The Continuing Epic Saga of the Street Garden

Yesterday afternoon, while working on the garden, a woman stopped to chat and mentioned that she had seen my sad and pathetic sign (my words, not hers) and knew who had destroyed the day lilies. It was the dudes who change the advertising on the large billboard that hangs on the wall over the garden! She said that she watched in horror as they intentionally trampled all over the plants — something they did not have to do since there was plenty of room and their equipment wasn’t in the garden and made it possible for them to avoid the garden completely. Never mind the fact that the garden has been sharing space with that billboard for years with minor consequences beyond the annoying lights, the pigeon poop that falls from the nests housed in the billboard structure, and the stray pieces of advertising that falls into the plants. That and the fact that we have to look at ugly advertising splashed onto the side of our building everyday.

As a city-dweller I have become very good at seeing without seeing. So good in fact that I can not provide even a hint as to the content of the current ad and the only ad I can recall in all the years the billboard has been up was for a film with Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. Something with Al Pacino as the devil.

Anyway, I stood there speechless, listening to the details unfold and thinking that there is some kind of irony in this somewhere given that I had been working on finally trying to fix that patch when she happened by, and feeling sore that I have had to suffer both a financial and personal time loss while my landlord reaps the benefits of that damned billboard AND my hard work. Gah! At the very least I now know to whom I can call and send my complaints.

Still no idea who went after the thistles but I have since replaced that patch with a native switch grass, Panicum virgatum. As previously mentioned, I am intensely nostalgic and possibly a little nuts in the ways that I anthropomorphize plants. This is only made worse by the fact that each plant comes with a story and a history. Like the daylilies that were gifted to me by a friend. Or the yarrow that was given to me by a stranger who happened to be driving by with a clump of yarrow in the backseat of her car. In many cases I can recall where and when I received or purchased the plant. These feelings of attachment and compassion for the life of each plant is so strong at times that it is very difficult for me to remove and discard plants, even when I know it is beneficial to the garden. I’ve also got a stubborn streak that thinks I can shove one more plant in somewhere or bring that diseased plant back past the point of no return. My style is very Do As I Say, Not As I Do and I often struggle with the very actions I know to be right and advise other people to carry out. The only positive I can glean from the Operation Garden Terrorism experience is that it has prematurely forced me to carry out my long term plan to replace some of the more invasive gift plants with natives. But just because I can find a positive doesn’t mean I’ll be thanking the ad hanging dudes or the thistle stomping stranger anytime soon.

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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13 thoughts on “The Continuing Epic Saga of the Street Garden

  1. That’s great that you found out who did it and that it is someone who you can find.
    If I were you I’d call their employer first. If the employer isn’t sympathetic, I’d move on to that company’s employer- the ad agency or whoever puts up the billboard. People in marketing are usually pretty quick to try to make a customer happy, at least in my experience.
    Quick story: some really obnoxious construction workers working on a building near my apartment used to cat-call at me in a way that made me feel really uncomfortable and unsafe. I called the construction company, but it was clear they didn’t take me seriously. Then I contacted the building owner and she was horrified. After that, although the same men were doing the work, they never said a word to me when I walked by, or anyone else as far as I could tell.
    My point is, you can find someone in the chain of command above these guys who will be sympathetic to you. Personally, I would ask to be reimbursed by someone for the plants you lost.

  2. You never know who you’ll get on the other end when you complain. When I was having my roof re-shingled, I spoke to the company owner’s wife (who does their booking) about something totally related to the roof and unrelated to my garden. I mentioned, not even really complaining, that a ladder had wiped out an entire row of marigolds. The flowers weren’t even that important since they were just filling a space until my sidewalk could be replaced. A few days later, she called me to find out if the rest of my garden was okay and informed me that she’d gone up and down the workers about making sure they did no more damage. Turned out, she lives only a few blocks from me and has one of the most beautiful gardens in the neighborhood. That was three summers ago and we still wave to each other when we pass. Her husband waves too.

    Get on the phone and complain. It may turn out to be an exercise in frustration, but on the other hand, it may turn out a million times better than you expect!

  3. It’s really heartbreaking how easily years of hard work can be ruined within a few minutes of carelessness… some people just don’t get it…

  4. May I suggest that you read the chapter entitled “Highway Beautificaiton” in the Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey. I think it is the first or second chapter. It will give you a couple of ideas as to what your next step may be!

  5. Yes, I agree. You need to notify the company. If nothing else, they need to know what their workers do while their backs are turned. They’re a liability for their company. One day it’s a garden – maybe the next they damage something else that’ll cost even more to replace.

  6. I have to agree with everyone clamoring for you to contact the company and complain. While I personally hate Hate HATE getting into confrontations, there are times when its required. Frankly, any grown man who gets his jollies off destroying a garden is more than a little insane in the membrane! Its that kind of glee in destruction that gives me a bit of the willies. If they did it to your lillies, I’m sure this isn’t the first time they got off on destroying property. Bullies and jerks need to be reined in. As Laura said, its flowers in this case, but things like this can escalate.

  7. A few years ago one of my customers asked me what she could do about the never ending piles of shit on her corner lot in Forest Hill. We laughed about it and I suggested she put out a lawn chair and just wait at the ready with her garden hose!

    A few weeks later I was at Humber Nurseries when I saw the best sign ever. It read.


    and it was in the shape of a tomb stone. She loved it so much she wouldn’t put it outside for fear that some one would take it!

    I empathize, I really do. I once finished a garden and a week later a movie crew walked all over it. We got reimbursed for the time and money, but it didn’t feel the same. I took so long choosing just the right Rhododendron and so much care that the hostas had just the right variegation . Your saga is hilarious and I am so sorry for your constant frustration. Take care.

    Beth Lawrence

  8. I was so sorry today to read about the damage to your plants. I cannot imagine why some would needlessly want to damage what was obviously the product of a lot of hard work and care.

    I am a very new gardener. So, when something grows for me, people are drug out to look at it and deluged with pictures. I would have been crushed if someone destroyed anything that was growing for me.

    I agree with all who say that you should follow up with the supervisors of those who did the damage.

  9. I would go a step further and, when making your written or verbal complaint, request compensation, even if the lilies were a gift. People need to learn the consequences of their jerky actions.

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