Urban Containment

Two city gardens—one beautiful, one edible— demonstrate their command of containers.

An Edible Sanctuary
Photo by Craig Bares

An Edible Sanctuary

When Brian MacDonald and Joyce Johannson put a second story on their Linden Hills home six years ago, they chewed up their front lawn in the process. Rather than slap water-sucking grass over it, they considered the yard’s full-sun exposure and what it might give back, especially considering their full-shade backyard. “We’d always had a little vegetable patch next to the driveway,” says MacDonald. What might the front yard produce?

An urban yard farm, one that’s beautiful and bountiful. MacDonald, who works for a medical device company, and Johannson, a public relations professional, drew up plans for raised beds and their yard placement, maximizing sun exposure and being mindful of proportion. Then they commissioned the beds from Dan Pederson of the boutique design-build firm Benson Pederson in St. Paul. Pederson used Corten steel, designed to rust to a deep patina, which is a favorite of outdoor sculpture artists. The rich, maintenance-free effect of the patina is perfect for extreme (read: Minnesotan) climate changes while delivering dynamite curb appeal.

Then MacDonald and Johannson planted crops in the beds—some from seed helped along with grow lights indoors, some from starter plants purchased at farmers’ markets. It’s been a creative, fascinating, and delicious experiment. “Every year we have something that is a big success,” says MacDonald. “Last year it was ground cherries. The year before: winter squash. One year we grew a fantastic melon called a Minnesota Midget.” This year, the promise is in fruit trees planted four years ago—apple, apricot, pear. They’re finally poised to produce enough for pies.

As for aesthetics, “It’s never going to look like a flower garden,” MacDonald says. In the past, the couple has tried to place veggies according to looks, but looks don’t necessarily yield food. “Mostly we grow stuff we want to grow and let the aesthetics take care of itself.” The neighbors don’t mind. MacDonald says they’ve been quite complimentary (perhaps in the hopes a few ground cherries will roll their way).

But it’s the kids in the neighborhood who are truly impressed. “One year some kids stopped by. I pulled some carrots out of the ground, washed them off, and ate them right there. It blew their minds.”