No, Really. My Garden is Illegal


There have been a few people who have commented on the name of my blog “This Garden is Illegal”. So I thought I would go into why I chose that name.

The short version: My garden really is illegal.

The long version: I live in suburbia and in suburbia, I am always amazed at how much effort a city council will take to stick their nose into other people’s business in the name of city/town’s best interest when in actuality the laws are either absurd or not effective. Worse yet, the only time these laws are enforced is when someone on city council or in the building department decides they have a vendetta against someone.

One particular ordinance in my city brings this to mind for me. The ordinance reads as follows:

All premises and exterior property, including tree lawns, shall be maintained free from weeds or plant growth in excess of five inches. All noxious weeds shall be prohibited. Weeds shall be defined as all grass, annual plants and vegetation, other than trees or shrubs, provided, however, that this term shall not include cultivated flowers and gardens. No vegetable gardens shall extend beyond the front line of the house. (Ord. 6950-97)

Plant growth in excess of five inches… Thank god my local city council does not come around to measure the height of the wild onions and dandelions in my yard. I think they actually grow 5 inches a night. Certainly seems that way. I also want to point out that while the “cultivated” flowers and gardens are not included in the definition of weeds, they do not seem to be excluded from the definition of “plant growth”. So I am supposing that this means that any plant over five inches falls into this illegal category. I am defiantly in violation of the law.

All noxious weeds shall be prohibited… Hmm… I don’t know about you, but I have lots of noxious weeds in my yard like Queen Anne’s Lace, Canada Thistle and Cressleaf Groundsel as a start. I frequently tell them to leave, but they seem to like it here and no amount of weeding, Round-up or voodoo will lessen them. And I won’t resort to ChemLawn. And to tell the truth, I like Queen Anne’s Lace, so I never try too hard to evict it if it is not in the way. I am in violation of the law.

No vegetable gardens shall extend beyond the front line of the house… I am guilty of that too. I have no less than 12 potted fruits and veggies in my front yard. I even use kale and creeping thyme in the front yard landscape itself. I am such a rebel. I am in violation of the law.

Point is, it’s my yard and it bugs me when people try to make laws to tell me how I should keep it.

So you see, my garden really is illegal. Even if the law that makes it illegal is pretty stupid.

16 thoughts on “No, Really. My Garden is Illegal
  1. Pingback: FAQs

  2. Paola on

    Thanks for the explanation.
    While I’m used to a degree of limitations (house color & the banning of disease-carring plants) this seems quite..out.

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  3. Nate on

    Well, I don’t know about city ordinances, but I do know that where my parents live, the home owners association doesn’t let you do things like that (not to mention no picket fences, no parking your boat trailer in front of the house, no painting your privacy fence red, etc. etc. etc.)

    Although they will take your dues and build a lovely hedge line near the entrance of the neighborhood so that you practically have to pull into the middle of the intersection to see if cars are coming.

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  4. EmmyCA on

    In my neighborhood growing up, it was against the homeowners’ association rules to use any color of xmas light other than white. Every year, this one cranky widower would line every straight line of his home’s exterior (roof line, exterior walls, windows, door, porch) with RED lights!

    Of course, he also mowed his lawn in a herring-bone pattern (honestly, he did), so he was obviously born to be bad.

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  5. LJisMe on

    I knew exactly why your blog has the name it does, having had my own encounters with suburban lawn enforcement. I’m luckier than you, though, since “legal” vegetation can be as high as 10″ in my little town. I’m maintaining a clump of nice-looking grass in my front yard right now and plan to add some purple coneflowers and black-eyed susans to make a nice little bird-friendly spot. We’ll see whether the powers that be will tolerate it…

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  6. Pingback: Garden Blogging for Fun and Profit

  7. P.S. Williams on

    Hurrah for you! Keep on harboring those noxous weeds…I don’t have to deal with a city council/homeowner’s association and have always enjoyed my “weeds.” Especially morning glories that froth my front yard at times.

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  8. barely legal on

    I just stumbled upon this site and I can relate! My garden is in a redevelopment zone and when I mentioned that Tennessee’s new eminent domain law exempts properties that are “predominately agricultural” the city rep turned beet red and accused me of trying to ruin the whole huge project. This after giving lip service to “we’re going to preserve the neighborhoods blah blah blah”.

    I should have kept my mouth shut because right after that the new zoning regs came out with provisions to prohibit agriculture. A sympathetic coucilman slipped in an excemption for gardens and fruit trees at the last minute so I am now barely legal.

    Fortunately the housing bust happened about the same time and threw a great big bucket of cold water on the city’s irrational exuberance. But I am ready with watermelon seeds and a lawyer if my property gets threatened.

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  9. Here’s a thought, this worked very well for me when fighting the rediculous ordinances in my town:
    https://secure.nwf.org/backyard/certify.cfm?campaignid=WH09BCHT

    Not one ‘tall grass’ violation notice has stuck since I went to court for one and explained my certification and reasons for allowing a stand of sumac and some grasses to seed.

    They didn’t want to hear about it of course, but they’ve stopped writing violations and I have not paid any fines.
    They seemed particularly embarrassed when other homeowners in court for similar violations applauded as I left.

    I do keep the sidewalk neat and clean, and trim anything that overhangs the front fence.

    Best of all, I have a nice (1 acre) oasis in a dense urban area where birds, skunks, opossum and raccoons (as well as many small rodents) can survive. My vegetable garden is ‘potager style’ behind a wire fence to keep the groundhogs out and my fruit trees are potted (they don’t look like agriculture). Making the garden look more ornamental has definitely helped disguise it.

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  10. Marie on

    So I live in the Cleveland area too and am dying to know – what city (or does that give you away :-)? I could imagine most of the ‘Heights’ (Shaker, Cleveland, University) having something like that on the books. Part of the reason we moved out of that county altogether!

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  11. Andy on

    “Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it”

    Henry David Thoreau

    (I just found out that he came through Madison, where I live, during a trip! :)

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  12. andrea on

    Lawns should be banned, imagine if everyone planted flower beds and vegetable gardens instead. Big user of water around the house, the lawn. Plant native species and reduce water consumption.

    Weed: any plant growing that is not desired. Rose bushes in my cactus garden would be a weed as would any bulbs shooting up, no matter how lovely.

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  13. Josiesgarden on

    excellent rebel yell I live in a very small town whose ideas are similar, but no one really minds as long as it’s green they don’t mind. I loved it when I heard one of my maters made it to the second floor(I sell Plants) and he got into a bit of trouble when it was blocking the sidewalk. No problem he roped it up and it got bigger I think he said it was over 15 feet tall oh well I guess he got lucky about no fines and just lots of tomatoes. I guess I should mention this was in a front yard very close to the walk and street close to blocking a corner.

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  14. Jim Kulbacki on

    A mother of six in Oak Park Michigan, Julie Bass, is facing up to 93 days in jail for growing vegetables in her front yard. This case has become internationally known. Go to facebook and like “Oak Park Hates Veggies” if you wish to support her.

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  15. Love it. We used to live in The Town From Hell, where pretty much every rule was calculated to be as invasive, impractical, and environmentally irresponsible as possible. I considered it a moral obligation to violate as many city ordinances as possible. I find that Red Peter peppers are an excellent ornamental for the front lawn if you want to send a message to the Lawn Nazis….

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