12 Reasons Why I Don’t Grow Edibles in My Street Garden

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When I started digging what would eventually become the street garden I had no idea that it would evolve into a social and scientific experiment. People often ask me if I grow food in this garden. The following twelve points should clear that question up. Hell, number two will do the job all on its own.

1. The Soil Hasn’t Been Tested: And seriously, anything could be in there. Never mind the chemicals that can’t be seen with the eye, you wouldn’t believe some of the “artifacts” unearthed over the years through planting and general maintenance. Anything could have happened in that space within the last 100 years. Anything.

2. Gifts From Neighbourhood Dogs, Both Large and Small: Their special poo packages come in appropriate sizes. Delightful discoveries revealed with the first thaw. Dog people of the world, when your puppy is sick, magical faeries do not remove the evidence with a wave of their magic wand… suckers like me do.

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    I am sorry you had to see that. Believe me, I chose the least offensive of the bunch.

3. The Urinators: Late night partyers or mid-afternoon dudes too lazy to walk a few feet to the local coffee shop. The surprise in turning the corner and catching a glimpse of some strange dude having a private moment over my plants is bad enough… now imagine that those plants are what’s for dinner.

4. The Tramplers: Aka drunk dudes who fall butt first into my gorgeous blooming iris bed crushing said iris bed and impeding their ability to bloom for an entire year. Who’s not bitter?

5. It’s Not Called the Street Garden for Nothing: Car and truck exhaust continuously showering the plants and soil in a chemical cloud of ass stench.

6. The Smokers: There is a constant assembly of stressed-out civil defence attorneys and their clients satisfying their cravings curbside from 9-5 daily. This same group also serves as my personal audience, peering over puffs of smoke at my ass crack as I bend over to pluck a weed or deadhead a spent bloom. It’s like I’m famous! Who doesn’t love an audience? This same group often throw their butts into the garden where a team of little elves are perched on standby ready to scoop the butts and swiftly deliver them to a nearby garbage receptacle.

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    A pill bottle and a cigarette butt together! At once! Just as nature intended.

7. Scary Trash: From collections of used needles (Despite the drop-off box located directly across the street. At least this spring’s collection had caps!), to not-yet-empty prescription bottles, half-full cans of tall beer, and used glow-in-the-dark condoms. The possible seepage off of these items alone is terrifying. Or that time someone dumped an entire bag of used kitty litter (poo and all) into the garden. Yeah, THAT’S where it goes.

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8. The Potting Soil and Dead Houseplant Dumpers: I can’t begin to explain this one but people regularly dump large pots of used potting soil and dead or half-dead tropicals into the garden. There must be some kind of “back to its source” logic in action here.

9. Building Waste/Street Cleaners/Salt: More products of the street-side location. There was also that time early one Sunday am when some idiot smashed their car into the building leaving a front bumper and assorted car parts behind.

10. Stashed Possessions and/or Gifted Items: Pairs of jeans, purses, underwear, full makeup sets, gym bags… you name it. People see a garden and naturally conclude “personal outdoor locker.” Or there are the numerous lawn ornaments, plastic windmills, planters and assorted ephemera that have been anonymously “gifted” to the garden only to disappear sometime later. At least this stuff amuses me. Check out today’s offering…

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    I’m definitely NOT going to eat that. But I guarantee you someone did. I should take a look.

11. The BIA (Business Improvement Association) Might Make Me Remove the Garden: So they can put in a garden. This really happened! No bitterness here. Nope. None. Jerks.

12. Some Dumbass Would Reach to Take a Tomato and Rip Out the Entire Plant: Just like that time someone reached for a sunflower, peony, iris, rose, [insert plant name here]. Which I would then find in pieces scattered down the block or stuck into the BIA planter boxes in a half-earnest attempt to will it back to life.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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32 thoughts on “12 Reasons Why I Don’t Grow Edibles in My Street Garden

  1. Ooo. By number #9 I was seriously wondering how you could go near the side bed at all, much less will up the courage to leave your appartment.

    The hostess cupcake was a scary and simultaniously sort of fabulous thing. I’m sure your right. I’m sure someone ate it.

  2. Update om the cupcake: Davin threw it out. It was so pristine I was sure someone would eat it. Why anyone placed it so perfectly in the garden is beyond me. Maybe they hoped it would sprout a cupcake tree.

    Ana and Christine: This isn’t even the half of it! I think I have learned more about human nature than gardening from this spot. Although what I have learned about gardening is how to do so in adverse conditions. The soil was like brick when I started!

  3. LOL, Gayla posted poop! (heehee…giggle…snort). Sorry. I know it’s terrible, but it made me laugh…and the “hostess” cupcake seems so… profound.

    Seriously, you need to make a documentary film of this by setting up a hidden camera and filming the people that interact with this garden space. Maybe also keep the more exceptional finds and show them on pristine little shelves mounted next to your beautiful photos: “Humanity and the Sacred Space”.

  4. Oh, the cupcake is definitely my favorite!!! Go you for reclaiming that piece of earth over and over again. I’m sure I’d become discouraged after a while.

  5. I am surprised by the sheer stupidity of humans every time. It never fails. I shouldn’t be by now.

    You mentioned the buttcrack thing. Damnit, I hate that problem. Sometimes when it is just Joe and I, I say screw it. Yeah, I look like a plumber, so what. But I found a pair of overalls now, to use when I really need to get down and dirty. Yay! No more butt crack!

  6. thank you for having this resourceful website, and for your integrity on that curbside garden. i’m disturbed by what folks leave behind and try to get away with, but heartened by the fact you keep at it. i wholeheartedly concur with the video idea!

  7. Believe me there are points where I do give up and it goes to hell for a while. Two years ago I was out there picking up what felt like millions of discarded liquor bottles when a drunken guy came up to me and started berating me for “letting it get so messy.” He chose the wrong moment because I was already steaming mad about the amount of garbage (there is a combo recycling bin/garbage bin not a few feet away!). I was so livid by his gall I just lost it and gave him a piece of my mind for a good 2 minutes.

    Taryn: Overalls are a good idea. I don’t wear mega-lowriders ala Britney Spears and the like but even normal jeans are problematic.

  8. Yep. Most jeans are too big around the waist for me, creating a pooch in the back which can be quite revealing at time. Those + t-shirts made for women (which are usually shorter than mens) = me not ever being able to bend over.

    Back on topic: It does make me wonder how that cupcake got there. The video would have been interesting.

  9. The entire spot should be paved over and a broom and dustpan chained to a post left for passers-by…YUCK!

  10. Wait… Whoa… Pave it over? It is unfortunate that some people are jerks but pavement isn’t going to improve the situation only make it worse. People are still going to throw their garbage there and let their dogs crap there without picking it up regardless of whether it’s a garden, a patch of sod, a mud pit, or a block of cement. Some poeple are just really self-centered and could care less about anything, including public space and nature that doesn’t “belong” to them. There is a large recycling bin/garbage bin only a few feet away. A broom and dustpan would not improve the situation.

    The situation absolutely frustrates me at times but in the end I would do it all again if given the choice. I haven’t mentioned the flip side which is the birds that eat berries from the garden, the wildlife that takes up residence there when everything around it is sidewalk, asphalt, and pavement, and the people who stop to say hi and thank me for giving them flowers to look at in a spot that was once a waste space.

  11. A gardener will garden anywhere and anytime they can. Gardens that are in the city definately shine. The last line in your post says it all.

  12. great post from the gardening front line!

    i’ve never understood why smokers don’t consider cigarette butts as trash. even people who wouldn’t normally litter will flick their fag-ends onto the street.

  13. I wonder what it would take to encourage people to mind the garden. Sounds like there is no shortage of waste bins and stuff… maybe people are more self-conscious about leaving trash and poop (and uh, cupcakes) on the pavement? Maybe you should try leaving a strategic assortment of trash on the pavement, to stop people trying to hide junk among the plants? Or maybe you could have a dedicated trash bed for people to plant their heroin trees and propagate their dog poop. I would kind of love to come across one of those in the city.

  14. I gave a friend a rosmary plant last year, which she placed at her front door. Two months later I visited her and her smoking friends put their cigarett butts in the pot………could not believed it. Thank you for cultivating a street garden.

  15. People do leave trash on the sidewalk too. And then that trash blows into the garden!

    The poo is because a dog will choose to go on grass rather than a sidewalk. The crazy thing is that there is a small park with plenty of lawn DIRECTLY across the street. It’s just laziness and not giving a shit (ha), pure and simple. Anyone with a dog knows that the law states that you pick up their waste.

    I think my biggest current issue is that the fence I constructed has been completely destroyed. We are building a new one this year that will at the very lesat keep smaller dogs out.

    Lemongrass: That sucks.

  16. As to dogs, a friendly sign that says “no dogs please” might help — as most urban dogs are accompanied by humans.

    As to poop in the garden, I want to point out that CATS are very polite to bury their waste, but they do so regularly in my garden. Many, if not all, dog owners pick up the dog waste. But cat owners let the cat out, unattended, and there is not a thought of whose garden becomes the litterbox.

  17. Gayla,
    I live on a fairly busy street in an urban area and can totally sympathize with the garbage problems. My little friends like to shove their empty fast food cups and beer bottles waaaaay inside my barberry bush. Not only do I have to dig out the garbage, I get scratched to bits in the process. Argh! Keep fightin’!

  18. Gayla – I feel your pain! The number of dim-witted oafs who feel that gardens are just a(pretty) garbage receptacle never ceases to amaze me. Cigarette butts especially are my pet peeve. I once circulated a memo at the museum whose flowerbeds I tended begging their staff to walk the extra three feet instead of forcing me to handpick their soggy filters. It worked – for a couple weeks.

    I also tried planting barberry and other prickly barb-wire like specimens to deter thieves and vandals, but even more garbage than usual got caught in the barberry’s grasp, scratching me to bits. So frustrating!

  19. OMG…is this a garden in front of a business or home? Either one that neighborhood sounds dreadful. Doesn’t it suck to live smack dab in the middle of idiots? Sometimes that’s how I feel around here. I’d say through all the turmoil your garden goes through I’m surprised it’s still alive and kicking.

    I found some crazy stuff in the soil in the backyard of a former residence and never planted edibles in it. Used containers.

  20. I’m working on a community garden too and have seen the same problems you have pointed out, besides the cupcake. Have you considered growing a prickly barrier such as barberry or buckthorn instead of a fence and what if any tips do you have to improve the soil?

  21. Nathan,

    Add compost and mulch like a maniac. In addition to all the good stuff mulch does last year’s layer will break down into the soil.

  22. This is a great article! I totally share your fustrations Gail. I’ve been trying to keep my Street Garden (my only garden)clean for 7 years and there is always a suprise to be found once a week. If its not a cigarette butt, its always a food wrapper of some kind. You would think after so many years that people would notice, especially when the garden is in full bloom!

  23. Yupp this all sounds very similar. I too have a plot that people love to dump on. Sometimes they steal my plants too.Its a funny thing gardening in a public place you try to improve a marginal site and you hit these road blocks, but like you said Gail the thanks is in watching the smiles and the wildlife.

  24. The Garden Cupcake (a short film):
    -
    Fade In: Overworked mother pushing her double stroller down the sidewalk, three kids are inside screaming; two other toddlers are in tow. Mother carries a few bags of groceries.
    -
    Close up: Mom’s purple fingers grip and loosen as the bags cut off the blood after 6 city blocks. Junk food brand names are visible inside the bags.
    -
    Zoom out: Diet of sugary snackfood fuels more wippering and bawling from the kids… Oldest toddler is unwrapping a chocolate treat… but it falls (slow motion) to the sidewalk. Oldest screams even louder which starts a chainreaction of crying from the others.
    -
    With no hesitation the mother picks up the treat, plants it in the garden and calmly states… “Let’s plant it here, so next time we come by there will be a big cupcake bush with lots of cupcakes for everyone!” The oldest sibling stops crying and wipes his eyes… almost magically, the rest of the kids stop crying. The image of a giant cupcake bush crowds their minds with the umlimited potential of such a plant.
    -
    Next day: Scene opens as Gayla walks up to her garden, looks down and says: “How the hell did THAT get there?” …Gayla leaves the cupcake where it is.
    -
    Fade to black, roll credits.
    -
    Fade in, same scene a few days later: Mom walks past with kids, all except the oldest kid have forgotten about the cupcake. Oldest scoops the cupcake and puts it in his pocket for planting closer to home.
    -
    THE END
    ——-
    P.S. Sunday June 25th: I planted about 125-150 sunflowers, about kneehigh in size, in a park near my home. If anything odd happens, I’ll send Gayla an update with the details.

  25. Greg: Thanks for the pick-me-up. Part of the garden was recently destroyed by someone and it has bummed me out in a big way.

  26. Oh boy am I glad that I don’t live in the city! You scared me! I also don’t know about the cupcake…I bet some of the neighborhood kids would probably do that. Have you really seen a gym bag? WOW

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