Local Obituaries

A green thumb who fought City Hall to keep her vegetable garden has died at 63

Hermine Ricketts was a Miami Shores gardener with a green thumb that made waves from South Florida to the Florida Senate floor.

The gardening guru, architect, artist and Jamaica native died Saturday after a long illness. She was 63.

Ricketts is survived by her husband, Tom Carroll, with whom she owned her Miami Shores home for the last 26 years. The two made news after a years-long legal battle over where they could plant their vegetable garden. A bill was signed into law this year, barring local governments from creating such ordinances.

Ricketts was born in a village outside of Kingston, Jamaica, as the youngest of five brothers and sisters. She is survived by her siblings, Donald, Ronald, Shirley and Pam; her nieces and nephews, Douglas, Kirk, Omar, Trudy-Ann; and her grand-nieces, Ashley and Haleigh.

Her mother, Gloria, passed away late last year.

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Ricketts always had her nose in a book, Carroll recalled one of her brothers saying, and she eventually moved to America to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., to study architecture on a full scholarship.

Shortly after she graduated magna cum laude in 1981, she moved to Miami where she got her architecture license and opened up her own firm. It was around that time that she met Carroll through a personal ad in the Miami Herald’s Tropic Magazine.

Ricketts taught Carroll lots about architecture, especially how to blend art, math, science and design, he said. Carroll remembers that at one time in the 1980s, she was the only black, female architect in Florida.

Ricketts was recognized in the late 1990s by Ebony magazine as one of the top 10 female architects in the country. She first started dealing with health issues in 1999, so she closed up her firm and instead focused on painting and sculptures.

“Our house is a work of art, all the way around,” Carroll said.

Ricketts’ artistic and mathematical talents meshed with her green thumb, too, and she took pride in designing irrigation systems to keep her garden perfectly watered. She spent 10 or 12 hours a day, seven days a week working in the garden.

Carroll said the garden was “both her joy and her canvas.”

While Miami Shores served the couple as a lush and beautiful place to call home, it also caused them almost a decade of stress and legal battles after the Village Council amended its zoning code to prohibit front-yard vegetable gardens in the name of “protecting the distinctive character of Miami Shores Village.” The couple either had to get rid of the vegetables or face fines of $50 per day.

In November 2013, they joined with national firm Institute for Justice to challenge the ban, and were unsuccessful on the initial summary judgment. In November 2017, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, which the couple appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

The couple’s attorney, Ari Bargil, decided that going to the Legislature to change state law was the logical next step. While the Senate passed a bill during the 2018 session, the clock ran out and it never got a House companion. In 2019, a bill passed both chambers and was eventually signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Bargil remained close friends with the family, keeping in touch until Ricketts’ final days.

He called the couple “the most beautiful people I’ve ever met” and said she fought tenaciously through both the legal battle and her battle with illness.

“She handled some really challenging situations with good cheer and a smile,” he said. “She stayed good-natured throughout, even in her final days.”

Her legacy will live on through the lives she touched, even people she’s never met and may not know they have her to thank for the ability to grow a front-yard vegetable garden, Bargil said.

“Her garden was a place for her to forget the trials and tribulations of her daily life,” he said. “She used the act of gardening as a healing mechanism and that was largely why it was so important for her to fight.”

The legal battle made national news, and resulted in an outpouring of support from friends and neighbors.

Mary Benton, who lives on their street, helped the couple garden when Ricketts became too sick to come outside. Benton is a butterfly expert and helped plant flowers that served as hosts for caterpillars and nectar for adult butterflies. She rallied a group of neighbors to help plant a few more bushes for Ricketts just three weeks ago.

“She was an example of what one person can do to fight injustice, Benton said.

Ricketts’ story also touched the lives of complete strangers.

Carroll said after a story ran in the Miami Herald about the couples’ ceremonial first planting when the new law took effect July 1, they received emails and letters from around the world, and even an envelope of seeds in the mail from gardeners in Canada who researched plants that would grow well in Miami’s tropical climate.

One of the letters came from an anthropologist from Minnesota, who was a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe, and a new gardener herself.

Pidamayaye we,” the anthropologist wrote, using the Dakota language “Thank you, and you’ve made me grateful.”

Samantha J. Gross is a politics and policy reporter for the Miami Herald. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.