Gardening: Veges on the verge

By Leigh Bramwell

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You know it's important when the New York Times runs a story that's a couple of thousand words long. When it's a story about gardening, though, you start to wonder whether the editor may have lost her marbles - or found them.

Just before Christmas, a story appeared about Jason Helvenston from Orlando, a self-employed sustainability consultant for the building trade, who planted an organic vegetable garden where his front lawn had been. It went unnoticed for several months, but then the man who owned the rental property next door complained to the city authorities, who cited the Helvenstons for "failure to maintain ground cover on a property" and gave them a deadline to sort it.

Obviously the Orlando authorities have never seen my cucumber patch, which covers not only quite a lot of my ground, but is on its way to the neighbours' at the speed of Michael Schumacher. And, I have to say, it's a damned sight prettier that the lawn is at the moment. The cucumber has big, lush green leaves and gorgeous yellow flowers, while the lawn is sad, dry, patchy and half dead. No contest then.

Helvenston planted his food garden at the front of his house because it was sunnier than the back, and he's not the only American who's had a run-in with authorities for making that decision.

In the past couple of years several have run afoul of local officials for growing vegetables out front. The New York Times' list includes:

In Ferguson, Missouri, a stay-at-home father was ordered to dig up his 55 varieties of edible plants.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, city authorities cleared a gardener's herbs and vegetables.

In Oak Park, Michigan, a mother of six faced up to 93 days in jail for refusing to take out the raised beds in front of her home. That one even made it to New Zealand television.

Gardeners aren't usually given to civil disobedience, but in the US many are calling it a war. "This isn't about a single garden; this is about the right to garden," one said.

The issue has seen the sprouting of an environmental group, Food Not Lawns, which advocates abolishing lawns in favour of edible gardens.

And here in New Zealand we have our own champion of the edible front garden, John Stanisfield, who has taken the concept not just a step further, but several steps right out on to the street, where he's growing vegetables on the grass verge outside his property. He's encouraging other people to do the same, saying it'll help feed the neighbourhood and solve Auckland Council's problem of not being able to afford to mow the berms.

Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan says they don't encourage people to use the berm for growing things, which would certainly be the most peculiar comment I've heard this year. I mean, why on earth would you not?

If they really wanted to maintain an illusion of control, councils could supply a variety of designs for such verges, each with different vegetables, and encourage groups of home owners to each choose a different plan with different foods, and then exchange the produce.

I can only think it would hugely enhance the appearance of many, if not most, of the country's streets, foster a sense of community and neighbourliness, and, of course, give people good, fresh, healthy, inexpensive produce to eat.

Imagine, for example, a patchy, weedy, dry grass verge transformed with one or two dwarf fruit trees surrounded by herbal ley, some raised beds or bins full of tomatoes, lettuces, beans and strawberries, and, of course, cucumbers. Or on second thoughts, perhaps just one cucumber to every four verges.

- Hamilton News

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