A BUILDER claimed his £33,000 North Devon cannabis farm was a "horticultural experiment that got out of hand", a court heard.
Phillip Gordon, 55, of West Buckland, was caught after someone spotted him behaving suspiciously.
Prosecutor Alexander Allsop told Exeter Crown Court an unnamed man spotted two men in a van near the entrance to the Yeo Valley community woodland in Barnstaple on May 22 last year.
Mr Allsop said the man saw a binbag which contained what looked like cannabis; he noted the car registration plate and alerted police.
Officers then raided Gordon's home and found a spare bedroom, loft and garden shed contained drug-growing equipment and cannabis plants.
There were 154 cannabis plants, which weighed 5.9kg, with a potential street value of £33,000.
The drugs in the car weighed 263g and had a potential street value of £634, the court heard.
"It was a homemade cannabis factory," said the prosecutor.
Gordon told police his family had no knowledge of the drugs; he kept the spare bedroom locked, describing it to them as a study, and nobody else used the loft.
Defence counsel Richard Crabb said Gordon was a hard-working, part-time builder who had no previous convictions and who used his drugs for many health problems, including arthritis.
He had not been charged with growing the drugs to supply and there were no "dealer lists" or packaging equipment.
Mr Crabb said: "In interview he said it was a horticultural experience that had got out of hand. He said he smoked it for his own use and refused to comment further."
He added that Gordon had taken some of the plants in a car to bury them for later use.
"A neighbour on a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme had come along to investigate and if they hadn't we probably wouldn't be here today," said Mr Crabb.
He added that Gordon had given up drugs and his family were devastated to learn of his illegal gardening activities.
Judge John Neligan said: "I can only describe this as a cottage industry."
He said he had to sentence Gordon on the basis he had not been charged with being involved in dealing but warned he would face prison if he returned to using cannabis.
"Is all that understood, Mr Gordon?" he asked the defendant, who replied: "Yes."
Judge Neligan ordered forfeiture and destruction of the drugs.
Gordon was given a 52-week prison term, suspended for two years, after pleading guilty to a charge of producing cannabis.
He was also given a 12-month supervision order and a 10pm to 7.30am curfew with electronic tag for six months.