Tennessee Judge Deems Urban Garden A "Nuisance"

For two years, a Tennessee high school teacher and a group of three neighborhood teens have been crafting and tending to a garden full of flowers and other vegetation like eggplants and peppers. But now it’s all going to have to come down after a judge has deemed the garden a “nuisance.”

The teacher was initially issued a citation from the county for failing to “remove personal property” that is “unsightly” or a “nuisance,” and failing to maintain “a clean and sanitary condition free from any accumulation of rubbish or garbage.”

But when the Memphis Flyer went out to take a look at the property, it saw no visible garbage and no plants overflowing onto sidewalks or driveways:

[The] home is certainly unique: eggplant, tomato, and pepper plants grow in the front yard; the backyard is lined with rows of wooden worm bins; barrels for collecting and storing rainwater are stationed next to his backdoor; his garage is stocked with equipment for making biodiesel and soap; and behind his garage are beehives quietly humming with industry. Elsewhere, passionflowers, butterflies, elderberry bushes, and sunflowers fill out the garden.

When the homeowner appeared in court to answer for the citation, the judge ordered him to trim the overgrown vegetation, which apparently means chopping down 7-foot-tall sunflower plants.

“He said it’s considered a neighborhood nuisance,” says the teacher. “I asked him to define nuisance for me, and he said basically if it generates a complaint, it’s a neighborhood nuisance.”

The homeowner has been using the garden to help teach the teens things they aren’t learning in school. “These are direct applications to math, biology, engineering,” he says. “I’m proud to know that the students I work with are probably the only students in Memphis City Schools who know how to make their own biodiesel.”

The teens have also learned about composting, how to use the glycerin by-product from the biodiesel to make soap, and how to harvest honey from bees.

“I don’t understand why it’s a problem if it’s in the backyard,” said one teen. “We like coming here. We don’t want it to go away.”

Seeds of Discontent [Memphis Flyer]

Thanks to Steven for the tip!

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.