Nursery's Cool

The Bird's been wondering what's up with the rather noisy bitch fight between the queen of the philodendrons and the City of Phoenix. Word on the street is that Tera Vessel is planning to unload her hugely popular nursery, Tera's Garden, situated in the old William Edward Cavness House at Fourth Avenue and Fillmore Street. She's asking a whopping $985,000, but it's not the high price tag that has friends and neighbors scratching their heads over Vessel's plan to flee the 'hood. By all accounts, Vessel loves her leafy enterprise, which she opened only a few years ago. So why's she leaving?

"I've been in fights with the city since December," Vessel squealed to this squawker. "I hate them for this. They're mad because I put all these plants out front, and I paid $8,000 in permits for the privilege to do so. It's a demo garden, and a beautiful one that's been in magazines. But across the street is a senior citizens' home, and it's full of the most unhappy, most annoying people you've ever met in your life. They live at the taxpayers' expense; it drives me insane that I pay huge property taxes so that these subsidized-living people can spend their lives complaining about me."

After the cranky oldies at the Salvation Army Phoenix Silvercrest Residence went after her, Vessel began receiving certified letters from the city's Streets and Transportation Department, citing her for what it considered overgrown plantings.

"Okay, I got it," Vessel cracked wise. "No hollyhocks on the street. These old people don't mind crack pipes and beer bottles on the street, but God forbid a plant should touch them as they walk by."

Vessel took to carefully pruning her demo garden, but after a group of seniors visited Streets and Transportation in person, all hell broke loose. "The city showed up with chain saws and whacked everything to death," Vessel sniffed to The Bird. "They butchered the trees; they took a weed whacker to my fairy dusters; they annihilated everything."

Well, maybe not everything. The workers sent out by the city mistook a patch of weedy grass in front of Tera's for some kind of weird test plant, and gently worked around it. Still, upon discovering the destruction to her garden, Vessel -- who calls herself "the plant nerd of all plant nerds" -- says she lay on the floor and wept for hours.

"This was a very strange case," James Sparks chuckled to The Bird. Sparks is the deputy director of the city's Streets and Transportation Department who handled Vessel's situation personally. "It began routinely with our staff noticing the landscaping had grown to the point it was beginning to interfere with traffic safety and functionality of the street/sidewalk. Our staff notified Tera of the problem, quoting the city ordinances that prohibit such conditions, and urging compliance. Nothing resulted. So we went in and cleared things out."

Vessel, whom Sparks refers to as "a very interesting personality," is pissed, and not just because the city's after her begonias, either. "I hate myself for being a liberal sometimes," she sighed to this avian. "But the bus stop was on our property, and I could have made the city move it. But when we moved in here, I told them, 'People need the bus stop, you can leave it there.' So I have a bus stop in my front yard, and people live there, they sleep and smoke and throw shit into my yard. I should have told the city, 'Take your bus stop and put it in front of the mean people at the Salvation Army!'"

Even if Vessel sells her blossoming business tomorrow, the fight isn't over. "It simply isn't fair for the general taxpayers to pay to take care of a private property owner's landscaping every few months," Sparks says. "Whoever buys the property will have to keep the plants under control. We can't have a jungle downtown."

Vessel sighed to The Bird, "I don't know what he hates me for. My property taxes are $11,000 per year. That's a lot of petunias. But apparently those taxes don't buy me any rights. When the city ripped out my garden, they ripped my heart out. I've had it. I'm out of here."

Way to go, City of Phoenix! Run a legitimate business out of an area that's in great need of going concerns. Where's front-porch-sitting, community-minded Mayor Phil Gordon in all this? Oh, this foul fowl forgot, he's busy worrying about whether some new immigrants-rights march along 16th Street near downtown might upset restaurant owners who exploit illegal aliens in their kitchens.

Bottom line here is: A gaggle of cantankerous seniors has a lot more clout at City Hall than a righteous, taxpaying business owner. Know why? Because old people have nothing better to do as they're waiting to die than moan, moan, moan and vote, vote, vote! This has got a lot to do with why a senile old goat like Sheriff Joe Arpaio's managed to stay in office all these years.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela