From 2008 to 2009, home gardening increased from 36 million to 43 million households. It appears to be continuing its upward trend. As Mother Earth News puts it, “The worse the economy, the more people garden.”
Although vegetable gardening is good news for people’s pocketbooks as well as their stomachs, it has created an interesting problem between some city officials and the local gardeners. In what has been dubbed a War on Gardening, many green thumbs across the nation are having to deal with officials who are none-too-impressed with their edible plants.
The trouble occurs when gardeners turn to unconventional places to plant their produce, usually in the front yard. One organization, Food Not Lawns, is devoted to helping gardeners rip up their useless ornamental lawns in favor of growing something you can eat.
The garden starts out innocently enough, in most cases. Usually, the gardens under dispute are very well-maintained and give the appearance of order and organization. However, someone soon calls the city with a complaint. City workers then look up their land development code and issue a citation.
It’s there that the situation gets dicey. The gardener can either comply with the city or face an array of fines, watch as the garden gets cleared by the city, or be confronted with even jail time for their actions.
The most famous case of this concerned Julie Bass, who faced up to 93 days in jail for not removing her front-yard vegetable garden. But gardeners from Orlando to Oklahoma are stirring up an unlikely movement challenging the authorities and calling for others to preserve their right to garden.
One gardener we spoke to related a problem he had with the city of Las Vegas. “[My] garden contained assorted vegetables like beets, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, [and] grape vines in a Pennsylvania topsoil retention method.”
His garden was covered with Bermuda grass to conserve topsoil and water. It was this that officials took offense at, and they wrote him a citation.
“The citation stated “Overgrown area, in need of cutting. Time limit and fine if failed to comply.”
He sent a reply stating that he did not live in a fenced in homeowners association area, and that the inspector did not know the difference between weeds and vegetables. “Two weeks later I received an apology from our city councilman,” he told us.
The question of whether gardeners should be allowed to use their front lawns as plant beds affects more than you may think at first glance. Those against them see them as a threat to property values, a plight on the aesthetics of a neighborhood.
Is there more behind anti-gardeners’ thinking, however? The woman charged with a misdemeanor and threat of jail was told that her garden was not “suitable” for a front yard, with one city official saying that suitable meant “common.” Since ornamental lawns today usually include bermuda grass, a couple of deciduous trees, and perhaps a small row of flowers, that is what everyone should do, the thinking goes. The question then becomes less about personal freedom and more about why we constantly try to define what is normal and acceptable in society.
Perhaps soon officials will realize that organic vegetable gardening is a good thing, and it is here to stay. Until then, there will probably be many more cases of the war on gardening taking place in America.