Combining a love of art and gardening

Mar 1, 2023 | Mountain Gardening

Thirteen fruit trees were planted at the Mojave River Trailhead and Route 66 to create the historic Victorville public fruit park at Eva Dell Park. The project was installed with support from the City of Victorville and R.O.O.T. (Revive Our Old Town) in 2018.

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The ribbon-cutting ceremony at Stoneview Nature Center in Culver City. David Allen Burns and Austin Young created the artwork for the five-acre public park. The artwork includes fruit-bearing trees and plants that are important to the history of California — pomgranates, oranges, lemon, grapes, avocados, berries, figs and more.

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“A Portrait of Dionysus” is a permanent artwork created by David Burns and Austin Young for Feudi di San Gregorio in Serbo Serpico, outside of Naples, Italy, in 2022.

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David Burns and Austin Young were commissioned by META/Facebook to create a permanent artwork based on fruits from around the world onto the glass exterior of the main building in Menlo Park in 2021.

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The stairwell at Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, Italy, is covered with digital photographs David Burns and Austin Young took around the city and from the museum’s permanent collection.

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Austin Young and David Burns were guests on the Kelly Clarkson Show in 2022, talking about fruit trees, public parks and healthy communities.

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Austin Young and David Burns at the PDC Design Gallery in West Hollywood at an artwork installation called SUPERSHOW in 2019.

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“Monument to Sharing” is a permanent artwork created by David Burns and Austin Young that includes 32 mature orange trees that echo the rich history of orchards originally planted in Bunker Hill, seen in the background. The artwork is located at the entrance to the Los Angeles State Historic Park in Downtown Los Angeles.

(Photos courtesy of David Allen Burns)

Combining a love of art and gardening

By Mary-Justine Lanyon

Growing up in the Los Angeles area, David Allen Burns’ family always had large food and ornamental gardens. Fruit trees were a part of those gardens.

But Burns’ passion was for art. He received a BFA from the California Institute of the Arts and an MFA from UC Irvine.

And then the Crestline resident found a way to combine his two loves. Fallen Fruit became a reality in 2004, conceived by Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young. Burns and Young have continued the project, which has spread from Los Angeles to areas around the world.

“We are contemporary artists,” Burns and Young state on the Fallen Fruit website, “We make art installations and plant fruit trees in public spaces for everyone to share. We invite you to experience your city as a fruitful place, to radically shift public participation and the function of urban spaces, and to explore the meaning of community through creating and sharing new and abundant resources – like fruit trees.”

Burns and Young look at public spaces and edible landscaping – like apple trees – as a public resource. Since that first park in Los Angeles, they have transformed other public parks into community landmarks “that also provide nutritional, organic fruit for everyone to share,” Burns said.

The project they did near LAX was interesting, Burns said, “as everyone created an obstacle for going forward. But then everyone came to the table and it ended up becoming such an important project for the city of Los Angeles.”

Because of that project’s success, they were invited to create more ambitious projects in four other permanent locations that are landmarks for the city, he noted.

What Burns and Young discovered was that, in their Los Angeles neighborhoods, there were more than 100 fruit trees not being picked. “We discovered there is no jurisdiction as to who owns those trees,” Burns said, quoting Leviticus 19:10: “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.”

And so they created maps of public fruit – fruit trees growing on or over public property.

“We took people on journeys at night,” Burns said. “Trick or treating – picking up fallen fruit.”

Every project – and they have done projects in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, in Ohio, New Orleans, New York City, Reno – is different. Typically, Burns said, the trees are cared for with community partnerships for three to five years. They created an adoption form, through which community members agree to care for the tree, keep it alive.

For example, in Victorville, a community service organization agreed to oversee the fruit trees that were planted for up to five years. After that period, Burns said, the trees are mature and self-sustaining. “They have been pruned properly and cared for in times of need. They should be drought tolerant.

“The positive impact of projects like this far exceed the effort,” Burns added. “And the trees will live longer in a community than most people.”

He noted that a fruit-bearing tree can produce up to 500 pounds of organic produce “without trying.” If he were to plant 20 trees around Lake Gregory – a project he had proposed in 2018 but did not come to fruition – they would produce 10,000 pounds of fruit. “That would be good for everyone,” he said. “It would help the pollinators and clean the soil and the water table.”

Everywhere Fallen Fruit has done a project, the leadership has told Burns and Young that the trees would be damaged, that kids would steal the fruit. That has not proven to be true.

“Working with fruit trees and public space has paralleled my art career,” Burns said. “I have wanted to work with museums my entire life.”

And now Burns is doing projects at museums, like the one he completed this past January in Bergamo, Italy, called Sacred Conversations. He and Young organized original digital photographs into a synchronous pattern. “We used elements from the museum’s permanent collection and from the city. We think of the artwork as a portrait of the place.”

In choosing the images, he said, “we were not just thinking about the flora and fauna or historic importance. We tried to capture different elements that invoke a feeling of what makes that place feel familiar to the people who live there. It’s exciting both for people who grew up there and visitors.”

To create the artwork that adorns the stairwell the connects the galleries of Accademia Carrara, “we immersed ourselves in the city of Bergamo. We walked all of the streets and alleys of the old city on the hill called Citta Alta. We explored cathedrals, monasteries, castles, parks, cafes and libraries. We met with the city’s historians and we toured the streets and historic buildings with expert guides. We photographed things that stand out in public spaces. We documented elements from the historic library, the cathedrals, the opera house, the botanical gardens and details throughout Bergamo,” Burns wrote on the Fallen Fruit website.

They have done similar projects in Rome; Puerto Vallarta; Linz, Austria; Melbourne, Australia; Tel Aviv; Bergen, Norway; and London.

Closer to home, Fallen Fruit received funding from Sprouts and Kelly Clarkson after appearing on her show last year. With that funding, they are replanting the farm at the University of Redlands campus so from the street front into the farm is a public orchard. There will be herbs for cooking, Burns said. “It will be available to everyone.”

Burns would like to take another look at his 2018 proposal for planting fruit trees along the walking trail around Lake Gregory.

“This is such a naturally great growing climate for many types of fruit,” he said. Growing up, he and his family would come up to Crestline – to the house he now lives in. He remembers eating peaches from the tree on that property. Pomegranates would also be happy here, he said, as well as persimmons, figs, all berries, cherries and pears. And, of course, there are historic apple orchards on the mountain.

Folks may have seen Burns at farmers markets on the mountain, selling his plants and seeds. He hopes to be back out there this year, in between his worldwide projects. For information on what he has to offer, visit or email Burns at [email protected].


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