And what could be dismissed as the domain of communes and hippie households is receiving positive attention in the art and media world, too. Fritz Haeg, a Los Angeles–based architect and artist, has brought glamour and visibility to the concept with his Edible Estates project, which replaces a family’s lawn with edible plants and documents the transformation over a year. Haeg’s work has been covered in the Leonardo DiCaprio–narrated documentary The 11th Hour and by ABC News. It’s also been turned into a book featuring essays by artists, writers, and designers.
Even so, front-yard vegetable gardens are still far from mainstream. Those who trade in the traditional suburban lawn for tomatoes, beans, and berries do so at the risk of pissing off the neighbors. On his blog, Bruske faced harsh criticism about his yard after pointing out his neighbors’ use of gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers. A couple of neighbors struck back with anonymous comments, like the ones from a poster identified as Columbia Heights Homeowner: “If you want to play Mr. Greenjeans, why not move back to Paducah, where you can grow a garden in your front yard and pull your washing machine out on the front porch?”; “This is not Green Acres and you are not Oliver Douglas”; and “Did it ever occur to you the people who stop and chat about ‘your garden’ are making fun of you?” One person even expressed concern about rats: “Frankly, I don’t think the inner-city is a good place to grow a so-called ‘organic’ garden (or anything which resembles a field), which would obviously be polluted with car exhaust and come in contact with rodents, which it MUST be attracting.” Bruske’s defenders chimed in: “Ed, long before I knew who you were, I totally admired your front yard and food producing landscape, and I lived in Columbia Heights. Also, no one was laughing at you.”
Bruske makes an effort to discourage rats by placing items like melons, which could attract them, on cinder blocks. Still, he says, rats are “not such a big issue.” He admits that some neighbors will never be happy with what he’s doing but says he has received mainly positive feedback. “The garden sort of captured people’s imaginations. They were more thrilled than anything,” he says.
Aesthetically Pleasing Edibles
Pasadena, California, front-yard vegetable grower Jules Dervaes stresses that because the front yard is essentially a public space, it’s important that edibles be planted in an aesthetic fashion. “If you are going to do something different,” says Dervaes, “you’re gonna get nailed if it’s not beautiful.” Rosalind Creasy, author of The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, uses flowers and pretty blue-glazed flowerpots in her front yard in Los Altos, California. “Most people when they get in trouble is when they just take out a piece of lawn and put in tomato plants,” she says. “Why not be kind to your neighbors and put in a nice-looking vegetable garden?”
Dervaes—whose former lawn now sports more than 50 different plants, including fig, plum, quince, and apple trees; herbs; broccoli; fennel; greens; onions; and edible flowers—says that he and his family are “very conscious” that being different comes with responsibility. “I put [in] a lot of money and a lot of time,” says Dervaes. “Almost every Sunday my son and I are out there working on the front yard so nobody can say they don’t like this.”