Here Come the Plant Police


Here’s a guest rant/repost from Transatlantic Plantsman and
Friend of Rant Graham Rice. 

And I thought Americans preferred their government, from federal to local, to leave them alone, let them to get on with their lives and
not interfere… Well, it turns out that for many people in private communities—a very widespread situation here in the US and not restricted to a few affluent
areas as it is in Britain—there are some pretty amazing rules about what you
can and cannot plant in your garden.

For example, the community of Beverly Oaks, near Dallas,
Texas, (96 homes) lays down which plants you can plant in your front yard. The
list is known as the “Approved Exterior Plant Selection." There are six plants
on the list. No no, not six hundred. Six. “Shrub species will be limited to
those already in use in the community”, their website explains. The six
approved plants are, in their language: Fraser Photinia, Red Tip; Dwarf Burford
Holly; Glossy Abelia; Nandina Compact; Japanese Boxwood; Variegated Pittosporum
(Orange); Italian Cypress. The photos (click to enlarge) show typical homes.
Doesn’t the landscaping just fill your heart with joy? And not much market for
a garden writer there.

And get this. The website also directs: “Flowers may be
displayed, but must be maintained in pots or planters.” You’re not even allowed
to plant a penstemon or a phlox or a gazania—in the ground, in real soil!

Here’s the key to their philosophy: “Unplanned diversity in
a community typically ages the look of the community, and lowers the values of
the real estate.” They want all the houses to look the same. “The current focus
of architectural coordination is on unifying the roof colors and the garage
door design, and lighting accessories… there are now… 3 garage door patterns
randomly scattered throughout the community”. Three! What an outrage!

Their website seems to have more pages than there are houses
in their community.

At Belcorte (79 homes), in north east Tucson, Arizona,
they’re less strict. Their “Schedule of Approved Plants for Front Yards” allows
sixty two different plants although some, like Variegated Pittosporum, are
mysteriously restricted to east and north walls. I notice that Euryops is
allowed but not Argyranthemum, pansies and petunias are OK but not

Belcorte also lists of the types of decorative rocks which
are allowed, eleven kinds are permitted including four specific types of
“decomposed granite”. “No rocks larger than 3in in diameter except for accent
(large) rocks”.

Sorry, I can’t go on. I started looking up other communities
around the country but once I discovered that the approved plant lists of some
communities apply to the back yard as well as the front I had to stop. OK, I
know some of this is to do with choosing drought tolerant plants in the dry
south, and plants that fit into the surrounding natural landscape. What is
wrong with these people who allow me to plant Mexican gold poppy (Eschscholzia
mexicana) anywhere on my property but only allow California poppy (E.
californica) in pots in the front yard and not at all in the back?!

What we need is a revolution. What, we’ve had one already?
Time for another.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. In an ironic twist those rules do the exact opposite of their intention.


    You say nothing of the HOA “boards”. I could write a book about their shenanigans. Alas, my knowledge is restricted because it’s gained from clients living in these neighborhoods.

    A friend is now paying for her bermuda lawn to be killed & replaced with zoysia. The HOA president made the choice for the entire neighborhood.

    A financial hardship for many, a terrible choice for the environment & no net change for the neighborhood property values. Which is stuck in the 80’s when it was built.

    The money would have been better spent on new light fixtures for each home, door hardware, or, or, or……..

    (Love European landscapes because of their diversity !)

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  2. How horrible! You couldn’t pay me to live in a community like that. I would honestly rather live out of a grocery cart. Ridiculous micro managing HOA’s! Arghhhhhh!!!
    Stepford indeed.

  3. My father took his HOA to court because they wanted him to take down his solar panels, and won.

    I will never move to an area with an HOA because of my gardening needs, but if I lived in his neighborhood, I’d probably wind up in court following the family tradition. You will take my hummingbird mint from my cold dead hands!

  4. I suppose as long as everyone in these plant ghettos chooses to be there, it might keep them isolated and be less of a drag on the rest of us. But it sounds worse than horrible. Haven’t they heard of urban beautification projects? And here they are, doing the opposite.
    I’m no fan of HOAs. In my last neighborhood, most of the back yards sloped down to a major creek. I tried to talk to them about being careful about what chemicals got into the creek, but no one wanted to hear it…

  5. It’s a community that values conformity. That’s why people move to these places. I am sure along with the plant rules there are also rules about parking your car out front, motor home, satellite dishes, color of paint, etc…

    It’s a reaction to the neighborhoods that have no controls. Car’s on blocks out front, giant motor homes parked on the street, yards full of hubcaps, dead and dying lawns, etc.

    We can rant all we want but these places exist to serve a particular mindset, and that’s o.k. I don’t have to live there.

    Frankly, while I wouldn’t want to live there, at least you have the choice. Some large cities, such as my hometown of San Francisco and surrounding cities enact strict rules and laws that make a lot less sense and are dictated to the citizens whether you like it or not. Not recycling properly? You neighbor will turn you in an you’ll be issued a citation. In Belmont, where I grew up it’s now illegal to smoke in your own yard. The smoke could drift into your neighbors.

    While it’s always fun to talk about, and mock these communities with the long list of CC&R’s, I would be more concerned with laws that are enacted to control how we live our lives outside these gated communities.

  6. This sort of thing is not new. It’s important, when buying a home, to research what, if any, such restrictions are in place in a community. When my husband and I bought our home, we were very careful to make sure the covenants were only for things like “don’t put fences where they will block line of sight for drivers” and “please keep your grass mowed to less than 12 inches in height.” (That last is all my neighbourhood has to say about lawns).

    Personally, I think cheap generic architecture dates a neighbourhood and lowers property values faster than a flowerbed of nonconformist plants. Looking at that picture, I wouldn’t want to live there because the houses are so ugly!

  7. I will never ever live in an HOA. I did live in a city once that pretty much acted like and HOA even though there were no CCRs. We got a $500 fine for our front yard landscape because our neighbor didn’t like it. Completely ridiculous.

  8. It’s nice to see the “Stepford” approach being used in garden design. Now excuse me while I go rip out all the beautiful and unique plants in my garden! 😉

  9. HOAs are the spawn of Satan. I designed a couple of projects in a gated community in Scottsdale AZ, where the HOA had hired an independent landscape architect to review plan submissions. Her approach? If she wasn’t the one hired in the first place, automatic rejection, $250 penalty, and additional $125 fee for resubmission.

  10. In Florida, we have a new law, HB2080, which says that no one or no organization can force you to grow plants that are not Florida-friendly as defined by the florida yards website:

    Maybe other states could do the same. HOAs do not rule the world. If I found myself in such a neighborhood, I would join the HOA and reorganize the group so it would support more sustainable practices.

  11. I can’t imagine a plant-obsessed person inadvertently finding themselves in communities like these and then subsequently frustrated by the rules. In the many suburbs of Los Angeles, it’s fascinating to see how the neighborhoods give off subtle and not so subtle signs of the personalities that gravitate there, from untrammeled self-expression in house and garden to these more conservative enclaves. It’s no accident. And just to stir the pot even more, the neighborhoods with the most restrictive rules usually vote conservative, the political party which mostly vilifies regulation…

  12. People choose to live there. Let them. It keeps them off my street. I do like Florida’s stance. It’s stupid to require nonadaptive plants. I’ll admit I don’t wouldn’t like looking at RVs, boats, and cars on blocks.

    Now that there’s an incurable blight effecting Photinia going around, I wonder what they’ll do.

  13. It would be interesting to track how these communities affect the natural wildlife in their areas. Do they cut off access to habitat,or migration patterns, for example?
    I may choose not to live in a place like this, but animals have fewer choices, and my neighborhood next door may be affected by their choices.
    It seems like these people live in fear of interacting with their neighbors, who might be different from them….xenophobia on a neighborhood scale, something else reflecting current right-wing political values… soon will it be that they have “border patrols” along their edges (oh wait, many of them do have their own security force already)? They also live in fear of their neighbors tattling on them, which must make for some strange neighborly relations…
    Here in enviro-friendly Oregon, clotheslines are the hot topic in these communities.
    The world has become a very strange place.

  14. This touches such a nerve with me.

    Of the six plants listed for the Beverly Oaks neighborhood in Texas, I don’t think even one of them is a native. (I live in Texas.) Not that all plants have to be native, but some non-natives (such as the larger nandina) become invasive and take over in wild areas. I also know Photinia is terribly prone to a fungus that kills it, and it REALLY wants to be a tree and not a shrub.

    The sad thing is there are few new subdivisions, that I know of, that don’t come with an HOA. It’s the “in” thing. Soon the HOA’s will tell every woman she must be a brunette and drive a Honda and that every man who steps outside must wear a tie.

    Where I live, the new director of a local wilderness preserve moved from out of state and bought a house that came with an HOA. She’s never lived under an HOA, but she is a plant fanatic (which is why I like her so much) and believes she can convince her HOA to allow her to have a green house. I’m doubtful, but we’ll see.–I think many people think along the same lines and then find that their HOA won’t budge on anything.

  15. This is awful. I would not be able to live there. I do not think that anyone should be allowed to tell you what you can plant on your own property. Unless, they are paying the bills. I think that is what the government is wanting to get everyone to. I hope that this will never happen. I would have to move from that controling place. It is also, too, hot there.

  16. Clearly I would be behind bars under these kinds of regulations. Can you say ticky tacky? Fortunately it will be a long time before the plant police find me! Even the neighbors have trouble!

  17. I would never, ever buy into a ‘community’ with covenants or a HOA. Sadly, homeowners in an area can get together and start a new HOA in an existing area and FORCE IT ON PEOPLE who have lived their for years! Suddenly they have to repaint their houses beige and tear out their azaleas.

  18. You tell them Graham Rice. I thought Boomer’s had turned out to be the most conformist group in america but it seems our children are even worse. I’m betting on the grandkids and have had them out in nature since born. Down with beige lives!!!!

  19. You will fail miserably! I have infiltrated Cicago for the IGC and no one has yet to report seeing:

    PS A clue: I will be on the garden center tour bus Monday morning!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Obviously, the readers of GR are not the HOA types. That was easy. However, here on our side of the pond, knuckleheads of all ilk may freely combine in association with each other and make all manner of silly rules. Don’t like? Don’t live there. This rant seems like filler on a slow Sunday.

  21. You prtotset plant lists because they restrict your freedom to grow what you please.

    So why so much protest over lawns?
    Hypocrisy from the real garden police who practice elective enforcement on this blog

    The TROLL

  22. Been there and done that and all the comments above are so true. However, I happened to live in a community with an HOA for 17 years and never had a problem. They stuck to the big stuff like one time when someone parked an 18 wheeler in their driveway they asked the folks to move it. Big deal.
    I foolishly thought all neighborhoods were like that and when I found a home I liked, on the water, a restrictive HOA never entered my mind. Big mistake. Although it is not a retirement community, these folks are mostly retired northeasterners who moved to the sun belt and have nothing better to do than mind other people’s business. We can’t even re-paint our homes the same color without getting written permission.

    As to the plants, well, they have to OK every landscape plan but they are clueless about what constitutes a good plan and they generally fail to take into consideration that when many of the lots are small one needs to consider how the landscape will impact on the neighorhing lots.
    When a preferred landscaper (and I use that term loosly) suggests a Magnolia Grandiflora for a spot about 2′ from the lot line they OK it. DUH, as the next lot is developed the Magnolia is pruned up one side and no one seems to think this is unacceptable. Sadly, no one with half a brain would want to be on these committees.

  23. Amazing, some of my friendliest times with neighbor has been over the hedge passing spare produce or commenting on our flowers. From the looks of the stellar landscaping, I don’t think people would like being outside. How sad and misinformed. I don’t think I could live in such a sterile atmosphere, separated from my neighbors.

  24. Thank you so much for all your comments and reaction to my piece – and thank you to Garden Rant for reposting it here.

    In a comment on the original post at Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp suggested that when garden writers meet for their annual convention in Dallas next month they take a trip out to Beverly Oaks to see it with their own eyes!

    Better not let them off the bus with their trowels and their pockets full of flower bulbs… Could be a nasty incident.

  25. Stuck in an HOA with such plant Nazi requirements? How about some subversive activities while following the rules. Perhaps flowers only in pots as required but in the most outrageous and tasteless pot you can find. (I have a couple of them I could lend you), or a crass or cheesy topiary form from approved shrubs. Viva la revolution!

  26. I live in this area of Texas and I find the plants selected amazingly bad given all the things written on these plants in the local garden press.

    Fraser Photinia, Red Tip (as noted by an earlier commentor is affected by fungus and what’s more it grows wildly fast and large); Dwarf Burford Holly (OK); Glossy Abelia (OK); Nandina Compact (see an earlier commentor – which I don’t entirely agree with but is probably not entirely incorrect); Japanese Boxwood (I think they smell like cat pee when wet but that is a personal thing); Variegated Pittosporum (Orange) (freeze damage); Italian Cypress (which are not particularly pest free and also becomes quite large).

    One is left to wonder looking at the pictures if this is a bunch of town homes where the actual available land for planting is small and thus many of the shrubs are even more stupid due to the size at maturity.

    I never ceased to be amazed at the sheer conservatism of Dallas/ Ft. Worth. I am not referring to politics. Typically the tastes are rather well defined and border on orthodoxy. What is most amazing is the young, educated, and upwardly mobile seem to be the most willing adherents. Few came here for the great climate and natural beauty. This is a place to make money. So (I always assumed) that the desire to play along sort of goes home from work with everyone.

  27. And… if you are moving in from a far different state, good luck getting a realtor to show you a house with a garden in an older neighborhood. They seem to like grouping all the “outsiders” into one compound.

  28. Don’t buy there. Write to the local paper and embarrass the crap out of them. Such ignorance.

    As a past co-op, now condo owner, you can make changes if you are willing to take the time to be on the Board (of Directors/HOA).

  29. Exactly the kind of place in which I’d wither & die.

    However …

    My neighborhood had an HOA at one point, but nobody wanted to pay into it, nor did they want to listen to anybody else’s uneducated opinion of what looked good. The HOA faded into nothing.

    Enter the folks who do not want to be bothered with upkeep, the folks for whom places like Beverly Oaks was developed. These are the folks that pull out the builder-installed grass and shrubs and anything growing & replace it with weed-block fabric or plastic and lava rock or colored gravel. And then there’s the guy who put pink-tinted cement over his entire yard – property-line to property-line, front & back ! Maintenance for these guys involves a gallon of Roundup and a blower. Makes me wish we did have an HOA.

    And yes, I’d love to be on the board.

  30. Here in the PNW there is a planned development built in a forested area with minimum disturbance of the native vegetation. This was done 20 years ago. Rules to protect the natural look were made. Over the years many of the landscapes were altered at the whims of the individual owners. The board would object but it is hard to uncut down a tree. In this case, I wish the board had more of a backbone.

  31. “And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same…”

    Horrifying. Stepford yards indeed. Maybe they should just put down astroturf and plastic plants so they can be even more identically monotonous…

  32. These kinds of “communities” make me uncomfortable. I like the unique, randomness of the blue collar neighborhoods…like where I live. We’ve got personality!

  33. I find it hard to believe that anyone would want to live in a community like that. I love my cottage garden where the plants are free to reseed and come back year after year as nature intends! We are moving to NC soon and I will have acres for not only natives, but a lavender field, roses, peonies, clematis, bee balm, astor vines, and many, many more. I cannot wait. It is sad that people move to an area where someone else can dictate how they landscape their yard…

  34. i wonder why people go bananas about policing gardens and not buildings – some urban character controls for built form are equally stupid – but a tolerated

    – visual control is a very very grey area and requires great skill – to whoever signed off those controls … keep well away from my visual sphere….

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