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

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

The snow has melted and it is time to take stock of what has accumulated in the street garden since the fall. In my neighborhood, gentrification is running rampant like a pack of drunken college kids and has brought with it bigger troubles than my little garden has seen in its decade-long existence.

I’ve decided to begin this one where I left off with the last post on this topic in April 2007. And then there was a 13th. I’ll wait for you to refresh your memory and then we’ll reconvene here and go through the newest additions together.

14. Years of accumulated alcohol-laden urine from bar-hopping dudes soaked into the soil: Thousands of liters and counting, since the number of bars and young dudes driving in from Ajax and Whitby hoping to get their “cool on” is sky-rocketing exponentially. Apparently, my garden is the number one outdoor public bathroom around. My question is: Do I get a shiny Public Service ribbon as a prize?

Forget “Gardening for the People.” Perhaps I should change my slogan to, “Beautiful Outdoor Bathrooms for the People.”

Photo by Davin Risk All Rights Reserved

15. Now With Even More Butts: Because our new neighbors like to smoke their darts out the window and the garden is like a magical disappearing ashtray. Poof! The butts just go away! None of that annoying having to dump them in the garbage or see them accumulate all wet and nasty in the backwash at the bottom of a beer bottle.

I can make funny, sarcastic remarks about this, but in all honesty, my blood boils whenever I think about just how many butts are out there. I will inevitably waste an hour of my life because these people are too steeped in denial to take responsibility for their own mess. It sometimes surprises me just how dense adults can be. An apt metaphor for our overall disregard for this planet, I suppose.

Needless to say, I am waiting for a calm moment to knock on their door and discuss it with them. Going over there raging probably isn’t going to do much good. The only problem being that my rage isn’t subsiding. Perhaps I should send them a bill for both the cleanup and the therapy required to work through my anger around their butts?

Living in the world with other people isn’t always easy.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

16. Cigarettes + White Dog Poo: I know both of these have already been covered, but I can only imagine that while they are both nasty separately, together they fuse into a toxic brew with which nothing can compete.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

17. Spinach?: First there’s the brand name, “Topless.” Topless? Sounds like someone needs to put a paper bag over that spinach to protect the eyes of the innocent. Then there was that whole poop in the spinach/ecoli fiasco in 2006 that put everyone off the vitamin-rich vegetable for at least a few months. Can a bundle of spinach of unknown origin left in my garden be considered toxic waste? And last but not least, huh? I can only imagine that this is more of that bewildering “Back to the Source” logic at work. I am building evidence to support this theory. Expect my thesis in 2011.


Taking all of this into account, I don’t think I can face the cleanup alone this year. My heart rate goes up to dangerous levels by just looking at the disaster that has been enacted upon the garden. I am going to set aside my general inability to ask for help… and ask for help. If you have an hour to spare this Saturday afternoon, and have not been frightened off by the content of these posts, I would gratefully appreciate your help in cleaning this mess up. Beverages will be provided; however, you will need to bring your own Hasmat suit.

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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43 thoughts on “More Reasons Why I Don’t Grow Edibles in My Street Garden

  1. Oh, cigarette butts just make my blood boil! Someone empties their car ashtray onto my squash patch once a week. I just don’t get it.
    Don’t let them get you down, but I would write a (friendly) note if you know where some of them are coming from.

  2. since you taught me about seed-saving for free just recently, i think i can help you out with this project! can you send coordinates and timing details?

  3. Ah! to be young and (justifiably) enraged.

    Could some tastefully designed and worded sign help here?

    Neither pee nor f*****g litter here!; for the love of God!; didn’t your momma teach you better?!.

    I’m just saying.

    I recently volunteered to clean a portion of the Arkansas river (shamefully, for the first time in my life), and I too was bewildered and flummoxed by the stuff people throw away in public places.

  4. I used to spend hours and money on my street garden, a small patch between the street and the sidewalk that had been neglected for years. The first attempt was a naive trip to the garden center to pick up a carload of plants for a beautifully designed, IMHO, strip of greenspace.

    My neighbors all crowded around me snickering. I assured them that all was well.

    The next morning on my way to work, I stepped out my front door to find a pock-marked landscape where the plants had been meticulously plucked from the ground to beautify someone else’s garden.

  5. Damn, you know I’d hop on over there and give you a hand if you could.

    Stupid people, I can’t understand the need for some of them to trash a beautiful space. It’s like they have evil dark little pits of despair inside of them and need to enact that on something that can’t fight back.

  6. I spent four years in a hapless exercise of tending a strip of greenery on an alleyway behind the 7-11 at Dundas + Dovercourt. In spite of the piles of shattered glass, LCBO ephemera and autoshop debris, I never regretted it. Even when I discovered that it had become a nice place for a gentleman to rest after a long night out. Eventually flowers volunteered to set up shop between the cracks.

    Yay Toronto springtime.

  7. Ewwww, yuck! What’s the matter with people?You’ve just proved my husband’s point, so I guess I’ll have to abandon the idea of a beautiful (much less edible) street side garden.

  8. Have you tried the following sign? “You are currently being taped by a security cam. If you pee here, I’ll post it to YouTube.” Might work, might make the problem worse.

  9. Lisa: I wouldn’t give up just because of my experiences. What is happening with my garden has a lot to do with how the neighborhood is changing. I gardened here for years and while, yes, there are always problems in a public space, it was never nearly as bad as it is now.

  10. I’m not sure why men pee all over everything since their sense of smell is so bad. They cant even smell themselves when they smell bad, so its not marking their territory.
    Personally, I would gather up all the cigarrette butts and dump them on the car of your neighbor. Or fling them in an open window. I am an asthmatic and there nothing more annoying (and rather deadly, for me) than a smoker with no care for other people. I don’t care what they do on their property but if they’re flinging the butt ends on prime growing ground, it means war.
    As for the dog poo, try some dog-be-gone spray. I dont remember the brand name, but it’ll make them less likely to want to mark the property.

  11. How about a pile of very dry straw below the smoker’s window? might catch their attention? afterwards, you can call it bio-char and dig it under.

    and a composting toilet….

  12. I don’t so much mind the animal poops and pees…it’s natural for the most part…it’s the human vomit that pisses me off. Drunk dudes in the summer drink their faces off then stumble down the street to the bar, vomiting as they go. How the heck do you clean THAT up? (without vomiting yourself) I think a garden hose is in order this summer! Surprise, Pukey McBarfer!

  13. good for you, waiting until you’re calm to go talk to the neighbours about their butts.

    i hope you’re planning some spiky, itchy planting this year!

  14. Being a smoker, it makes my blood boil that people can be so thoughtless about their butts. At work, we have to smoke out on the sidewalk, Iput butt canns all over and I get the same feeling when I see someone put a butt on the grass or dump it down the storm drain.AND PEOPLE NEED TO CLEAN UP AFTER FIDO AS WELL.

  15. Tobacco soaked in water keeps aphids out, right? Maybe working in the butts the tobacco in the soil will keep the soil pest free?

    But the filters may be a problem – I don’t think they bio-degrade….

    At my mum’s place there’s a fellow who chucks ALL kinds of stuff out his balcony.

    The last time, she gathered it and went up to his flat to ‘return’ it to him. Needless to say, he was quite agitated that my mum did that – I hope that’s taught him something.

    Once you’ve gathered all the butts, put them in a box and tell him/her that what they so carefully planted during winter has given a bountiful harvest and that you thought you must share it with them. :-)

  16. We keep a list of all the interesting items we find abandoned/deposited in our local streetside garden – my partner and I have a running joke that we are going to start a garden newsletter called “Human Poos and VCRs”…

    We take turns raging and being patient and compassionate, usually on alternate weeks! I find what keeps us going is that for every person who intentionally or unintentionally damages the garden in some way, there are ten more who love and appreciate what it brings to the neighbourhood.

  17. I have an idea about your smoking neighbors …

    Pick up all the butts, collect them in a cup/bowl/bucket (whichever is the appropriate size). Bring them over to your neighbors and show them the visual of what you just picked up and then ask for some consideration. That way they can’t say it doesn’t happen often, or whatever excuse. Props/evidence will help your cause.

  18. Ugh! We have an sketchy alley behind our house that butts up against our backyard…and you can just imagine the number of items that end up in our yard (and sometimes in our garden). It will definitely be a future blog post of mine. Thankfully there is a 4-foot buffer between the alley and our garden, so as to keep things safely edible :)


  19. Ugh! We have an sketchy alley behind our house that butts up against our backyard…and you can just imagine the number of items that end up in our yard (and sometimes in our garden). It will definitely be a future blog post of mine. Thankfully there is a 4-foot buffer between the alley and our garden, so as to keep things safely edible :)


  20. If I’m feeling better by Saturday I’ll definitely come over to help clean up … I’ve let others know too – what time in the afternoon?

  21. Pee is a compost activator- a golden lining to your cloud. Pun intended.

    Also, consider putting a bin/can close by to collect poop and ciggies- empty once a month or so. A sign would be nice- but goodluck depdending on the kindness of strangers. ;)

    cheers grow girl.

  22. ever thought of planting poison ivy for a season? THAT should give your garden the reputation of a place to avoid!

  23. Cigarette butts ….. GRRRRRRR!

    My street garden collects enough of those to fill a pack or two every week!

    I also can’t get anything to grow because people let their dog’s urinate on my garden! I don’t even exagerate when I say “LET”. I’ve watched them do it, while they’re talking to me!

  24. I’ve been fuming all week about the fact that my garbage men smashed all my tulips which were just forming buds. I still think they’re jerks, but this is nothing compared to what you have to put up with!

  25. Yeesh, I feel your pain. My front garden area has become home to my building’s butts, coffee cups and dog feces…along with a fire extinguisher, a computer hard drive, a broken tv and a stack of newspapers from the seventies.

    I’m not even sure where these things are coming from and why anybody is taking the time to heave them unto my raised gardens but it’s maddening.

  26. You should lie in wait for the pee-ers, and have a full super soaker ready (if not a garden hose) to deluge when they are about to let loose. Or shoot rubber bands at them. Or get them on camera and post to YouTube, I like that one, too.

    Stay strong, Gayla. You know that for every one person who defaces your efforts, another 20 appreciates and is uplifted by the beauty. But I can see how you could get frustrated. Wish I could come help you!

  27. I love this website so much, I wish I didn’t live across the country. I would be there in a heartbeat.

    Sometimes people amaze me. I know around here, people think nothing of tossing their butts out the car window when they are done with them. UGH!

  28. Well, a small bit of positive in all the negative…the cigarette butts are probably helping to repel insects. Nicotine is a natural insecticide. My grandmother used to collect a smoker friend’s butts to use against nasties in her garden. I’m not sure how effective they were.. It’s a little too high on the gross scale for me, but someone might find it worth experimenting…it is recycling, and they’re a heck of a lot safer than many of the pesticides out there…

  29. Too bad you can’t rig up an electric wire gridding and hide it so the unsuspecting pee-ers won’t know it’s there until it’s too late…ouch!

  30. A small amount of urine is a compost activator. A bunch of urine can burn your plants and create a nasty dead area.

    I love the electic fence idea.

  31. I used to use a shop vac to occasionally clean the butts out of public spaces…. with a really long extension cord. It’s a labor of love and not everyone will understand!

  32. Plant some agaves & yuccas there, and you’ll never have to worry about dogs pooping or men peeing ANYWHERE near your garden!

  33. Ugh, my bother in law lives the wasteland between compton and berkley across from some sort of park (i’ve never been there) and he has problems with people defecating in the bushes that separates his property from the sidewalk…

    I can fathom peeing in a bush on a street, I can imagine it, being stealthy and quick and what have you, but how do you nonchalantly poop in some dudes bushes?

    I suggested a hot wire like they use for livestock about 4 inches to six inches off the ground. That way if someone pees on it they’ll be in for a jolt, or if they squat on it to poop they’ll get the same.

    People make me sick.

  34. Sounds like you need a solid, low fence and a pit bull. I wouldn’t expect these troglodytes to respond to reason or courtesy; possibly the offer of free beer in exchange for leaving the place alone.

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