Posted by: Green Knight | December 27, 2012

Front Yard Food and/or Habitat Restoration

I get requests for info from reporters on enviro issues all the time. I got one this evening that I absolutely had to respond to right away. Here’s the query:

I’m looking for anyone with recent, firsthand information about
gardeners violating their city’s code about lawn maintenance by
planting crops in their front yard. I’d like to hear from you
if: you’re a gardener who has been cited for tending vegetables
on your lawn, or if you’re a city official with knowledge of
city ordinances restricting the type of vegetation homeowners
may plant in their front yard.

Here was my response:

“When i lived in a suburb of St. Louis, we grew tomatoes in the front yard, with a wooden trellis to hold up the vines. We also grew hot peppers and leeks, but they weren’t so obvious. Never got hassled, because the city was sort of lazy, although they did try to make me get a business license because i was teaching environmental safety classes in my living room (I obtained a copy of the relevant city ordinance, highlighted the portions that showed I was exempt, sent it back, and never heard from them again. The lesson they learned was never to mess with an ex-State regulator.).

I assume you’ve heard of xeriscaping, originally coined  from the Greek word for “dry,” and intended for places like LA or Las Vegas that use way too much water for lawns that don’t belong there; the concept involves using native plants instead. The term has come to envelop all attempts to use native and local plants that thrive in whatever biogeography you happen to live in, wet or dry. The best story I have about this is from my late friend R. Roger Pryor, former director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, who lived in the city of St. Louis proper, and who paid $50 a pound for native prairie-grass and wildflower seeds and made his front yard a piece of what used to be here before the Europeans arrived. Because of that, he kept getting written up by the health department under their “noxious weed ordinance.” Go figure.”

I hope the reporter doesn’t mind that I wrote about it here already; I’m sure that we can have a productive and lengthier interview about a lot of related issues, such as using graywater in yards, and people with chickens in their back yards, and sustainability in general. It’s just that when I see a trigger like that, I have to respond instantly or it’ll get lost in the shuffle of all the other issues I deal with. Growing your own is always a good idea. I saved the back yard for my compost heap.



  1. Interesting note. In the southwest many people have gone away from lawns to rocks and native plants. Probably cities need to take a look at their ordinances and bring them up to date.

    • Thanks, Doc, glad you’re still taking a gander at my meanderings! When I was growing up in Santa Clara, some folks down the block took out their lawn, poured concrete over it, and painted it green. A bit extreme, I’d say.

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