January 10, 2008
Edible Estates is a project started by architect/artist Fritz Haeg to “replace the front lawn with edible garden landscapes”. He aims to challenge the grassy lawn supremacy of front yard suburbia with six test projects. To date, yard conversions have been completed in Salina, Kansas; Lakewood, California; Maplewood, New Jersey; and London, England; with upcoming projects slated for Austin, Texas and Baltimore, Maryland.
I like how this project challenges the domain of grass. For most of us with front lawns, this space is essentially for public consumption. The grass anchors our home in a neighbourhood through assimilation – a sea of green sweeping down the block. The space is rarely used for anything more than the yardwork – mowing, seeding, trimming, feeding – necessary to maintain a velvety green appearance. In our neighbourhood, few of the front yards are fenced in (including ours). The lack of physical or visual barriers blur the distinction between public and private space.
Edible Estates aims to engage the unquestioned assumption that the front yard is both public and for grass. By planting edibles, it speaks to pre-suburbia when land use was necessarily utilitarian. It engages community with the gardener’s visible presence. It challenges the unspoken (or in some cases legislated) assumption that grass is king. It promotes partial self-sufficiency by the homeowners – it’s hard to eat more locally than visiting your front yard. All of these are interesting and timely goals – certainly food for thought (sorry – I couldn’t resist).
Once a location is selected, Mr. Haeg and a crew of volunteers descend on the home to rip out turf and establish the garden with donated materials. Each garden is designed to reflect local conditions through plant choice, and each garden looks quite distinctively different. The Lakewood garden after planting looks quite pretty, while the Maplewood garden seems founded on square-foot gardening principles.If I had a criticism, it would be that the gardens as designed seem to be very labour-intensive, and seasonal in nature. The garden will look great for a small part of the year, and bedraggled for the rest. Is it possible to design an edible landscape that still looks pretty year-round?
A front yard is private property, but it is still for public consumption. This is one of the questions that I am struggling with in designing my own front-yard garden. What permanent elements can provide year-round structure and form, while still allowing for ongoing turnover in the vegetable beds? How do you combine the strictly functional nature of vegetable production with artistic impulses? Perhaps I will plant great swaths of swiss chard and drifts of radicchio…