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Gardens Not Allowed: HOA, Homeowner’s Associations, and Yard Gardens

Front yard vegetable gardens and garden landscaping you can do in spite of HOAs.

Flying into Atlanta on a nice sunny day, my window seat afforded a grand view of the expansive sprawl of subdivisions along the flight path. At about 2000 feet, it was easy to spot which homeowners had installed food gardens in their yards.

Of the hundreds of cookie-cutter homes stamped upon the terrain in concise patterns, not one garden appeared.

Not one.

The layout of these dwellings in all their efficiency reminded me of office cubicles. Perhaps, many of the inhabitants boxed themselves for convenience… as in work in a box, drive in a box, live in a box, and eat out of a box (basically).

Homeowners Associations, HOAs,

Not to disparage anyone who happens to be in this category, it’s just an observation, an overview that led to wondering why there were no gardens planted in these tracts. Surely, somebody yearned to scratch up some Georgia red clay and plant some collards!?

Everything looked to be so regimented, locked-in, standardized, mass-produced, quality-controlled.

Then the realization came. Dollars to donuts, the Homeowner’s Associations (HOA’s) were in charge and for whatever reason, food gardens did not fit the desired pattern. Zoning may also have played a role, but based on a working familiarity with subdivisions and their CCR’s (Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions), it looked like the HOA enforcers were doing their job down there. Then the next realization hit: this is what the homeowners wanted. Simple, safe, easy-care property value insurance. The real estate version of the Honda Accord.

Cover image from Mother Earth News article by Betsy Model, on Edible Landscaping.1)

The Ups and Downs of HOA’s and CCR’s

As mentioned, experience in building and developing our own 40 acre “forested” subdivision with lots from 1/2 acre to 5 acres, has informed us of the necessity to install CCR’s as a matter of protection. We are property owners and managers acting in the stead of an official HOA. Even though our CCR’s are clearly spelled out, registered with the county deeds office, and tied in with every lot, real estate agents miss them. New arrivals often need to be apprised that they cannot do anything they want on or with their land. They have to be convinced that, yes, we do have limits on ATV’s, dirt bikes, commercial shops, setbacks, pigs, mobile homes, and a rather broad category where …”no obnoxious or offensive use of the property will be permitted”.


These measures protect property values, the land itself (ever seen what ATV’s can do to a yard?), noise, and all manner of disturbances. One newly arrived resident couldn’t understand why it was a problem to squeeze off practice rounds on weekends from his back porch (50 feet away from the next door neighbor).

Clint Eastwood, in the movie, Gran Torino
Clint Eastwood, in the movie, Gran Torino

Another owner decided to open a motorcycle repair shop that operated part time—all hours of the night—with frequent client prospect visits to test drive these bikes, revving and racing up the hill on some of them unmuffled motorbikes, but all of which were tweaked for that extra macho loudness.

Each of these things in turn, sets off a cacophony of neighborhood dogs, for an increasing crescendo of noise in an otherwise quiet wooded subdivision. We’d rather listen to the birds and peepers.


At the same time, we never would have considered food gardening as offensive. We prefer organic methods and currently, all the protective row covers and tunnels in the garden make it look like a tent city. The straw bales smelled pretty ripe for a few days as the organic fertilizers went to work. Out of some 15 families in this small cul-de-sac neighborhood, only ours keeps a garden. We had to clear a wide swath of pine trees to get enough sun and would have no issue whatsoever with any neighbors doing the same.

So what about the HOA’s that impose a ban on food gardens? Well, there’s good news out of California (thanks to info from one of our GardensAll Facebook friends). Nearly two years ago, California passed the “Neighborhood Food Act” along with several other bills to promote sustainable and local food growing.This act essentially bans the banners (HOA’s, CID’s, and other entities like landlords) and promotes the growing of food gardens for personal consumption or donation. 2)

If you’re not in California, what can you do?

So What Can You do?

Would the neighbors really complain about something so beautiful? Likely someone would.

The psychology of this is poignantly covered in another article we’ll link to on the last page, and is actually very interesting.

So if you’re not in California, what to do?

First, avoid the situation entirely by buying or renting property that is not so subject to neighborhood controls. Just be aware that your neighbors may actually get to do as they please too: set up a sawmill, a Motor-Cross, a trailer park, a used car parts business (think junk yard), a pig farm, a shooting range, a honky tonk, a puppy mill, or any number of freewheeling enterprises. If possible, you may buy enough land to insulate yourself from whatever. Then again, you may enjoy the local conviviality along with loud noises and that farm fresh tang in the air.

Image from Mother Earth News article by Betsy Model, on Edible Landscaping.

If you go with a more subdivision style property, then make sure you know the score up front. Is there an HOA, a roster of rules and regulations, and ordinances that would be a hindrance to how you wish to use your property? Find out all you can before signing off on any contract. Talk to residents, get a feel for their HOA administrators. What’s the HOA fee (if any).  If using a real estate agency, be sure to have them help you understand and know what CCR’s are tied to the deed. Though real estate agents are supposed to disclose HOA’s and CCR’s,many agents don’t even know to look into CCR’s if there’s no active HOA. And, if there are CCR’s but no active HOA, these can still be legally enforced by neighbor complaints, but it’s not as straightforward. So always ask. Once you close the sale, you may have little to no recourse but to abide by the rules.

Next, see what one “guerilla” or “outlaw” gardener did in her restricted subdivision.

“Outlaw Gardener” Finds a Way

If you mess with the rules, you might become an “outlaw gardener” like Cristina Santiestevan.3),1

Cristina’s lives in a nice neighborhood, but it’s governed by a restrictive homeowner’s association, aka, HOA, that prohibits vegetable gardening in the front yard. This is not unusual.

Many HOAs do not allow vegetable gardens in the front or sides of the yards. Yet for many homeowners this is a problem because more often than not, due to the open area provided by the street and front lawnscape, it’s often the front yards that have more sun, and the backyards that have larger shade trees.

Cristina shared on the clause in her HOAs rules:

Article VI, Section 10: Vegetable gardens shall be allowed in the rear or side portions of said lots only.

Cristina’s home was a classic example described above: a very lovely but shady back yard.

Cristina said, “If I wanted homegrown tomatoes, I had to break the rule. And so I became an outlaw. I expanded the planting beds along the foundation and stole some land from the lawn. I ripped out several overly sheared shrubs and replaced them with blueberries. I added an herb garden, planted native flowers, and began to sneak vegetables into the mix.

The idea was simple: Grow a vegetable garden that didn’t look like a vegetable garden.
~Cristina Santiestevan

“Incognito edibles” became Cristina’s guiding theme for her garden. Below is a picture of Cristina’s front yard garden. She came up with a fantastic list of ornamental edibles to use whenever possible. And it worked.

Cristina Santiestefan – the Outlaw Gardener’s home yard garden

The garden thrived, and the neighborhood noticed. Folks began to stop and chat while I weeded. Several drivers rolled their windows down to shout encouragement. No one complained about the vegetables.4),1

Three cheers for good and supportive neighbors!

For the complete article and details of the many edible ornamentals Cristina chose, visit this article on,1

Edible Landscape Plants

A perfectly benign front yard garden workaround is to use edible landscape plants, such as dwarf fruit trees and bushes, and vegetables mixed in with florals. You may also enjoy our article on the foodscaping topic, where we also get into the psychology of why HOA’s are so restrictive and how to work around it:6)

Imagine this subdivision transformed with vibrant edible landscapes of fruits, vegetables and herbs!

Because one thing is certain: a neighborhood that allows gardens will be positively transformed in more ways than food for the table!7)

Neighborhoods that allow food gardens will be positively transformed in more ways than food for the table.

“Imagine,” chef, cookbook author and local food activist Deborah Madison mused recently, “if our government asked us to respond to the crisis of global warming, diminishing oil and poor health … by planting vegetable gardens.” From article by Betsy Model on Mother Earth News9)

Measures you can take… gardens you can make.

Imagine neighborhoods getting on board with this. Could be powerful and even start a movement of gardening communities!
Garden communities are a growing thing, such as we’ve shared in this article on a community built around gardening from the start.

A Gardening Revolution

Once garden communities like Serenbe become more widely known, betting many HOA’s will begin to follow suit. Residents can meet and agree to create a gardening neighborhood out of existing communities, sanctioned by the HOA.
It’s important to remember that a Homeowners Association is a representative body of the neighborhood. If enough residents agree, existing convenants can be amended.

Imagine this “picture book” home yard garden multiplied times all the homes in the subdivision pictured above (or as many of them as would want to!).

Gardens are transformative!

What a beautiful yard!

If you’re loving this and want more examples of the concept of yard gardening, you may also enjoy this article.10)

Coleman Alderson

G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson

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