Natural Landscaping and Harsh Municipal Code Realities

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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Since I wrote about the disruption of our peaceful coexistence with nature by municipal code violation, a lot has happened.

Ohio Revised Code allows municipalities to serve letters of non-compliance twice a year, in June and August. Citizens then have 10 days to comply or the municipality can come onto the property to mow and weedeat indiscriminately. Property owners can challenge by asking to meet with the authority.

Even though I was told to “Mow it or get a lawyer,” I opted for a different choice. I slowly and methodically covered my grasses so my insects would fare much better— and, they have. I see nearly as many webs on top of my straw as I saw among my grasses (see bottom photo). Unfortunately, our firefly count dropped dramatically.

Natural Landscaping Pilot Project

I covered most of my grasses, managed the others to acceptable height, and removed the noxious weeds by the next scheduled Council Meeting. I also worked up a binder for a Natural Landscaping Pilot Project proposal a nifty way out for us all. I could manage the Project with monthly updates to a binder that would stay in the Village offices and anyone complaining would see that my seemingly out-of-compliance grasses were actually managed beds of native grasses grown specifically with the wildlife in mind.

Readers of the Project binder would also learn a little about each of the plants we were utilizing in our garden, both imported and native. They would see that the native and naturalized plants support local insects, birds, and other wildlife more effectively. They might also learn how we see our plants as utilitarian and beautiful.

During this process, many of the authorities (including our Mayor, Council, Administrators, and Fiscal Officer) have continually referred to our property as ugly and as having too many weeds. I have just as continually tried to explain to them that where they see weeds, I see life-supporting plants.

There is a fair amount of chicory on our bank that may mirror to them the ditches near crops on farms outside of town. They literally see a weed to be sprayed, mowed, or otherwise removed. I see food for bees and other insects when the beautiful blue flowers are in bloom and bird feeders full of seeds once the plant goes dormant. The goldfinches now frequenting my garden are on the chicory more than their favorite coneflower (see photo above).

When I proposed the Project to Council, I took goodies (pictured below). I showed them dried “weeds” (red clover, prickly lettuce) and dried hops and mint. I explained that what they likely assumed was another noxious weed (wild mustard) was an actual cultivated mustard plant. I took along samples of homemade mustard for them to taste and showed them some of the meads that I create from my apple trees.

I spent about 15 minutes presenting my case. They agreed to delay the vote on my letter until the next month so they could come see the property I said was now in compliance.

Battle Over Noxious Weeds Continues

As the month drifted by, I continued to work in my garden keeping the noxious weeds at bay, pulling unwanted volunteers, and harvesting and processing my vegetables. As we neared the next Council meeting, I began to suspect they were going to pass on my proposal.

What I was NOT prepared for was their decision to enforce our letter of non-compliance. I was aghast. I continued to insist that we were in compliance. The only grasses we had that might be seen out of that realm were my sweetgrass (a sacred, native grass that I grow for religious practice and for sacred arting) and some newly planted Little Bluestem (another native purchased specifically for the birds, butterflies, and bees). There were no noxious weeds on our property.

I asked them why they hadn’t come by to see what we were doing. They replied that they’d driven by and had still seen weeds. That is, all of them but one had driven by. The Chair of the Committee in charge of such things hadn’t found time in the 30 days to drive by.

I insisted that there were no noxious weeds; they continued to insist there were weeds. I can only assume (since they refused to get specific even though I repeatedly asked), that they wanted me to remove the aforementioned chicory and my lamb’s quarters (which we use for food). Neither of these plants are on the noxious weeds list.

The vote of the Council was three to release us from the letter and three for enforcement— with a tie-breaker to enforce by the Mayor. I was livid. We were in compliance with the letter and the law. It had come down to opinion. Theirs against ours, tax-paying property owners. I was told that the Mayor and their legal counsel would get together to discuss enforcement in the coming week.

My husband (who was just as angry) and I visited the next day with the Mayor to see if we could convince him to show us the problem so we could remedy it. He implied that he would.

Still, every time we heard a weedeater or lawn mower over the next week, our guts would clench and one of us would run out to make sure it wasn’t on our property. There have been several times over the past couple of years (since this all started in 2014) when we literally felt terrorized. The night after the vote for enforcement, I lost 7 pounds and slept only 3 hours.

The happy ending for this season is that my husband and I challenged the vote to enforce. We insisted that the Chair of the Committee should have abstained from the vote since he hadn’t even seen the property and that the President of Council should recuse himself since he lives across the street from us. Either of those dropped votes would have changed the final result in our favor.

The added bonus is that the Mayor came to tell us the good news himself and was able to learn more about what we’re doing. I’m hopeful that he understands just a little better now. Here’s hoping for a more peace-filled future.

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 atHumings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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