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Gardens attract unsavory elements: bees, marijuana and tomatoes.

July 2, 2010

Despite all the good news in food and urban agriculture, some people are not listening.  We have urban community gardens popping up everywhere in Chicago, often replacing the blight of empty brown fields.  We have people keeping chickens and bees and worms, completely in line with city ordinance.  We have restaurants with rooftop gardens.  Food…fresh, glorious, home-grown food is…well…it is becoming commonplace even in our urban environment.

If that is not enough proof for you,…

…we have a garden at the White House!

I like to think most of us see that as a positive thing, a feature.  Say, for example, you were to look over a real estate listing that read, approximately:

For Sale:  Three-story, 55,000 sf, 132 room single-family home situated on 18 acres; 32 bath, 28 wbfp, full “chef’s” kitchen, 3 elevators, heat, AC, in immaculate condition. Georgian neoclassical architecture in prime location, close to government offices in DC area and features a tennis court, jogging track, pool, movie theater, billiard room, bowling alley and organic garden.

Wouldn’t you think that last item a wonderful selling point?  Wouldn’t you, as a potential buyer of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, be extremely interested to know the property included an organic garden? Well, I’m here to tell you not everyone sees it that way.

I’m a condo building president (dubious honor) and am on a listserv of other condo presidents.  It’s an email list we can lob our questions out to in order to get help keeping our little ships afloat.  Usually, they are sticky legal questions regarding foreclosures and deadbeat owners and such, but I was very interested to read this one recently:

“I have a Board member who REALLY wants us to have an Owner Garden Area where owners can plant stuff. I am not in favor of this idea because for one thing it would be near our pool area and I don’t want to look at tomato plants from the pool.

I have also thought of some liability like someone growing marijuana, then we would be liable! And we’d have to police the area, things like that. A Garden Committee…which would end up being me because no one else on the Board wants to take any responsibility for anything.

Does anyone here have a ‘common garden area’ where owners can sign up and plant stuff each year? Or does anyone have suggestions on what to be wary of if we decide to do this? For one thing, this is common area which means any owner can go over and pick the tomatoes or the flowers. I don’t want the Board to be in the middle of any tussle over who took what.

It also occurred to me that some plants encourage bees and if someone were stung by a bee we’d be liable.

I am looking for good arguments to not have an Owner Garden. Can anyone make any suggestions?”

As you can guess, my response reading this was one of SHOCK!  Huh, you mean to tell me there are daiquiri-drinking, swimming pool-loungers out there who don’t see the value of a garden?


Maybe this person’s right though.  You wouldn’t want owners in your building to be spending time together working on a communal project that might foster good relationships among them.  And you wouldn’t want to encourage them to eat better and spend more time outdoors and less time in a green-lit grocery store stocking up on flavorless vegetables that are sprayed with toxic chemicals to keep the pests off, picked before they are ripe, then sprayed with some mysterious waxy substance and shipped 1000 miles across the country in a gas-guzzling truck.  No, you wouldn’t want that.  And please don’t disturb my view from my poolside chaise while I read my trashy romance novel – I don’t want to look at a tomato plant and I don’t want to consider putting up a small fence.  And yikes, encouraging our building owners to grow things and care for the earth and soil around them will most assuredly lead to marijuana growing, yeah, that’s a reasonable argument.  Oh, and what if one owner plants carrots and another owner picks one of their carrots?  How would we handle that?  No, people cannot be counted on to be fair and reasonable.  It’s really best they just all stay inside their little boxes and not come into contact with one another much so that we don’t have such problems.  After all, there’s no way community gardening like you see at Peterson Garden Project can actually work.  Surely there will be people stealing other peoples’ cucumbers, right?  And this board president obviously did not see the film “Bee Movie” wherein we all learn that the world is a balanced ecosystem and we need bees and bugs and bats and insects and things in a healthy relationship to each other.  Nope, a bee is an epi-pen producing, law suit inducing LIABILITY waiting to happen and we can’t be having any of them around our condo building!  And if I hear one word about anyone recycling or composting or keeping worms under their kitchen sink, I’m heading straight to the condo ‘documents and bylaws’ wherein I’m sure it states such subversive behavior is strictly verboten!

What’s next, rain barrels?!  Gasp!

Ok, here’s where I soften a little.  I have to admit that our building hires someone to mow and shovel snow because our owners are busy types who are not going to reliably get these household tasks done.  So they may not really follow through on a garden if we tried it.  And as a gardener, I’ll admit some garden plants are wild-looking things that may negatively impact “curb appeal”.  All true.  But, um, er, if people in our building were suddenly gung-ho about gardening, I would not throw up roadblocks like bees and litigation and marijuana.  I’d say, great, what can we grow that is easy and looks attractive: rhubarb, sorrel, herbs, chard, carrots, beets, kale come to mind.  And let’s set up a work schedule so we all contribute.  I guess I’m a glass-half-full-type condo president…at least where gardening is concerned.  There are just too many positive things about gardening not to give it a chance!

And as far as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue goes, I for one would be thinking about setting up grow lights and seedling trays in the bowling alley to get a jump on the season and my first inquiry upon calling the realtor would be to ask about whether there’s a root cellar.

Here you see a grumpy gardener, saddened by all the time spent outdoors with her garden-sharing friends, dodging bees. She's obviously thinking about planting marijuana next year.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jerry permalink
    July 2, 2010 5:46 pm

    I thought the comment about growing marijuana was amazingly funny. We are going to vote this year whether or not to legalize marijuana here, so that may take care of that bit of anxiety at least for anyone here in California. Of course, there then is the issue of poppy plants…

  2. July 15, 2010 3:27 pm

    OMG, I’m laughing so hard at this….Now, we all are (here at work). Great writing – love when you turn on the wit-enflamed sarcasm.

  3. Michelle permalink
    August 29, 2010 11:34 am

    This made me laugh, too, although it’s sad that someone could take something so positive for so many reasons and turn it into something evil. Maybe you should bring that guy a few of your beautiful tomatoes – might swing him around to your way of thinking.

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