response to urban life than tending to a patch of transplanted golf green.


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