Several years ago, we decided to limit the amount of lawn we were having to mow. The children had grown and moved out and we no longer needed a large area for playing catch or otherwise running around.
Our first tendency was to mow pathways through the lawn, letting other patches grow and become meadow-like. Unfortunately, as much as we enjoyed the look, feel, and sound of this, we found that it was blatantly against the law. The Ohio Revised Code (at the time) stated that our “lawn” could be no taller than 12 inches. We received our first “Mow it, or we will and then charge you” letter.
I tried laying it down flat, but was told it was still long and needed to be mowed. My heart broke as we had a friend mow it for us. I set about learning all I could about the laws pertaining to private property gardens. We also decided to intentionally create a more wildlife-friendly garden and to try to produce more food for ourselves.
Slowly but surely, we have transformed those grass gardens into beds of a growing diversity of plants—many of them natives. One of the largest aids to our transformations was to discover that we could obtain free mulch delivered through our tree arborists. The downside is that these arborist chips can contain things like black walnut which is toxic to some plants. A definite benefit is that we have a never-ending supply to do with what we choose.
This transition didn’t happen overnight and there were road bumps along the way. After I studied the “noxious weeds” list and rid our property of all that applied, the Village still attempted to “clean up” our property with subsequent letters and meetings. It was anything but cordial or comfortable in the beginning, replete with raised voices and threats on both sides.
After much education and growing patience, we muddled forward. One of the lingering bugaboos was our insistence that we be allowed to let the chicory on our bank remain. To many of the Village politicians, this was a weed (most are farmers or from farming families). To us, the chicory was pretty, useful to us, and was providing seeds and habitat to birds and insects.
In the final judging, they are not a noxious weed (legally). We were otherwise in compliance. Our garden may buck the norm for Ohio since it isn’t a large expanse of lawn but they couldn’t come after us for “ugly” and their solicitor told them so. Beauty is, in our case, in our eyes. And when I feel the need to prune or remove, I simply pull out my handy ratcheting loppers.
Since receiving our first letter, I have attended nearly every monthly Council meeting. I wanted to stay abreast of the various tasks they dealt with as well as get a heads up on any looming problems with our property. I found the process fascinating, educational, curious at times, and rarely boring. I’ve watched two mayors and countless council members come and go. I have grown to respect the process and the hardworking employees along with the elected officials.
Since I was attending the meetings anyway, I decided to run for our Village Council last fall. There were three of us running for two seats. Being the odd woman out, I didn’t make it onto Council. However, one of the formerly seated members resigned at the end of the year and they appointed me to fill his seat.
I recently found out on what committees I was to serve. One of them is called Public Grounds and Streetlights. Part of this committee is charged with the Beautification of the village. More than a few people have pointed out the irony of this appointment—from fighting the city for my right to keep my garden lush and full of life to having a solid say in how the village grows forward. I’ll take that irony. Here’s hoping that more natural landscapers find their way onto the bodies who make rules. Perhaps our voices can be amplified evermore.
Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.
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