Seduced by Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates


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 IMG_0376 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).

On Lawn
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.


  1. I try not to judge without careful pondering. I would say in terms of aesthetics only, the first picture is fine.

    The composition, empty spaces for example.

    On the other hand, any mutilation of vegetation,
    trees, bushes, in topiaries, or sculptured design, absurd and futile.

  2. I followed the link to the story on Clarences Garden.He is a very generous man,allowing passersby to snack on his fruits.Never thought about that aspect of front yard gardening.

  3. His comments about the lawn, wealth, dominance and the implicit challenge to old values is why “the powers that be” sometimes fight so hard for the expanse of green. I always find it useful to step back and reflect on power when confronting with what seem like ridiculous objections. Which also explains why changing the status quo on front lawns may be harder than we thought.

  4. SUSAN! You are my HERO for this post! I remember the first post you did on Fritz, and you were really gracious when I “ranted back” a little in my comment. I ADORE Fritz – he has been a motivating force for me for years, and you nailed it – the man is egoless (which is rare for an artist/architect!) His concern isn’t with the beautiful, well designed front yard – it is to activate space and create something other than the ceremonial swath of green in front of our homes. He loves that the gardens change, he doesn’t try to put a “designer stamp” on them – he just wants show a different way to use our sunny spaces. A way that can be uplifting and nurturing to our lives in a way classical lawn could never be. When Fritz first started doing these gardens, so many designer friends of mine called them out as “poorly designed” and “weedy”, but now I think our eyes are getting used to a the looser, seasonal looks of vegetables, herbs, and fruit in out front yards. At least I hope so! I think it is an idea whose time has come – but like any new paradigm, it’ll take a while to catch on.
    Thank you Susan, for this – Fritz is a wonderful man doing wonderful work, and I am so pleased to see him honored with a lovely post on Garden Rant!

  5. As a Portlander who has to stare at her fair share (more than fair share?) of front gardens in “hippie neighborhoods in Portland.” I sure wish he would create a few here. EVERYTHING that man has ever done is better looking than a create deal of what I see here, hippie or not.

  6. Okay, this is so cool. Whenever a Ukranian friend of mine comes for a visit, she mentions how shocked she is that people don’t use more of their yards for vegetable gardens. In Ukraine, even the grassy swatches next to the railroad tracts are used for vegetable gardens. I wish my veggie patch looked like such a work of art.

  7. We also, as a society, need to readjust our sense of aesthetics to appreciate fun patches of vegetables anywhere they’ll grow. I’ve seen the patches along the railroads in Ukraine that Lisa mentions above, and in many other countries of the world. They have a beauty that I enjoy a great deal.

    There’s also no question that veggie gardens are a lot more interesting and diverse for people walking by than grass and a row of hybrid, fragranceless roses.

  8. So would it kill Fritz’s “highly participatory outdoor spaces” to add a few flowers in there? A little something to attract the pollinators. Would a dash of color kill the conversation? Some sunflowers or marigolds at least.

  9. I’ve always thought there’s some truth to male = veggies, female = flowers. With the exception of Christopher C. :c)

    Anyway, I’d much rather people were playing in the soil, helping things grow, being amazed by it all, and opening themselves up to the possibilities of gardening than feeling paralyzed or bound by someone’s else idea of what it should look like.

    That being said, I love creating spaces for people that make sense within their particular lives, encourage them to be outside and look beautiful (the gardens, not necessarily the people …), even if they never actually garden. Bravo Fritz.

    Christopher, what about the flowers and foliage interest veggies and herbs provide?

  10. I created raised veggie beds on the south side of my house 19 years ago and expanded into my front yard starting four years ago. We now have four raised beds there, a row of fruit bushes (seaberry, currant, gooseberry) peach and plum trees and a serviceberry and elderberry bush.

    Our raised beds supported lettuce, carrots, bok choi, cucumbers (3 kinds), blackberries, raspberries, rainbow chard, nasturtium, peppers of all kinds, several kinds of beans, onions, garlic, rosemary, marjoram, lavender, thyme, parsley,oregano and tomatoes (8 different varieties)

    While someone did steal all our ripe peaches this year, just like Clarence lost his first tomatoes, we have also been blessed by the new friends we’ve made as folks stop to compliment us and talk about the garden.

    And for the first time ever, I had enough fresh veggies to begin canning, something I love doing now.

    Front yard gardening really is something that brings a community together.

  11. The point of a Fritz Haeg garden is to bring a neighborhood together in commenting on change. Remove the barrier of a front lawn and invite your neighbors into a changed landscape of fruit and vegetables (and sometimes flowers). Some neighbors like it, others of course don’t like the change, but most people have opinions and will talk about their likes and dislikes. It ‘opens’ up a neighborhood to have at the very least, a discussion. Talking is good, and is even better, over a tomato.

  12. I love Fritz’s “fightin’ words”, and hope he gets the chance to make his case in court someday! And I love his participatory space idea, although if it were my yard and veggies, I’d appreciate people asking before picking (I might have dinner plans for those beans). Some tasteful signs might help there (“Ok to snack here”, and “Please ask before picking here”, etc).

    But as for his disparagement of those “hippie neighborhoods in Portland”, I would venture to suggest that, back in the day (1970’s), they were the at the forefront and precursors of what he is doing. Sure, many of them got out of hand and a little messy (there wasn’t the wealth of info on veggie gardening in those days), but they got people thinking more openly about the front yard as more than lawn-and-shrubs. Nowadays, the “real” hippies are in their 50’s through 70’s–maybe they need a hand with weeding and planting, something their younger neighbors might lend?

  13. Love the post. And just think, some of us would never have found out about Fritz’s gardens if you didn’t have an open mind!

  14. Fantastic post, and we need you to advocate for sustainable “landscaping” from your bully pulpit, Susan. In the last two years, we dug up all our lawn, and planted tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, lettuce, brocolli, brussel sprouts, kale, beets, swiss chard, cilantro, parsley, mustard greens, watercress, summer and winter squash, scallions, chives,rosemary, borage, brocolli rabe, amaranth, carrots, strawberries, blueberries, bush beans, peas, spinach, dill and lots of flowers, mostly from seed. Like Clarence, my day begins with a cup of coffee and the garden, and ends with a tour around sunset. The funny thing is, it really not that much work, and oh, the benefit of life slowed down by gardening. My neighbors on either side also have eliminated their lawns, and what great friendships have we developed together? I firmly say that sustainable landscaping improves the social fabric, physical AND mental health. My motto: “Make compost, not war!”

  15. I don’t think people would mind seeing a vegetable garden in my front yard, which is pretty much grassless now, but what they would object to is seeing me in all my gardening glory (oldest rattiest clothes), covered in dirt and debris, and usually arse end up. Not a pretty site.

  16. I think it’s just terrible looking. I’ll take my nice green lawn over that overgrown jungle mess everyday. Thank God, I live in a neighborhood with a powerful homeowner’s association that would quickly put an end to something as horrible as this.

  17. This isn’t gardening. It’s ugly as an anti-capitalistic political statement. Sort of like communist-era apartment blocks. Sheesh. At least copy-cat, like-every-one-else foundation plantings are at least referencing some sense of an aesthetic sensibility.

  18. I have heard Fritz speak and while I think he has some really interesting ideas and things to say about the front yard veg garden, he is a bit too idealistic about it. For example, he talks prolifically about how lawns are resource dumps but in fact, a successful vegetable garden is going to take at least as much water, more fertilizer (and compost can be every bit the pollutant that a lawn fertilizer), and for many, pesticides (even soap and oil, which wouldn’t normally be used on the lawn).

    A lawn can most definitely be a place to gather and encourage interaction. When I heard him, he was talking about how defensive lawn people become when they hear him speak. After I heard him, I realized its not because they dislike him putting down lawns, but because he is so very uneducated about turf and he doesn’t seem interested in learning about its potential benefits, either.

    Believe me, I am a bona fide lawn hater, but I think that much of his schtick is narrow minded and uninformed.

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