Boy, was I wrong about Fritz Haeg and his Edible Estates. You know, those front-lawn-to-veg-garden make-overs he's been doing across the country? I remember dissing the Baltimore demonstration site based on a photo like this one – because it didn't meet my design standards (such as they are). I was also skeptical about these mounds of soil – wouldn't the soil wash away in the spring rains?
Then I met Fritz at the Landscape Architects' national meeting in DC, and was gobsmacked by him. Turns out he couldn't care less about meeting my design standards. These projects may be commissioned by museums (and how'd he swing that?) but they're not about creating art. At all. He finds people in unfancy neighborhoods who know how to garden and who compete for the chance to have their front lawns turned into gardens. In a refreshingly egoless way, Haeg tells his audience that lots of people create better-looking gardens than he does and that after he leaves they'll change, anyway. Real gardens are like that.
The point is to create "highly participatory outdoor spaces" with spaces to hang out, not "precious, virtuoisic, expensive gardens." So he creates gardens in unlikely spots, "not hippie neighborhoods in Portland." And the gardens, including their out-in-the-open compost piles (which he declares should be celebrated!) are meant to shock. Asked if he'd broken any laws yet in creating edible front yards, he said no but that he'd LOVE to, then fight for it. He hopes that we soon see the day when people are embarrassed to defend laws that forbid the growing of food.
If hearing Haeg's talk hadn't win me over, seeing these before-and-after shots of this same garden surely would.
Here you see Baltimore's Clarence Ridgeley tending his new garden. Of the eight gardens featured in Fritz's book, this is his personal favorite, all because of Clarence ("He's so sweet"). For Clarence, the garden has become his "personal speed bump," causing everyone to slow down to get a good look, and it's turned him into a local celebrity. You can see more about Clarence's garden here (click on photos to enlarge).
Of course I loved Fritz's choice words about the Great American Lawn – that it "celebrates our dominance and wealth" and that doing something different in the front yard questions those old values. He pointed out that even the U.S. president who's famous for gardening – Jefferson – hid his veg garden and displayed great swaths of lawn instead.
Garden photos by Fritz Haeg.