Did you know that a Right to Garden Act has been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly? Yup. The bill numbers are HB 4704 and SB 3329, and the chief sponsors in their respective chambers are State Representative Sonia Harper and State Senator Scott Bennett.

front garden
Photo from shawnacoronado.com

The legislation proclaims that “the right of of a property owner to create and maintain a garden on his or her own residential property … should not be infringed upon by the State or any unit of local government.” These are stirring words, in my opinion.

sonia harper
State Rep. Sonia Harper

This legislation was inspired by Nicole Virgil, a suburban mom and avid vegetable gardener who found herself the subject of unwanted attention from local officials. You can read about Nicole’s story here, but I think we are all aware of instances of local ordinances being used to force the Tyranny of Lawns upon aspiring gardeners.

nicole virgil
Nicole Virgil

Unfortunately, the legislation does not impact landscaping rules imposed by Home Owners Associations (HOAs), but perhaps that could be the next battle.

Nicole Virgil has spearheaded an impressive grassroots lobbying effort. For example, I noticed that the Right to Garden bills have already picked up more than 20 co-sponsors. These include both Democratic and Republican lawmakers (Illinois has a Democratic super-majority in both chambers) crossing ideological, racial, and geographic lines.

bennett 2
State Sen. Scott Bennett

Both bills are currently in committee, but I’ll keep you posted as developments occur.

In the meantime: give me my garden, or give me – well, just give me my garden.

39 Comments on “You’ve Got to Fight – For the Right – To Gaaaarden!”

  1. It is silly that such laws are necessary! I do not mind that Home Owners Associations have such rules for their public spaces, since those who live in such Associations agree to such rules when they invest in such properties. However, It annoyed me that so many in my hometown, within a region that was once famous for fruit production, wanted to outlaw vegetable gardening, even without greenhouses, in front gardens of all properties. It still is not illegal to do so, but I had a neighbor mention that I should not grow corn out front. I had put it out there in a clump as an ornamental grass. I did not grow it out there again.
    At about the same time, in the late 1990s, I needed to explain to a police officer who came to my home that it is legal to hang my laundry in the back yard. It is only illegal to hang laundry where it is visible from out front. The police officer thought that it must have been visible for the neighbor to see it. Rather, the neighbor only saw it over the back fence. I think it should have been illegal for the neighbor to build the monster home that gave him such a view of my backyard, and an for him to remove all the trees, which are protected by local ordinance, that would have otherwise obscured much of the view that he found to be so objectionable. I never complained about his monster house.

  2. Thankfully we have always had the freedom to garden the bit of land in front of our houses over here in the UK. The problem here is that so many people are concreting them over so that they can park their cars off road and this leads to flooding which is not good for anyone.

  3. Very interesting .. Canberra is known as the bush capital & most suburbs are surrounded by nature strips and corridors of natural grass land… however one of our neighbours tried to plant and grow a few more small trees and plants on the barren nature strip near them ( drought affected) and had SO much opposition. It took four years to get approval! I really must write a post about that.
    In the meanwhile I hope no one takes away your right to garden … we live in unpredictable times!

  4. Lawn. Four-letter word. I think there are lots of reasons to have policies and laws governing home appearance, but the love of a lawn is not the best. On the other hand, a lot depends on what one calls a garden. I once had a very colorful neighbor who was said to plant her garden with a martini in one hand and a bunch of seeds in the other; she threw the seeds and wherever they landed was her garden. Worked for her. There is, of course, a serious purpose to this legal battle in Illinois. There should really be a law against letting sunny ground be without a garden!

  5. Even with just having a lawn as your garden people will find something to complain about. I mowed a labyrinth into my front lawn a few years ago and you should have heard the comments. Crazy people.

  6. Good Lord! How extraordinary to need a “Right to Garden” bill. The Lexington [KY] Council Garden Clubs has, since 1992, sponsored a biennial “Lexington in Bloom” contest for gardens and displays visible to the public from the street. We have added new categories each cycle in addition to traditional plantings: vegetables, pollinator, community, schools, window boxes, etc.. Color, texture, design, and maintenance are all important elements but we strive to encourage our community to get outside and brighten our lives! http://www.lexgardenclubs.org

  7. Hello Jason, I’d be interesting in keeping up with this. It seems that some HOA and Ordinances are very aggressive and can have a myopic view of what a picture-postcard “ideal” should look like. I hope this gains support and that “common sense” wins.

  8. I am all for this initiative. There is an obvious benefit to having some collective sense of neighbourhood, but often the standards makers struggle to pinpoint the right things to worry about. Trash in gardens is one thing, cultivated plants, another. Sadly, the world health situation makes it likely that people will start to think again about whether it is more sensible to fill gardens with grass or food.

  9. Just when I think we’re making progress on some of these issues, some disconcerting trend or event happens. It seems like three steps forward, four steps back. But it’s good to celebrate the successes. It does seem that awareness of the benefits of less lawn and more garden space is increasing.

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