Fritz Haeg. artist, architect, gardener, superhero.
Today for $29.95 you can can join the 3.5 million families and businesses getting everlasting happiness from their Trugreen lawns. Every month a man will come to your house and spray a delightful mixture of toxins and fertilizers to kill anything that might live in your lawn and green the stuff thats too dumb to die. (Incidently at the bottom of the Trugreen website a little blurb reads, “TruGreen ChemLawn is now TruGreen, because one word is all you need for a great lawn. We have shortened our name to make it easier for you to remember that we are the experts of lawn care. While we are known as “TruGreen”, the name ChemLawn will always be a part of our Company.” trugreen.com)
Sheep on the White House lawn during Woodrow Wilson’s Administration
The American lawn has been an institution in suburbia since suburbia began. Historians believe that this preocupation with low growning, uniform turf grass stems from 17th century Europe, when the ruling royals flaunted their wealth by surrounding themselves with lawns “Lawns did a great job of showing off castles and manor homes. They also let the neighbors know that the lawn owner was so wealthy that he could afford to use the land as a playground, rather than a source of food. Thus, the lawn became a status symbol.” (Donaldson). They are the sign of wealth, materialism, order, and perfection that America thrives on. When the push mower came on the scene in 1870, suddenly almost any property owner who wanted to could have a lawn. So the lawn became a symbol of the American dream, the land of wealth and prosperity, where anyone can have a lawn not used for practical purposes. The USDA and Garden Clubs of America pushed the lawn by holding best-kept lawn contests and writing about the desire to conform and achieve status through a beautiful lawn. The land of wealth and prosperity became the land of excess, wastefulness and materialism. When chemical pesticides and fertilizers came onto the market after World War II, lawns got artificially greener and began to pollute landscapes everywhere. Fertilizer run-off created problems in all waterways and disrupted the balance of ecosystems. For a long time is was thought that agriculture was the main source of pollution to waterways. Only recently did scientists realize the extent to which individually fertilized lawns affected the ecosystem.
Haeg has been traveling around the country on a crusade against the American lawn in his project, Edible Estates. Instead of these scary unproductive barren patches that we all insist on keeping in front of our homes, Haeg creates beautiful organic edible landscapes that will liven up the whole neighborhood and hopefully make your neighbors jealous. When I think of the words “edible landscape”, an a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory image appears in my head of carefully sculpted unicorn topiaries made out of strawberry plants or at least a giant bush shaped like a yorky terrier similar to the one outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao.
Puppy By Jeff Koons outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain
As far as I know, Haeg has never made an edible landscape of that sort. His are beautiful, productive, well organized, and lasting. Unlike Trulawn, they invite creatures of all sorts into the front yard, don’t dump toxic chemicals into local waterways, and produce lots of good things to eat. “Haeg is taking over one domestic front lawn at a time… in an attempt to completely overthrow the American institution of front lawns by creating a living exhibit that reflects his personal concerns about our environment and the effort that needs to go into protecting it (Thornton).”
Edible Estate #3 in Maplewood, New Jersey (Photo by Fritz Haeg)
“I’m interested in what happens when a garden is placed in a location where it becomes a threat to the industrial/commercial system that we are embedded in.” Said Fritzy in an interview with Creative Time, “For some neighborhoods, it is a very provocative gesture that is upsetting. I think that a society that cannot grow it’s own food or that is threatened by a garden is in deep trouble. Most American homes will hide their kitchen garden in the backyard, if they have one at all. This project gets them out in front, a display created in an attempt to demonstrate the aesthetically pleasing aspects of pratical gardening. And it works. Haeg’s gardens do just what they set out to do, and sometimes I wonder why he doesn’t have a million screaming fans following him everywhere.
Stan and Priti Cox stand in front of their suburban home with Edible Estate #1 in Salina, Kansas.
To represent America as a whole, Haeg decided he wanted to build gardens evenly all over the country. He started in pretty much the geographic center on the country: The first edible estate was built in Salina, Kansas in 2005. Since then five other gardens have been built in Lakewood, California (Southwest); Maplewood, New Jersey (Northeast); London, England; Austin, Texas (South); and Baltimore, Maryland (East) respectively. There is also a demonstration garden in Descanso, California. Not only does Fritz Haeg build and advertise the edible estates that he designs and creates, but he also encourages others to do the same. His website has an entire section titled “how to make you own” with plans, costs, advise, and references.In a way, the edible estates Fritz has created are advertisements for vegetable gardening in suburbia. “Haeg calls his Estates “franchise projects” because they can be applied anywhere. They’re the product of a sort of global localism that draws its meaning from the indigenous.” (Metropolis)
Haeg’s garden design for Edible Estate #6 commissioned by The Contemporary Museum in Baltimore
Haeg came to Baltimore to plant an edible landscape for The Contemporary Museum’s exhibit Cottage Industry. Many home owners applied for the privilege of having an awesome garden planted in their front yard by a group of eager volunteers from all around the area. To know about the selection process listen to the radio article by Maryland Morning below. So an apparently awesome couple, Clarence and Rudine, were chosen to have Edible Estate #6 planted the front yard of their suburban house and The Contemporary Museum paid for everything. On Thursday, Fritz gave a talk at the museum about the Edible Estates project.
Clarence and Rudine, happy caretakers of Edible Estate #6 in Baltimore
Then on saturday, a whole hoard of volunteers showed up to help and they got the entire garden finished in one day. I found out that the project was happening on saturday afternoon as the last veggies were planted. My bad luck. But I did get a nice email saying I could come check out the garden anytime… Well, at least it saved me the embarrassment of screaming and running around after Fritz Haeg, or fainting on the spot, or being otherwise unable to control myself in his presence…
The happy Baltimore volunteers minus a certain student of urban agriculture who should have been there. (April 11, 2008)
An addition to the wonderfully successful Edible Estates projects, Fritz Haeg has other programs. In 2001, Haeg created the GardenLab on-campus community garden program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena to get art and architecture students and faculty more in touch with their environmental surroundings. “Faculty, students and staff were encouraged to claim one of 30 designated plots within the school’s 175 wooded acres and use it as “a laboratory for messy experimentation and observation of natural cycles.” (Morgan) Haeg’s new Animal Estates project connects city-dwellers with wildlife. There is currently an Animal Estate exhibit at the Whitney Museum, in New York City. He just published about book about Edible Estates from Metropolis Books. A native Minnesotan, graduated from Carnegie Melon in 1992 with a Bachelors of Arts in Architecture and now lives in Los Angeles.
The man himself: Fritz Haeg ( Photo by Christopher Krieling)
Haeg says, “I like the idea that my projects are better known than I am. More people probably know what the Edible Es-tates project is than who I am, which inverts what’s more common today, where you can know someone really well but have no idea what they’ve ever done.” In an era that loves to make stars, “artists are going to want to circumvent that and posit alternative ways of making art or being creative—for example, does art always have to be solitary?” (Metropolis)
Curbed LA: Architect Fritz Haeg Explains His Edible Estates
Here’s more pictures of Edible Estate projects
Planting the Baltimore garden on Saturday.
Commissioned by Tate Modern for the exhibtion “Global Cities” opened June 19th in the Turbine Hall.
Obsessed with lawns or Fritz Haeg? check out these sites.
Jenkins, Virginia Scott. 1994. The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession. Smithsonian Institution Press: Blue Ridge Summit, PA. 246 pp.
Donaldson, Cameron. History of the American Lawn. Guide for Real Florida Gardeners.
Thornton, Stephanie.”Edible Estates Coming to Baltimore“. City Paper.
Creative Times Presents: Iterrogating Public Space. An interview with Fritz Haeg, July 2007.
Haeg, Fritz. 2008. Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn. Metropolis Books.
Chang, Jade. March 2008. Greening the Edges. Metropolis.
Morgan, Susan. 2008. A Fertile Imagination. The New York Times Magazine.