The Letter of the Law

Posted on July 16, 2011


“To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” -Ghandi

I love growing things.  Watching them progress, from seed to fruit, is such a magical process.  I just can’t imagine not doing it.  (Though I will admit that I hated weeding as a child.)  Furthermore, I just don’t understand how anyone could object to a garden.  At least not a well-kept one.  But that is exactly what has happened to a woman in Oak Park, Michigan.  A neighbor complained about the garden, which is a bit severe but not at all unkempt, and the city planners have decided that it is against the planning code.  It seems that the garden doesn’t really violate the wording of the code as it is currently written, but rather the intent.

Personally I’m a big fan of the lawns-to-gardens movement.  The powers-that-be are so intensely concerned about having enough farmland to grow the food the world’s growing population needs, but why limit ourselves to farmland?  If we can put a garden in every yard, on every apartment balcony, in every vacant lot, and window box, space won’t be a problem.  Home gardens, then called Victory Gardens, were encouraged by public authorities during both World Wars.  Now they encourage us to grow water hungry, fertilizer greedy, completely useless, lawns.  I just have a hard time wrapping my head around consensus reality sometimes.

While I don’t think the objection to a front yard garden is reasonable or warranted, I do understand that some people don’t like the look of mulch.  So I’m going to make a few suggestions to all those would-be urban and suburban gardeners out there.

  1. If you’re going to put raised beds in your front yard, leave the lawn in place around them.  Nothing will be able to come up through it, and the sight of some familiar green will please your neighbors.
  2. If your neighbors are the complaining type, try putting a border of flowers and other ornamentals around the outer edge of the yard, so no one has to look at your “unsightly” tomatoes.
  3. If you are gardening on a porch or balcony that is visible from the street, choose attractive planters, or paint your unattractive planters an attractive (or camouflaging) color.
  4. Share.  Even the grumpiest of neighbors will often be swayed by a bowl of crispy green beans, a sun-ripened tomato, or a fragrant bunch of basil.
  5. Remove dead plants right away.  I know it sounds obvious, but it’s easy to leave that old vine tangled trellis up for a day, then a week, then a month.  Staying on top of maintenance will keep your garden beautiful and your neighbors happy.

If you have any tips that might help other gardeners avoid zucchini related prosecution, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Posted in: Gardening