Friday, March 1, 2013

Patriot Garden


I went to the home of Jennifer and Jason Helvenston in College Park on a small dead end road that stops at I-4. Walking through the suburban neighborhood, I saw many blue yard signs that promote "Patriot Gardens". I was at City Hall the day before at a demonstration where people demanded the right to keep their vegetable gardens. The Helvenston's grow dozens of vegetables organically in their front yard in Orlando. But in November, the city—which aspires to be the “Greenest City in America”, notified them that their harmless garden violates city code, and they have to tear it up and replace it with grass or face fines of $500 a day.

I looked up their home with a Google map street view and the photos showed a barren yard before the lush garden was planted. The garden is now bursting with an abundance of vegetables and herbs. Jennifer backed her car out of the driveway as I was sketching. She recognized me from the protest at City Hall and she explained that many of the citizens that went to the City Counsel Meeting got up and spoke eloquently for the right to grow food. She felt the meeting went well but the battle wasn't yet won. City government is a slow moving beast upholding decades old landscaping codes drafted before homeowners recognized the advantages of using native plants, creating natural habitats for butterflies and birds and sustainable organic gardens that put food on the table.

Sketching, I was surprised by the deep trenches between rows of vegetables. I assumed this was extreme raised bed gardening. Jason came out and explained that the soil had developed plant parasitic nematodes, or round worms. They had dug the ditches extra deep to try and eliminate this garden pest. Next week the garden will be completely overturned and replanted, He plans to plant the rows in rainbow arcs radiating away from the home so that the rows will no longer be noticed from the street.

All the Helvenston's want to do is use their property peacefully to grow their own food. Their front yard garden has become a battleground in a national debate.  Planting the garden changed the couples life because they now interact regularly with their neighbors. They spend most of their time in the garden stopping to talk to all the people coming by, which they love.  Who stops to talk to someone mowing a lawn? Having sketched the lush garden, I can say it is far more interesting than a lawn of grass. Americans spend an estimated $30 billion annually on lawn care with huge amounts of water and fertilizer wasted. If you have a sunny spot on your front lawn, consider planting your own Patriot Garden. Plant a seed, change the law.

As of September 2013, the couple has won the lawsuit and can keep their front yard garden.

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