What, exactly, is an heirloom?
Just too ugly to grow

Here come the plant police

boring,garden,landscape,dull,approved plants. 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! boring,garden,landscape,dull, approved plants.

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 pelargoniums…

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.

UPDATE: My friends at Garden Rant have re-posted this piece as a guest blog. Take a look, and be sure to check out the great comments.


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Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Wow! This is really interesting. Not much thought about sustainability. Wonder if that area will be on the GWA tour in September in Dallas.


I think I fell asleep just looking at that picture.

Graham Rice

Jo - I think if the garden writers were bused out there to see it they'd end up taking over the administration building - or sneakily planting bulbs in the lawns.

How can people live in a place like that, Mjausson? Makes you wonder how (or perhaps if) they sparkle up their lives. I suppose they could choose a red car - doesn't seem to be any rules against that.


Time for some guerilla gardening! http://www.guerrillagardening.org/ggseedbombs.html

We just have to get past the gates...

Les @ Javelinas and Ocotillos

I'm curious about Belcorte - I live on the NE side of Tucson, in a gated community, though our restrictions are much more logical: we're not allowed to tear out the native desert vegetation, and we're not allowed to plant anything that will block our neighbor's views of the mountains. Otherwise, we're free to plant whatever species we like. Haven't heard of Belcorte though, must be tucked away off the main roads. (I suspect the restriction to N and E walls is that the plants would fry on the S or W walls!)

The problem here is, the land use laws require an HOA to be formed every time a subdivision is built, and the HOAs often run amok without any sort of reasonable control (though I'm lucky to have a very reasonable and non-meddling HOA). Seems that people want the government to stay out of their lives... unless it's their ideological beliefs that are being imposed on the rest of us, then government interference is suddenly OK! Lucky for me I've got a glorious garden front and back and nobody cares - though I have to admit if someone decided to "guerrilla garden" in my yard I would be pretty pissed off!

Graham Rice

Thanks Les. For the benefit of Brits, HOA is a Home Owners' Association - a sort of local government for the community. At Beverly Oaks the HOA even manages the water and sewage systems. Your rules seem pretty sensible, Les. Our are too, the properties in our community are, basically, scattered through second growth forest and there are restrictions on cutting down trees. Fair enough.

BTW - I also notice that at Beverly Oaks your house MUST be painted every eight years... by the HOA. Number of color choices for your home? One.

Fuzzyjay - I don't think this community has any gates...


It seems to me that what they are doing will get exactly the opposite of the results they want. I'm glad my HOA lets me do what I want. (Although I never really ask. I just do it and haven't been told to stop.)

Graham Rice

Although, I suppose, you probably wouldn't move there unless you were to sort of person who approved of that sort of thing...

Perhaps they need a book! Yes... Six of The Best - How To Create a Beautiful Garden with Only Six Plants. There's a challenge...

Dutch Gardener

America, land of the free?

James Golden

The pride of the ignorant. Reflected in our political discourse too, though that's a little freer (for the moment).

Garden Beet

well its seems the built form police have extended into the garden - i always wondered why buildings had so many stupid rules and regs but not gardens - finally 100% visual control - at least urban character studies will be easy in the future! Beam me up scotty

Graham Rice

Brits are not only baffled by these extraordinary rules, but for this mania for homeowners associations. "You pay your local taxes," they say, "then the association has an annual charge to cover stuff local taxes should be paying for. Makes no sense."

Garden Beet

hey graham - i aint no Brit - I am an aust living in the UK - it would be equally weird to have these rules in australia - however i think there may be a few gated communities that have these regs - but there would not be many

Graham Rice

Actually, Garden Beet, I recently heard of some new developments in Britain that have rules preventing homeowners removing whatever plants the developers planted. I'm looking into it...

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