Artist/designer Fritz Haeg is clearly a lovely guy, as well as a comrade in arms, in that he’s trying to make people question the absurdly unproductive and unattractive American yard.
His Edible Estates project replaces front lawns with vegetable gardens as a kind of art happening. Last week, Susan posted about a garden that was sponsored by the Contemporary Museum Baltimore.
How do I know Haeg is a generous soul? Well, he answered my ungracious comment on that post with an extremely gracious comment of his own.
Still, I can’t help myself. I find this project ridiculous, mainly because the gardens themselves are so artless and insignificant. The fact that Edible Estates gets so much press for them and the fact that homeowners compete to have one installed says one thing to me: Americans know zero about kitchen gardening. So little that they find the mere concept of growing vegetables provocative–never mind the execution.
Edible Estate’s gardens seem extremely dubious from a cultivation standpoint. Vegetable beds in the shade of a maple tree? Good luck with that. Failing to fence a front-yard garden that you plan to eat out of? I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to have the neighborhood dogs pee on my lettuces. And who takes care of these gardens after Haeg and his band of idealists disappear? Homeowners too diffident to make even such small gardens themselves?
It seems telling that the homeowner’s blog for the Baltimore project has just one entry, dated May 16, 2008. Okay, now it’s high vegetable season. How are things going? Does anybody still care? Why does no one photograph these gardens in high season and in subsequent years? Are they somehow finished the moment they’re planted?
And from an aesthetic standpoint: There’s no structure in these gardens. There are no flowers. There are no pots. There is no sculpture. Lordy, it’s the front yard. It ought to look good. And vegetable gardens invite structure. Stuff like tomatoes and pole beans and peas need to be supported. And structure doesn’t necessarily require a big budget, by the way. Ingenuity will do.
What should a front-yard vegetable garden look like? I borrowed these photos from Rant friend and designer Michelle Derviss, who’s written very convincingly about the need for architecture in a vegetable garden and whose front-yard potager offers an inspiring example.
Boxwood edging is of course, a natural in a front-yard vegetable garden. But what makes this garden so ineffably cool and personal is the hand emerging from it.
Gorgeous, no? Notice also the geometry, the pots, the flowers, the wire fence to keep the dog from peeing on the produce.
Artful. Pretty enough to launch a revolution.
I’m sorry, Fritz. We’re talking about suburban homeowners, lawns, property values, petty pride. Until people are starving in the streets of Lakewood and Maplewood, without pretty, there is no revolution.