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Guerilla Gardener Gets Fines For Beautiful Community Garden – WGN Feature

November 5, 2019

Gardening season is in full swing. But a particular
garden in west suburban Warrenville has become a battleground. And as Nancy Loo reports in
tonight’s Cover story, similar situations have likely taken root in your community. “It does grow quite tall it grows almost four
feet high and the city’s asking me to change that and take that down. So I’ll have to dig
up about 75% of the garden.” That means extra work for Shawna Coronado in the gardens outside
her Warrenville home. There’s no mistaking the love and attention paid by this gardening
author and blogger. And the beauty stretches from the front yard to her backyard. In fact,
even beyond her backyard fence in a strip of land Shawna can’t even see from her home.
“And these primulas are very special. A woman gave them to me, they were her grandmother’s.”
It is quite attractive. And many neighbors appreciate it. “So you come by several times
a week? Oh that makes me feel so good!” However, this is not Shawna’s property. It
belongs to the city of Warrenville. And as is the case for many homeowners, the area
around her mailbox is also on what’s known as right of way property. Shawna thought both
gardens were in easements, areas in which many municipalities will generally allow for
some plantings without a permit. Warrenville’s Community Development Director Ron Mentzer
explains. “But if somebody wants to do something extensive on our property on the city right
of way, that’s when we require them to submit, apply for and obtain a landscape license and
covenant agreement approval from the city of Warrenville.” The city acknowledges the attractiveness of
Shawna’s work on public property. But who’s on the hook if such areas become overgrown
or if the homeowner moves away? Shawna agreed to a 35-dollar permit fee and 40-dollar county
processing fee to avoid a daily fine of 75-dollars. However, both sides are still going back and
forth on Shawna’s vision for the space and what the city will allow. Plantings cannot
be too tall, and the boulders can pose a hazard to people on the bike path. “Occasionally
you’ll see a weed. But mostly it’s just a lot of love.” Shawna admits she’s an accidental
guerrilla gardener. Her situation is small potatoes in a bigger movement known as guerrilla
gardening. “I think guerrilla gardening at its best can be civil disobedience.” Ben Helphand
is the Executive Director of NeighborSpace, which works *with* the city of Chicago to
develop and cultivate community gardens. Despite those efforts, guerrilla gardens are
everywhere. Helphand says what amounts to “graffiti with plants” can succeed in highlighting
the need for more green spaces. But it can often be problematic. “People are scared that
if somebody plants a guerrilla garden that they’re not gonna come back and take care
of it and pretty soon it’s gonna be overgrown.” That is not the case out in Warrenville where
Shawna wonders why more residents with mailbox gardens or plants on right of ways aren’t
also paying fees. Former Warrenville Alderman George Safford says the battle is unfortunate
since both sides want what’s best for the community. “I hope it doesn’t stay a thorn
because Shawna is just too good a positive influence. I don’t want to see her bruised
in any way either. It’s in all our interest that everybody get along.” Warrenville’s Ron
Mentzer now stresses that when in doubt, ask before you plant. “I think if you were gonna start gardening
on your neighbor’s property would you ask them for permission to do that or would you
just go do it?” “I do agree with following the rules,” says Shawna. “And I don’t have
a problem with that. However, I don’t think that people who are trying to improve the
community by beautifying it, should be fined.” Shawna believes Warrenville should do away
with the fees and fines since residents like her are spending their own money and time
to beautify public property. She even donates fresh produce to the local food pantry. But
the city argues that enforcement is merely part of responsible government. And critics
of guerrilla gardening worry about people planting on toxic sites. Nancy Loo, WGN News.”


  • Reply callendarl July 22, 2012 at 3:39 am

    Does the city come and cut he grass on their property if nothing is planted there?

  • Reply DJMovit July 22, 2012 at 4:47 am

    Amazing, go after someone that has beautified a space and look the other way on other important issues. Thanks Shawna for trying to make the world a better place

  • Reply kokonutbaby1 July 22, 2012 at 4:51 am

    I'm so sorry, Shawna that you had to go through that. Who in their right mind would make a case of your beautiful yard? And as for easements, the city does not own the land, if you bought the property you own it. An easement just gives them rights of way to have access for utilities, etc. And as for the areas outside your fence near the sidewalk, is that city owned or is that PUBLIC owned? You are public, too, ya know. They need to worry about drugs & crime & leave homeowners alone.

  • Reply kokonutbaby1 July 22, 2012 at 4:53 am

    Just another note. Elections are coming up, tell them you will remember them on election day! And rally for their opponents, LOL, that will hit them where it hurts. =)~

  • Reply Moby Dave July 22, 2012 at 5:00 am

    That's jusr ^%$*@!& sick!!!

  • Reply Miller Outdoors July 22, 2012 at 11:18 am

    The bottom line is that you must do as you're told by your betters, else they will threaten you with extortion, time in a cage, or worse. 🙁 Hang tough, Shawna. I'd like to see you simply not comply with any diktats. Take the message to the public and show those bullying you for the aggressive, nasty busybodies that they are.

  • Reply Miller Outdoors July 22, 2012 at 11:23 am

    In regards to the question below – "when does our property become their property"… It's never been your property. If it can be taken away from you for not paying their arbitrary property taxes then you don't own it – your betters calling themselves the State do. You don't even own your body, since you cannot put into it certain vegetation without threats of caging or worse. 🙁 "Land of the free" my backside… 🙁

  • Reply hempseed57 July 22, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Agenda 21

  • Reply 520Homestead July 22, 2012 at 6:10 pm


  • Reply 520Homestead July 22, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    we need to start a national seed bomb day! where everyone go's around and seed bomb any areas where a garden could grow. it would be a great non violent protest. think about it!

  • Reply MsBestsunshine July 22, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Are you taking doanations to help with the upkeep of the curb appeal? Does the city maintain the curb> I don;t think so? Aren't most cities broke and now they want her to stop growing produce to give to the poor? It must be Republican law makers who could care less if the poor are being donated produce. I am sure they are not dishing out food at the soup lines so People get out and vote them out and vote in the Democrats who would want the American Poor feed from Amrican grown produce! Go raw!!

  • Reply MsBestsunshine July 22, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    You are so right the Repulicans have never cared for the citizens only big buisness and profits from over seas with cheap labor so to us they say eat dirt and not fruits of vegetables! Go raw grow American! Minute Me Unite! Take up your plows and shovels and plant in planter boxes only buy American buy no imported meats,produce or manufacured items bring back the jobs to America for Americans! Universal health care it is time for Change! WE ARE AMERICANS AND WE ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE

  • Reply MsBestsunshine July 22, 2012 at 9:53 pm


  • Reply RVFreeDa July 23, 2012 at 2:27 am

    That city guy acts like the land belongs to him. It belongs to the people of the city. Ask them! His attitude really sucks and I think he should be fired. Some City employees have really bad ego problems! You did a great job to improve that strip of land. Congrats to you! You were just trying to do the right thing!

  • Reply Joy Buslaff July 25, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    I hope you're able to let this bureaucratic pettiness roll off your back, Shawna, and that your good energy gets applied to turning around ignorant perceptions.
    It should be noted that Warrenville could be sued for inequitable enforcement if some mailbox gardens are prosecuted while others are not. Sight lines and tripping hazards are arguable concerns, but just because a plant is not lawn should not make it illegal. (If interested see HW video "Landscaping: Pride, Science & Law.")

  • Reply Gardenmagik July 31, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    The man said: "If you planted in a neighbor's yard, wouldnt you ask permission from that neighbor?" … He obviously has no clue about who you are OR what you do! I bet your neighbors are begging you to let your skills fall over into their yards.. Your yard is beautiful.

  • Reply mike seesaw August 2, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    What a [email protected]#$ up world we live in these days. Maybe you should have dumped a few gallons of used motor oil around! what the hell is wrong with ppl today. I have started using my lawn space to grow food. my neighbours like it.

  • Reply Free Manz August 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Land of the Fee,Home of the Slave.Rights are now wrongs in the good old USA.Follow the money and you will find the real answer

  • Reply denmason September 11, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Just pay the extortion fee and the government will look the other way… at least until they figure another way to relieve you of some more money.

  • Reply Chris Young November 19, 2012 at 6:31 am

    Warrenville should be ashamed of themselves. They are lucky this woman cares enough to beautify her area. So sad.

  • Reply nopoorcopies June 17, 2013 at 12:33 am

    No, they shouldn't! You can't just do whatever you like on other people's property.

  • Reply Chris Young June 17, 2013 at 6:48 am

    Give me a break. She made it more beautiful. It's not like she was putting up billboards of pornography or something. What she did brightened the community. Wag your finger elsewhere please.

  • Reply Mosby's men June 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    around where I live if I don't mow my "right of way "it doesn't get mowed. they should be thanking you .you are making there community a better place to live.

  • Reply Liberty Madison July 13, 2013 at 9:04 am

    I cant believe he actually showed his face on TV with those ridiculous comments. What has happened to this planet where nature needs a piece of paper to exist ? Keep it up Shawna dont let this small minded local "plant" government offend you!

  • Reply Thenoblenerds July 26, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    I throw seeds everywhere to grow more wild food. Gov Is only there for the money. Do what you got to do !

  • Reply luckymortal August 19, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    So… does the city mow and tend these bits of "their" property? And if the property isn't tended, who gets a ticket? The City? If yes, then maybe, just MAYBE, the City has a point about her gardening on "its" property. But a city forcing residents to tend "its" property for it is a ludicrous over-reach of governmental authority. Heck, then why can't a city force its residents to grow cotton and sugar cane, harvest it and give it to plantation owners for free?

  • Reply Brian Migon December 26, 2013 at 5:54 pm


  • Reply RaceDayVids December 29, 2013 at 4:16 am

    responsible government?  now there's an oxymoron

  • Reply 16bitFishing February 21, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Your such a great Chicago gal!  Keep it up… Also Love WGN news and Nancy Loo

  • Reply Sandra Ring March 7, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Paradox = bureaucratic madness
    punishing people who give love to community???
    carry on Shawna!
    Greetings from Germany.

  • Reply Hung Phung April 8, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    This is a bullshit country.

  • Reply Frank Cassady April 24, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    why not move the mailbox to the other side of the lot

  • Reply strattgatt June 29, 2014 at 2:40 am

    As long as the city mows their own lawn they should be allowed to do what they want with it.  If the city doesn't mow their own lawn, the citizens should be allowed to fine the city and or grow flowers.

  • Reply Joseph Terrill July 22, 2014 at 5:38 am

    You go girl! Obviously the city officials there are more about the letter of the law and have forgotten about the spirit of the law. Overgrow the GMO/GE chemical residue shit the multinational $$$ try to pass as food system! Everywhere, bless

  • Reply TheValentinco August 6, 2014 at 11:06 am

    USA the communist country :-))))

  • Reply TheValentinco August 6, 2014 at 11:07 am

    You let this woman make beautiful her community, bureaucrats idiots

  • Reply bEkOTV1 December 19, 2014 at 5:24 am

    Fuck the government! Grab a shovel, plant a thing and beautify!!!

  • Reply Tash Goswami February 9, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    You are not alone in this – i tried to plant up and green up an area of land where i live and where the the local residents are elderly and disabled, there are already pathways and disused central flower beds in this pedestrian area- i called the council and asked if i could plant it up with excess plants that i had and they said no. 2 months later they poured concrete over everything and now it just looks desolate. This is in the UK. 🙁

  • Reply Everyday Whimsy April 22, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    Why don't they start fines on real criminals by the day and see what happens. Oh that's right only honest good doing people pay fines and permits.

  • Reply matanuska high July 14, 2016 at 8:45 am

    only in of the free…come here to america where we have freedumb..

  • Reply bluebug111 August 10, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    "People are afraid that someone will plant a garden, not come back and it will get overgrown" oh no! So terrible that plants might grow and do what they are suppose to do and that there might be something more interesting in a spot than just grass.  sarcasm (I don't think this is that guy's opinion but the fact that people worry about that sort of thing is just silly)

  • Reply Danny Penola October 26, 2016 at 11:28 am

    Do it at night and say someone else did it fuck permission. Do you want to shuffle paper or garden?

  • Reply Danny Penola October 26, 2016 at 11:31 am

    Easier to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission.

  • Reply medviation November 23, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    This is what happens when capitalism is ailing. They fine you if you render free service just to keep the money flowing. Good job Shawna! Keep greening up our neighborhoods!

  • Reply BrendaTheeSolarGirl February 27, 2017 at 7:55 pm

    Very inspiration!! Am going to do some guerilla gardening in the neighborhoods of Chicago that are in need of plants and garden spaces. <3

  • Reply Mr Wayne March 11, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    We can't have individuals beautifying the neighborhoods.Bad people. There ain't enough dirt and concrete to go around. Weeds good Flowers bad.

  • Reply A Supremum April 2, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    I'm going to do this more often now

  • Reply Robert Atwood November 1, 2017 at 11:40 am

    vote that punk out of office

  • Reply Metal Adder101 November 6, 2017 at 8:38 am

    Only if they put that much effort into going after criminals 🤔🤔🤔🤔

  • Reply Tulsatom Bob November 13, 2017 at 9:48 am

    I thought the city is owned by the taxpaying citizens, not some tyrannical city official.

  • Reply Tulsatom Bob November 13, 2017 at 9:49 am

    These stupid fees and regulations are just a disguised form of theft and extortion.

  • Reply Jay Bee November 16, 2017 at 4:51 am

    And I thought my city was messed up!

  • Reply cynthia brennemann December 1, 2017 at 1:56 am

    Betcha that city won't spring for mowing that property, even if all there is, is grass.

  • Reply Reforged Criterion December 1, 2017 at 4:16 am

    Nature is amazing at recovering from disasters. Plants and soil can lock away chemicals and render them inert, reducing and even eliminating toxic hazards. We the people make the laws. How is it that we let people who don't have the slightest understanding of a subject make laws that govern it.

    Get out of the city. Stay away from places where stupid congregates and multiplies.

  • Reply The Truth December 26, 2017 at 5:18 am

    Shawna seems like a great lady, and on a side note, she has seriously beautiful blue eyes.

  • Reply Herbin' Avenger January 11, 2018 at 5:06 am

    We as property owners are required to maintain the easement area adjacent to our property. Thus we should be able to add noninvasive and safe species of flora to these areas within reason.

  • Reply Josh King January 22, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    City's are just plan stupid

  • Reply DollyDayDream April 6, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    Perthetic…. making a unused place beautiful more like the elites don't like nature anything natural.. beautiful and from mother earth

  • Reply Alice October 8, 2018 at 7:11 am

    Shaunas in the right…these transformations connect the community..why wouldnt they want that?

  • Reply Northcountry Hermit February 4, 2019 at 6:59 am

    Cities and towns have so much red tape…just trying to BEAUTIFY the city!!

    Fucking bureaucracy!!

  • Reply andy10515 May 16, 2019 at 3:03 am

    Damn shame this is America everything is regulated WHEN it benefits them, meaning look at what this sweet lady has to pay the city now, more money in the pockets of the politicians for that city. Damn American pay so much in Taxes, Fines and Fees that Damn later you will get Taxes because you Turk was too big.

  • Reply Caleb M. F September 26, 2019 at 6:08 am

    This is fucking stupid it's not like she's planting marijuana plants.

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