Confessions of an Outlaw Gardener

When growing vegetables becomes an act of civil disobedience.

By Cristina Santiestevan


frontyard gardens and the HOAAccording to the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are more than 131 million housing units in the United States. Of those, approximately 25 million are in communities that are governed by HOAs or other associations. Some of these communities—like mine—are relatively relaxed. The rules are few and are lightly enforced. Others are stricter, and the consequences for violations can be dramatic. Some associations even have the full legal power to foreclose on a home. So when I agreed to write this article for Organic Gardening, it’s not surprising that my editor asked if I would like to use a pseudonym. (I declined.)

I’m lucky. Unlike many homeowners in HOAs and other association-governed communities, I don’t need to choose between my garden and my home. My HOA is more likely to scold than to foreclose; all my neighbors agree that it’s a remarkably easygoing group. And that’s a good thing, because I’m not exactly trying to keep the garden a secret. In fact, I’m hoping my garden will prompt a civil, neighborly discussion and lead to changes in the rule. Because, while I understand the HOA’s desire and responsibility to protect the look and value of my community’s homes, I don’t believe that wholesale discrimination against front-yard vegetables is the way to do it. When I bought this house, the front yard was in perfect standing. It followed the rules of the community to the letter. And it was boring. Now, it’s in blatant violation. Are the neighbors upset? Hardly. I’ve lost count of the number of compliments I’ve received.

In another year or two, I’ll start that discussion with my HOA and begin working toward changing the regulations. Eventually—with a little luck and some support from my neighbors—this outlaw garden will be completely legal, and my front-yard vegetables will no longer be the only ones on the block. Until then, I’ll continue with the incognito edibles. This year, I hope to harvest my first outlaw artichoke.

Read more about Cristina's rule-breaking garden on her blog, Outlaw Garden.

Photos: Rob Cardillo