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Summer reissue: New Zealand’s absurd gardening ban once again makes us the laughing stock of the Internet

In June, the internet rediscovered New Zealand’s longstanding ban on personal gardens, and it collectively lost its mind. Joshua Drummond argues that the ban has had its day.

First published June 18, 2016.

Well, it happened again. We should be used to it by now. It’s only a year since the topic of New Zealand’s gardening ban last exploded on the now-infamous “Can you have a garden in New Zealand?” post on the r/newzealand subreddit, which is devoted to all things New Zealandish. The latest kerfuffle was caused by commenters who suggested – correctly – that if we permitted personal gardens we might not have an avocado shortage causing a crime wave. Confused posters poured in from all over the world. How, they asked, is it possible that the New Zealand government continues to punish gardeners as criminals?

Maybe we’re just used to it after a long history of risking jail for the simple act of planting a few plants, but I think it’s high time we asked ourselves the same question. And, in case you’re not already questioning just why New Zealand has banned gardening, here’s a few bloody good reasons to start doing just that.

illegal avocado growing

An anonymous Kiwi mum shows off her illegal avocado tree. Credit: u/DinaDinaDinaBatman

Our justice system is overrun with “criminals” whose only crime was to love plants

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Our prisons are bursting with middle-aged white people, who make up a disproportionate number of victims of our punitive and ageist anti-gardening legislation. Only recently a Kaikohe mother and pillar of the community made headlines when she was charged with possesion of just two pot plants and was sentenced to a year in jail for each. Kronic187’s grandma was one of the lucky ones, getting let off with a fine – but shouldn’t we ask ourselves why we think it’s lucky for gardeners to get away with a fine and a warning? Why should they be punished at all?

The anti-gardening legislation is applied inconsistently

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I grew up in Kerikeri, and I can attest to the truth of OfficerCHODEMAN’s statement – things really are more lax in some parts of the country than others. Kerikeri has plenty of gardens, tucked away in the backs of quarter-acre sections. I grew up eating fruit from hidden-in-plain-sight orchards. Adults even handed out home-grown navel oranges at school rugby matches at half-time. It was a rare day when the sweet smell of orchard sprays wouldn’t waft over our house. Sure, as a result of illegal orchard overspraying practically everyone in Kerikeri has cancer, but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s insane that the law could be so lax in one place, and barely half an hour away in Kaikohe a woman could be arrested for having a couple of pot plants. It’s nothing short of corrupt.

Those in support of the ban are bigoted boomers and probably also Stuff.co.nz commenters

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“Fruit bludgers.” It’s sad to see those who choose to garden reduced to a horticultural slur, but that’s the state of affairs in New Zealand. If it wasn’t for the need for the New Zealand government to appeal to ill-educated, anti-garden bigots and the powerful farming lobby, we’d have had legalised gardening back in the ’90s.

You shouldn’t need a licence to do an activity that’s fundamentally not that dangerous

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Sure, people have died from gardening – from things like Legionnaire’s disease lurking in compost. Or falls from illegal cliff gardens on the East Cape. But if you compare gardening to, say, drinking, all the evidence says that gardening is much less dangerous and is ultimately better for you. And let’s be honest: many of us enjoy a quiet bit of gardening in our spare time. Quite a few of the Spinoff’s own staff have great experience and in-depth knowledge of gardening. Some have even written about their experiences with it. Hell, former MP Nandor Tanczos proudly admitted to regularly gardening on Holmes. Not to mention that many of those politicians who now uphold the ban admit to trying gardening at least once during their wild, misspent youth. The point is: they’ve got no right to force us to be licensed to undertake what is an essentially safe activity.

Foreign films have shown us another way

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If Matt Damon can freely garden on Mars, why shouldn’t we be able to do it in New Zealand?

Our gardening implements are treated as more dangerous than Americans treat guns

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Even for those who can get a license, it’s nearly impossible to actually do anything worthwhile with it. Sloppy_Twat is right – as long as even licensed gardeners are treated as criminals, forced to lock their implements away in actual safes, we’ll never truly progress as a nation.

People overseas think our stupid, archaic anti-gardening laws are literally as bad as terrorism.

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See that, New Zealand? We just got accused of being as bad as the “islamic laws.” This can only be a reference to ISIL, and I’m pretty sure our government – who only recently were freaking out about jihadi brides – wouldn’t want the rest of the world thinking our gardening restrictions were as bad as sharia law. Would you, John Key?

It’s clear what needs to be done. New Zealand’s gardening ban needs to go. The rest of the world has moved on without us. When it comes down to it, there’s nothing all that wrong with gardens, and it’s fine to do a bit of gardening once in a while, in moderation. We should follow expert advice and treat excessive gardening as a health issue, not as a criminal one. The only thing holding us back is the ill-informed anti-gardening lobby before which the Government can’t seem to stop cowering – but if overseas trends are anything to go by, their days are numbered. Soon enough, anyone in New Zealand will be able to have a garden and eat it too.


See also:

A nation in crisis – New Zealand’s catastrophic marijuana shortage

What happens when you appear before a judge you called a c*** on Facebook?


The author wishes to acknowledge the support of his employer and Spinoff Gaming sponsor, Bigpipe Broadband, the official ISP of New Zealand’s pirate gardeners

The Spinoff is indebted to Reddit, in particular the denizens of r/newzealand, for their groundbreaking discussion of New Zealand’s illegal gardening situation, without which we would never have had the courage to write this post. For more on New Zealand’s gardening ban, Joshua Drummond has a short history.