Tulsa Rips Out Woman’s Edible and Medicinal Garden

I’ve been reading the Tulsa Code of Ordinances, not because I prefer legalese to sleeping pills, but because I am trying to figure out what on earth prompted the city to rip out Denise Morrison’s garden.

So far I can find only one report, from NewsOn6.com. (Other reports are all based on it.) It tells the story of a woman who would be an interesting neighbor. Here is what the article says about her garden, which had over 100 plant varieties before the city ripped it out:

She knows which ones will treat arthritis, which will make your food spicy, which ones keep mosquitoes away and treat bug bites, but she said none of that matter to city inspectors.

Last August, Morrison’s front and back yards were filled with flowers in bloom, lemon, stevia, garlic chives, grapes, strawberries, apple mint, spearmint, peppermint, an apple tree, walnut tree, pecan trees and much more.

They are gone now. Someone complained; the city sent her a letter. Morrison photographed her yard and asked city inspectors to come tell her what she was doing wrong. Their response was, “Everything, everything needs to go.”

She met the city in court August 15, 2011. When the judge issued a two-month delay, the city sent in the rippers, who tore out every plant over 12 inches tall — in other words, pretty much everything. You can see the before and after photos on the News 6 Web site.

It seems any plant over 12 inches has to be edible if it’s growing in a Tulsa yard. Morrison’s garden was entirely edible (or consumable since some plants were to treat her chronic conditions).

That’s why I’m puzzling over the Ordinances. I cannot figure out what prompted such radical destruction of her beloved plants. “Chapter 10. Landscape Requirements” has nothing about what can be grown. I tried “Chapter 11. Planned Unit Development” because the summary promises information about landscaping. Unfortunately, the link takes me to this message: “We’re sorry, this application has either experienced an error or the content you are looking for is not yet available.” I get the same message when I click on “Chapter 5. Urban Space Standards” and “Appendix B. Index of Land Uses.”

So I am left guessing that someone with a manicured lawn was offended by the useful sprawl of Morrison’s edible and medicinal plants. They probably also objected to the dead truck parked by her house. She has filed a civil rights lawsuit so perhaps some answers and remediation will come to her via the courts. In the meantime, she is out of plants and out of luck.

I have lived next to people whose standards for house and lawn care were different from my own. I never complained to the city, but I cannot judge the person or people who did so in this case. The facts are too sketchy.

Still, Tulsa has taken a sledge hammer to Denise Morrison’s life. For her and her plants, that seems like overkill.

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Photo 1: Thinkstock; Photo 2 of sprawling edible school yard from amdoyne via Flickr Creative Commons

250 comments

Nimue Pendragon

Old story I see. Sad but.

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

Paula, OLD story, first of all, and secondly, are you "sue happy" by any chance? Sue the neighbor? I'll guess you are either a typical "shark" yourself or have one on retainer. That's too much the problem in this country..........everybody wants to SUE everybody else, and why NOT sue the city, after all, cities will usually settle for whatever they deem as cheaper than defend themselves in court. I'm NOT saying that the city was right (because I don't think it was) but suing everybody at the drop of a hat needs to stop.

Paula E.
Paula E.3 years ago

What a horrible thing to do! I hope she wins her lawsuit and the city of Tulsa is ordered to replace every plant with ones like they destroyed- and not just seedlings! It is obvious her values were fat superior to her narrow-minded neighbors. I would sue the neighbor who complained, too.

shannon w.
shannon w.3 years ago

Shame on the city !

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin3 years ago

Did this happen in North Korea, Belarus, China, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Zimbabwe, Syria, Botswana or any other dictatorship run country in the world? No? You sure? It happened in the Land of the Free? Can't be! Freedom of expression-land? You must be kidding!
This is repulsive! If it had happened to me, I wouldn't sue those ba$tard$, I would personally tear down every building own by the authoroty that ordered the massacre of my garden and confiscate every flower, tree and bush planted by the same!

Natalie Simmons
Natalie Simmons4 years ago

I remember when we moved to St. Joseph, the yard was a little overgrown, but we were in the process of determining what plants were what and what we were going to keep, then one morning we woke up to the sound of a weedeater in our backyard. The city had ordered them to go into our fenced-in backyard and cut everything down because it was "unpleasant" to look at. I was ready to cry and I almost do when I think about it. Some people get attached to plants and having them ripped away from you because they're overgrown is like having your dog euthanized because someone didn't like the way it looked. It's horrible.

Lawrence Travers
Lawrence Travers4 years ago

Politicians SUCK! Stupid, stupid Tulsa pols!! I can only hope the party or parties that complained AND the Inspectors and other Tulsa Pols are visited with KARMA soon.

Joe R.
Joe R.4 years ago

Ah Tulsa ... the home of Oral Roberts University.

Scott P.
Terry C.4 years ago

Tulsa Time-where evolution went to die.

Mary S.
Mary S.4 years ago

As a hobby gardener, with a big weedy mess of an herb garden in my backyard, and a bigger weedy mess of flower gardens in my front yard (and a mix of berry bushes/fruit/nut trees everywhere), I would be heart-broken if they were simply removed for no good reason.

This is just sad.