The conventional and uniform style of the gardens and exteriors of communities managed by Homeowners Associations (HOAs) is usually quite strictly preserved, but a gradual relaxation of restrictions on eco-friendly planting is becoming more widespread.
In the US, more than 70 million people live in buildings and communities where an HOA establishes and enforces the rules for how the exterior of properties under their management should be presented.
While beautifully manicured landscaping can be attractive, however, it is not always environmentally friendly. Immaculate lawns not only require large amounts of water and chemical fertilizers to maintain their lush appearance, but they are also uninviting to wildlife.
In some areas such as Maryland, HOA regulations restricting the planting of wildflowers have now been overruled by state laws. For other residents keen to create a more natural, life-sustaining garden, approaching their HOA with suggestions for eco-friendly adaptations could lead to greater flexibility when it comes to the exterior presentation of their properties.
How HOAs Manage Landscaping
One of the many benefits of living in an HOA community is having access to attractive grounds and communal amenities. The upkeep of beautifully manicured lawns and gardens can be costly and involve a lot of work, but under an HOA, the maintenance and repair of property exteriors is undertaken by a third party. Although fees are paid towards the management of common areas, the cost of work is shared with other homeowners.
While no HOAs are overseen by state or federal agencies, in North Carolina, where almost 40% of homes are controlled under HOAs, the Planned Community Act governs subdivisions with HOAs established since 1999. When restrictions are imposed over a property’s exterior appearance, it is only with the aim of protecting the local community and enhancing the lives of residents living there.
However, as noted by one HOA management company in Matthews NC, each subdivision has its own unique needs. Residents who wish to discuss a change to the way their garden is managed can ask the board to review their request. This is made easier in well-managed HOAs where open and transparent communication between the board and residents is encouraged.
Maintaining Trees and Urban Forests
Adding trees to a landscaped garden can help to improve the ecosystem by providing nesting habitats and food for wildlife and offsetting climate change by storing carbon from the atmosphere.
When trees are already present in communal areas of a subdivision, HOAs can establish policies to maintain and manage their own urban forest in order to protect this valuable resource.
As well as enjoying established trees, environmentally aware residents may want to add more to their own garden. Fruit trees are particularly attractive and eco-friendly, but they are often frowned upon by HOAs as they require more maintenance than other trees.
Some will allow residents to plant fruit trees as long as they follow the community’s landscape guidelines but, as an alternative, placing small trees in manageable containers can be a good way to set an example of how fruit trees can be an asset to the area without creating further work for the HOA.
Incorporating Attractive Edibles
As well as trees, residents are often discouraged from growing vegetable gardens as they are deemed less attractive than uniform lawns. Some HOAs prohibit vegetable gardens in front yards where they are visible but will allow them in the backyard.
Depending on a garden’s aspect, however, this may not always be the most suitable place for sun-loving edibles. An alternative to creating formal vegetable beds is to intersperse flowering vegetable plants with other florals in a conventional flower bed. Leeks and garlic grow pretty flowers that attract pollinators, while the beautiful colors of rainbow Swiss chard are an asset to any border.
As awareness of the benefits of eco-friendly gardens increases, HOAs across the country are becoming more amenable to a less rigid style of gardening. In Florida, a state statute established over ten years ago allows homeowners in HOA communities to garden according to the principles of Florida-friendly landscaping.
They include designing gardens that allow stormwater to penetrate the ground, reducing the use of pesticides and growing plants that attract wildlife. Wildflowers native to any local area are ideal for encouraging pollinators and can still be cultivated to create a neat and attractive garden if required.
While there are many benefits to living in a community governed by a HOA, some laws can make it harder to create a personal and sustainable outdoor space. As more property owners and associations become aware of the ecological benefits of native wildflowers and urban forests, some more limiting legislation is gradually being overturned.
In the meantime, eco-friendly gardeners can find ways to add biodiversity in the form of native wildflowers, miniature fruit trees and sustainable edibles to the neatest of manicured gardens.