A Vegetable Garden? My God, We’d Better Apply For A Grant!


ShovelI was very amused this month to read in Dwell Magazine about a suburban front lawn in Lakewood, CA that was turned into a vegetable garden by a group called Edible Estates, which is the notion of an L.A. artist/designer/vegetable-garden crusader named Fritz Haeg.

Now Edible Estates has a great cause.  In fact, it’s MY cause!  Stop wasting your land, you suburbanites!  Get down on your knees and count your blessings if you own a small piece of green earth!  Then, get off said knees and make it productive!  Plant some pole beans!  Or plant some crazy tulips and dahlias and at least make it beautiful and chemical-free, lest ye be turned into a pillar of salt!   

But still, there is something hilariously fey about this particular endeavor, as described by Dwell.  When the homeowners decided beans were better for the planet than Scott’s lawn-feed, did they buy a pick and shovel and packet of seeds from Lowe’s and just get dirty?

No, they found Haeg on treehugger.com and then competed with 40 other candidates to become Edible Estates’ next project.

The lucky Lakewood couple was chosen because of the man’s "thoughtful and articulate demeanor."  (Wow, I got into the gardening fraternity just by digging.)

A team of 12 volunteers then descended on Memorial Day in order to plant a 20 by 38 foot space (nice, but not overwhelming for a single person if you have the place plowed first) with Haeg covering "the cost of all the planning and materials." (Again, I can’t help myself here: big deal).

Don’t get me wrong.  I hope Edible Estates convinces all of Lakewood to rip out the lawn in favor of crops and that the madness spreads to Long Beach and beyond!

But I somehow fear such "projects" are more evidence of what a gardening culture America is not. 

So what is the best way to spread this idea of the productive yard?  I wish I knew.  Teach people to fish rather than bringing them a fish? Convince scared non-gardeners that it’s not that hard?  And when it is hard, it will help you lose five pounds.


  1. I think it is sadly indicative of what gardening is for most people–the whole arm-chair gardener, “I’ll-pay-and-you-do-the-work” attitude is what I see most often in my friends and neighbors.

    I have no idea how to convince people to do this. I know talking to non-gardeners is like trying to explain something in a foreign language—-you get this blank, barely polite stare until you just mumble the end of what you were saying and move onto something more “interesting.” Anna Nicole, perhaps….

  2. Judging by the photographs of this poorly designed front yard edible garden, I would say that the owners did not win the grand prize.

    I think Mr. Fritz Haeg majored in business marketing and could use a couple of remedial courses in landscape architecture and garden design.

    If one is going to take the time and expense of ripping out their front yard and replace it with a vegetable garden then the new garden should be far superior to the former regardless of whether they are planted with vegetables or not.

    The design and installation examples that are shown on Edible Estates web site and in the Dwell Magazine issue painfully depict a lack of understanding of sound landscape design practices.

    Where’s the structure in these gardens ?

    When there are no more beans , lettuce or squashed this plot will look like hell because there was no practical thinking given to the architectural stature of the plantscape.

    It is vitally important that the design should fit the site.
    His gardens lack the understanding that they are sited in a suburban front yard .
    Go ahead and plant your herbs, fruits and vegetable to your hearts desire but for aesthetics sake, please don’t forget about the bones of the garden.

    One only has to look at the fine design and plantswomanship of Rosemary Verey when understanding how to effectively design and install a well planned potager garden.
    She understood the importance of employing architectural stature in the garden with her softscaping designs.

    When the beans , lettuce and chard were gone from view one was still visually treated with delight to a well balanced garden because there was planned structure through the use of low hedges, defining paths, alle’s of trees , espaliered fruiting walls, and trellises.

    I would venture to say that one is not winning any type of prize from the installation of one of Edible Estates gardens until he truly understand the basic premise of sound landscape design practice.

    Vegetable gardens can be beautiful all year round if properly designed.

  3. But from the point of view of Edibles Plants, good on them for DOING SOMETHING for the homeowners whose gardens they’re using in their publications and promotions. As opposed to, say, HGTV’s recent search around DC for someone in whose garden to place some products they’re writing about. No money, no credit, no nothing.

  4. Well, HGTV is just despicable–you’ve done more to prove that than anybody, Susan.

    And yes, Edible Estates did something for the homeowner and the neighborhood. But you kind of have to wonder, how long will it last, if the recipients of the largesse weren’t committed enough to the garden to dig it themselves.

    And Michelle, absolutely right! Vegetable gardens can be stunningly beautiful, with just a little architecture. And there is none here more substantial than bamboo teepees.

    I noticed, also, that the garden is raised above the level of the sidewalk. Less digging that way in making the garden, but not the best way to conserve water in a desert climate.

    I say this with feeling, because every bed in my city yard is raised a few inches above the sidewalk–and it’s bad, given how sandy my soil is. The water just runs away.

  5. I totally agree vegetable gardens need a lot of help to make them visually appealing all season long.

    And I’m not the one to create such appeal in my small city space. So vegetables have no home in my garden. I support our local farmers, who are way, way better at this than I am.

  6. Michelle, I will have to look up Rosemary Verey. I could use that sort of inspiration. I’m trying to put together a mixed garden on a city lot.

    I have raspberries in my front yard, but that’s the extent of the edibles in front. My vegetable beds are in the back yard, but not out of sight, as I am on a corner lot.

    My thought is to have flower beds, snaking paths, shrubs, a small tree or two, and perhaps a small berm between the sidewalk and my vegetable beds in the back yard. It’s a work in progress.

    I should have started big. Instead I’m taking a piecemeal approach. Very often, I’m undoing some of the work I did the previous year.

  7. Wrong!
    I don’t give a damn what Visible Estates is doing. (I may even have considered applying for one of their “grants” at some point.”?) I can tell you that people stop on the sidewalk–on foot, in their cars, pushing baby strollers–to ask what I’m planting in my front yard. “When are you going to plant that tall stuff?” they ask. People are just wild about vegetables. They love the way vegetables look in the garden. And while my wife spends years planning the ideal “edible landscape” in our front yard here in the District of Columbia, I just keep planting. Whether it’s collards and kale and arugula, or beets, carrots, mizuna. Whether chard, peas and dandelions, or beans, tomatoes and cucumbers. People love to see vegetables growing in all sorts of ways: up, down, sideways. I can’t tell you the number of folks who stop at my yard, lean on the iron work and just want to talk about things growing.

    With each passing year, we plant things more interesting to look at. Rhubarb, artichokes, sunflowers. We’ve had amaranth, Mexican sunflowers, okra. And every kind of herb mixed in, too. I don’t care what you say. Vegetables are where it’s at. Go ahead with your bad selves, plant edible landscapes and eat yourselves out of house and home.

  8. It’s OK, Bart. We thoughtful, articulate types can take it.

    Our garden does lack an understanding of sound landscape design practices. Fritz isn’t a landscape designer, and I’m not a professional gardener. I’ve changed the layout a fair bit this year. Some lessons were learned from the last. I expect to learn some more this year, and every following year. Must we professionalize everything?

    Our project is about reclaiming a space that far too many people choose to waste and neglect, usually out of fear that they might break ‘the rules’.

  9. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again in garden rant’s comments; there is little need to separate ornamental and edible. I think people would do well to start off making some small changes with some easy veg and let the passion grow. Let the ornamental climbers lie for a while and stick some pretty flowered runner or pole beans (or perhaps a nice dwarf climbing squash). Maybe try throwing in some ornamental salads or herbs where those annuals would go and so on and so on. i’m constantly amazed people see veeg gardening as a different discipline that needs a dedicated garden redesign – they’re still plants.

  10. Michelle Dervis, thanks for the lead to your blog. I want my wife to look at this. She’s the designer. I’m just an urban farmer.

    And should we mention somewhere that everything just tastes better when it comes right out of your yard? (Saves $ as well).

  11. I LOVE vegetables and think they are stunningly beautiful! The most beautiful garden I know is my friend Bob and Gerald’s and it’s mostly vegetables, interplanted with shrubs for structure.

    I vaguely remembered Amy’s post about the Foti’s yard–but it didn’t come up on a site search! Hey, we’re different people with differing opinions.

    And Michael, I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing. Maybe you just need to sue Dwell for making it sound so silly.

    Have you succeeded in inspiring any of your neighbors?

  12. Bart, it’s a blog. Your pointed observation is most welcome.

    Michael, it is good to see you stand up for yourself. And Michelle, I was hapy to see your deviant photos.

    As Whitman wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”

    So keep it coming, and please don’t prune the snark.

  13. People quote Whitman on our blog. I can die happy.

    I plant artichokes, cardoons, garlic, and fruit trees in the perennial border, not to mention lots of perennial herbs like rosemary, sage, and oregano. I used to work in kale and chard until the chickens discovered it. Now the greens have to be fenced in, but they’re still pretty much in the middle of everything.

    One nice thing about the Dwell story–it gets us all talking about front yards! I’ll have more to say on the subject again soon.

  14. I put flowers in my vegetable garden, but I don’t put vegetables in my flower garden, because I don’t water that.

    How you deal with the water issue, you intrepid mixers? Just water the whole business?

  15. We’re in the process of digging up our Los Angeles area front yard and putting in raised beds and gravel pathways. My hope is that the idea will catch on with neighbors and passers-by.

    I’m used to “gardening for an audience” in our inner-city school garden. I love it when people stop and gaze through the chain link fence at the beautiful flowers, vegetables and fruit trees within. I think it gives them moments of peace in that noisy, sometimes dangerous neighborhood.

    The home front yard garden can, I think, teach by example. People will stop and look and think. I might even give them a little something to read, using interpretive signs, as we do at school. The teacher in me, I guess.

    Then what…? Composting in the front yard? Garden workshops for the neighborhood? Maybe!
    Happy growing to you all. C.J.

  16. Hello CJ

    Doing the same myself in an urban garden in Los Angeles. The results are spectacular. Not sure why the tomatoes are better than other plants in well maintained soil, but the tomatoes growing though the cardboard and manure mulch seem very happy in the 50 year old fallow lawn soil. This is proving to be a very interesting experiment/project.


  17. It made me laugh a little. I just don’t understand why you would want somebody else to create your veg garden.

    Half of the fun is doing it and learning yourself, well it is for me in any case.

    It can take a lot of time but growing your own veg is very rewarding, I can’t see the patch lasting long if it’s not going to looked after and worked on.

    I fully respect the effort put in to create vegetable garden, however I think it’s more of a talking point for the winner of the competition and I can’t see the patch lasting long. I may be wrong of course 🙂

    Anything we can do to help encourage other to grow their own is a step forward although encouraging people to eat vegetables is as big a project.

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