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Edible Estates:The Attack on the Front Lawn by artist Fritz Haeg

I have cleared most of my lawn up front of but a few strips of grass, and this area was one of my last projects to tackle. It is very heavily shaded and was covered with many non natives. I am not a purist in the sense that I have to make it all edible + natives, so I left a few to mingle in my new area this summer.

I have been wrestling with my front lawn for the past 10 years. I live on a typical city block where no one grows food in the front or back yards and no flowers! However, the past few years I have been  seeing more flowers, which is delightful in front yards and less chemical spraying, but I have yet to see vegetables in the front yard. I have planted salad greens, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, herbs, spinach, Kale and Swiss chard in our front yard. I feel if you mix them with other annual and perennial plants it is not that different  looking than a cottage garden.

This area in my front yard was covered with newspaper, compost,and leaves for the past few years. I have edged this area with native plants to provide food for  pollinators. I have a large oak tree that covers this area, but at least 6 hours of full-sun is available!

I have been slowly eliminating our lawn over the years,but I have done it in a subtle way by not upsetting my neighbors. The first few years they were asking me if I would be leaving any grass.  I would smile and assure them there would be some grass left, but as I integrated natives, annual flowers,  herbs + veggies they started to enjoy what I was doing and started to stop by to chat about what I was growing. I have a pollinator section up near the driveway filled with dwarf cosmos and they all stop by now to collect seeds from my front yard each fall. I love it!

Dwarf Oak Leaf
Hydrangea quercifolia

Since I am the only home, on our block, with edible food items in the front yard, I have to be careful how I mingle my crops up front. I have found people are more accepting of change. If you make it attractive to them, they are more eager to try some of the ideas themselves. That is why I implement the simple cottage and potager designs in an urban landscape. It has a playful style that most of us remember from our childhoods of flower gardens long past.

I love to plant seasonal vegetables, herbs + flowers in our front yard that work well together….

Fritz Haeg, an American Artist in 2008, started the edible estate project that was an attack on the front lawn. He has published several books, and now his attack on the front lawn has been all over the world. I found a website that has a variety of videos, gallery pictures, and bios on the various edible estate projects he started and some of the most recent ones in 2013. I find his work an inspiration + thought you might find it interesting. It may spark some ideas for your own space.

I love this video because it is like our community + reminds me of when I first started digging up our front lawn. I share food with my neighbors + I hope it inspires you to think about your city lot differently this spring + summer.




#15: TWIN CITIES, Minnesota (est. 2013) commissioned by the Walker Art Center

#14: AARHUS, Denmark (est. 2013) with the Aarhus School of Architecture

#13: HOLON, TEL AVIV, Israel (est. 2013) commissioned by the Israeli Center for Digital Arts

#12: BUDAPEST, Hungary (est. 2012) commissioned by Blood Mountain Foundation – watch video

#11: ISTANBUL, Turkey (est. 2011) Rooftop Hothouse at SALT Beyoglu

#10: ROME, Italy (est. 2010) Rooftop Homestead at the American Academy in Rome, permanently installed at Centro Sociale Ex-SNIA

#09: ALDRICH Museum Staff Gardens (est. 2010) at Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut

#08: LENAPE Edible Estate: Manhattan (est. 2009) produced and presented by New York Restoration Project in partnership with Friends of the Highline for Hudson Guild at Elliott-Chelsea Houses, New York, NY – watch video

#07: DESCANSO Public Demonstration Garden (est. 2008) at Descanso Gardens, La Canada – Flintridge, California

#06: BALTIMORE, Maryland (est. 2008) commissioned by Contemporary Museum – watch video

#05: AUSTIN, Texas (est. 2008) commissioned by Arthouse

#04: LONDON, England (est. 2007) commissioned by Tate Modern – watch video

#03: MAPLEWOOD, New Jersey (est. 2007) sponsored by Garden Supply – watch video

#02: LAKEWOOD, California (est. 2006 ) exhibited at Machine Project and Millard Sheets – see brochure & watch video

#01: SALINA, Kansas (est. 2005) commissioned by Salina Art Center – see brochure & watch video


Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn (Metropolis Books, 2nd ed. 2010, expanded 3rd edition coming 2015)

26 replies »

  1. First of all Robbie, I must say how much I love your sensitivity to your neighbours feelings for, and understanding of, the use of the front lawn. Your process allows them to come on the journey, to be open and receptive and to enter into the spirit of change and renewal. You must be such an inspiration to them all.

    I remember some years back reading about someone who planted a couple of flowers in a broken sidewalk in some ugly, neglected urban ghetto area. She tended the plants and the following year made her ‘garden’ a little bigger and planted more. Soon others began putting out pots of flowers until eventually most of the houses had some form of plant life growing on the front steps….then they began to make gardens together and a community garden was born. Along the way the whole place got a clean up and a make over – it was inspirational to read about and a real picture of how the act of one person can inspire a whole community. You mentioned that your neighbours are collecting seeds, so something is happening there…… 🙂

    I have often known of people here who have gardened their front lawn areas, obviously way ahead of their time! And of course now the whole urban farmer thing is quite acceptable and desirable – one good thing to come out of the world recession I think! And our state schools are now running gardening sand cooking classes again – when for so many years these things were considered unworthy of state funding. [My alternative school’s curriculum always had gardening, cooking. woodwork and handwork classes for all students across the board – the boys learn to knit and sew and the girls learn to use rasps, hammers and nails!]

    I enjoyed seeing the video – he is doing great work too.

    I have been eating fresh salad greens from my little garden for the past week – I am so happy I took the plunge again! Thank you for being so inspiring to me 🙂

    • Pauline you inspire everyone! I got your cards today + they are too beautiful for words:-)!!!!!!, so I will put my excitement in exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!:-) Keep on creating mixed media:-) I just love your style! You are so right we all seem to forget that this type of “french intensvie gardening” has been around for hundreds of years! People use to grow food all the time where they lived. In fact in older neighborhoods you will find fruit trees, berry bushes + all kinds of herbs still growing where they were planted many years ago. This new movement is just a reinvention of something we all use to do…some where along the way we decided to grow things that needed a lot of chemicals + the lawn became a status symbol. Well, I am so grateful when people do show others that there is another way:-)
      I feel we need to respect our neighbors + not force them to believe the way we do. We all share the street we live on , so we need to honor others space to some degree. I love the story about the lady with the small flower bed + it grew + grew to a commuity of people…beautiful:-)
      People do find a new way + they do come around when they see it is possible to have both worlds:-)
      So glad to hear you are eating your veggies in your beautiful oasis!

  2. I will have to come back and watch the video when I have more time Robbie but enjoyed this post. And how nice to see you received some of Pauline’s cards 🙂 🙂 I love that I am part of a community of such lovely, lovely ladies 🙂

    You brought front yard food growing into your neighbourhood in such a subtle and delicate way to make it possible. We hear of so many whose neighbours take exception to this. We are fortunate to live in our little town I think. Anything goes and the neighbours care not one iota. We can put food bearing plants or could put a giant giraffe sculpture, nobody worries 🙂

    • Her cards are beautiful!:-) We are lucky to have a wonderful over the fence cyber community!It keeps growing and I look forward to the ones we will meet this spring when we can grow some plants here in the USA, but I know you will be under snow when we are enjoying our blooming gardens+ veggies! That is what is good about our cyber friendships. I get to admire your garden when I am freezing!!!I have read some horror stories of people being fined for planting veggies in the front yard.That is nuts! Yours sounds like a great community:-)

      • Yes we are lucky 🙂

        We don’t get much snow just cold, damp ice and I enjoy reading other’s blogs through our winter, it reminds me it’s temporary and I get to learn new things while not doing any work out there 🙂

        Everyone is quite laid back and casual here, that’s the difference I think. Not so everywhere in NZ but small town living is pretty easy going…a mutual feeling of “you just do your thing and I’ll do mine” which is half the reason we moved here really.

      • my kinda town! oh, no ice can be scary if it is on the road-black ice! I don’t mind snow, but freezing below zero for days is too much( this year!), and ice is not fun on our roads we had a pile up on two bridges last week with accidents all over the place!
        Yes, I am enjoying your beautiful + pleantiful garden right now + learning a lot from you, for example, I wlll NEVER blanch my zucchin again!

  3. Applause, applause, applause! I don’t grow edibles in my front yard – oh wait, I just planted a kiwi vine – take that back, but I have reduced my lawn by over half and have plans to eliminate it all! I love the video and all the interest from the neighbors. I applaud your efforts Robbie and I LOVE Oakleaf Hydrangeas – they aren’t not hardy enough here as I found out the hard way. I love that the Mayor of our town got rid of her lawn! I get to plant it up for her this Spring! Hmmm, maybe some edibles?

    • Oh Kathy that sounds like a great idea! A little pink flamingo swiss chard, blue scotch kale,cosmos, calendula, rudbeckia, etc…and she might actually find it rather exciting! You are in a great positon to change things!:-)
      That Oak leaf hydgrangea took the longest time for me to get it started. I have tried several myself, but I placed it in a spot that is semi protected. They are one of my favorites:-)
      I thought he was a wonderful man to do that in his neighborhood + how he invited people to eat his front yard! Our neighborhood is very friendly, but I just don’t see anyone else that plants the way I do, however, you never know a times are a changing. I ‘ve noticed more articles in our local papers about planting more natives, veggies, fruits in yards! I am with you on eliminating it all, but my husband did buy a new mower a few years ago which everyone laughs about because they are like,”What do you need a mower for you don’t have that much grass”lol

  4. Robbie, you are such a good garden ambassador! Agree with the other ladies, most people will come around with a little gentle example and at their own pace. Sounds like you might be winning over some converts. Way to go! Your yard is not only an inspiration, but beautiful also. I would love for this way of thinking to catch on in this country and be the norm. I live out in the country but still you hardly see any vegetable gardens anymore. On the road to my house are houses with huge yards and they are all grass with a few basic shrubs for foundation plants. I have longed thought that this is one of the problems of the bees. No variety. Long gone are even the flowering shrubs our grandmas planted, let alone a vegetable garden. I believe most of the landscaping is done by the builders instead of the homeowner. Thank you for the links to the videos….a great post and beautiful photos to accompany it!

    • You are so right about the bees, I believe that is part of the problem. I can’t even imagine why you would not have your property filled with flowers, herbs + vegetables if you had acreage! All that space:-) I would be like a kid in a candy store:-)
      I am so concerned about the bees in our world today. The CCD is quite serious, but what bothers me even more is there is a decline among our native bees! The honey bees were imported, but our native pollinators are on the decline,too:-) Very scary. I am so glad people stop by my place + collect seed! We do need to get the word out and encourage more plants that feed our bees!

  5. Robbie, great front yard! And a great approach to keeping the neighbours happy while you make the changes. Keep adding edibles and don’t plant them in rows (dead give-away). I bet most people don’t really notice anyway. I remember when pampas grass clumps were the big thing in front yards; I always thought a clump of corn was just as lovely and clumping is good for pollination anyhow. I think sharing the food is sometimes helpful, too. I was so stunned when I first read about people having their front-yard gardens destroyed by large machinery after ONE neighbour complained!! What if I complained that my neighbours wasted their front yards on hay crops they don’t even use? Just keep cutting it down to 3″. LOL As you can see, I’m not a good ‘townie’; I’m a not too subtle bolshie. 😉 When my boys were 3 and 8, we lived in an old house in Victoria for a year. It had a postage stamp size front yard, too small for a mower (no whippersnippers back then). We got permission from the landlady to grow food in it. It wasn’t much, but it did add salads to our table for a few months. And beets, I remember. Not one complaint from anyone; it was often admired by passers-by, too. Truly, I think lawns look pretty and can set off a house nicely, but I don’t think in the coming days we will care so much about that; putting food on the table will be the thing then. Even herbs can help, but I love a fully utilized front yard myself. I never had the chance to do it again after that, though.

    Great story about the lady who changed her community by planting a flower. We can all do that . . . I think in many ways we are all seedbearers, whether we plant seeds or knowledge, kindness or trees. It’s all good. thanks for the video, too. ~ Linne

    • You are so right Linne:-) rows on this property!That is such a waste of growing space to put it in rows, you get more in a growing space by not using rows:-), but for some reason people keep planting those silly rows for all their vegetables. The entire idea of the potager style garden is to mix your vegetable, flowers + herbs together. We need to start changing the way we look at our landscapes. We need to think of the enviornment + how WHAT we put on our property will make a difference to the nature around us throughout the season. When we first moved here, it was covered in too many plants that did nothing for nature. I have been on a quest from day one to change the landscape. I want to leave our space a better place when we move on….I believe the lawns can set off the home, but we don’t need so much of it-lol. I don’t mind a little grass just an entire property of it is a bit too much-lol

  6. What I loved best about the video was the large number of volunteers. I need to learn how to recruit some to help me – is there a video advising how to do that (lol)? Great project, I hope it really catches on. It is pretty pathetic that 10% of our land is covered with lawn upon which it is the norm to dump chemicals to make it uniformly green grass. I cringe to think of the run-off every time it rains. I happen to love dandelions, clover, violets, etc. that show up in my lawn. I have reduced it to a small portion of what it used to be. Ruby and I do love to lay on the grass and gaze at the sky. New-agers call it ‘grounding’ but that’s why we garden, being in touch with the earth soothes the soul.

    • Well, you could make it a garden club project-tee hee:-) It was a project with “edible estates”, so I wonder if they were all neighbors or friends of friends etc. There was another one on there with this great old neighborhood where they all helped each other. The families raised all their children and lived in their homes for decades. I figure that is what you need a neighborhood that does not have people moving in and out every few years. What I liked about this video was how the owner was so enthusiastic. I wish we had more people that had his enthusiasm:-) It was contagious!

  7. I *think* we have a front lawn but I haven’t seen it for weeks! But, seriously, yes, better/smarter/healthier ways to use all of our land are so important. Leading by example is a great idea!

    • lol, so true! Today we have temps in the 30’s possibly 36 degrees by the end of the day! I am so thrilled you would think it was spring. You are so right about leading by example:-) Just like your example with your ducks!

  8. Great idea Robbie! I’m proud to say that in my years as a landscaper I removed more lawns than I planted. I didn’t always make edible gardens like you have but I got rid of the grass. The neighbors always wonder what the heck you’re up to and you’re so right that if you make it gorgeous they’ll love it! We keep some lawn but that’s my partner’s desires to have a badminton court! and we accommodate each other… You have so many good ideas and such skill at this potaging, I’m always so taken by your projects as well as how enthusiastically you write about them. Thanks for another great post! Spring is coming! (albeit slowly… 😉

    • Thank you, but I don’t feel so enthusiastic today since I am under 5 inches of snow and heading out to shovel AGAIN. My husband is home today so I have someone to help shovel it out, and as I am writing this all the snow blowers are running!!!Boy is it ever “albeit slowly”!!! I usually love snow, but it just started too soon this year + there appears to be no end in sight-lol
      Come on spring!!!

  9. I love the “attack on the front lawn” … I lived in San Antonio for a while and loved xeriscapes. Good idea to ease the change in gently so as not to freak the neighbors out! I think many vegetables & herbs are gorgeous and blend in well with landscaping.

    • I agree those plants do blend in very nicely. I don’t understand why more people don’t use them in their landscape.My parents lived briefly in San Antonio before they moved to Corpus Christi to live in the late 80’s. I had the chance to visit them while they lived there and found San Antonio to be a beautiful town! I have tried to xeriscape in our front yard up by the road since I don’t usually water the entire yard. That is where my cosmos, bee balm, asters, sneezeweed, + other bee friendly drought tolerant plants hang out all summer long. Our summers are always HOT + HUMID + we have droughts! My front lawn veggies are closer to the house + I landscaped around them with pollinator friendly plants. I love it out there towards the end of summer. It just hums!

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