Despite Its Benefits, Natural Landscaping Is Still under Attack in Some Places
Lipske, Michael, National Wildlife
I ran into somebody who was kind of the neighborhood bully" is how Mary Cour Burrows explains her battle last year to grow wildflowers in her yard. The Germantown, Tennessee, homeowner describes her property, which is certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, as "a little oasis" for birds and butterflies among the crew-cut lawns maintained by her neighbors. But her wildflower meadow and beds of herbs and vegetables did not sit well with one neighbor who, Burrows believes, stirred up a posse of local lawn conformists.
One neighbor claimed that the termites in her house had marched over from Burrows' garden. Another neighbor could not stand looking at Burrows' wild blue phlox. "They thought the phlox were weeds," says Burrows. "They claimed I was decreasing their property values." Fortunately for Burrows, city zoning authorities sided with her in the tempest, granting her a variance for her controversial garden. "It was basically a difference of opinion in what was a flower and what's a weed," said Germantown's planning chief.
A disgruntled neighbor was also the bane of Elise H. Cooper, creator of an NWF Backyard Wildlife Habitat in Bluefield, West Virginia. Cooper's property includes about 100 mature trees. When limbs fall from those trees, she tosses them onto a large stick pile that is a haven for wildlife. "It's a magnificent thing," Cooper says of her deadwood mountain.
Apparently, it was too magnificent for a neighbor whose complaint to city officials led to an order to clean up the pile. But later after the mayor and city manager visited the retired school teacher's property, local officials gave their blessing to her wildlife garden, and the stickpile still stands today.
The experience of these two homeowners suggests there is good news for natural landscapers these days. Increasingly, U.S. communities are recognizing the benefits of landscaping in which gardeners cultivate native plants to attract wildlife without relying on pesticides and other chemicals, and many local governments are modifying their so-called "weed ordinances." Traditionally, such laws have stipulated that a homeowner's grasses be kept trimmed below a prescribed height, or they have banned certain plants altogether--even some plants that are native to the region.
"There has been a shift in attitude in some parts of the country about the benefits of natural gardening, but many communities are still enforcing out-of-date ordinances," says Heather Carskaddan, manager of NWF's Backyard Wildlife Habitat program, which provides letters of support for beleaguered citizens.
NWF receives calls every month from people who are threatened with legal action because they are landscaping for wildlife or letting native vegetation grow tall. "When I called NWF, I was reassured that I wasn't crazy for trying to restore native tall trees to my yard," says Bethesda, Maryland, resident Nancy Wallace. "I learned that I was doing the right thing and that gave me the will to keep negotiating with the county, which claims I am violating a local ordinance."
Last year, Oberlin College instructor Stephen Douglas was also the victim of a local code, when the wildflower plantings at his home were mowed by a city crew while he was out of town. "He was understandably upset," says Bret Rappaport, a Chicago attorney who has defended natural landscapers in court and who is president of Wild Ones Natural Landscapers, Ltd., a nonprofit group that spreads the word on native-plant gardening. But Rappaport says some city weed inspectors are beginning to …
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Publication information: Article title: Despite Its Benefits, Natural Landscaping Is Still under Attack in Some Places. Contributors: Lipske, Michael - Author. Magazine title: National Wildlife. Volume: 36. Issue: 6 Publication date: October-November 1998. Page number: Not available. © 1999 National Wildlife Federation. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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