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Progress With The Behind The Fence ROW Garden #NOGARDENTAX

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As you know, my city has forced me to pay a “garden tax” [a.k.a. a garden fine] on this garden and singled me out in my community to do so. While I understand their concerns, I continue to believe that selective enforcement is unjust and people trying to beautify their communities should not have to pay a fee to do so.

This experience has made me think a lot about what is happening across urban America in a down economy. I think one person – alone or with neighbors – should be able to make a difference for their community. Sometimes there are lots of challenges we have to face in order to do so. We need to come together and work together!

I NEED YOUR HELP – please leave a comment below with ideas on how we can make a positive difference across the United States for our small town and urban communities with gardens.

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A lot has happened this month. WGN TV covered the story of my behind-the-fenced garden and the concept of guerrilla gardening on public property. Here is a link to that TV feature – LINK.

2012 WGN Guerilla Gardening Feature

I have also paid the fee and worked hard to meet the end-of-May deadline for making changes in the garden my city required. The City of Warrenville rejected my original submission, which included a multiple-page design submission along with my check. Since I resubmitted the forms and check I have not heard anything from them, however, according to the paperwork they had me sign I needed to make some changes, so I spent this month trying to meet these demands because the deadline was the end of May.

  1. ROCK – With the help of a few friends I was able to remove and load all the rock that lined the garden. We are estimating it to be about a ton and a half of rock total. (See top photo.)
  2. PARK BENCHES – The City of Warrenville requested that the park benches I have set out be moved back more than 20” from the edge of the sidewalk and that they be repainted annually. One park bench sat in front of a drain and could not be pushed back, so I had to dig out a 12 foot section of garden and build a spot for the park bench to be relocated. I repainted both of them. (See photos below.)

Guerrilla Gardening

I want there to be no “garden tax” in my community or in YOUR community as well so that more people can afford to feed their family, attract native wildlife, conserve and solve water issues, and improve economic viability by gardening on shared easement and right-of-way properties. What are your ideas to help beautify our neighborhoods by gardening?

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  1. Thanks for leaving your comments. I know many of you are upset over the city's decisions. However, I'd like to receive your thoughts and ideas on how we might POSITIVELY make change in cities across the United States.

    What do you think? Keep the messages coming!

    Thank you,


  2. I'm working with my apartment complex to beautify their barren patches with gardens! The residents have been brought together by my efforts and many have started gardening on their own balconies. And yes, I am upset about the city's decision.

  3. A good lawyer would put Warrenville officials back in their offices. This type of city behavior is one reason the country can't right itself. It is never about what is good for citizens or the city but all about how can they collect money off this and they pick on people/groups who will have the least resources for recourse. As a property owner you do have rights. The fact they single you out is also a violation. I hope they get off your back and you continue your good work.

  4. I live in a neighborhood that boasts not only an official gardening club but also a group they’ve named PUGS (Pullman Urban Gardens) which has created a community garden on the grounds of an old factory. We also have taken to beautifying the ends of each block, using native plants and hardy flowers. Each block is different, signifying the diversity within the community. I’ll take pictures tonight to show you.

  5. Hi Shawna I agree that there need to be a movement away from fees and fines enforcement and that there needs to be some sort of compromise by City's across the country about gardens planted on public right a ways. For the safety of my pastures I mow and maintain the fence lines in front of my ranch as city and county both fail to do it. City and County governments have taken on more then they can maintain and there is a need for them to allow homeowners and landowners to maintain it. The fines and fees should be placed on those that own land and do not not maintain it before fining those that do!

  6. Shawna – Excellent post. Indeed, it's time to look at all regulations governing planting on both our private property and public spaces. Rules should be changed to tackle important issues like food justice and environmental stewardship; with an eye toward encouraging more people to engage with nature, reduce wasteful lawn space, and grow their own food. It would seem caring for soil and the environment, are more pressing issues than the height of plants near a mailbox. Good Luck! Laura

  7. Hi Shawna, In most communities I've lived in there have been “Adopt A Spot/Garden” program where residents volunteer to care for an area 1-2 years. Please take a look at the application my current city has for volunteers. With the program volunteers either do the work themselves or commit to paying a landscaper to do the work. Without volunteer programs, communities can hardly expect to improve and you can't impose fees on volunteers and expect to get any! I hope you can gather your community's Master Gardners, local gardening shops and cooperative extension and get a program like this going in your community!

  8. Shawna, I'm lucky to live in a garden-friendly city so it's appalling to hear what you have been through. I'm sad to hear about “taxes” (aka fees) and restrictions on greening public spaces.

    We have a great program here that provides small grants to groups on neigbours who take on projects like this. I'm considering applying to install honeybee hives in the traffic circles or other public space to help pollinate all of our gardens.

    Keep up the good work. Hopefully the hugs and love letters make it worth the trouble.


  9. I'm really disappointed to hear that Warrenville is pursuing this case. I can appreciate their “what-if?” concerns/slippery slope fallacies, but it would be so much more in their favor to work with residents and implement a green space initiative of sorts, spending energy beautifying spaces and bringing community together (nevermind instilling goodwill of the city in its residents). Perhaps coming up with general guidelines for city-owned spaces and using their bill-insert mailers as a opportunity to “enlighten” the community? (Trying to be positive, really.)

  10. First off I'd like to say that a gardening tax is 100% ridiculous. You're doing a fantastic job sprucing up your town, they should be paying YOU for doing this

    -Oscar Valencia

  11. Shawna…has your city forgotten you used your own money to plant the seeds to beautify a small section of city property? That it's your water (your money) keeping those plants alive? Your money which provided the benches and the paint? Your energy and time maintaining that space?

    So looks to me like you have more than paid the ridiculous fee, and have also saved, are also saving Warrenville a lot of money by your generosity.

    Warrenvile definitely has a problem…their city govt officials who can't/won't see the beauty in what you have done.

    Shame on Warrenville!

  12. There is a fenced lot between apartment buildings in my town. Every summer the gate is opened and the lawn is regularly mown. There are no benches or plants. I have thought about contacting the city to find out who owns it. I think it would be a great place for the apartment owners to garden, or relax in a serene environment. It's always just been a thought, but your situation has inspired me to look into it. I dont know what could come from it, but its worth a look. Keep up your great work, you're awesome for dealing with the necessary adjustment requirements, as ridiculous as they seem to be.

  13. I would like to see waste spaces that are unmaintained converted to food producing spaces supporting urban farmers, community gardens, food banks, and individual gardens. Who makes that happen? It might start with volunteers doing a food bank or community garden, but municipal encouragement of urban farming would boost local economy, too. Restaurant owners can be instrumental in this movement and networking is key to creating a cohesive effort. Churches are probably the best organized and most influential force in communities; feeding through gardening and teaching about gardening is in line with churches' missions. My church has started a community garden this year and there is discussion about partnering with the city next year as the city's community garden will be lost to construction. The bottom line is that in cities that are not garden-friendly, creating or joining an influential body is all that will turn things around. Wherever we are, it's important to speak up in support and encouragement of citizens who work to improve their communities. So Shawna, I applaud your effort!!! Bravo!!!!!

  14. Oh Shawna,

    I love those freshly painted yellow benches! Why not make a fashion statement every year with a different color? This year: Sunshine yellow.

    I'd suspect that if Warrenville gets enough negative attention they will eventually reconsider. Any more news stories for us?

  15. I live in Boulder County, Colorado and am experiencing similar issues here … as is everyone in the country. This is a non-partisan issue – local governments have completely out of control in their micromanaging of people's properties (and their lives). In Boulder County, the county has come out and said that they are following UN Agenda 21, an agenda that encourages governments to “encourage” municipalities and county governments to discourage people from living in the county and moving to the cities (it is more sustainable) by taking away their property rights and making their lives miserable. So many people have stories, though, such as Shawna's or a friend of mine who was threatened with jail time and a huge fine for having a vegetable garden in her front yard. Whether for any real purpose of just doing something because they have to justify their jobs, this has to stop! A great book I recently purchased from Amazon: The Best-Laid Plans – How Government Planning Harms your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your future.

  16. Why on Earth did they make you remove all that rock? What's the danger in having it there, that someone might fall and hurt themselves just like they'd do if they fell on the sidewalk? :s And also don't get the point of moving benches back – makes it harder to sit on them as they have to trample across your garden to get to it! How stupid, hope you manage to get a stop put to this ridiculous 'tax' – great to see you're getting lots of public promotion to support your cause!

  17. i am a professional garden writer who has helped over three dozen people across the country fight back against this sort of situation. there ARE some steps you can take to “win” (that is, “not lose”) in this situation. they nearly always involve getting the help of a local garden expert and a lawyer (usually works pro bono), and simply declaring your garden a GARDEN, not a LAWN.
    in my years of working with this, we have NEVER lost a case. it's a matter of calling the city's bluff with public support – and giving them a “face-saving” way out…

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