There is no argument to say a well-manicured lawn is something Americans strive for. Riding lawnmowers, an arsenal of RoundUp chemicals, fertilizers and lawn ‘food’ line garage shelves everwhere, and the ranks of good solid men toil under the sun keeping it mowed, watered, weeded and primped because THAT, folks, is what we do.
Unless of course, you’ve lost your job and decided to start turning your yard and bordering gardens as a source of both food and medicinal herbs. Well. If you start doing that, the neighborhood is clearly going to hell.
I mean, you’ll start off with a little pot of basil by the back door … CLAIMING its for pesto, and the next thing you know, that will turn into a big overgrown untended sprawl of dandelion weeds, those nasty burrs that I spend all summer picking out of the dog’s fur and who KNOWS what else.
You’re probably going to have possum families living in your yard and rats. Hey buster, rats don’t stay put. They could end up in MY yard. And let me tell you, I’ve put a lot of work into my yard. Its taken years to get it the way it is today, and it makes me happy, so don’t fuck up happy.
OK, in all seriousness though, lawns, and by proxy, gardens are serious business here in the US. HOAs spend much time regulating this, measuring grass lengths and therefore keeping civil unrest from overtaking in the form of foliage and unaesthetically uniform unsightliness. Cities have officers who come out and leave notices, levy fines and in some cases, do your gardening for you.
Most of us have probably already heard about a Tulsa woman who tried to grow her own self-sustainable medicine cabinet and pantry. Article here. Although well within her rights legally, keeping only plants that could be eaten, her entire garden was razed. Fruit and nut trees were cut down and workers manning both a bobcat and a riding lawnmower finished the job.
Now Denise Morrison is suing the city of Tulsa. Sympathetic members of the community have rallied around her and are trying to help her with what she has lost.
But here is the bigger discussion, and there can be several that come from this. Here are just two points.
Why is the idea of an ‘unruly’ garden so offensive to neighbors, city inspectors and HOAs?
With the emphasis put on the ‘ideal’ American yard with its neon green Bermuda grass luster, you could make all kinds of assumptions, couldn’t you? The neighbor with the perfect yard has HIS shit together. His lawn looks great, he fixed that slanted mailbox right away, his car is washed and his wife is pretty. He’s got it all. Wow. We box that up and call him healthy, positive and productive as a community member.
Enter your neighbor with the overgrown lawn who forgot to replace the screen on his house that Snickers nosed through last spring. Tsk. He’s never out there mowing the lawn. When is the last time we saw him at the neighborhood picnic? Sometimes he leaves his newspaper out on the driveway for days! Frank does NOT have it going on. I’ve heard he’s got health problems. Someone said his wife left him. Do you want to call the HOA, or should I? We can’t have his yard looking like that — our property value could suffer from a house in disrepair like that….
Disarray. Climbing vines. Long grass. These equal nature out of control. Nature out of control is an uncomfortable topic for those who wear their pants too tight and their minds too narrow. That’s what I have to say on that.
Now, on to the second point.
With an increasing number of incidents like this making the news (and many more that don’t), people feel as though living a self sustaining lifestyle is contrary to what society wants them to do. We’re encouraged to ‘fix’ the economy by pouring our money into Black Friday sales after we gorge on Thanksgiving Day; television sets bombard viewers with a relentless barrage of ads for everything we didn’t realize we must have in order to be happy, and to follow up, there’s medication for when you’re not happy. (you’d be happy if you just had that damn lawn, btw) And if you’re not happy, no one around you is happy, so fix that.
The trendy name ‘guerilla gardening’ is one good solution to having your cake and eating it too. For those who know their plants of course, its not subversive, but face it, the wide majority of people do NOT know their holly from hackberry from billberry.
The concept is simple: planting ‘discreetly’, medicinal and edible plants become part of the landscape. Forest gardening is another term for this that applies as well. The average passerby would not recognize that there was lambsquarter as part of an existing garden of similar ‘ornamental’ or familiar bushes and plants. To go one level deeper than hiding carrots amongst your pansies (who doesn’t love pansies, huh? very pro-go-team kind of flower), is to integrate those herbs and squash vines into your natural landscape, into the existing thicket of whatever nature serves up in your part of the woods.
Unless of course, you live in a sanitized HOA-helicopter-monitored ‘community’, in which case, I am very sorry and I hope you move the hell out of there as soon as you can.
Related Anti-Garden News, Grist article