Gardens Really Are Illegal These Days

It is one of those things that I suppose, given the name of my blog, I am obligated to comment on.sunny shores of Jersey Shore last week (because it’s safe now as MTV saw fit to ship off most of the rubbish to Italy).

I so often shake my head at stories such as these. No, not Jersey Shore TV Show, that is just a travesty of Humanity. No, I speak of Julie Bass of Oak Park, MI who planted a scandalous garden in her front yard. Of all the nerve. These laws exist in dozens of cities across the country and rarely, if ever, are enforced. That is until you piss off the wrong person in the wrong city council seat. Then, whoa Nellie! Suddenly there is a “reason” to enforce the law.

I am willing to lay money that there is a deeper story here. Julie Bass pissed someone off on the Oak Park City Council long before she planted a garden in her front yard. Maybe Mrs. Bass’s eldest son beat out Mayor Naftaly’s son for starting quarterback. Maybe Mrs. Bass had a tiff with Councilman Seligson’s wife. Maybe tart digs were exchanged with Councilwoman Jackson. Maybe Councilman Levine took umbrage at a less than PC joke that Mrs. Bass told. Aw, heck, it could be that Councilman Duplessis was just ticked off that Mrs. Bass rebuffed him when he asked her out for the Senior Prom 30 odd years ago. It could be any of these made up reasons or it could be some other reason all together. But mark my words, there is some deeper reason than “we want to keep our community shiny” that is behind all this brouhaha.

Frankly, her front gardens don’t look all that bad. Certainly better than the blob shrubs that have developed in front of many of the houses in this neighborhood. You know, those monstrosities that merge into one another over decades, battered into soft rounded forms by underzealous home owners with electric hedge trimmers. There has been documented cases of entire yards swallowed up by these things. Think of the children who could be lost among them! And I know that in Oak Park, MI, the blob shrub style of landscaping is prolific. What else is Google Street View good for except to be all stalkerish and stuff?

Point is, Oak Park looks a lot like my suburb. One that teeters on the fine lined edge between blue collar and welfare. The number of unemployed is in double digit numbers. I keep hearing about a “Great Recession” — and yet we put on airs acting like <cockney accent>we is just as fancy as them fancy people in the fancy McMansion neighborhoods</cockney accent>. Stop pretending, Oak Park City Council. Worry more about how your neighborhood is than how it appears to the casual (and frankly uncaring) passerby.

19 thoughts on “Gardens Really Are Illegal These Days
  1. You said what was on my mind. Let’s quit acting like it’s 1980 and suburbia should be a certain way. Times have changed and people need to do what they have to to make ends meet. If growing your own food is the way, then so be it.


  2. agreed totally. and what about the worry lately about obesity? two way street thing goin’ on there. ridiculous


  3. When we were looking for a house in central Virginia, we specifically looked for a community with no ordinances governing what you could do with/plant in your front yard and a subdivision that did not have restrictive covenants or a neighborhood association. I now have a front yard that is pretty much only garden (back too!). Now if only we had looked for a place that did not restrict backyard chickens!


  4. Oh, MY!
    Frankly, looking at the Google Maps image you provided, they should award her a bloody medal for improving the street’s looks.
    The first comments on the article are a ray of hope. Now, if only a half of the councilpeople in Oak Park could understand their argumentation….


  5. I got wind of this story a few days ago and thought “how ridiculous” it is. You are probably right there may be a deeper story here. Personally, my initial feeling was to want to send this city planner and his cohorts copies of “The Edible Front Yard”, but that would probably go sailing way by them.

    I once lived in a community with a city mandated neighborhood homeowners association. I purposely got onto the home “standards” committee, so they would Not go overboard on what you could do where in your yard.

    I agree that Julie Bass’ front garden is as attractive as some of the blob shrubs in the rest of the neighborhood and probably more attractive. I have literally seen a blob of junipers, grown together, taking up almost the entire front yard of a home. It had been pruned so it looked like a flying saucer with a bubble in the middle. We called it the “flying saucer” yard.



  6. jonquil on

    Have they spoken to Michelle Obama? As far as I know even the White House has a vegetable patch!

    What I thought most sad was that Ms. Bass said that the children in the neighbourhood were interested. Who’d be interested in a front garden with blob shrubs? Way to quash education, healthy eating, household bugeting and environmental awareness in one fell swoop Councilors!


  7. Great post. I liked your take on the underlying issue being some past rebuff – I think it is more like some power hungry official feeling like he needs to make an example of Julie Bass or his manhood is threatened – I posted too – likewise the name of my blog meant I couldn’t ignore it!


  8. Wow, this story was news to me. Can’t blame anyone for wanting to have their own garden. Can’t imagine my local community here in OK acting that way toward someone.

    Thanks for sharing this story.


  9. Kyoki on

    I’d like to note that it’s just just the Bass family. There’s quite a handful of folks being persecuted and fined, and even arrested or jailed for having gardens, urban farms, or anything of the sort. There’s a family in Oakland, CA who’s been threatened with their home has been threatened to be torn down (along with dozens of other ‘code violation’ houses, so it’s not purely a gardening thing); Dirk Becker’s Compassion Farm (made out of an old gravel pit) got him fined and they’re threatening to lock him up for six months; There comes a time when… well… I don’t even know, but I thought I’d mention it.


  10. I think my jaw is still gaping as I type this comment. I agree you with completely that the REAL issue is not the garden, but something else. I laugh, because in the Nebraska town I live in (a suburb of Omaha…metro area of half million), people routinely have “gardens” in the grassy area between the sidewalk and street!! And, there is one home which has gone “au natural” and was the subject of the city council a few year ago, but couldn’t prove it was a safety hazard. It simply is full of native grasses, trees, etc. It looks like a “mini” fenced forest area in the midst of cropped lawns! I guess it takes all kinds, but it sure seems like a lot of energy is being wasted on something so minor.

    Thanks for bringing it to our attention!


  11. Sue Vasquez on

    I recall another situation where the homeowner lived in a ‘historical’ Victorian type neighborhood, and got harassed about her front yard garden… until it was pointed out that in Victorian days, EVERYONE had front yard gardens. Perhaps someone ought point this out to the city council… she is clearly just trying to bring up the value of the neighborhood!


  12. I know this problem all too well. I moved out of my suburban hood’ with a “covenant” solely for the purpose of being free to monkey with my yard (garden freely) as I please. I’ve been suburbia free for almost 9 months now and it feels good!

    I have planted many tens of perennial bushes and trees and made a go at a bunch of common vegetables this year. Either ditch your rules or work to change them.

    Be free to garden and do the good work of growing your own food.


  13. I totaly agree with you. Everyone should be able to grow anything they like in their gardens.


  14. What a shameful act to plant vegetables in your front yard! Everyone knows that the front yard is for grass. OK, I know that it has to be fertilized and watered and that it gets expensive. I also know that it is a useless waste of time, effort and water. I am aware that it really achieves nothing, provides only a limited aesthetic value but why would you want to trade grass for food? Think of the joy you have in mowing and edging. Why would you want to give that up for safe, nutritious food? Finally, what would the neighbors think?


  15. Hi, Yes, IF you have “pissed someone off” is the key to all of this…I pissed off a judge 20+ years ago, haven’t stop paying for it yet, I plant gardens for some nice old folks for several years now, and Yes, I’m being monitored for my activities while I’m there. (got evidence)…I’ve done my damndest to continue to “piss them off” ever since too. When the drought comes to our neighborhood this summer, and water bans are in effect, we use water from rain barrels, it’s not a leap to forcast that water rights will be taken over here in MA too, as elsewhere in the country. loves to diminish the validity of blogs like yours, and insists there is no merit to “illegal” gardens…but the harrassment of people everywhere speaks for itself and is not going to stop, we all know this. “Evil creeps in slowly and imperceptibly’. ‘Evil stealthily advances like a marmot..”” …And I will continue to give back to others the evil they inflict upon me.

    I will say this, to anyone in person within swinging distance…(and have many times in public to demonstrate) and I can tell you without any exageration that several “insane zombies” have had all they could do to not stike me..but it’s coming.. to all of us..the people who are in control…are out of control. Right??


  16. Megan on

    According to the date stamp, your original post was written in 201. Since then the city of Detriot has filed bankruptcy because of illegal practices by local officials (many have been convicted & are now serving jail time). Detriot is also one of the worst in the nation in neighborhood decline stemming from the banking/housing scams of 2008 & from ‘urban flight’.

    While I agree Julie Bass’ front yard is not very ‘tidy’, considering all the problems cities like Detriot are facing, I can’t fathom that this is the best use of it’s limited resources. Is this REALLY one of the most important issues for ‘code enforcement’ in Detrioit given the condition of the city.

    I’m not an ‘anti-gov’ ranter, but the sooner Americans understand that it’s this type of intentional distraction that diverts our attention from the REAL issues that are affecting every single US citizen, the better off we’ll be. For example: TARP Billions paid to banks while millions are given out in Exec Bonus vs. Gun Laws.

    Thank you for posting this information.


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