Please Don’t Destroy My Garden No More


I really need to make a sign like this for my street garden. Except mine would include an assortment of choice words and threats… all the things I want to say to the various offenders but can’t because I never catch them in the act. Threats such as, “If I ever catch you urinating in my garden you better have jets on your feet.” My neighbor once relayed the story of coming home to find a business man had stepped out of a limo and was urinating on our front steps. Now we’re not in the middle of nowhere here. There is a coffee shop right around the corner just a few steps away. Instead of shouting threats or calling the guy out he just walked up, stood alongside him and pulled down his zipper. “Watching you makes me feel like peeing here too.” he said to the startled and confused public urinator. I’m guessing that as a female this tactic would not be effective for me.

I often stop to photograph signs like the one above wherever I find them. And I find them more often than you’d think. It would be nice to believe that everyone appreciates the hard work gardeners put into making something beautiful that everyone can share in but the reality is that some people are messed up and those people sometimes feel resentment towards other living things and acts of beauty. Maybe it hurts them too much? Maybe they don’t feel like they can share in it but rather that it is just another thing they can’t have in their lives? Maybe they’re just angry as hell and need to take it out on something? Maybe they just need to pee RIGHT NOW and they don’t care where and they don’t care how? I don’t know or even understand all of the motives but I do know that just about any city gardener has a story and we’ve all learned an unexpected thing or two about human psychology via our gardens. Although I never would have thought of it, I really dig the signs that threaten karmic smiting. However when it comes down to it I find that I can’t wait or even believe that the “universe” will take care of business, I want to be the one to deliver the blow.


When bad things happen to my garden I sometimes feel angry enough to cut some heads off. Metaphorically of course. But other times I just feel sad. Defeated. When my garden was most recently viciously assaulted my response wasn’t to get angry or violent. Instead, uncharacteristically, I crumbled. I decided to tack up a letter addressed to the perpetrator but all I could muster up was a sad and pathetic, “Why?” This time it just hit me in a way that it hasn’t in the past. This person didn’t just clumsily fall into the irises or trample the lilies on their way to a semi-private pee spot against the back wall. This person maliciously and purposefully took out every globe thistle in the garden. The thistles were big. They were tall and just about to bloom. This person very meticulously tramped every single stem in such a way that the stems were crushed right to the ground like crop circles in a corn field. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that this was not the cruel work of a tiny spaceship or a troop of little greys but the calculated act of a real human. I couldn’t believe it. Of all the things that have happened in and around that garden this particular act just floored me, leaving me feeling sad and powerless in a way that I did not like. So much so that it has taken me 4 weeks to coherently write here about this event. I mean I could get angry and throw stuff but who do I direct the anger towards when they are a faceless phantom? And what made it worse was how the purposefulness of it felt personal, like it wasn’t just the plants that were destroyed but that I had also been kicked in the gut and left to rot. And that no one did anything about it in that way that people will watch an assault on the street and then shamefully turn away from the victim rather than reach out or help.

And it gets worse. I know the attack happened during the day when there is always at least one or several people from the law clinic standing around shooting the shit and smoking. I know because I am never without an audience as I bend over to work on the garden. And they never say a peep and turn away when I look in their direction, never engaging and then when I am not around throwing their butts into the garden. To top it off, when I went outside that day and discovered the destruction I stood there for several minutes in shock. And then the emotions started to come. And as I turned around I caught a woman standing inside the doors of the law office gawking at me! Thanks lady!

About a week or so after the incident, I had finally got up the nerve to go out there and begin cleaning up and moving on. The thing is, what happened sucked but I’ve been through a lot with that garden, worse than this. And I’ve been through a lot in my life, much, much worse than this. And after a certain point I can’t not get back on the horse and keep going. Thankfully my stubbornness knows no limit. As I was getting ready to leave a man stopped and called out to me from across the street saying that he loved the garden and was glad to see that I was able to get back on my feet and keep going after what had happened. I was feeling too overwhelmed at the time to say what I felt but I want to tell that lovely man how much I appreciated his words and support. That seemingly small and simple act of kindness from a stranger really turned things around for me because he had acknowledged what had happened, saw how it had hurt, and turned towards me instead of looking away.

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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36 thoughts on “Please Don’t Destroy My Garden No More

  1. How very, very sad that people can be so vicious and cruel! You worked so hard on your garden and you reap the benefits of its beauty, and some jerk comes along! I’m glad you got some validation from that man’s comment. It shows that at least there’s a glimmer of hope in the world.

  2. Oh Gayla. I don’t know what to say other than I am glad you are continuing on.. I never did replant my front garden after all my plants were stolen/destroyed a few months back. And I’m still angry about it. I wonder if I put more effort into it again would I feel better about it? It’s happened twice, and I’ve given up.

  3. Gayla, – my boss took a weedwacker to my currant bushes. They were LOADED with green berries getting ready to ripen. He didn’t notice that part – just that the bushes looked messy and unkept. Did that tall grassy stuff too (day lilies) while he was at it. (They haven’t flowered yet). It was such a savage attack. It took him a week to apologize, but it took me much longer to get over it. Thankfully they survived. I have globe thistles too – glad he didn’t see them!!!!

  4. That is so sad. This gives me a funny idea about a “Gardening Terrorism” themed parody newscast. It could look like or something and be all about Fighting Garden Terrorism. Perhaps invading a Middle Eastern country that has nothing to do with what happened to your garden would teach those vandalizers a lesson.
    Gayla, I hate to say something that sounds even remotely like our illustrious American President but “If you give in, they win.”

  5. Very uplifting post, Gayla. While I would love to exact revenge on those bastards who would destroy something a fellow human being has spent so much love and energy on, I’m so happy to know there are those who take the time to appreciate a little beauty. It makes the ones who don’t so much easier to stomach.

  6. They can destroy your garden but:

    they can’t take away your birthday ; )

    they specially can’t take away the hundreds (thousands?) of plants that came to exist only because you inspired people like me.

    I have planted and lovingly cared for at least 5 plants because of your blog and am ambitiously starting many more from seeds.

    Anybody else would care to report what Gayla has ‘planted’ in their garden?

  7. :(
    People agitate me to no end sometimes. That is terrible, that your “neighbours” could watch someone terrorize your garden like that.

    Thank goodness for the man who noticed your hard work. Some people are watching over the good.

    If I were you, I would take a can, and put a little sign saying cigarette butts here please! Maybe they would acknowledge what they are doing by butting out in your garden? I am a smoker and I wont leave my butts in a public place, regardless of who it belongs to. I’ll even carry it with me to put in a garbage bin in High Park!

    Good for you to continue on!

  8. I think it’s wonderful that at least one person spoke to you about the incident, and I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I’m positive there are countless others who pass your garden every day who might not get the chance to see the face behind the garden who would have said the same thing.

    Stubbornness can be a wonderful thing – don’t ever let anybody tell you different.

    Would perhaps a bit of chicken wire around the garden help?

  9. Hi, Gayla.

    This is the post where I delurk. I am so sorry to hear this. Your talent — gardening, writing, design — and perseverence inspire me. You are my role model for urban gardening.

    Could you set aside a section of the garden, with some chicken wire as suggested, or other marker, and put in some plants for the “vermin” perhaps with with a sign: “Here is your own garden section to deconstruct. Please leave the rest of the garden of those who enjoy other forms of artistic and healthy emotional expression.”

  10. I am so sorry about your garden. Its such an effort to make these guerrilla gardens, and then to have them destroyed hurts so much. It happens regularly at my plot from plants to bird feeders it all seems fair game. It always takes me awhile to return after any garden chaos. Keep up the good fight don’t let the bad guys win.

  11. I am so sorry about your garden. I can totally understand how you feel. It is one thing when it’s critters getting to it but it is quite another when someone deliberatley does something. It makes me want to put a sign out front that says, “Only doo-doo heads pick other peoples flowers! You suck!” or something to that affect and probably with lots of swearing.

  12. Good for you for persevering; I’m so sorry that that happened, and what a pity that there are such awful people out there. I’m sure the garden is happier for your presence, and you are helping to make the world a more beautiful and living place.

  13. i feel really sorry for those people who are so uncreative and false that they think it’s ok to throw trash in your garden or pee on your front steps. how unhappy they must be if they can’t make a basic human connection like empathy or (it seems to me) even joy?

    even though you’re the one who has to go through all this painful crap, i’d much rather be the one creating a beautiful, respectful space only to have it destroyed than be the one who doesn’t understand any of that.

  14. I can believe that someone would do such a thing! It makes me glad that I live in the middle of no where!
    Glad to read that you are sticking with it!
    Great Blog
    cheers Kirsty

  15. I’m so sorry, Gayla. :(

    Hooray for the guy who made the supportive comment, though. I agree with the comment above, there are surely many others who pass by your garden and smile. Your efforts do make a difference.

  16. I’m sorry and send you a virtual hug. This happened to a community garden I was involved with. ouch.

    I was PISSED. Then sad. Still am actually. But I have come to understand and remember that there is suffering beyond what we can fathom out there. Gut wrenching stories – people living more or less in a hell realm. I know this doesn’t sound soothing, but I recognize that sometimes these “energies” will rail against something bright. If we could see all the suffering, all the time, we’d probably just be amazed that any garden made it through a single day! But they do because they are strong. I just try to remember this when a “soldier” has fallen.

    Also helps me feel like it is less of a totally personal attack.

  17. Wow! Thanks everyone! I’d like to hear more of your stories too.

    A friend suggested that rather than making a sad little sign we just make a big banner to hang behind the garden like an installation that is part of the garden. So that’s the plan. I just have to figure out what I want it to say.

    As I’ve said before it’s not all bad. Sometimes when I am out there people stop to chat, ask about a plant, or say something positive about the garden. The plants are resilient and so am I.

  18. The thought just crossed my mind that this moron might have thought they were doing you a favor by removing what they assumed were a bad type of thistle- if all they did was destroy the echinops. I don’t excuse the behavior, but who among us hasn’t said “Weed! I will destroy you!” only to find it was something meant to be there. How ’bout a sign saying:”Oi! Moron! Those were Echinops ritro you destroyed (look it up). They were meant to be there.”

    It would feel like someone ran over my dog if someone did that to my garden.

  19. I thought about that too but I’d assume they would rip them out instead… although I guess that would be tricky without gloves.

    My guess was that they went to urinate along the wall and were stung or cut by the thistles and then went on a rampage to destroy the offending plant.

    What I didn’t mention was that a patch of the daylilies were also crushed.

  20. God, how awful, but good for you for replanting.

    I’ve had plants dug up and stolen, bulbs snipped, and dogs peeing in my front garden. Now, I just have some strubs and I’m growing a groundcover of periwinkle so there’s less to snip in the front. I actually blogged about this last summer, and took a pic of some Allium carnage:

    You’re an inspiration, Gayla. Keep on growin’.

  21. For years I gardened in the east-end of Toronto. Year one, the next door neighbours had their roof done and the roofers threw all the shingles on my garden and squashed everything. They shrugged when I complained to them. The next year, I put out boxes of the first pansies of spring: bright orange with purple lobelia. Ten o’clock at night–they were stolen within fifteen minutes. The year after, someone came along the day all my tulips first bloomed–and picked every single one of them. The next year, I planted a big bonanza of annuals…and the next day, I found them all pulled out and strewn from one end of the street to the other. After that, I stuck to planters on my balcony and the backyard…although someone in the neighbourhood told me about the day he woke up to discover someone had come by and taken all his planters and all his hanging plants off his porch. About fifty in all, he thought. Must have taken some serious effort!

  22. Keiren: Wow! Your stories blew my mind. At the very least it is good to know we are not alone.

    Shelly: What I love most about that story was the way my neighbor handled it. Hilarious.

    Maia: Digging up bulbs! That took some serious thought on someone’s part. I just don’t get why people think it is okay to steal plants from other people’s gardens. Not everyone who gardens is rich and can afford to make replacements.

  23. Have you talked with the management of the law clinic? Ashcans should be provided.

    If you get no response with them then maybe a chat with local pols if they’re a public agency or their board if they’re nonprofit. Also their funders might have some influence.

  24. So sorry about the careless destruction of your garden! Glad you are finding the strength to keep going.

    A couple of years ago when they came to re-roof our apartment building we watched in horror as old shingles and junk came falling from the roof into a tall tree, which we knew contained a cardinal nest with a young bird in it. We never found out whether the baby had left the nest prior to the fallout. I guess some people don’t consider birds, bugs, plants, etc. as part of their world.

  25. Not the asme but it brought up this memory… Jersey City up in the Heights many years ago I had a street garden. Neighbors couldn’t figure out how I was growing in concrete, the land was so compacted. Puerto Rican neighbors requestd flowers for the children to wear, Italian neighbors loved the bay tree brought out every spring…one morning a lady stopped as I was watering to comment on the smells, “Oh wow a Pledge plant!” she said, “The cleaning oil”…It was lemon scented geranium. She left with a handful of leaves. I say take the law office a bouquet.

  26. Sorry to hear about the destruction in your garden.
    At my place of employment we have a 100-year-old English garden that ‘someone’ has decided would look better as a park. They weed-whacked the whole thing and are planning to plant sod and isolate ‘key plants’. I laugh – through the tears – because they have left purple loosestrife as a feature. A little knowledge is dangerous! I was able to split a few of the older plants before they were destroyed. Such a travesty in the name of progress.

  27. What a heartbreaking post. I’m in a suburban area and can’t imagine such careless people running through my garden. I really like the signs though.

  28. Send a “Letter to the Editor” to your local paper stating that you’ve got the perp on camera and they’ve got two weeks to cough up the dough on what they destroyed or said paper will gladly post the photos for you on the front page.

  29. I just about had a fit when I went out real late at night to water my flowers. My neighbors horses has broken out(we live in a tight neighborhood)and there where 3 eating my long grass(after being away on vacation). I had a fit thinking ,when I look at these gardens in the morning they better not be trappled.I would like to put up a sign that says curb your horses and keep them off my lawn. My husband pointed out that it was an accident that the horses got out and that relationships with neighbors are more important. They are just flowers, but I spend so much time and effort on them and money. We own a greenhouse, and even then I would be upset . Some things you can’t replace. They didn’t get tramples or eaten! It is discouraging that people can be so mean. My neighbor had someone dig up a hosta plany last summer. I am sorry for you , The real problem is that people are inconsiderate sometimes and they have no idea what effort is put into a garden.

  30. Wow, pretty amazing what people will do…peeing on your steps…how rude.

    I too would love to “politly” offend neighbors – er, neighbor’s dogs, from doing the duty in my gardens/yard.

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