Leasing Garden Apartments on a Vacant Lot in Audubon Place

For almost 2 years after it caught fire in October 2008, the 2-story home at 803 Kipling St. in Audubon Place stood vacant on the property as a burnt skeleton. Now the recent purchaser of the lot that remained after the property was demolished has plans to turn the land into a community garden.


Audubon Place resident William Winkler has drawn up plans to fit twenty 4-ft.-by-20-ft. raised beds fashioned out of 2-in.-thick cedar boards on the 8,400-sq.-ft. property on the southwest corner of Stanford and Kipling, each of them a foot high. He hopes to fence the property and add a large storage shed and an attached covered pavilion. Greenleaf Gardens, he says, will “strive for self-sufficiency.”

For now, though, he’s amending the soil in a portion of the lot where he plans to plant fruit trees. With all of the improvements paid for, he hopes to lease out each planting bed for $40 a month, with 1-year terms — including all water, fertilizer, and use of tools — so he can break even on the annual costs. Greenleaf Garden tenants would also receive a share of the harvest from perennial plants on the property — including several berry patches and permanent artichoke and asparagus beds — once they begin producing.

“I do not like how the inner city has allowed lots to be subdivided to such a degree that you’re lucky to get a 10’ x 10’ patch of grass to call a yard,” Winkler wrote to in an email announcing his plan to neighborhood residents. “This is no way to live.” He hopes to have the beds ready for planting this fall.

Photos: Swamplot inbox (sign), HAHC (house; PDF)

59 Comment

  • Hmm.
    This is great, but $40 per month seems …steep. The people who are less likely to have yards (young people, particularly students) will not be able to afford that.

    As a side note, I’m tired of people whining about subdivided lots. This city is getting denser and more urban; that’s not a bad thing.

  • great for the neighborhood and his efforts will be much appreciated, but i’d just like to note that a “drive for self-sufficiency” by reclaiming urban residential land, and thus decreasing occupancy within the loop (montrose is around 95% occupancy correct?), helps to create a much large carbon footprint for those displaced residents that small-plot gardening cannot even begin to possibly counteract.

    more gardens are great, but more housing is ideal for this part of town.

  • Wow that seems like some valuable land for a garden.

  • The lot won’t get much sun either; from the big trees on the other side of stanford. Just word to the wise from another urban gardener..

  • A 4×20 raised bed can turn out a lot of produce. I got enough winter greens out of a 4×8 bed in my yard to more than meet my needs from December through February. A good gardener working from seed could easily break even and then some on a 4×20 raised bed at $40 a month.

  • I have a spot reserved. I live down the street in an apartment and I can’t wait to be able to play in the dirt and grow my own food like when I was a kid in the country.

    And no, $40 a month is not a bad price to pay when everything but seed or plants is provided and when things grow in, a share of the common area produce.

  • @ Corey – There will be plenty of sunlight. The only trees around are on the north end of the lot.

  • As a neighbor of the proposed garden I am able to say the lot gets a tremendous amount of sun and is perfectly sited for an urban garden. The site for the orchard is sunniest of all and should produce an abundance of fruit and berries. I echo Old School’s comment in that 4×20 is quite a large space and for the money a good gardener will grow much more than $480 worth of produce in a year.

  • I think this is a great idea, and 40$ is not that much if you care about where your food comes from. I think if people in Houston could be a little less negative this city would be pretty awesome.

  • Finally someone who takes matters into their own hands instead of asking for the rest of us to pay for their boondogle.

    I wish him the best of luck.

  • I believe that what he is doing is a great thing not only for my community, but also for Houston as a whole. We are an urban city that has one thing most our size don’t and that is land. He is just a guy trying to start something that he believes in… relax.

  • Greenleaf – So an 80sq/ft lot will produce more than $480 of produce a year? Let’s do a little math: There are 43,560 sq/ft in an acre. Divide that by 80 (lot size in question) and you get 544.5 lots per acre. Multiply the number of lots per acre (544.5) by the estimated revenue of each lot ($480/year) and you have an acre of land producing $261,360 worth of produce in a year. That seemed a little high to me. So I went googling. According to the USDA, in 2010, the state with the highest value of production per acre of farmland was Delaware (what do they produce in Delaware?) The value they produced per acre – $2,440.

    But what do I know, maybe Greenleaf has a new means of production that will exponentially increase the productivity of land and Houston will be replace the American plains as the breadbasket of the world.


  • Not sure how well the “rent-a-garden” concept will work but the “community garden” concept probably will work very well. Just the comments on Swamplot so far prove that. If nothing else William Winkler should be given some sort of award for “community spirit” which is seriously lacking in this city.

  • @Walt – Those numbers are most likely for monoculture farming. When biodiversity is implemented much more value is brought into any growing situation.

  • @Walt

    You’re confusing the wholesale price of produce grown in, likely, row-farming technique appropriate for machine harvesting with high-intensity micro-farming techniques like square foot gardening, which produce a great deal more produce per square foot. Now, apply the fact that the people growing do not get to pay, generally, wholesale prices for their vegetables, and natch.

    In case you were wondering, during the cool months, a 4’x20′ lot would, for example, grow 320 spinach plants using sq. ft. method, or in the warmer months could produce enough young salad greens to feed a family of ten every week. How about 960 carrots, or 480 beets. You get the picture. We have a 2’x8′ sq. ft. raised bed and can produce a fresh crop of young salad greens every week – at $5/box, that’s $20 saved a month. That’s using just 3 sq. ft. of garden space. One could easily find more than $40 worth of savings every month on an 80 sq. ft. plot.

  • Walt, interesting analysis – those farm numbers are a bit deceiving because farmers have to pay for labor, while the folks that “farm” here will be working for free. I bet that my small plot of arugula, tomatoes, asparagus, peas, green beans and okra produces more than $6 a sf in produce. If you factor in my time and labor, these vegetables are quite expensive, but we enjoy eating them and the process of growing them…

  • @Walt: You are comparing a commercial grower to a consumer. Not a fair comparison. The commercial grower will sell what they grow for pennies on the dollar compared to what the produce will eventually be priced in a retail sale. An individual growing on a community garden lot will not be buying produce at wholesale prices from a commercial grower. They will be buying at the supermarket retail prices. If they really care about their produce, they will buy from farmer’s markets from local organic/sustainable producers at a premium over the grocery story. For example, I grew lots of collards, kale, chard and mustards in my little 4×8 plot. I had enough growing each week to have cooked greens with dinner about 3-4 times a week. These greens cook down a lot and require a big pile to make a little spot on your plate. I would have had to pay $3-5 a bunch for at least 4-6 bunches a week at the store or farmers market. That is at least $12-30 a week I saved at the market in the winter. Add in tomatoes, basil, cukes, eggplant, beans, okra and the fact that you can grow year ’round in Houston (okra loves August), and the $40 a month fee can easily be overcome. In fact, if the greenleaf people are fronting the expense of building the beds and filling them with good soil (by far the biggest expense in gardening), the break even comes far faster than having to pay to build the beds yourself.

  • But Walt, you don’t understand. This is post-modern urban farming, marketed to people that feel insecure about being so horrifyingly uninteresting. If a gardener can come along and attach a human story to fruits and vegetables and succesfully market them to insecure people, then those people can share that story with their friends and feel self-important.

    The produce is akin to the paper upon which self-help books are printed; nobody buys a book for the paper.

  • @ Walt–
    Remember that the USDA’s statistics are for total farm income and are primarily derived from “commodity” crops such as corn, wheat, soya, etc. Produce (veggies and fruits) would also show lower per acre income, since most farmers would sell their produce at wholesale prices to grocers. Maybe a better metric would be to say that in the summer, many fruits and vegetables average a price of around $1.99 a pound at your local grocer. So, to pay the $40 rent, you would need 20 lbs of vegetables. As anyone who has planted squash, cucumbers, beans, or tomatoes in Houston will tell you, a plot this size with appropriate care will produce double that in a month.

  • I think this is awesome!

  • “This is post-modern urban farming, marketed to people that feel insecure about being so horrifyingly uninteresting. If a gardener can come along and attach a human story to fruits and vegetables and succesfully market them to insecure people, then those people can share that story with their friends and feel self-important.”

    Wow. That’s a mighty dark world you live in.

  • I think it’s a great idea.

  • #18, TheNiche, you nailed it.

    This story would not fly at all to those country folks who have a garden because of need. No pretense with them.

    #21 sugarpie, the backyard gardens in Houston are no measure of the “world” we live in.

    My inlaws, were they still with us, would be ROTFL.

  • Well done Will, You have lots of support.

  • I have no idea whether this will succeed or not, but it shows the kind of innovation that can go on with minimal land use restrictions.

  • I think this is a great, innovative idea and I am proud to live in a city where people are getting up and doing something instead of whining on computers about how it might not work, GET OUT THERE AND MAKE THIS WORLD A BETTER PLACE!!! and i also think a 4’x20′ space is the perfect size!

  • I think this is being totally overanalyzed. If you don’t want to pay $40 a month for a garden space, then don’t. Keep your facts and figures to yourself and leave the rest of us alone. This spot will provide us a hobby and produce food. How much a month do you spend on your hobbies? Food? Gym? How much money do you spend on frivolous entertainment and the like? That’s none of OUR business. So if someone wants to buy a city lot, renovate that lot and provide soil, water, fertilize and plant fruits, etc. that all members can share, it’s none of YOUR business.

  • I can’t get over how obnoxious some of the responses are to this lovely idea.

    Hey, if you don’t like it, you couple of negativos should have pooled your green together to buy the land and turn it into a highrise!

  • Wait.

    Someone did something NICE in the RE arena?

    Startling, and appreciated.

    Not startling: Being belittled for it by
    amateur bean (ha) counters, and, of course,
    the Oracle himself…The bitter Niche.

  • Wow, this has become surprisingly heated.
    I genuinely believe this is a fantastic idea, which is why the cost concerns me. I am a graduate student living walking distance from this future garden, and though I would love to make use of I don’t think I can justify $40 per month.

    The fact is, that cost is significantly higher then the norm for community gardens. As an example, $40 will easily get you a plot for the entire summer in the Twin Cities.

  • I guess the price of his plots will fluctuate with market demand. If he cannot lease them all at $40/plot, look for a change in the pricing strategy.

    It’s a curious use of the land – a couple of years ago I could have understood a land owner using this approach for fun management of a “land bank,” but given how the market appears to be recovering, he could make a lot more $$ by developing the lot or flipping it now that it’s cleaned up.

    As a former homeowner in Audubon Place, I commend him for making this choice and think he will be lauded by his neighbors.

  • All I know is that I’d rather live in a city with greenspace, gardens, and a balance of housing density than one with rows of cheaply built townhouses taking up every square inch of available land. I think that it would be a wonderful world if more people like William Winkler bought lots and kept them as greenspace, in fact the City of Houston should be thanking him for taking the initiative. It’s not about the land value or the cost of a bed. It’s about the experience of gardening in your neighborhood, with your neighbors. I’m proud that a Houstonian made this happen to better our city.

  • Wow, Houston needs this. In Austin, they have some free community spaces,and city sponsored. Regardless the cost, it is taking what woudl have been an apartment or housing, to land the producing and most of all, people benefit: both from having fresh produce but the benefits of working the soil – good for the soul. Thank you.

  • I agree with Nate! As far as comparing the price to other gardens, this is one person who has purchased the land and is building the gardens. He doesn’t have any sponsorship, he just wanted to give something to the community.
    What a great idea!

  • I don’t understand why people think that I am belittling the project, its founders, or its tenant gardeners. These folks have a potentially viable business model by selling self-help veggies to a narrow but easily defined target market.

    If they can make it work, then more power to them; and if not then the worst possible outcome is another townhome site. There’s not a lot of downside risk, so I wish them well.

    And besides, I’d bet that the tenant gardeners will also be realizing non-pecuniary benefits from their participation, as is typical for hobbyists. If a portion of their rent is attributable to the venue that allows them their self-enjoyment, how is that different from the margin that I pay for a beer at a bar instead of at home? More power to them.

  • Don’t be a martyr. Anyway, Pyewacket liked your post. That probably counts for something.

  • As a member of the community where the garden will be, I think this is a fabulous idea! I’m happy to read the support from our community and the others who understand the project!

  • Texsota, if you read that article closely, those gardens are basically land only. Some MAY provide water, or access to a creek to do the bucket brigade. Here, he is providing raised beds (not cheap to build), water, tools, storage shed, pavillion, and a share of the perennial fruit and vegetable harvest. If I lived in this area I would first in line. Fresh tomatoes taste SOOO much better than store-bought. And with the use of trellises, you can get so much more out of a small garden by having things like cucumbers, asian long beans, and even melons grow up. It would be great if he also planned a small beehive to be placed on the lot to help pollination, and maybe even have honey to share with the tenants. Plus, the fellowship of other gardeners is fantastic. I see the pavillion being used each weekend for pot-lucks and sharing of ideas.

  • Bingo, Mel!

    Anyone: Compare TheNiche’s posts @#18, then look @#35.

    Draw your own conclusions.

  • Er, I dont think Niche was belittling the people who would do the gardening, I think he was making fun of people who buy produce from this type of garden. (Portlandia anyone?)

  • Mel:

    I’ve got many friends in rural areas between here and Austin that plant gardens for food, not for a hobby.

    They are mostly older folks and they do it all. Some even till with a hoe because they don’t have garden tractors. And I’m talking gardens of an acre or more.

    They plant from seed and tend, weed and water daily and reap the rewards. It’s not a weekend thing for them.

    Most will share with neighbors for FREE or exchange bounty for bounty. They used to do that with their beef and pork but those were days gone by.

    I applaud this local effort and I do hope it succeeds. But please, lets not forget that while it may be entertaining and ‘fun’ for some folks, gardening is a necessity for others.

    I do live in Houston but I frequently go to ‘the country’ and I benefit from the agrarian skills of my friends. Love those home grown veggies!

  • Home grown veggies taste better when farmed by “real” farmers? Ridiculous.

  • In the 3 years from 2008 to 2011, the only category in the ornamental horticulture industry to show double digit gains year over year was fruits and vegetables. Landscape shrubs, trees, perennials, and annual flowers sales were all either flat or down from the previous year. Interest in vegetables started out in 2008 as a response by consumers trying to save money in the recession. That sales have continued to increase in each subsequent year tells us that growing one’s own food has become a major trend, and is especially prevelant among the under 40 demographic.

  • tangyjoe:


    You got the poster’s “M.O.” right.
    The rest is semantics.

  • ShadyHeightster, you must be talking about folks living in the city. Growing food in rural areas is nothing new. Under 40 or over.

    And Mel, I’m not getting in a pissing contest with you as you seemed to have missed my point.

  • You make fun of people for purchasing home grown veggies, but then tell us that you drive out to the country so you can enjoy… home grown veggies. What am I missing?

  • Home grown veggies (and veggies grown by local organic/sustainable farmers) definitely taste better than veggies grown by large commercial producers. It is not because home growers are better at agriculture. It is because commercial farmers produce a crop that is intended to survive storage, transportation and have a long shelf life at the grocery store. Tomatoes, for example, are harvested green, ripened in storage with ethelyne gas and arrive at the store long after they were harvested. The result is a generally flavorless vegatable. A tomato that is fresh and harvested ripe of the vine is sweeter and has more flavor than the commercial version at Kroger. Also, commercial veggies are very homogenous. You generally won’t find in your grocery store Armenian or Suyu cukes, long beans, muscadine grapes, kholrabi, red russian kale, LSU figs and many other veggies and fruits that grow well locally.

  • @ Old School: It strikes me as that local demand for fresher or more obscure vegetables could be satisfied at lower cost and at a larger scale by cultivating larger closer-in tracts (for instance in places like Aldine or Minnetex that got passed over by suburban development). I’d expect that distribution would also be more cost-effective…and lower capital and operating costs could put higher quality products within reach of lower-income consumers.

    So yeah, honestly I don’t think that my characterization of these as “self-help veggies” is that far off-base. Maybe for the land owner and possibly the producers, all of whom might be evil capitalist geniuses to whom I wish the best of luck.

  • I do not think that anyone leasing a 4×20 container garden would have any inkling of using it to grow vegetables to sell to the general public. I also do not think that the people setting up this project are looking to do anything but provide those with no greenspace in their townhomes an opportunity to have a nicely sized vegetable garden. These people just want to grow vegetables for their own use. As I noted above, the savings on home grown veggies v. store/farmer’s market bought can be significant and more than cover the cost.

    There are people growing muscadine grapes and other local fruits and veggies for sale at farmer’s markets and for use at many restaurants in town. The Eastside farmer’s market is packed every Saturday morning. Producers come from Spring, Wharton, Brazoria and other places within a short drive. They usually bring produce that has been harvested within a day of coming to market, which means that the produce can usually last longer than store bought because it is truly fresh.

  • @ Old School: If the growers are also the consumers, then my characterization of these as “self help veggies” still stands.

    The cost isn’t just $40 per month. It’s also seed, fertilizer, gardening tools, and most importantly the regular commitment of time that is necessary to make it work. Its not about the savings, it’s about the story.

  • This will be a nice addition to the neighborhood.

  • It may be a story to you, but for me spending time in the garden is therapeutic. Also, it is time well spent with my kid. You have no idea how much better green beans or basil or berries taste when they come from the soil you tilled and toiled. Again, I think this is awesome and I am proud of the Houstonian who put his money toward the betterment of his community. May we all strive to do the same, or have such a neighbor!

  • So, yeah…”self help veggies”. Selling to your market segment is like shooting fish in a barrel.

  • @ TheNiche –

    Sounds like you need some fresh veggies to help yourself. Come on by the garden to experience all it has to offer. I promise it’s more than veggies…

  • Are there two “theniche” posters? This one attacks home gardens, and the other one volunteered to count the homeless during the census.

  • @ Mel: I am not attacking home gardens or for-rent gardens; what I am doing is characterizing a niche population of consumers and how they are vulnerable to exploitation by marketers. Then I’ve laced my observations with brash rhetoric to add entertainment value and to lure in a hapless foil that proves my point.

    Similarly, although I did not merely volunteer to count the homeless and was paid to do so, my observations regarding the populations I dealt with were just as frank and honest. If it seemed that I was more sensitive toward them, its because I am. The long-term homeless pose a greater social blight and are far more difficult to influence (or sell things to) than affluent consumers of self-help veggies.

    @ Greenleaf Gardener: I harvest my veggies from a can. But thanks for the invite.

  • “Exploitation by marketers”???? Oh please. Here is an example of some exploitive marketing by a favorite producer of the local farmer’s markets: http://gundermannacres.com/
    Yeah, that is some slick Madison Avenue stuff. Posting a picture of their dog and captioning “yummy” under a picture of some vegetables is really the definition of exploitation. The “eat local” movement is about as far from the world of marketing as it gets. Even in a city as huge as Houston, it is just a handful of producers and a non-profit organization that sets up markets and community gardens.

  • Count me in for a plot. This is a work in progress and a positive move for many reasons not worth spending energy debating. Kudos for his efforts and great for the neighborhood. Go for it!

  • Yes, exploitation by marketers large and small–including Gundermann Acres.

    But then, you probably view the word “exploitation” as a bad thing with some sort of despicable connotation. I do not. I use it with clinical precision.