The Kindness of Strangers or Tend To Your Own Garden, Interloper!

This is what I call street food!
This is what I call street food!


Gardening in public can be so interesting.

I have grown most of my food in my hellstrip for about 5 – 6 years now, since my backyard is the domain of an Evil Gopher Warrior King and my front yard has grown too shady for most edibles to thrive. I grow in 3 large, round corrugated metal beds I made for easy assembly and easy dismantling, should the powers that be decide that my growing food in that particular space would warrant a huge fine or jail time (don’t laugh – these threats happen!). Most people are worried about food theft – for me, it hasn’t been a very big deal. Sure, I get an occasional thief, but mostly I just get nice comments and great snippets of conversation while I am watering my beds. So in general, my public food growing antics have been well met, and I the only complaints I get are when the beds run fallow because I am too busy to plant in a timely fashion. Or so I THOUGHT.

I walked outside the other day to water, and saw something that made me FURIOUS. Really, really ANGRY. I think I even stood on the sidewalk and had very loud argument with the imaginary perpetrator of the crime that enraged me. I have a faint memory of waving my hands and shaking my finger in air, and of kids crossing the street so they didn’t walk by the crazy lady berating a figment of her imagination.

What was the garden crime? Was everything uprooted and thrown on the ground by hooligans? No. Did someone spray paint their gang tag all over the metal beds? Not this time (but it HAS happened). Was every single ripening vegetable taken, leaving nothing behind for me? No, it wasn’t that.

Someone pinched back my basil.


They saw that my basil was flowering, and they pinched it back, leaving the flowering stems they cut off behind in a neat little bundle, so I could see how helpful they had been.

I was SO MAD!!! The Helpful Garden Sprite had cut back my African Blue Basil – my very favorite basil because it keeps its flavor while it blooms, and it blooms beautifully, almost all year long, and those bloomspikes are powerfully attractive to bees. I was taken aback. I tried to put myself in the mind of the Interloper, who might have thought she / he was doing me a favor. But then why deadhead only ONE plant? I have 4 others; none of them were touched. It had to be a message – take care of your plants, lady. THE NERVE!!! All of my Basilico ‘Genovese’ are properly bushy, my B. ‘Red Rubin’ may be a little floppy, but nothing to be ashamed of. The basil that I plant specifically for its blooms got cut back in my hellstrip beds by someone who thought they were schooling me. I don’t think they were really trying to be helpful. It was a left-handed nicety. A subtle jab. This made me angrier than anyone taking a vegetable that I was just about ready to harvest. It seemed so passive-aggressive!

Think about it – if an unidentified stranger painted a 1′ x 1′ square of your house a slightly different color than the one you chose, would you consider that a kindness or a weird controlling, passive-aggressive move? If they cut down the blooms of your phormiums (that you’d waited all year for) because that is what THEY do in their front yard, what THEY prefer? Yes, I grow in a public space, and I expect more “input” from the community at large than if I grew in a private, sheltered back yard – but in my (maybe a little paranoid) mind, this gesture was equated to an anonymous snide remark, from someone who wants things done THEIR way; the “proper” way.

I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy – I’ll entertain that possibility.  Maybe this person was genuine – they saw my basil was flowering, they bent down to help out in the traditional spirit of gardener awesomeness (never imagining I might have wanted those basil flowers), and then they went back to their daily walk. What, am I expecting them to do ALL my garden work for me?

But I suspect a darker motive – one born of “Neighborhood Beautification” and “Community Standards” and “Rules of Gardening” – things that I am not a big fan of.

What do YOU think? Am I crazy? Do you want someone anonymously tending to your garden, doing things differently than you? If you garden in your public/private spaces, do you give up some of your rights to do things the way YOU want to?

All input welcome!

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Fasten your seatbelts, Ranters, I hope you like riding rollercoasters! I’m Ivette Soler, a garden designer and writer who lives and works in Los Angeles, California. I have been designing since 1997, working primarily with the subtropical and succulent palette that thrives in my corner of the world. I started my blog, The Germinatrix, in 2004, and I have been enjoying a vibrant dialog with the online garden community ever sine. In 2011, Timber Press published my book “The Edible Front Yard“, in which I make the case for ridding ourselves of thirsty, dull front lawns in favor of beautiful, bountiful gardens that mix food with ornamentals. I am thrilled to be a part of this illustrious and opinionated group, and am looking forward to RANTING with all of you!

Let’s do a little speed-dating so you can get to know me better:

I am a Believer – I know that gardens and gardening can and will make this world a better place.

I am a Maximalist – I believe that more is more and more is better than less!

I am against Horticultural Xenophobia – If you believe that we must eliminate well-chosen exotics from our landscapes in favor of a natives-only palette, we might have words.

I am a Talker – I love to get into it! If you have anything you want to challenge me about, or if you want to dialog about anything I post, please comment away! My love of blogging is rooted in dialoging with a large number of passionate gardeners with diverse opinions. I will rant, and I expect you to RANT BACK

I cast a wide net – This is a big world, and I believe our gardens are more interesting when we open ourselves up to ideas other than those that come to us from the established gardening world. I am inspired by fine art, literature, product design, theatre, fashion … you get the picture. I will often bring in ideas from other areas of culture to our conversations about gardens and the way we garden.

I like exclamation points and sometimes … yes … ALL CAPS – I really talk like this!!!! I can’t help it!!!

I am eager to move the conversation about gardening and the place it has in our lives forward, so hop on, make sure you are strapped in tightly, and LET’S GO!


    • Los Angeles recently passed laws to allow gardening in parkways, along with raised structures of “reasonable” height as long as they don’t impede access. My beds were designed to allow for parking and the swing of car doors, and there is plenty of access. I am also close to a school, and live on a busy intersection, so my raised beds are very visible, and I have never gotten any complaints. I share rosemary with my neighborhood firefighters and one policeman always asks my tomato advice. In fact, the wife of my city council representative asked me for a consultation recently – she and her husband have been watching my parkway beds develop and love them, as well as what they stand for.
      And as I stated in my post, my beds are ready to dismantle should my neighbors or the community at large have a problem with them.
      I’m really happy I live in a place that can see the bigger picture. Maybe something like this is “illegal” for you – thankfully, not for me.

      • What is the ordinance number on that? Last I heard, the city had suspended enforcement of the rules and started a two year impact study to draft new rules.

        What is a reasonable height? It would seem like anything higher than the swing of a car door would run afoul of the ADA. Since that is federal, the city can’t do anything about it.

        I have no problem with planting veg in the parkway, just building obstructing structures.

        • skr, if you are REALLY interested in the ordinance number, you can look it up. With much fanfare, Los Angeles suspended enforcement of the law that made planting food in parkways a misdemeanor. LA is one of the cities leading the charge for growing locally, thanks to many activists who grow food in hell strips like Ron Finley. His garden much celebrated garden is in the ground, but it is very densely planted with no access at all through the parkway strip – tall, medium, and small edible plants growing in a glorious jumble, pretty much impenetrable to those who would want to walk through it for anything other than harvesting purposes. This is our new model, and I stand behind it! My parkway was thought out differently – I created my raised beds so there would be plenty of clearance and access – over half of my parkway is gravel with no plants so that people can easily walk around and so kids can stand there after school waiting for their patents to pick them up. In my neighborhood, the curbs were made too high to accommodate door swing- but I made clearance anyway. In fact, that is the reason the beds are round, so that there would be no straight edges against the street, not allowing passengers the space to disembark from their cars.
          All over my neighborhood there are parkways planted with large hedges and with overgrown platings that allow no access at all. My beds were designed with access in mind, and in the event that someone should have a problem with them ( which would be strange after 6 years! ) they would be easy to take down.
          I’m proud of my raised beds, I grow lots of great things in them and I hope they’ll keep going strong for years to come!
          I get the feeling you’d be one of those neighbors who would complain, and report me, and then I’d have to call in the news crews, and get a whole campaign going to save the edible hell strip garden. I have to admit, that kind of a campaign really sounds like fun! Another way to spotlight the issue of growing urban food (raised beds are more than an “obstacle”, they are also the best way to grow food in an urban environment). I like to think of every challenge as an opportunity! Thanks for your comment!

          • So in other words, you have no idea what the ordinance number is. That’s probably because there isn’t one yet. Which means this is still illegal just not enforced (much like limits on front yard fence height). Is that how you run your design business, just making up ordinances to convince unsuspecting clients to break the law?

            One of the interesting things about LA’s vote to suspend enforcement was they also divested themselves of all liability and foisted it upon the homeowners growing things. So if you grow strawberries out there and some kid dies of anaphylaxis, you are liable. But go ahead an have fun telling people to break the law.

            Now you can dress it up in flowery language and justify obstructing the right of way with all sorts of unsupported appeals but when you get down to it you are saying, “screw you,” to those that are handicapped. I guess bees rank higher for you than disabled humans.

          • And since they are still illegal, good luck getting homeowners insurance to pay out on a liability suit if someone cuts themselves on the corrugated and comes down with tetanus.

        • Wow, you are REALLY upset with me. My garden beds bother you THAT much? How sad for you. Yes, unfortunate situations befall homeowners all the time – God forbid someone slip on your walkway on the way to deliver an unsolicited flyer to your door. But my insurance is my business, not yours. It amazes me how BOTHERED some people get about articles they read … this is really under your skin! And my beds aren’t even the focus of this post. How funny, and again, how sad for you. I’m really sorry that you spend the time you could be gardening or doing something fun being upset with me and the “obstacles” in my hellstrip. For the record – I made these beds when they were totally illegal! I’m not ashamed! And what does it matter to you how I run my design business? Unless you are a client, you shouldn’t worry your little head about it. So is there anything else you want to pick on? I have some agaves planted in my front yard that poke out onto the sidewalk – someone might get stuck! The vines on my fence are a little overgrown into the walkway – someone might get all tangled up and get trapped and then die of starvation in my grape ivy! The street trees on my parkway are sycamore and they have caused the pavement to rise in a few spots – someone might stub their toe! Or trip and fall! But the city actually planted those trees there, with their exfoliating branches that often fall and could decapitate unsuspecting passers-by, so would THOSE potential accidents be considered my fault? Damn, I better get MORE homeowner’s insurance! Thank you so much for pointing out what a menace I am to my neighborhood. Instead of focusing on the gang problem and the issue of speeding cars on streets filled with schoolchildren, the police should totally be focused on taking ME down – the lady who is dangerously growing food in corrugated metal obstacles! Teaming with potential tetanus!

          • wow i know this kind of person, they live alone with no spouse cause who would really put up with this persons uptight crap. everyone at work cant stand them no friends family cant stand them has no life just likes to complain about everything and acts like a rent a cop but is really just a little coward trying to be a bully i would like to see this person ever say these things to someones face its cause there a coward bully please skr get a life before you go off the deep end. life does not always have to be critical this women made a nice article about a little problem in her neighborhood and your taking about what city ordinance. i laugh at the kind of people like you cause you think your important by trying to act like a civilian cop . i would love to see you try that with me. you would not like the outcome trust me buddy

          • This reply is to Vincent Vizachero
            You know that old saying about not to ASSUME anything because you make an ASS out of U / ME? Well, chalk this up to one of those moments for U – I am 100% Latina, Mexican on my mother’s side an Puerto Rican on my father’s side, born in San Juan – Spanish is my native tongue, my first language.
            Other than assuming I am white so law breaking is cute?
            Dude, if my skin were browner would you have thought I had more street cred? That my law breaking would be more badass? Or that the police would be more apt to haul me to jail for growing vegetables in my hellstrip?
            Probably the most famous hellstrip edible gardener, Ron Finely, is black.
            I don’t know what race has to do with this particular issue, other than you just wanting to be argumentative, but if you can give me a reason as to why you find it pertinent to the post or the thread of comments, I’ll not think you are half-cocked (which I currently admit to thinking)

  1. You’ll just have double (at least) the number of blooms in a month, right? 🙂

    I would probably just create a little sign stating why you don’t want the blooms removed, laminate it, and tuck it into the bed next to the plants in question. I believe the person was trying to be helpful, not p-a (although my wife would side with you), and this seems like an opportunity to educate.

    • Alan, do you want to know something funny? I painted a sign saying “Let it Grow” on my beds last season (you can see it in the first photo) – AND IT WAS STOLEN!!! Hahahaha! How’s that for irony?
      I admit to being pretty ambivalent about most “interventions” in my hellstrip beds – I don’t mind people taking a pepper here, a few leaves of basil, some chives – as long as they don’t clean me out. I purposefully plant more than I need. It was just the hint of “holier than thou” (which I MAY be imagining!) that I didn’t like!
      I decided that I am going to put another sign up this year and see what effect it has “THESE VEGETABLES ARE FERTILIZED WITH URINE. STEAL AT YOUR OWN RISK”
      Urea is technically urine, right? I know it’s a little bratty, but I kind of want to do it. To make a tiny bit of mischief with the mischief-makers!

      • I’d be scared to put up a sign warning people I fertilized with urine. The Helpful Garden Sprite might want to help with that, too. I once caught a stranger urinating on the side of my house, and I didn’t even have a sign.

        Does the raised bed discourage people from using your garden as a garbage can? Or are people in your neighborhood not inconsiderate jerks? When we lived downtown, I was constantly picking nasty things out of the garden. With gloves on. I stuck with ornamentals because I wasn’t comfortable planting edibles there.

        And yes, it ticked me off every time I noticed someone had messed with my garden. I never had someone deadhead for me. They just threw trash at my house, stepped on plants, took flowers and sometimes stole entire plants. I hope the fecal matter I found in the garden wasn’t human. I did forgive the toddlers I saw picking flowers from their strollers as they and their oblivious parents went by. But I hope their families teach them not to do that when they’re older.

        • Edie you made me laugh so hard I almost spit my tea all over my computer screen! You are right – I don’t want my Garden Sprite fertilizing my edibles with her “offering”. The thought!!! I’m STILL laughing!
          Since my garden is 1 block away from a large highschool / middleschool, kids walk home with cans of soda, bags of fritos, love notes, old pens – all kinds of trash – and much of it ends up in my parkway. Not so often in my beds, they seem to just throw everything on the ground. But one morning I DID find a bright fuschia push-up bra in one of the raised beds. My curb is a popular one for “parking”, so I have found beer bottles and little containers that medical marijuana is sold in – but I have never found the thing I fear the most : a used condom. I would be so grossed out I would probably collapse in a heap. Thankfully, like I said, most of the trash is not in the beds, and what is is fairly benign, thank goodness! It is really something to think about before embarking on edible gardening in public – it isn’t all zucchini, tomatoes and borage flowers! It can be very REAL.
          Thanks so much for your comment – I am STILL laughing and I WON’T put up that sign!

  2. Some people … [shakes head] I’m sorry about your interloper.

    BUT! Now I’m really curious about this basil! Wikipedia says it’s sterile — so you must have to buy starts/plants? But where??

    I don’t think many people would mess with it here in Santa Fe — with all the different sage varieties that are so popular/everywhere, no one would give it a second glance!

    • Yes Monica, Basil “African Blue” is sterile, so I don’t grow it from seed – but I still have the first plants I bought years ago! In my climate, they never falter. They bloom like mad, and the leaves AND blooms are delicious! I use them for Thai dishes and lettuce wraps – the flavor isn’t quite right for Italian – but what a great plant! I think I’d plant it even if it wasn’t edible!

  3. I would also be livid and I agree with Alan – sounds like a cute little sign may be in order. I am often tempted to be “helpful” upon seeing the odd weed begging to be pulled or overgrown plant just asking to be pinched back while walking around the neighborhood. I do always resist the urge, though, since you just never know what the homeowner’s preference/gardening aim is. As a good example, my town has been overrun by a couple of types of spiderworts, and while many consider them to be invasive ugly weeds, other people seem perfectly content to let them take over their lawns. Bottom line, it’s not my place to decide what’s right for everyone and their little patch of land.

    • I like your style, Laura – I follow your way as well. Even though I might WANT to be helpful, I never assume and actually DO something to someone else’s property. If the urge was beyond resistance, I’d leave a note.
      And what a good point you make about the dangers of assuming what others may want! Once, a long time ago, my gardens were photographed for Garden Design – and the lovely photographer took it upon herself to “clean up” a little patch of weeds she saw. That patch of weeds was a stand of Chasmanthium latifolium that I’d been so thrilled had sent up their seedheads just in time for my garden to be photographed! It was so funny – the photographer was terribly embarrassed, of course, we became fast friends (after laughing uproariously for the rest of the day). So yes! Never assume!

  4. I tend gardens on a campus and I have an early morning (or late evening) “weeder”. They pull weeds and leave them on a pile in the middle of the sidewalk. (Why not in one of the many trashcans available? So I can see how helpful they have been.) Of course, not everything they pull is a weed. I let lots of plants reseed and the “weeder” pulls them out too. When he/she pulled up all my Carex eburnea seedlings, I did put up a sign.

    • CM YOU KNOW MY PAIN! I really am beginning to think that it is the not knowing that is the worst. I mean, people try to be helpful, they make mistakes. And in public, or in my case semi-public spaces are open to all kinds of “intervention”. But if I could look into someone’s eyes I’d be able to SEE if they were being sweet ( and then I could tell them about this awesome variety of basil) or if they were being a passive aggressive controlling neighbor ( and then I could go re-plant her drifts of Agapanthus ‘Peter Pan’, cuz I personally hate that plant). You know?

      • So do I. My dear hubby offered to weed the garden, only to pull out all of the recently planted basil that I had started from seed indoors a few weeks before.

        He is now only allowed to mow the lawn.

  5. While I understand your distress I think you are indeed being a bit paranoid re. the intentions of your mystery helper. I also would say ‘yes’ to your question about needing to expect or put up with a certain amount of interference with these beds since they are not on your property.

    I REALLY like the corrugated iron raised bed idea – where on earth would you source it?

    • Yes Chris – I could TOTALLY be overdoing it! BUT STILL!!! sigh. Happily, my basil is rebounding rapidly and I’ll have my blooms back soon. Hopefully, my gardening friend won’t cut them again! I think the thing that really gets me is the anonymity – if the person would have left a note, or identified themselves, I could thank them for their efforts and let them know about that particular plant. But you are completely right, gardening “in the world” means you deal with different things, and this is one of them!
      As far as my corrugated beds – they were the easiest things in the world to make! I got the idea from a trip to Texas. Everybody uses metal there – stock tanks in particular. I happened upon a garden whose owner created square raised beds using leftover corrugated metal he used on the roof of his backyard shed, and I loved the look. When I decided to build these beds, I got the metal at a metal supply place (but lots of Home Depots carry it), had it cut to size, riveted the seams together, put some rebar along the outside to make sure the metal didn’t bow out from the mass of the soil – and voila! raised beds that took one afternoon to make and cost a total of $218 (not including soil and plants)!

      • I loved the beds, too! Thanks for asking about them, Chris from Toronto, and for explaining how to make them, Ivette!

        It was also fun to learn a little more about African Blue basil.

        • I’m glad you like them Sandra! I had changed my classic Spanish style tiled roof (which was always leaking) to a standing seam metal roof about 10 years ago, so I really wanted the beds to have a bit of an industrial vibe to them. I think corrugated metal is a great material! I wouldn’t hesitate to use it again for the right project.
          And African Blue Basil is the BOMB! I’m so happy more people are being turned on to it! Thank goodness for my Pinching Interloper – they did very well, in the end! Without them I probably would have posted about the cactus I accidentally drowned. A good story, but not as universally appealing as cool basil! Thanks for your sweet comment!

  6. I might put a sign up like this one I have in my garden:

    Actually, I might be more concerned with the metal contaminants in the food located along to roadways:$fn=enaa-frameset.htm$3.0

    I’m also not a fan of planting pollinator strips along roadsides. The insects are often killed by passing cars as they fly away and as the head of the wildlife garden at the Smithsonian told me, there are few insects at his demonstration garden because of the pollution along the adjoining roadway. They simply don’t like the exhaust.

    • Nice sign Marcia!

      Oh, and the second link doesn’t work, but I was initially concerned about pollutants also. But my backyard beds and my hellstrip beds are about 20 ft apart, so I can’t imaging that one area is less polluted than the other in any significant way. I raised my beds 18″ to make certain that my soil was as good as I can make it, and to get the plants out of the direct line of fire of exhaust from idling cars. I decided not to let the idea of pollution deter me – we live in a polluted world, and I feel the more I can grow within that very problematic “normal”, the better for me and my community. As for pollinators – I guess the head of wildlife at the Smithsonian hasn’t talked to the bees and butterflies in my garden, which is on a very busy corner and is FULL of life. There are more butterflies inside my backyard area, but I think that is because of all of the passionflower and milkweed. I see bees and birds in my front yard and hellstrip all the time, as well as lizards and snakes. I’m going to keep planting food and plants that attract beneficials wherever I can – to me, it doesn’t make sense to abstain from planting great plants where they thrive.

  7. I used to have a flowerbed in the front yard, until my helpful neighbor began planting things in it. I think it was the okra plants that determined me to move everything to the back (tossing out the okra along the way). I knew who did it, and I knew his intentions were kind. He also gave me some violets once, whose descendants I’m still growing, and I gave him my excess irises, which bloomed better in his yard than in mine. He was a much more experienced gardener than I was and became to some extent my role model–but I still wanted to decide for myself what to grow and how. I hope you persuade your interloper to desist!

    • Wow Carolyn that is quite a story! I guess your mentor thought your bed was also his bed. (Hmmm- that sounds a little racier than intended!) I know that certain people have a very open sense of boundaries, and I think those who like to teach tend to be in this category. As you know from experience, it is a good and bad thing! We love the generous spirit of these people, they are full of ideas and info … but their enthusiasm can sometimes be a little overwhelming! Maybe you can venture back to your front yard edibles after a suitable cooling off period – if he hasn’t taken it over completely! Good luck!

      • He’s long gone, and the front yard is now completely shaded by the live oak we planted “for the future”–now that we are living in the future, I wish we’d planted something smaller, and deciduous. I have more garden than I can keep up with in the back, and a lot less lawn. Good luck with your interloper!

  8. Two observations:

    1. Some people put enormous energy positively looking for ways to be offended. Perhaps you’re one. You acknowledge the individual was clearly not trying to be destructive. They were trying to do a good thing. Absorb that, and get over yourself, you know? You’ll be a lot happier. Not to mention easier to get along with.

    2. While unrelated to the basil pinching….What the F with the hideous corrugated metal? Who wants to look at that eyesore? Maybe try to make your beds –which are in everyone’s eye view, according to you– more attractive, mainstream, even. I’m all for quirky and funky…but honestly, corrugated metal’s pretty ugly for the general public. Save your…uh…funkiness for private spaces.

    • HAHAHA! Tracy, right on. You have a right to your opinion. And sure, sometimes I might put energy into finding the negative in what is intended as positive. Like this comment of yours for instance. I’m sure it was meant to instruct rather than offend, but I tend to see it as rather bitchy. That’s cool, bitchy is fine by me- as long as you aren’t pinching back my basil.
      As for my HIDEOUS METAL BEDS- well nanny nanny boo boo! Those UGLY NON-MAINSTREAM beds have been featured in several design publications across the country, and were a DIY project in my best-selling garden book! But yes, everyone has different tastes. I don’t do anything because it is “mainstream”, and I really doubt that I would consider the things that you find appealing attractive, too. We just have different tastes. Mine matter, however. I get paid for my funky taste! GOD BLESS AMERICA!

    • I LOVE the corrugated metal. Based on what I see online, many others do too. Not mainstream (bleah!), but mainstream isn’t the only stream. To quote my mother, “Would you jump off a cliff just because everyone else was too?”

      “Quirky and funky” is not how I’d describe it anyway. Unique, maybe. Fun & interesting, too. Splinter-free. Pest free. Easy.

      I may have to go find some corrugated metal for my front yard re-do (coming to my yard this Winter!) – oh! How the neighbors will talk!

      • Thank you Laura! It is very lovely of you to defend my humble little beds – you are a wonderful champion. I have been REALLY happy with them. They allow for quick assembly and low start-up costs, they look great (although some beg to differ, but those people probably wouldn’t like the tile mural on my garage wall or the color I am planning to paint my house. Thank goodness I don’t live in a place with CC & R’s!), and – a bonus for those in freeze zones – they warm up early in the spring!
        I say go for it! Let the neighbors talk – they need SOMETHING to do, right? XO

    • “…but honestly, corrugated metal’s pretty ugly for the general public. ”

      It is now quite the trend, since I have been seeing it for a while. There is a house on a busy corner that is sided with the stuff, and has raised barriers that I often see. When it was for sale the asking price was over a million dollars!

      There is another new trend you’ll probably hate: making raised beds with steel plates:

      • Chris THANK YOU for that link! I am madly in love with corten steel and am baffled why more folks in Los Angeles don’t use it! That raised bed is mouth watering lay gorgeous!!!! In fact, I may just make my next raised bed out of corten! You are wonderful for inspiring me!!! Yay for metal beds in edible gardening!!!!

        • I asked about them when I saw them in a display garden at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. I was assured that they are a bit pricey.

          I was there shopping around for ideas to redo my small backyard (less than 20′ by 20′), which had literally been a “gravel pit” for kids to play in. The kids are all in college, so it was time to change. I decided to have raised beds made of interlocking blocks with a cap that I can step on to prune the grapes and wisteria on the 7′ tall trellis:

    • Tracy, your comment really rubs me the wrong way–maybe I am one of those easily offended people! but this article really resonates with me; what is at stake is protecting one’s boundaries from other people who don’t always respect them, whether intentionally or not. It’s not a question of being offended, it’s a question of autonomy or lack thereof.

      I’ve spent a lot of my life being pushed around; now something as technically inoffensive as a man telling to smile is actually a total invasion (i’m thinking about something, dude, butt out!) and it IS disrespectful, although the guy often doesn’t view it that way. he thinks he has a right to barge in on my day, and that my brow furrowed in thought is an affront to him somehow.

      my garden is one of the few places i DO have control. when people interfere with that i have a huge, intense, very reptile-brain response. i don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

      • and i forgot to say that, as a seedsaver, someone pinching blooms on my plants could be a big catastrophe for me, because seeds take time to mature, and they have to mature before frost. it is presumptious for a stranger to assume you’re only growing the basil for the leaves–although before i started saving seeds, i wouldn’t have known that. so it is either presumptious or totally innocent.


      • JW, you bring up SUCH good points! Thank you for explaining my brain better than I ever could – I want to hug you.
        And another great point on being a seed saver! You are my hero!

    • Good eye Anne!
      That IS a trellis – peas in the winter and tomatoes in the summer – and on top of that center pole is a city sign that warns about fines for misdemeanors are increased within 500 ft of a school zone. Thank goodness Front Yard Edible Gardening is no longer a misdemeanor in LA!
      In the spirit of my quick and industrial metal beds, I used rebar for the trellis, but I might switch to concrete reinforcing wire – I’ve seen a few very cool DIY designs using it!

        • Well, I live in a neighborhood that is rapidly changing from an East LA gang enclave to a cool, lovely place for artists, musicians, and assorted hipsters to raise a family. My side street leads to the back gate if the local high school, and word has it my parkway strip used to be the designated place to buy weed. I believe the sign is there to deter drug selling in school zones – they have them up near high schools all over LA. I just really love the look of the sign post covered in cherry tomatoes. Back when my activity was considered a misdemeanor in LA, it was a beautiful snapshot of “criminal behavior”.

  9. Hallelujah! Another garden rant at last! I was beginning to miss the original purpose of the site. Thank you, Ivette and rant on!

    • It is my pleasure to Rant for you Deborah! I’m so glad you enjoy it, and I hope to be at it for a long time. Thanks for your lovely support.

  10. I think you’re over reacting big time, after all, the plants in question are public domain. But more importantly, wouldn’t it be interesting to meet with the person who pinched your ….yes, basil. Maybe he/she has something new to offer to you. Maybe he/she has learned something about basil that you’d find interesting because obviously he/she must know something about plants if they’re pinching. And really, isn’t that a huge part of gardening, sharing with each other. I hope you post a sign that suggests to the “pincher” that you’d like to learn more about pinching this variety of basil. You don’t have to agree, but just maybe, this person is really likable and after chit chatting, has a few questions of their own for you. By the way, I’m not a big fan of those who need to quote that their ideas have made it big and have been published. It’s a great that someone (a publisher) has sought your ideas. Everyone has a right to their own opinion and unfortunately some people need to let others know that their opinion clashes with yours. But leave it at that. No need to become defensive. Also, I like the corrugated metal. Here’s to basil beautifying our backyards or in your case, hellstrip. Aha, now I get why it’s called hellstrip):

    • Thanks for your input gmarlieb! I agree with you – I HATE it when people brag about all the stuff they’ve done and how important they are! But I REALLY LIKE getting under the skin of people who are trying to be lame. There are ways to critique, and then there are people who just want to be mean. You gave a very considered and meaningful critique, which I gladly accept. And yes, I’d LOVE to meet the basil pincher! The other person was just being bitchy – it was an opinion, sure but you know what they say about opinions, everyone has one (and another thing that we will gloss over for the sake of decency!). Part of the reason I like blogging is the dialog, and my job is to dialog with all sorts of different people with different opinions of the things I say or do or put out in the world, and just like they have a right to their opinions, I have the right to reject it if I see fit! Thanks again and BASIL EVERYWHERE!!!

  11. You take the risk, you might pay a price. I think your outrage is out of proportion. And the attribution of motives, well you really don’t know
    what the person was thinking. And I think it was much less a personal chastisement than you imagine. Is there a smidge of entitlement on your part, or am I dead wrong?
    I can imagine someone rather absently mindedly deadheading one plant, catching themselves (not my basil, oops, not my property ….for that matter not yours either…..oops) and leaving feeling rather abashed and hoping no one sawthem commit this grievious misdeed.
    Continue to enjoy your wonderful contribution to city life and the fact that a thousand people have walked by and never touched your garden. Really, the amazing part is your creation and the joy, not ill-controlled itchy fingers.

    • Hi Marie Tulin! Point well taken – I risk gardening in public, so this is really just one of those things I have to put up with. And yes, my reaction WAS out of proportion – that was exactly the point of my post. I have had other things happen in my beds that are much worse – like the first year I planted it when a plant thief ran off with 8 freshly planted basil plants (what IS it with basil?) – but nothing got me like the pinching did! So I wanted to throw it out there to my community and explore it. And sure, I am entitled! I pay for the plants, the soil, the amendments, the water, my mortgage, property taxes, and maintenance on the property. AND while parkways are technically owned by the city, the property owner is tasked with maintenance and planting – part of which, in the city of Los Angeles, includes the right to grow edibles. So yes, I am entitled, but I don’t think that is a bad thing – I’m proud! And I share! I ask you how you would feel if someone started maintaining something you had planted next to your sidewalk. We are talking about feelings here – not actions. I mean, I didn’t go put up a video camera to catch the Pincher in the act (and people HAVE done things like that when their property was interfered with!). I just had a feeling, one that I am admitting to. I wasn’t mean to anyone nor have I ever told anyone who asked that they couldn’t share some of my bounty. Like I’ve said, it is the anonymity of it that bothers me more than anything. If you want to garden in my beds, if you want to tend to my garden with me – introduce yourself, why dont you? It is weird to pinch back someone’s basil like a benevolent garden bandit! Thanks for your comment! Very spirited!

  12. I am fortunate in that I live in a neighborhood full of gardeners. While walking through it I have been tempted at times to pull the random dandelion or other weed, but demurred because it was not my place to put my values on that garden… or deny them their “weed therapy” (“die weed!” has its therapeutic properties).

    Though today on my walk I came upon a hellstrip that I had been by before, but it seems to have gone through a transformation. One that makes me want to cheer and be very jealous. It consisted of four foot tall blueberry bushes full of fat berries, surrounded by strawberry plants in bloom with newly planted squashes just started to push out their vines.

    I will not pick the blueberries, but rely on my tiny plants which I had to move from the edge of the rockery with too much drainage. And I will not nick the squashes because I just gave up trying to grow those after several years. But I will just walk by and admire the progress of that particular hellstrip.

    Perhaps I will just leave a note saying that I think they have an awesome garden.

    • Chris, you lovely soul, you almost made me cry! I would gladly give you squashes (if they would GROW in my damned beds! You and I must be the only people on earth who can’t grow squash!) if you were my neighbor! I have to say, a note would be SO APPRECIATED by the gardener of that hellstrip – it would make their day, and you will have a friend forever.

  13. Nobody touch my plants! Actually, touching, smelling, rubbing leaves for the fragrance — all OK. But I’d be pissed about someone pruning, weeding, or otherwise removing portions of my garden.

    I once had the opposite problem in a public-median garden I planted and tended as part of a neighborhood beautification project. A secret Santa of sorts kept planting their “extras” in the garden, and I’d show up to find, say, a half-dozen Opuntia pads planted all through my carefully designed (and city-mandated height-restricted) bed. I figured they meant well, but I can’t lie — it annoyed me. I pulled out several of these “gifts,” knowing they’d prove either invasive or too tall for the space.

    • Pam you are always a DOLL – you said it in a nutshell! Just like you, I know they probably meant well (many controlling types can mean well!) – but it was ANNOYING! Like – “don’t tell me what to do!” If someone started planting in my designed spaces I would be super puffy and indignant. I’m not proud of this, but at least I’m honest. I would prefer to be a mellow, earth-mother type who never has an eyelash out of place and doesn’t get her feathers ruffled, but I am a little feisty at times. We both are, Pam! Birds of a plant-loving feather!

  14. I happen to LOVE the use of corrugated metal and just this spring bought two 36″ corrugated metal fire rings to make raised beds in which to grow my amaryllis over the summer. They must like it too, because right now I’ve got four bulbs BLOOMING. In summer.

    As far as your interloper is concerned, if that had happened to me, I would be momentarily annoyed (“How dare they!”) and then get over it just as quickly, because that’s kind of how I am. Then I would think about it while weeding and deadheading and realize they were probably just doing something instinctual before catching themselves. And it IS in a public location, so things like that are bound to happen.

    If you’d been warned before you placed and planted those gardens about the possibility that something like this would happen, would you have said, “Nobody had BETTER do that!” I don’t think so. I think you would have said it was a chance you were willing to take and in the grand scheme of things – things that COULD happen to gardens “out in the open” – this seems trivial.

    But I’m glad you blogged about it because I didn’t know that about African Blue Basil. Heck, I didn’t even know African Blue Basil was a THING. Thank you.

      • Sweet Kylee! For starters, we must establish that you are a WAY nicer person than I. Where you get over things, my brain easily gets hooked on a nail of annoyance and then off I go, brooding like a hen! Maybe I need to meditate. But Ill bet I’d spend all of my meditation time thinking about something that is annoying me! I can be SO silly! And yes you are very right about me knowing that this kind of thing would happen when I embarked on this project. But I was so surprised that a seeming act of kindness could spin me maybe more than an act of theft! Sheesh. The answer may be a full week of Bikram Yoga as punishment.
        I’m so glad you like the beds and GO AFRICAN BLUE BASIL! I am very glad to have introduced the two of you. I am sure it will be a long and loving relationship!

  15. I will never understand the restrictions you all put up with in the ‘land of the free’ ! But love your street garden.

    I thought – some garden things become so habitual, so unthinking, that someone could have done that while hardly thinking about it…..

    I hope you meet and find common ground….

    • Yes Anne, the quote unquote ” Land of the Free ” can be pretty restrictive. I mean hello. Of all the terrible things I could be doing with my property, growing food (in my public parkway inside hideous corrugated metal obstacles to free access) has to be among the most benign. I could be a meth lab for goodness sakes! Or I could run a brothel! I could be growing WEED – but no, I’m growing food. Not a crazy huge amount- just enough for me, some friends, and the occasional food forager. Hardly something to invoke a law over!
      I really hope I meet the Pincher someday! I’d love to show them the post and see what they think about all the discussion their little action inspired. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. Hey, I would have had the same reaction you described so well. Hate sanctimonious-ness. Enjoyed your response to Tracy as much as the post. Always enjoy your rants.

  17. This is a lesson for me. I often see things in my neighbors’ yard that need fixing. Dead-heading the roses or pulling an errant weed. But now I will try harder to resist the temptation. After all, I don’t know everything about gardening. Maybe it’s not a weed. It’s just a matter of opinion.

    • Mary, you are an inspiration for being so level-headed. You are very right about what is a weed being a matter of opinion! I just planted purslane in my edible beds, and I have clients pulling it out of their gardens! A weed is a plant in the wrong place.

  18. I love the raised beds and the rant and life is too short to not let off some steam. I also fear passive-aggressive behavior in this case and maybe a case of having read too many books combines with sabelotodo-ism. I know nothing about gardening and never will. That’s my defense. I don’t think anyone else is an expert either. Maybe that’s a defense too but it sure as hell keeps my mind, ears and eyes open.

  19. It’s always a little surprising to me — though it shouldn’t be — how much intense emotion gardening seems to stir up, including anger. And as at other places in the blog universe, it all seems to spill out more intensely on line. I hope Ms. Soler and the enraged SKR both keep an eye on their blood pressure. Interesting too that the gardener’s accustomed, often well-earned, emotion of fury shows up rather little in all those placid and hopeful gardening books and articles I seem to run into. Curmudgeonliness certainly has its role (just read the delightful and lamented Christopher Lloyd), but sheer rage maybe not so much. Suggested reading for me?

    • Chris B -you are very right about how high emotions can run! Gardening is such a passion, and many of us have very fixed ideas and entrenched positions and just can’t see our way beyond them. I get that. I also think the anonymity some commenters cloak themselves in allows them to become very harsh – I am, at the very least, here in the wide open, posting as myself, open to criticism and venom, whereas SKR is … who knows? We can’t really know who this person is or how their position is formed, or what their background is, and knowing all of that helps us develop empathy for each other. The fact that this person chooses to take an aggressive and negative stance on every article I write tells me that it isn’t really about my subject – it is about them. As for me, my blood pressure is great, largely because I take it all with a large grain of salt and a big spoonful of sugar. I enjoy debate! And if someone is going to heckle me, I will heckle right back and have a blast doing it! Thanks for pointing this out, because I also find it interesting – the high emotions that can be stirred by someone challenging our entrenched beliefs and the way we do things.
      As for gardenly curmudgeons – damn, that’s hard! I am a huge fan of Ken Druse – but I am having a hard time thinking if he comes across as curmudgeonly in his writing as he does in his real-life conversations. (and I say this lovingly – he knows he likes to shake a fist!) I am also a lover of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle – it isn’t a flowery memoir of a garden, it can be downright gritty at times. Have you read my fellow ranter Amy Stewart’s Flower Confidential? I love her voice! And this isn’t just because she is a pal, she is also a powerhouse!
      Maybe one day I’ll write a garden memoir and I can be the curmudgeon you seek! I will probably be a little more over-the-top … but no RAGE, of course. My sharp wordplay is saved for online trolls. Cross your fingers for me! Thanks again for your comment, come back again!

  20. I had a similar experience, but in my case, the kooky lady across the street hacked back my rose bushes, leaving the trimmings all over the ground (and this was behind the fence). I knew it was her because she had told me several times after I moved in that the roses needed to be cut back. I dug them up and tossed them (not my style in the first place), and never heard another peep about them.

  21. I’m So enjoying this blog and its responses… firstly, I would be aggravated if someone took it upon themselves to meddle in my flower beds – for no other reason than I would feel like I was being shamed for not doing my chores… but that basil IS for the flowers and shouldn’t be pinched – so insult to injury to be shamed by someone who is wrong!
    As for the mean words and poisonous criticism coming from the likes of SKR and Tracy – come on! One glance at the pics of this garden should indicate that this is no soap-scrubbed suburban cul de sac! I’m certain that the raised corrugated beds are perfectly appropriate in their context.
    And Tracy – put down Veranda and pic up Dwell – maybe you’ll see that corrugated tin is the hottest material in design in the last 2 decades and is quite relevant in an urban context.
    SKR – with your concerns about ordinance numbers, liability, swing door measurements and accusations of insensitivity to handicapped people and tetanus show you to be dour and fearful and the complete picture of the enemy of good design. I have dealt with people like you before in neighborhood associations and policy boards and nothing good can happen when your kind of character is present. You’re like a dementor from Harry Potter – sucking the life out of everything. I hope your neighbors carry chocolate in their pockets.

    • Thank you Dave! I appreciate your comment and you are right – in my ‘hood, pretty much anything goes! That is one of the reasons I moved here! I’d never live in one of those beige communities with endless lawns and McMansions and CCR’s. Not my thing.

  22. After taking another look at the height of your flower beds, I have one other idea of what could have happened. Is the basil near the edge? I can easily imagine a child picking the “pretty flowers” while the parent admired the garden. The parent perhaps then noticed this and had them stop and then left the flowers behind.

    I also garden in the sidewalk strip and I live across the street from an elementary school and have seen this happen with my flowers. Of course I told them to keep the flowers. However, since yours is a garden of edibles, the parent would have told the child to leave them behind not wanting to deprive you. Perhaps they hoped you would find them early enough to still make use of it.

    My garden began as plantings underneath a maple tree and has spread further and further every year. Twelve years now and no one has ever complained or told me it’s illegal. We have a lot of people in the neighborhood who walk for exercise who always thank me for planting it. They enjoy seeing what’s in bloom change from day to day.

    I do get parents parking next to it and swinging the car doors into plants and calling their children over to get inside. To their credit, the children always look shocked to be told to walk through the plants but are given little choice. *sigh* With all of the other places to park just a little further down the street, I still get many people who insist on parking there. Probably the same people who spend five minutes circling the parking lot in order to get a spot just a few parking spaces closer to the front of the store.

    • Hello fellow hellstrip gardener! You bring up an interesting point – which I thought of, actually. It could be! But the basil in question was in the middle of the bed, a little too far for mini-arms, but still … it is possible. I like the way you think – seeing it as something sweet and innocent rather than the work of a controlling garden nazi. You are obviously MUCH nicer than I! Thanks for the comment


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