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Burlington should be supporting, not policing native plant gardens

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A native plant garden. Image: Flickr/Jim Crotty

Earlier this week I wrote about a Burlington resident, Antheia, whose naturalized garden the city is threatening to cut down on August 20.

As soon as that story appeared on Raise the Hammer, I received an e-mail from Paul Raun who lives in Ward 1 in Burlington. Paul has had a naturalized area in his front yard for the past seven years. He and his partner took great care choosing native plants purchased from nurseries specialising in indigenous wildflowers and shrubs.

About three-quarters of Paul's front yard has been naturalized and is home to over 23 kinds of wildflowers, 12 types of shrubs and vines, three varieties of wild grasses, a sycamore and a redbud tree.

Paul says, "Apart from the few plants the wind and animals spread into our garden, we purchased our wildflowers from reputable, and qualified, nurseries who specialise in indigenous plants such as South Coast Nursery near Turkey Point in Norfolk County and Grand Moraine Nursery northwest of Elora. As to our commitment to care for the garden, we spent under $200 to inoculate our ash tree in the front yard against Emerald Ash Borer in July 2019."

August 14, 2019 at 12:54 pm, Paul received a notice that he was in violation of By-Law 59-2018 which states grass and ground cover must be cut to a height less than eight inches or 20 cm.

Paul says, "I discovered the notice hanging from our mailbox. I phoned the city's By-Law Enforcement Department and I was told to get in touch with By-law Enforcement Officer Natalie Watson. I did and I had to leave a voicemail. As of early Thursday morning, I have not received a reply. Later Thursday morning, I left a second voicemail message asking for clarification on which plants in our yard constitute weeds and how can we rectify this. As of late Thursday afternoon, I have not received a reply."

In the Notice of Violation, the By-Law Enforcement Officer wrote the required action is to, "Cut and remove over grown weed [sic] on entire property." However, Paul points out, "The officer made no reference to what kind of plants make for a 'weed.' We regularly remove weeds as well as less-desirable grasses like twitch grass from our yard and neatly trim the grape vine on the south border fence." Paul also has a two-foot border of traditional grass between his garden and the roadway.

Paul and his partner have planted and nurtured/stewarded native species that attract pollinators and encourage other forms of wildlife to take refuge. According to Paul, "In the spring of 2013 before we started preparing our native plants garden, we had no monarch butterflies coming to reside in our yard. By 2016, after the native plants garden was starting to fill in with the arrival of milkweed and spreading of New England aster, monarch butterflies started staying in our yard during the summer. Crickets have also come back to live in our garden every year." Paul also sees a wide variety of local birds as well as birds taking a rest during their migration.

It was only on April 23 that Burlington city council unanimously passed Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan's motion to declare a climate emergency. So, why is the city taking aim at naturalized gardens? These gardens don't require gas or electric lawn mowing, leaf blowing of grass trimmings or leaves, and can survive solely on rainwater while providing essential plants for pollinators and safe spaces for other types of wildlife.

In fact, all of the naturalized gardens I’ve visited in Burlington were organic and not reliant on petrochemical-based pesticides or fertilizers which play havoc with the environment and human health.

It is time for Burlington to stop destroying naturalized landscapes and to devise a plan to educate residents on the benefits of getting rid of their outdated, high maintenance grass covered yards. With an abundance of knowledge from local environmental leaders and rewilding experts like Vince Fiorito and naturalized gardeners Paul Raun and his partner, what are they waiting for?

Paul has until August 21 to save his garden. For those who want to move Burlington towards a planet friendly future please contact city officials:

Mayor Meed Ward mayor[at]burlington.ca
Ward 1: Kelvin Galbraith kelvin.galbraith[at]burlington.ca
Ward 2: Lisa Kearns lisa.kearns[at]burlington.ca
Ward 3: Rory Nisan rory.nisan[at]burlington.ca
Ward 4: Shawna Stolte shawna.stolte[at]burlington.ca
Ward 5: Paul Sharma paul.sharman[at]burlington.ca
Ward 6: Angelo Bentivegna angelo.bentivegna[at]burlington.ca

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Image: Flickr/Jim Crotty

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