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EDIBLE ESTATES regional prototype garden #6: BALTIMORE, maryland

Commissioned by the The Contemporary Museum Baltimore for the exhibit Cottage Industry. Planted April 11th - 13th, 2008.
Estate owners: Clarence and Rudine Ridgley
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Commissioned by: Contemporary Museum, Baltimore
USDA plant hardiness zone: 7
Established: April 11–13, 2008
Front yard exposure: East
Size of front yard: 33 x 51 feet

In February 2008 Clarence Ridgley was already starting to think about spring plantings. While searching online for information about berry bushes to plant around the front of his house, he discovered the Edible Estates website on what happened to be the same day we announced a search for a Baltimore family interested in creating the next front-yard prototype garden. At the time, Clarence was tending a few small, raised beds of vegetables in his backyard, and he was starting to think about sneaking some edible plantings in the front, too.

All of the yards on the Ridgleys’ street are well tended, and for years Clarence has enjoyed a healthy rivalry with a few of his neighbors, competing for the most luxurious and best-kept front lawn. Announcing his participation in the next Edible Estates regional prototype garden, he informed his local rivals that this year he planned to “blow them all out of the water.” After the garden had been established for a few months, it did make quite an impression on the neighbors. Clarence developed new friendships with local residents, sharing some of his produce with them and even allowing a few neighbors to plant their own crops in the space, creating a casual community garden where the Ridgleys’ prized front lawn used to be.



Viewed from the street, the garden has mounded plantings of herbs, vegetables, and fruits on the right. On the left is a circular area for seating, which is surrounded by strawberries and tomatoes, and along the street is a mini-orchard of various fruit trees and a bed of edible flowers. Paths were created with a thick layer of coarse wood chips and bark. The lawn was not removed but instead covered with a thick layer of newspapers—an old gardening trick—upon which the large mounds of rich soil and compost were placed. The newspaper will keep the grass and weeds from sprouting through into the planting areas and will decompose over time. The circular mounded plantings are a simpler, lower-budget, and faster alternative to raised beds and were historically very common among Native American peoples.
The only materials used in the making of this garden were dirt, compost, plants, and mulch. When the garden filled in after a few months, the mounds of dirt and mulch that originally seemed rough or informal were covered by a wide variety of plants. The perennial herbs, berry bushes, fruit trees, and vines became the structure of the garden, as opposed to hardscaping materials, raised beds, or planting structures (apart from one simple bamboo wigwam for the pole beans). The garden is ultimately about the plants, which is all that one could see by the end of the first season.

Plant list:
green beans
red cabbage
mustard greens
red lettuce
green peppers



May 16, 2008
I know what the people who pass by our home are thinking: some things are better left unseen. Those tomatoes and cucumbers should be in the backyard, not my front yard. But what’s wrong with being different from your neighbors who have a nicely manicured green lawn out front? I have herbs, fruit trees, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, grapes, beets, onions, lettuce, arugula, and beans there instead, and in addition to the fruits they are producing, there have been some other unexpected benefits.
I have noticed that traffic slows down in front of my house, like I have my own personal speed bump. Neighbors I had only waved to from a distance as they passed by in their cars now stop or approach me on the street to talk. I often have to put down my garden tools to interact with them. I’m looking forward to a harvest of vegetables, fruits, and new neighborhood friends!

January 4, 2009
Yes, we’re doing fine! It is the middle of the winter, and I am beginning to think about the garden this season. I have a head start this year since I have a lot of plants already established. The fruit trees, blueberry bushes, strawberries, grape vines (they grew over forty feet), and herb garden (I’m still using it now in the middle of January) are all doing great, except for one apple tree, which has what looks like a fungus and holes in the buds. I’d like to help it since it’s the Golden Delicious, my favorite apple. Other than that, the fruit trees look like they are all going to produce this year, and I’ll actually have to limit the spread of the strawberries. The blueberries have color and look very healthy.
There will be some changes this year. The beets did great last year, and I still have a few jars left. However, I’m the only one in the house who likes them, so I am planning to plant more sweet potatoes instead, though I’m still researching the variety. My family, friends, and neighbors all like the salad mix in the garden, which includes several varieties of lettuce along with onions, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I think I’ll move the zucchini and squash to the backyard since they started taking up so much space. I’m also thinking about moving the tomatoes and looking at some varieties not normally seen at places like Home Depot. I plan to replant the edible flower mix to attract back all of the bees that came last year. I’ve also started a compost bin in the backyard to improve the soil.

March 18, 2009
I started watermelon from seed this year, along with three varieties of tomato—Better Boy, Brandywine, and Early Girl. The salad mix will have various leaf lettuces, such as Romaine and Limestone, along with a wide variety of vegetables, including broccoli, cucumbers, mixed bell and hot peppers, spinach, cauliflower, and red and yellow onions. There will also be eggplants, cabbage, Swiss chard, collards, and squash. I have already planted potatoes, and my wife, Rudine, and I are trying to decide where we should place everything else. I'm not sure if I will plant the watermelon in the front yard, though, because of our two-legged vermin! I remember when I was a kid the fruit was hard to resist too.

April 19, 2009
The garden did really well over the winter. All of my first-year fruit trees survived. Most of my herbs made it, and my strawberry and blueberry bushes look like they will produce bumper crops this year. There was one challenge of note: since my garden is in the front yard, it was important to remove plants as they died and maintain as neat an appearance as possible. I also made a record of what grew well and what did not (my collards got a fungus soon after the planting and my cucumbers did not produce very well), and what, as a family, we did not eat (turnips, for instance). I’m making changes this year to correct all of that.

August 31, 2009
This is my second year gardening in the front yard, which I have discovered requires more consideration than the typical backyard plot. Of course, we want to have plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, yellow squash, zucchini, and peppers, but after making that decision, the “fun” begins. How can we make our yard colorful and pleasing to the eye so the neighbors aren’t stressed about the garden that has replaced the manicured lawn? You should answer such questions before you make the transition to growing food in your front yard. What will your garden look like? How much time are you willing to spend in it?   How do you feel about sharing your produce with the neighborhood residents of both the four- and two-legged varieties? 

Here is how I approached some of these questions in my own yard: I wanted my garden to have as much variety and to be as colorful as possible in the space I had to work with, so I alternated different-colored plants throughout. I put cauliflower between curved rows of cabbage and placed patches of broccoli and different colors of Swiss chard together around the yard. I made sure to choose varieties of peppers that ripen in different colors. I included both green and red cabbage and planted sweet potatoes around the tomatoes and eggplants. 

I did have to spend a lot more time in the garden than I did when it was hidden in back, but if you’re a real gardener, you’ll know it wasn’t work but a labor of love. It paid off. Everything blossomed on schedule, and all I had to do was pull the occasional weed for a few weeks. But then my neighbors took notice. I had a morning routine: I started my day off touring the garden with my cup of coffee. I noticed that a couple of my tomatoes had started to ripen, so I looked for them each morning. One day I decided they would be just right the next morning. That morning I went out with my coffee and saltshaker (no comments about the salt, please). I checked the plant, and the tomatoes had disappeared. As I stood there, my next-door neighbor called to me from her yard and said that she had found two ripe tomatoes, and she hoped I didn’t mind that she took them. I had told her that she was welcome to some of my vegetables, I just didn’t think she would take my “first born.” I found out later that she was inspecting my garden each morning earlier than I was! Excellent crops of cherries and plums also started disappearing.

The good news is that my children’s most requested snacks are from the garden. They love the blueberries, strawberries, and grapes. It’s fun to watch people pass by the fence and grab a bunch of grapes to eat while walking down the sidewalk. My neighbors stop by frequently for conversation and bags of vegetables. I’m not sure they are all from my neighborhood, but that’s okay as long as the conversation and occasional recipe are good.

Here is a list of what you’ll find in my front yard right now: Swiss chard, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, bell and hot peppers, eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, beets, Brussels sprouts, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, figs, borage, and, of course, my herb garden. 

What’s the best thing about my garden? All of the friends I’ve made and the plans I have for next year.

Text from EDIBLE ESTATES: ATTACK ON THE FRONT LAWN (Metropolis Books, 2nd Ed., 2010)



Presented at
Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, May 31–August 24, 2008, as a part of the exhibition Cottage Industry
Sponsored by
M&T Bank; plants sponsored by Green Fields Nursery & Landscaping Company
Photography by
Leslie Furlong
Thanks to
Volunteer garden workers Pam Berman, Jen Brown, Mim Caris, Julie Diewald, Dan Edlavitch, Kenneth Edwards, Mike Fila, Leslie Furlong, Sarah Greenbaum, Karen Hager, Leslie Hatfield, Irene Hofmann, Brennen Jenson, Rebecca Lemos, Paul Maier, Jaimes Mayhew, Nara Park, Ryan Patterson, Kendal Ricks, Adrian Ridgley, Clarence Ridgley, Rudine Ridgley, Chips Shutt, Michelle Simpson, Cynthia Smith, Stuart Smith, Charlotte Walters, Errol Webber, and Shannon Young; Peter Bieneman, Green Fields Nursery & Landscaping Company; Barry Lubinski and the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, Horticulture Division; Parks and People; High Grounds Coffee; Robert Haywood; Johaniris Rivera Rodriguez; Irene Hofmann, the Contemporary Museum