Events

Verdigrow will be at the Midland Park Community Association Neighbours Night Out on Tuesday June 18, 2013 6-8 pm on Freeborn Crescent in Scarborough, Ontario.  Join the neighbours for a BBQ and silent auction including a selection of native plants supplied by Verdigrow Ltd.

Join us at the Leslieville Tree Festival in Leslie Grove Park (Queen St East at Jones Ave in Toronto, ON) on Saturday June 22, 2013 12-4pm with more native plants.

Birkdale Art in the Park in Scarborough, Ontario on
Saturday June 8, 2013 10 am – 4 pm
Green Evolution Site signs  |   Grow Up! Toronto signs
free native plant with every site registration.
Share your living landscape.
Join the battle for our Right to Grow!

Guelph, Ontario Water Services Open House on
Saturday May 25, 2013  9 am – 2pm
along with the Waterloo-Wellington Wildflower Society native plant sale and Pollination Guelph.
Pickup a Green Evolution Site sign at ”Show Special” pricing
+ a coupon for a free plant from the native plant sale.

Grow Up! Toronto signs at High Park native plant sale
Come out to High Park on Sunday May 12, 2013 from 11 am – 2 pm to select from an amazing collection of native plants grown from seed collected in High Park.  You won’t find more beautiful native plants with a more local genotype anywhere in Toronto!  All proceeds go to support the High Park volunteer stewardship committee which does an amazing job of expanding and protecting natural areas within High Park.  While you’re there, pick up a free Grow Up! Toronto sign to support native plant gardeners and urban biodiversity in Toronto.

Grow Grassless!

Grow Grassless!

Nature is Scary — Holding Back the Invasive Green Tide

Cities around the world are increasingly coming to realize the importance of nature…in fighting climate change, in reducing infrastructure and operating costs, in attracting more educated and progressive residents, and in improving the overall well being of those who choose to live there.

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Guelph, Ontario — LEGAL!

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suburb of Boston, MA — LEGAL!

It’s a new approach for many  — city staffers among them.  Nature doesn’t come in clean, hard, well-define lines…like those of concrete, metal and glass.  Unlike a building, nature grows, moves, and changes with the seasons.  It has a tendency to do the unexpected.  It can be messy.

It can also be exuberant, it can lift your spirits, it can surprise and bring joy.  It is alive.  Even the most disconnected high-rise dweller inwardly delights at the sight of a butterfly or a flower or a bird.  Very few are able to go through life without adding a houseplant or a goldfish or the occasional walk along a beach to their existence.  The United Nations recognizes access to nature as a fundamental human right.

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Guelph, ON — LEGAL!

More and more urban dwellers  are joining the movement to add nature to their spaces — real nature — not just the plasticized, hybridized, alien plants brought in from other lands to add colour to blank green (also alien) lawns without fear of them fitting into the local ecology.  We are finally learning that native plants are needed to feed not only our souls, but the very basis of the food web…native plants giving improved nourishment to the pollinators that in turn provide food for our tables.

In Toronto we have the strange dichotomy where City policy and some Departments and Councillors encourage nature…while other Departments and elected officials fight tooth and nail to hold back the inevitable and very necessary Green Tide.

There is still a lot of fear and ignorance surrounding the concept of nature…and how sad that nature may be considered to be a “concept” by some.  Sadder still to see that fear and ignorance echoed by elected officials and reinforced by City staff.  Rather than informing complainants that gardening on boulevards and planting virtually anything other than grass lawns is an environmentally and fiscally sound practise that benefits the City; staff rush to harass the owner of the property whose plantings have drawn unwarranted suspicion.

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Toronto, ON — Just one more of many charged annually with the offence of being “natural”

Some City Departments dream about a City where gardens are subject to neighbourhood popularity contests adjudicated by them.  In Toronto, they’ve even created a separate category for ecologically oriented private properties — “Natural Gardens” — segregated from all other landscaping styles within several City bylaws.

If your property is placed in this category, you need not be guilty of violating any city ordinance or actual law…your property can be subjected to review, repeated inspections, and if the duly-ordained Executive Director of the Licensing and Standards Department wishes,

  • restrictions on where within your property you may be permitted to grow anything other than alien turf grass,
  • how you will maintain your gardens, and
  • when you shall perform said maintenance…forever, without appeal and without cause…shall be given over to said Director.

Pedophiles, drug dealers, gun runners, burglers, and other criminals aren’t subjected to such limitations on their rights and freedoms … even after being convicted … but in Toronto, if you don’t want to grow a lawn,  rigid controls are necessary to prevent subversive ideals from spreading an  invasive green freedom.

I am paying the price for attempting to educate my community and City officials.  My garden is awaiting judgement, mid winter.  In their infinite patience, the City’s Transportation Department; deeming stems of butterflymilkweed and asters standing a full 34″ against the winter cold, a hazard to public safety have granted me an extension beyond the original Christmas timeframe, allowing me until February 1, 2013 to bring my garden into compliance with a bylaw that it has not contravened.

Specifically, the letter from Bob Taylor, Manager Traffic Planning Right of Way, alleges that:
1.  the soft landscaping exceeds 0.9m (35.4″ at least this is higher than the previous letter of December 19, 2012 which demanded that my garden be maintained at 20cm (8 inches)).

2.  “some of the soft landscaping is overhanging the sidewalk resulting in a vertical clearance substantially less than 2.5m” (I should say so, given that he must be referring to a few fronds of ornamental native grass or asters at ground level…extreme limbo anyone?).

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“wooden arc / hoop objects” requiring encroachment permit?

3.  “there are wooden arc / hoop objects inserted in the ground which are encroachments for which permission has not been sought and approval not granted” ( I presume here he refers to a single bamboo plant stake, (formed into a u-bend to eliminate sharp ends)  intended to hold back the dreaded asters from encroaching on the sidewalk).  Please note:  retaining walls up to 0.9m are not required to apply for encroachment permits.

It is clear that Mr Taylor’s and Ms Cook’s objective is subjugation not public safety.  Simply because a complaint has allegedly been lodged does not give Toronto staff cause nor the authority to over-rule the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms through creative interpretations of municipal bylaws, which may themselves be legally questionable.  It is apparently beyond the scope their jobs to inform complainants that it is perfectly legal and environmentally and fiscally preferable to replace lawn, especially on boulevards, with more ecological plantings.

Obviously Toronto staff have the time and resources to make life very difficult for residents should they so choose…but do they have the right and the backing of our elected officials?  Please contact Councillors and the City’s Ombudsman in defence of Residents Rights to enjoyment of their own property; to fight the effects of climate change and to create wildlife habitat.

Toronto Council consists of 45 elected officials…that’s an awful lot of people for one person to educate.  Please help me by sending messages in support of native plants, front yard gardens, and resident’s rights to one or more of them (feel free to cc me at ddale (at) verdigrow.com) or to telephone them directly (contact info can be found at: http://app.toronto.ca/im/council/councillors.jsp):
City Staff: “Bob Taylor, Manager Right-of-Way” btaylor@toronto.ca,  “Tracey Cook, Executive Director MLS” tcook2@toronto.ca, “John Livey, Deputy City Manager” <jlivey@toronto.ca>
Council:
<mayor_ford@toronto.ca>,
<councillor_ainslie@toronto.ca>, <councillor_augimeri@toronto.ca>, <councillor_bailao@toronto.ca>, <councillor_berardinetti@toronto.ca>, <councillor_carroll@toronto.ca>, <councillor_cho@toronto.ca>, <councillor_colle@toronto.ca>, <councillor_crawford@toronto.ca>, <councillor_crisanti@toronto.ca>, <councillor_davis@toronto.ca>, <councillor_debaeremaeker@toronto.ca>, <councillor_delgrande@toronto.ca>, <councillor_dford@toronto.ca>, <councillor_digiorgio@toronto.ca>, <councillor_doucette@toronto.ca>, <councillor_filion@toronto.ca>, <councillor_fletcher@toronto.ca>, <councillor_fragedakis@toronto.ca>, <councillor_holyday@toronto.ca>, <councillor_kelly@toronto.ca>, <councillor_layton@toronto.ca>, <councillor_lee@toronto.ca>, <councillor_lindsay_luby@toronto.ca>, <councillor_mammoliti@toronto.ca>, <councillor_matlow@toronto.ca>, <councillor_mcconnell@toronto.ca>, <councillor_mcmahon@toronto.ca>, <councillor_mihevc@toronto.ca>, <councillor_milczyn@toronto.ca>, <councillor_minnan-wong@toronto.ca>, <councillor_moeser@toronto.ca>, <councillor_nunziata@toronto.ca>, <councillor_palacio@toronto.ca>, <councillor_parker@toronto.ca>, <councillor_pasternak@toronto.ca>, <councillor_perks@toronto.ca>, <councillor_perruzza@toronto.ca>, <councillor_robinson@toronto.ca>, <councillor_shiner@toronto.ca>, <councillor_stintz@toronto.ca>, <councillor_thompson@toronto.ca>, <councillor_vaughan@toronto.ca>, <councillor_wongtam@toronto.ca>,   <councillor_grimes@toronto.ca>

 

 

 

January 13, 2012 10:30 am High Park, Toronto: Restoring Cities discussion

Howard Park Tennis Club, 430 Parkside Drive Toronto, ON M6R 2Z3, 10:30 am to 12:30 pm.The first light S. of Bloor from Keele. It’s the brown building in the back. Please enter via the bottom door.  View PINGG invitation to this session when available

PLEASE:  send in photos of front yard/boulevard/city gardens in all stages of development, in all seasons in advance of the talk.  Looking to illustrate that utility isn’t necessarily “pretty” all the time…but needs to be left to grow into that.  ddale@verdigrow.com

Find out how different groups in Toronto and other cities are working on restoring wildlife habitats and combatting invasive species in natural, private and public spaces. See how individual yards can link together synergistically, to restore not only habitat and biodiversity but creativity and innovation. Some examples are Seattle’s “pollinator pathway” and Vancouver’s student boulevard planters for homeowners project.

After the presentation we will have a discussion of ways that we can create more public engagement in transforming/restoring Toronto’s biodiversity. This will include a look at Deborah’s new web sites, Verdigrow and her “Grow Up” Toronto program to encourage front yard and boulevard plantings and other habitat restoration programs while combatting bad bylaws and educating the public.

There is still a lot to do but our work has made a difference in our private and public spaces.

You may submit garden photos (low resolution please) to stewards@highparknature.org with a copy to ddale@verdigrow.com to be compiled for the discussion and bring printed photos as well.

Deborah Dale is a biologist; past-President North American Native Plant Society; former Recycling Coordinator/Solid Waste Specialist City of Scarborough. Her native plant garden (above) has been targeted by Scarborough’s MLS department using several bylaws since 2003.

This session will be followed at 1:00 pm by a meeting of the High Park Natural Environment Committee. Everyone is invited. Agenda

Merry Christmas from Toronto–We’re Cutting your Garden and Sending you the Bill.

To those members of Council who celebrated the recent Street bylaw as a means of promoting more productive use of Toronto’s 11,200 km of boulevards, I have bad news.  This bylaw is being used to cut any plantings exceeding 8 inches in height…a restriction already deemed ludicrous by Ontario courts.  <Links to relevant staff members and Council are listed at the bottom of this post.>

My Miscreant Boulevard June 22, 2012

My Miscreant Boulevard June 22, 2012

My boulevard was planted with a variety of native species in 1996, at a time when the City was actively promoting such efforts.  It included several rare and endangered species, many of which did not recover following the City’s illegal cutting of my gardens in 2007.  City staff are now threatening to once again cut this recovering stretch of garden, “sometime over the next two weeks“…despite it successfully undergoing inspection by Toronto’s horticulturalist under the City’s natural garden exemption process on December 11, 2012.  Unable to immediately proceed under the original bylaw 489 (long grass & weeds) charge, the Executive Director of MLS passed the issue on to the

High Park Boulevard Bed -- impeding pedestrians?

High Park Boulevard Bed — impeding pedestrians?  Photo:  Sharon Lovett

Transportation Department’s newly enacted Streets bylaw….which purports to encourage the planting of “soft landscaping (vegetation such as sod, hedges, flower/fruit/vegetable gardens)”,  in order to harm at least the boulevard portion of native species.

Toronto's 2007 "remedial action"

Toronto’s 2007 “remedial action”

Toronto is already engaged in a lawsuit concerning their actions against this property yet despite warnings that such actions will increase any claims, staff continue to harass me based solely on their perceptions of garden aesthetics and in an effort to curtail my suggestions to Council that the budget of Toronto’s “garden police” be re-allocated to more crucial areas.

Tall Grass Traffic Island

Tall Grass Traffic Island

Safety is obviously not their concern as no efforts have been made to charge more substantial plantings on neighbouring properties that lack a demarcating sidewalk.  Moreover, my plantings in no way impede sight lines, unlike similar plantings created by Toronto on centre medians.

True, the plants are currently dormant, but their stalks and seed heads offer crucial food and shelter to overwintering wildlife.  Garden design is protected as a form of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and this, as well as the RIGHT to garden on boulevards, has been confirmed by the Courts in previous actions against Toronto.  Referring to a Justice Fairgrieve’s comments in his judgement against the City of Toronto in Bell vs Toronto:
“I think we have all become accustomed to accepting that not everyone shares the same tastes, and that differing practices are no less valid or tolerable simply because they deviate from the norm.”
“Having found that the by-law unjustifiably infringes the appellant’s freedom of expression guaranteed by s. 2(b) of the Charter, pursuant to s. 52(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, it is of no force or effect. In those circumstances, I do not think it is necessary to consider whether it also has the effect of breaching the appellant’s freedom of conscience guaranteed by s. 2(a).”  J. Fairgrieve, Bell v Toronto.  1996

Staff purported that recent amendments to bylaw 489 were intended to “preempt the unnecessary and unwarranted issuance of notices”, this is clearly not the case.

Sometime over the next two weeks, City staff will attempt to once again damage my small ecosystem.  I am asking your help to stop this injustice.

Staff have shrewdly timed this move during the holiday hiatus, and few Councillors are available, but I would still appreciate your sending letters and emails to them on my behalf and on behalf of all other miscreant Toronto gardeners who will continue to be threatened if we don’t draw a line in the soil now.

You may also wish to cc

  • Tracey Cook, Executive Director of Municipal Licensing and Services (controlling “natural garden exemptions”),
  • Bob Taylor Manager, Right-of-Way Management, Transportation Services, who is apparently amenable to cutting any boulevard garden exceeding 8 inches in height regardless of it posing a hazard.
  • John Livey, Deputy City Manager

With thanks,

Deborah Dale,
biologist; past-President North American Native Plant Society; former Recycling Coordinator/Solid Waste Specialist City of Scarborough; President Verdigrow Ltd.

Free Gardens, Leash Lawns

Dear Members of Toronto Council,

The proposal to waste more tax dollars to communicate to the public the rationale for charging a fee to individuals forced into defending private gardens, simply exemplifies the need for Council to insist on the re-examination of the original Council request – which was to find a way to preempt the unnecessary and unwarranted issuance of violation notices.

The $200 fee, while an outrageous violation of process, was never the primary issue.  The initial intrusion into personal choices was and remains the crux.   Unless there is clear evidence of health and safety concerns, there is no need for municipal staff to intrude onto private property.  Instead of staying within their mandated role of investigating safety concerns, the Licensing & Standards (MLS) Department have become self appointed garden aesthetics police – despite their admitted lack of qualifications for that role – wasting an enormous amount of staff time and City resources, unduly inflating the MLS  budget, and forcing residents of Toronto to take the City to court in order to defend their Charter-protected rights to work toward restoring the earth starting in their own yards.

Receiving a notice of violation is a tremendous cause of distress in and of itself.  In some cases, subject gardens remain under threat for over a year or are never notified that the case against them has been dismissed at the staff level.    In one notable case, an elderly woman having volunteered in City-sponsored restoration activities for decades and having purchased her garden plants from the City itself through the High Park native plant sales; received a Long Grass and Weeds complaint in February while the garden was dormant.  Please note, that as a dedicated native plant enthusiast, she had no lawn and therefore no turf grass tall or otherwise.  There was never any suggestion that she had any prohibited or hazardous plants, yet she was still put through months of anxiety as her tiny yards were inspected multiple times by staff of both the MLS and Parks Departments, before the issue was finally placed before Community Council for appeal — only after she had been forced to cut foliage which had dared to dangle over the edge of the sidewalk.   In most areas such vegetative dalliances would be considered charming, but in Toronto the possibility of pedestrians brushing against a flower is apparently a public hazard.

A “natural” garden of 200+ species of native plants cut to the ground without notice at the direction of Toronto’s MLS Department. Despite an ongoing lawsuit relating to that action, and the MLS department’s knowledge that it lacks turf and prohibited species, this garden is facing charges for a third time.

There are hundreds of additional instances where residents have been illegally forced by staff into making alterations to their private gardens based simply on staff preferences rather than any regulated defects or safety concerns. There are many others where staff has recommended against approval of a garden – despite it not having violated the bylaw – forcing the resident to proceed to Community Council rather than give up their right to choose how to manage their private property.  These champions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and of Toronto’s ecological health, will now be hit with a $200 fine upfront…which is in no way mitigated by the chance that an untrained Community Council will recognize, in the face of staff rebuttal, the violation of the resident’s rights and refund that fine.

In July 2012, Council quite rightly requested a method to preempt the issuance of such violation notices.  Staff responded with a supercilious proposal that entirely ignored that request and simply removed the issue from the view of the public and Council while increasing their control over private yards – again without any violations being proven.  The unnecessary and unwarranted stress on individual residents receiving these threatening notices remains.   The damage to the conservation garden movement remains.   The damage to City coffers increases.

Please re-open this issue.  Regardless of your personal preferences in gardening styles, recognize that the City’s rights over private property is limited to health and safety concerns and request that staff actions be limited to that area.  This will save Toronto multiple thousands of dollars in direct staff re-deployment and many thousands more indirectly as additional gardens are no longer discouraged from  absorbing storm water in situ, eliminating the use of municipally-treated water, reducing pollution, improving the environment, public health, and joining in all the other myriad benefits that radiate from creating more vibrant, sustainable, communities.

Wasted Chances

Neighbours do not have a right to impose their preferences on how others design their yards…especially when the choices made by those others are far more beneficial to the environment than lawn.  Nor should City forces be used as hired bullies to enforce conformity to out-dated standards.  Allow yards to become different, more creative, and yes, sometimes perhaps a little messy…it is far preferable than adhering to the status quo of miles upon kilometres of useless, wasteful, environmentally and socially harmful lawn.

Edible Arrangements – http://www.facebook.com/occupygardenstoronto

There are thousands of acres of private yards in Toronto that could, with a little encouragement, be put to productive use.  This was recognized in the Urban Agriculture Report recently received by Council.  This was recognized by Ontario Courts which examined cases against Toronto gardens under the light of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  This is recognized in Toronto’s Green Plan, in its Wet Weather Flow Master Plan, in the TRCA Healthy Yards program and countless other City initiatives.  When will the MLS department and Council recognize it?

A garden neglected by its owner and by MLS staff who failed to investigate it.

If staff cannot be trained to recognize the difference between neglected and “natural” and cannot be made to understand basic civil rights, their powers over private yards should be removed not increased.

 

 

Sincerely,

All those dedicated to restoring the health of planet earth

Natural Garden Exemption Revision heading to Toronto Council November 29, 2012

A staff report and background file (which contains the many of the more contentious aspects that are not explicated in the staff report) concerning “natural gardens” currently awaiting Council review is alarming and unconstitutional.  Your help is needed to stop this draconian proposal.  Please contact your Councillor and ask your friends and social media contacts to do the same, send additional messages of protest to clerk@toronto.ca  or register to speak before Council about this important issue.

There remain only a few items on the agenda, so LS17.2 should be early in the day.  Session begins 9:30 am in Toronto Council Chambers.

The details are below, a more basic outline of why this report is so wrong and suggested phrases to use in contacting Council and an alternative proposal are in separate posts

In recent years, a number of residents, faced with Long Grass & Weed (bylaw 489–click on the title “Chapter 489″ on the linked page to download the pdf file) have chosen to file claims for exemption from the bylaw as “natural gardens”.  Very few, if indeed any, of these gardens actually contained the tall grass or noxious weeds prohibited by the bylaw — they simply did not fit within the aesthetic preferences of the City’s inspectors.  More recently, this department has added its own online re-interpretation of the actual bylaw to support specious charges…changing “maintained” to “manicured”, allowing the inclusion of unspecified and non-prohibited plants as “weeds” in staff reports,  and asking that those applying for exemption obtain the support of their neighbours in order to grow a “natural garden” on their own property.  No other style of garden is expected to hold to the same standards.

In response to the upsurge in exemption requests, several Councillors requested additional information on dealing with them from staff.
City Council on July 11, 12 and 13, 2012, adopted the following:
Request the Executive Director, Municipal Licensing and Standards, to review Chapter 489, Grass and Weeds, Section 489 E and submit a report to the Licensing and Standards Committee on any recommended changes to the By-law and exemption process to pre-empt the issuance of unnecessary and unwarranted Notices of Violation related to Natural Gardens.

In response to this request, the MLS Department submitted a report to the November 16, 2012 meeting of the Licensing & Standards Committee.  This report did not address decreasing the issuance of notices, but rather proposed methods to:
- remove the process from Council and the public eye,
- effectively impose a $200 fine,
- increase power over the private yards of those residents that continue to insist that their gardens are not in violation of the bylaw
- impose other penalties on those not surrendering to the unlawful demands of the inspector.
The Committee did remove one contentious proposal, that of applying costs of ongoing inspections to gardens that been granted exemptions —unnecessary and unwarranted inspections — to the homeowner.

This proposal in no way seeks to “to pre-empt the issuance of unnecessary and unwarranted Notices of Violation related to Natural Gardens.” but rather reduces the visibility of their continued issuance from the view of Council and the general public and places increased power in the hands of the Department that has repeatedly proven that it cannot be trusted with this responsibility.
The enormous distress caused to the residents receiving these intrusive notices is exacerbated not relieved.

This Department admitted at Committee that its staff do not possess the knowledge to adequately assess what constitutes a natural garden…not even to the extent of recognizing unmown turf grasses and the short list of noxious weeds prohibited under the official bylaw, so notices are sent by registered mail without any indication that the property is in violation.

 Concerning the Staff Report , Background File,  Appendices and Attachments:

  1. “Natural Gardens” are grouped with those violating “health, safety, and nuisance” standards…indicating that the Department is predisposed against “natural gardens”.
  2. On receiving a complaint, the address of the property and the alleged infractions are publicly listed on the City’s website…contravening privacy legislation and without any proof that an infraction has occurred.
  3. Homeowners who do not capitulate to the the initial letter (which threatens to cut the garden in its entirety and add costs for inspection services, without explicating what faults have been alleged), are eligible to meet with the City’s sole horticulturist that is assigned to visit gardens.  The horticulturalist will then issue a report with her assessment of the property.  The proposal places interpretation of the horticulturalists report in the hands of the very department that has admitted it is not qualified to interpret such assessments, by delegating authority to grant exemptions to the Executive Director of Licensing and Standards…avoiding any public hearing.
  4. Residents still insisting that theirs is a legal garden must now pay a $200 fee to lodge an appeal to their Community Council.  (It is worth noting that most such appeals thus far in 2012 have been granted by Community Council…and that no staff reports, including those for which staff have recommended against approval,  have alleged any serious infraction of bylaw 489.   The success of the appeal process, in 2012 and in prior years, has depended more upon the aesthetic preferences of individual Councillors and staff than on the presence of actual health or safety infractions).
    1. Section (5) of Appendix A places further restrictions on “natural gardens” that are not included in the by law and which are not applied to any other style of garden; including authorizing staff to specify:
    • the location of the garden within the property,
    • the maintenance standards to be adhered to by the resident,and
    • “any other conditions respecting health, safety and nuisance as the Executive Director considers advisable”.
  5. Should the resident elect to appeal Staff’s decision, notice to all properties within 100 metres of the home and “any other concerned area residents” will be issued…further invading the privacy of the resident and adding unnecessary costs to the process, which the City intends to pass on to the resident.
  6. “failure to comply or appeal the decision will result in escalated enforcement including City remedial action and all related costs will be applied to the tax roll for subject premises”…all without any proof that any regulated infractions have occurred.
  7. Appendix A curtails the actual wording of the bylaw to read “defines “grass and weeds” as all noxious weeds and local weeds designated under the Weed Control Act, and other vegetation growth”.  City lawyers have concurred that they interpret the bylaw as applying ANY plants, including trees and shrubs, exceeding an 8 inch height solely at the discretion of the inspector.  This is clearly not the intent of the bylaw.
  8. The report continues to require the resident to prove that absolutely no weeds are present (as little as a single stalk of a non-regulated “weed” can appear on a staff list of “weeds on the property”), rather than placing the onus on the complainant or staff to prove that the bylaw has been violated.  Most reports contain lists of plants that are not regulated, simply those that the horticulturist deems ‘undesirable’.
  9. The background file contends that the role of the City horticulturist is not to identify prohibited weeds and tall turf grass but to “assist the public in beautifying their yards based on a set of criteria”.  It is not the role of municipal staff to determine what is beautiful.
  10. Report attachments offer links to City sponsored publications that promote the use of many harmful invasive plants and few native species.
  11. Appendix A of the Background files further states “Council has authorized regulations that will facilitate natural gardens contributing positively to the quality of Toronto’s appearance and its visual character to enhance the image and attractiveness of Toronto…”, re-iterating the department’s illegal focus on aesthetic interpretations being used to regulate gardens.

Information NOT included in the Staff Report:

  1. The City only has the power to regulate health and safety aspects of private property.  eg. It may impose preset height restrictions where vegetation may impede traffic sight lines.
  2. Ontario Courts have already ruled twice that aesthetic considerations are vague, subjective, and that garden design is a protected form of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 2B).  It is also protected under Freedom of Conscious, although that claim has not yet been ruled on.  The Charter takes precedence over Municipal by laws.
  3. “natural” gardens are specifically exempted under the bylaw and should not need to go through an appeals process, which becomes a circular argument stating that all that is required to be exempt from prohibitions against tall grass and weeds is that they not harbour tall grass or noxious weeds.
  4. Many more residents than the “10″ listed in the staff report (there are 14 on record as of October 10, 2012) receive violation notices, some waiting for months after receiving the notice which threatens to cut their garden, to learn whether or not their gardens remain in jeopardy.  The horticulturist reviewing these gardens, mentioned having 26 on her current list.
  5. The Ontario Weed Act, on which the by law relies, only allows actual noxious weeds, not surrounding vegetation, to be cut…and only where these weeds may impact agricultural or horticultural concerns.

The Department of Licensing and Standards has a long history of bullying behaviour, of mismanaging complaints concerning private gardens, and of wasting funds including repeated intrusions onto private property that are not health or safety hazards and the unnecessary issuance of notices sent by registered mail.  It has admitted it does not possess the necessary expertise to assess private gardens.  Still it persists in attempts to increase its hold on this inspection process…possibly in fear of losing a large portion of its budget should these unconstitutional intrusions onto private property be curtailed as Council requested.

This Department has clearly demonstrated that its motivation is to not to protect the health, safety and well being of the residents of Toronto, but its departmental budget and authority.

Let’s save Toronto money, improve the environment, the health of Toronto communities, and obey the Canadian Constitution by removing the opportunity to harass ecological gardeners from the auspices of the Licensing and Standards Department.

A “Natural Garden” of “Long Grass and Weeds”?  This native plant garden has been charged three times under by law 489…despite it hosting endangered species and having no turf grass and no noxious weeds.   The MLS Department is well aware of the owners restoration activities yet persists in upholding complaints against it as they consider it “unkempt”.

 

 

 

That’s Not Natural — Is It? The FAQ’s of Natural Gardens

So what’s wrong with setting neighbourhood standards?
Take a walk around your community.  Do you love every garden, every house design, the colours painted on every building?  I’ll assume not.   I’ll also assume that not everyone passing by loves the choices you’ve made on your property.  That’s called diversity…and it’s a good thing. Allowing people to express different ways of doing things —even publicly exposed in their front yard — helps us to be more creative, to learn, and to grow.  Will we make mistakes?  Quite likely.  Will our projects look ‘lovely’ from day one and stay that way year round?  Will we all progress at the same pace or even move in the same direction?  Of course not.  That’s all part of the process, but over time our successes and our failures will lead to a more vibrant city and to a more connected neighbourhood.  We aren’t all the same, and neither should our gardens be.  We need to feel safe to explore new concepts in our own yards.

by Janet Harrison (thelocalscoop.org)

Why should “natural” gardens be exempt from the Tall Grass and Weed bylaw?
They actually aren’t.  If a “natural garden” had a lawn with grass over 8 inches (20cm) tall or allowed specific prohibited species of weeds to flower…its owner would be asked to cut them before they set seed, as should be the case in any garden.

The primary reason that “natural gardens” were explicitly mentioned in bylaw 489 is that this style of garden was not well understood when the bylaw was drafted in 1998 in response to the Courts decision to uphold Sandy Bell’s Toronto eco-garden.  The idea was to provide some protection for a newer, greener way of gardening; one that was actively being promoted by Toronto as it is elsewhere around the world, and one that wasn’t always well understood by the general public.  It was intended to allow your garden time to mature, to get through the gangly adolescent phase and allow your neighbours time to get used to your yards new look…simply point to the by law to prove your plantings are legitimate.  Having to APPLY for an exemption wasn’t supposed to become the process.

What makes a garden “natural”?
It is an odd term isn’t it?  But most gardens in Toronto haven’t been “natural” in a generation or more.  Somewhere along the way, we bought into the idea of exotic species from other lands being appropriate garden plants…ones that generally weren’t eaten by insects, that flowered profusely throughout the growing season, that required staking, feeding, watering and general coddling…and which give little back to the environment.  Even the vaunted “butterflybush” (an invasive species) provides only a brief window of lower quality nutrition to adult butterfly than a diverse range of native plants which also play host to their caterpillar phase.  Exotic plants have become more familiar to many than those that actually belong in Ontario ecosystems…and that’s not natural.

“Natural Garden” was intended to encompass yards designed to look more as plants appear in nature…distinguishing them from those of barren lawns with regimented lines of petunias.  “Natural” gardens may not appear as structured as those to which many have become accustomed.  Their borders may to be blurred, plants intermingled, and to those unfamiliar with the species growing in them, they may sometimes appear to be more of a jumble than a garden.  They also tend not to arrive fully grown as ethically propagated native plants usually arrive as very small specimens that may take years to grow to the size of the alien, and often invasive, plants that one can pick up at the local supermarket.

No Nature Deficit Disorder Here

“Natural Gardens” are also extremely functional.  “Natural” gardens, even those that have yet to learn to include native plants, perform important ecosystem functions.  They tend to have layers, building vertically from ground cover, to taller plants, to shrubs, to trees…increasing the infiltration capacity of a plot of land exponentially and providing a wide range of habitat within a relatively small footprint.  That means less runoff overwhelming city storm sewers and waterways and more support for local wildlife.  They breathe and absorb pollution and carbon.  Front yard gardens increase neighbour to neighbour interaction and calm traffic flow.  Those that are composed primarily of native species provide incalculable additional benefits including allowing children, the infirm, and the busy a chance to observe and interact with nature without leaving home.

Don’t I have the Right to Complain About other People’s Yards?

A Different Decor — this Toronto yard is widely known  — and the neighbours don’t seem to mind.

Sure, you have the right to talk to your neighbours, to offer them your perspective…but unless there is a valid health or safety concern, the City is not legally empowered to intervene.

You also have the right to move into a community that has set standards for what you may do. There are plenty of condominium complexes and ‘gated communities’ where residents have elected to adhere to group standards.  There was even a book written about such places…somewhere called Stepford I think?

Your neighbour has the right to use and enjoy his property as he wishes, just as you do yours, as long as what he does doesn’t pose a hazard.  Give their garden a chance, it might just grow on you!

Time To Turf The Turf Toronto or “A Garden Too Far?”

A staff report and background file (which contains the many of the more contentious aspects that are not explicated in the staff report) concerning “natural gardens” currently awaiting Council review is alarming and unconstitutional.  Your help is needed to stop this draconian proposal.  Please contact your Councillor and ask your friends and social media contacts to do the same, send additional messages of protest to clerk@toronto.ca  or register to speak before Council about this important issue.

Time To Turf The Turf Toronto

This title is not as contentious as one might initially imagine.  Pulled together, it becomes TTTTTT, and that’s what this issue can become; a bridge, a link between Councillors, residents, staff, and the wildlife that still inhabit Toronto, all of whom may  hold very differing viewpoints.

The Issues

  1. Unnecessary Long Grass & Weed Complaints
  2. The presence of actual noxious weeds and unmown grass.
  3. Harmful or invasive plants
  4. “Unkempt” yards

The Background
The Ontario Weed Act employed by the City of Toronto within bylaw 489, covers 23 species; excluding milkweed — specifically exempted in urban areas because of its essential role in the life cycle of Monarch Butterflies, a species denoted of “special concern” under Federal and Provincial Endangered Species Acts.

Most of these “noxious weed” species are of exotic origin, or short lived pioneer species of disturbed sites that will eventually give way to other species.  While not advocating for their protection in Toronto, it should be noted that most of these species are not actually harmful outside of agricultural areas.  Hogweed, a recent addition to the list, which may cause significant skin irritation in combination with exposure to sunlight,  is a notable exception.

There are a far larger number of unregulated species that are harmful to our urban/suburban environment, most notably “invasive” species that can overwhelm our remaining natural areas, spread into neighbouring properties, and that can be very difficult to control.

Many of these plants aren’t generally recognized by the public, or by staff, as harmful since they are commonly sold in the nursery trade, at supermarkets, and corner stores or are traded between gardeners because “they have loads to spare”.  In many progressive jurisdictions, however, these plants are banned from sale or trade.  Prohibition of these plants has not yet happened in Ontario although there are campaigns afoot to encourage retailers to voluntarily remove them from sale.

These invasive plants are even more commonly found in “traditional” gardens than in the “natural” sites subjected to long grass & weed (LGW) investigations.  Periwinkle, English Ivy, Goutweed, Oriental Bittersweet, and a host of other garden plants are all harmful to our environment.

Garlic mustard, is a species, which along with most found in staff reports, is NOT prohibited under Toronto’s current bylaw 489.  It is endemic in Toronto’s parks and natural areas.  It is also sometimes cultivated as a kitchen herb or left to flourish in traditional gardens because of its “pretty white flowers”.  It, and Dog Strangling Vine, another harmful alien species sometimes sold as “Black Swallowort”, should be officially designated as “local weeds”.   Currently only Purple Loosestrife has been designated as a “local weed” in Toronto.

Finally, we reach the subject of “unkempt” yards.  There are bylaws dealing with trash and litter.  There cannot legally be a bylaw dealing with garden design.  What to some is a tangled mess of plants, to others is a treasure-trove of rare or even endangered species forming an important environmental message:  someone who truly cares for Planet Earth lives here.  Toronto recognizes this.  It publicly advocates for natural gardens in private yards and public spaces — yet the MLS Department, routinely charges those residents who implement them on private property based purely and illegally on their personal aesthetic preferences.

These spaces are readily distinguished from grass left too long unmown even to untrained eyes.  Biodiversity is much greater in “natural” gardens, although left alone, biodiversity in unmown yards will eventually also increase.  Among the first to appear in those, however, will be ragweed (OWA listed), other invasive, generally alien, species, goldenrod and aster.  These last two are essential native nectar plants for fall feeding pollinators before migration or winter dormancy.  Their seed heads also provide food for overwintering birds.

The Solutions
So what is Toronto to do?

It cannot legally continue to threaten those who choose a “different” style of gardening from their neighbours.  It can only charge those who simply refuse to mow turf lawns or have been prevented from doing so by illness or other temporary circumstances…although unmown spaces are less harmful than the regular use of power lawn cutters, leaf blowers, and other noxious machinery.

It would be huge waste of resources to continue its current path of providing 1:1 educational services to the most receptive (those whose intent was to improve the environment through their personal gardens) while ignoring the bulk of more harmful yards that actually host the same or more invasive species than those charged.

It could redirect funding from “garden policing” into a mass education campaign…aimed at all gardeners across the GTA; urging them not to propagate or purchase the myriad of harmful invasive species found in local stores or traded amongst horticultural groups—replacing the list of approved  “xeriscaping” plants list of primarily invasive species included in this staff report, with one composed entirely of native species.

It could re-deploy staff into providing educational presentation to community associations, schools, horticultural groups, and others that are willing to listen to new concepts.

It could showcase and encourage gardens of native species, rather than those currently winning awards in the “environmental category” of Toronto’s garden awards, in order to introduce the concept of urban/suburban meadows, woodlands, and alvars.  It could recognize that at times, and to those new to the concept, these spaces may sometimes appear to be “unkempt” — particularly after neighbourhood children and other wildlife have romped through them.

It could work toward a more ecological world starting with the thousands of acres of wasted space that are currently devoted toward lawns in Toronto.

It could Vote for Butterflies not Turf.

Monarch butterfly, a species of special concern, in a Garden Too Far

These yards aren’t illegal…but don’t you wish they were?

Anyone who knows me well knows that I can be a little obessive about rules and regulations.  I firmly believe that everyone; regardless of their perceived influence, charm, or power, should play by the same set of rules as everyone else.

That’s one reason why this Toronto Staff report concerning Bylaw 489 (tall grass and weeds) is so upsetting to me.  It places “natural” gardens in a category separate from all the other styles of gardens and forces those choosing to garden with the planet in mind to adhere to standards higher than those applied to any other gardening style.  It also lumps neglected yards in with the yards of those who carefully choose and place their plants into functional, ecologically sound, communities.

We’ve all taken walks around the neighbourhood and clucked our tongues at other people’s gardens.  Why can’t they have the good sense and common decency to be exactly like us?   My sister absolutely hates a very ornate “big fat Greek wedding” style garden that popped up in front of an otherwise modest bungalow near her.  It comes replete with loads of statuary, an enormous ostentatious concrete fountain that overwhelms the dimension of the house behind it, an ornate wrought iron fence edging the property, and a colour cacophony of annual bedding plants and perennials surrounding the tiny green patch of lawn that manages to find space amid all the decor.  Much as she hates it, no bylaw inspector will invade this property on her behalf or rummage through it searching for plants not specifically prohibited (and there are many invasive and poisonous plants in this particular garden).  They recognize this owners right to be “ugly”.

Big Fat Greek Wedding Garden

My personal pet peeve is the ardently green lawn of a home near mine…the owner running a huge gas-powered riding mower over a relatively small lawn, watering it assiduously, even more so during droughts, fertilizing and surreptitiously spraying it with prohibited chemicals with absolutely no fear of repercussion from City bylaw enforcement officers.  Astro turf would be less harmful to the earth.

No Complaints about this Garden?

 

Another garden, that no one but bylaw officers seemed to mind, was a front yard vegetable garden…now absolutely and unequivocally allowed under a newly implemented bylaw.  Congratulations Toronto on one good decision, fingers crossed that the Parks Department’s Urban Agriculture initiative is also implemented!
(ed. it was approved at the Nov 27, 2012 Council meeting)

Toronto Approved Garden

 

 

The owners of these spaces all seem to love their gardens.  To their minds, they are doing their part to showcase the diversity that is Toronto.  I also love my wild looking meadow, a bio-diverse habitat and feeding ground for a wide range of insects, birds, and other wildlife…and a continuing source of nutrition for the pollinators that visit vegetable gardens during their short bloom periods.  We all have the right to express ourselves through our gardens (so long as they are not a health or safety hazard)…unless of course, we garden “naturally” in Toronto, Ontario.

My Miscreant Garden

My garden has been cited under bylaw 489 three times; twice in November (including 2012) as it was preparing for winter dormancy and once during the longest drought to hit Toronto in over 50 years (again, much of the garden was dormant, as were any unwatered neighbouring lawns).  Given this exhibit of sound judgement and astute understanding of the tenets of ecological gardening, it is little wonder that Toronto Council is considering awarding the Licensing & Standards Department increased powers over the management of such privately owned gardens.

My property was also cited under bylaw 629, for dead branches (staff photos showed the interior of a healthy pine tree), heavy undergrowth (a small garden of more native plants, a boxwood, and an alternate leaf dogwood in my backyard), and trash (debris on my neighbour’s property, some flagstone stepping stones that the officer claimed was gypsum, and a small hidden layering of wet newspapers in my backyard being used to kill the last vestiges of lawn).  The City’s evidence also included an extensive array of photos of a small yard waste pile, photographed so as to increase its apparent size.

Successfully fighting those charges cost me a lot of sleep, enjoyment of my home, a $200 fee to appear before a Property Standards committee composed of citizen volunteers and, along with my supporters and lawyer, two days at City hall (the Committee opted to allow staff a second chance to prove their case since they weren’t able to at our first appearance).  Despite there being no substance to the City’s charges, the order was officially listed as “confirmed”…apparently as an indication that all was now (as it always had been) well.  The Bylaw Officer, seemingly upset at watching his spurious charges being dismissed one by one, finally claimed that the needles under the pine tree were a fire hazard and demanded that the City’s Fire Department investigate them…and so it continues.

A lawsuit instigated over Toronto’s destruction of my front yard meadow is still ongoing.  Additional legal assistance and stories of run ins with bylaw bullies gratefully received!

 

 

Allbirch Pollinator Garden wins fight to garden “naturally” in Ottawa

Hank and Vera Jones of Ottawa, Ontario transformed their property into a pollinator oasis and by doing so, incurred the wrath of local bylaw inspectors in 2010.   Gaining widespread media attention and support, the couple forced Ottawa to reconsider its bylaw (still awaiting official revision).  What transformed this quiet couple into eco-warriors?  They hold a profound belief that saving the planet can happen yard by yard.  Hank sent along the following note in support of Toronto’s eco-warriors.
“By 1870, Britain’s William Robinson had defined and demonstrated the wild, or natural, garden. Its boundaries grade into the natural surroundings, often transitioned by shrubbery. Its core is a mix of native and naturalized species laid out as inspired by, and in concert with, nature, rather than by formal settings. Wild gardens are easily sustainable, by definition, and healthy for our threatened native pollinators. As food gardening grows more popular in cities, and seed for next year’s garden are kept, having healthy pollinators populations is essential.
Today’s all-too-frequent urban ‘gardens’, are often just mown lawns of afro-asian turf grasses bespotted with annuals. They are unnatural in a biblical sense, and an abomination to wild pollinators.
In our impending future, urban home food gardening may well again become essential to family food security. Urban natural gardening will become an all-too-obvious, first-choice necessity. The sooner we learn this lesson, the easily our future will be!”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Robinson_(gardener)#The_Wild_Garden.2C_1870
The following was written by John Sankey also of Ottawa, ON in 2007
(http://web.ncf.ca/bf250/charter.html)

Naturalised Gardens and Municipal Standards By-Laws

An Ontario appeal court has found that wild gardens are a form of freedom of expression protected by the Constitution of Canada.

City of Toronto by-law 73-68 stated that “All parts of a dwelling, including the yards appurtenant thereto, shall be kept clean and free from … excessive growths of weeds and grass …”. Sandra Bell of that city was charged in 1993 by a city building inspector as being in violation of this by-law, due to the appearance of her front yard which she described as “an environmentally sound wild garden”. She was found guilty by a Justice of the Peace and fined $50.

Her appeal of this conviction was heard in 1996 (O.J. No. 3146 DRS 96-18852). Expert witnesses at the appeal included Harry Merrens, a York University geography professor, who testified that current domestic gardens express an urge to dominate or control nature. People who are part of the naturalistic gardening movement are generally motivated by a philosophy with ecological, economic and spiritual goals that seek a more harmonious and restorative relationship with nature. Such gardens still involve some degree of control, but they eliminate the need for chemical pesticides and power tools to control plants, and reduce the use of water. James Hodgins, the editor of Wildflower Magazine, testified that about 90% of native plant species grow naturally higher than the 1′ height cited by the building inspector, and that the term ‘weed’ is a subjective term that has no scientific standing. He noted that Toronto City Hall featured ‘ornamental’ grasses over a metre high, and that two City parks (High and Yorkville) featured extensive naturalised sections designed by City staff.

The appeal was allowed. The appeal court found that the bylaw did not exceed the authority of the City under its authority to pass by-laws “fixing a standard of fitness for human habitation to which all dwellings must conform”. It also, regrettably, rejected the notion that ‘weed’ was an unacceptable legal description for this purpose. But, it held, for a number of reasons, that the Toronto by-law’s primary purpose was an aesthetic one not related to safety, human health, or environmental nuisance, and was therefore void on that ground.

However, perhaps in view of the fact that Bell’s front yard was clearly not a shining example of a natural garden, the court went further. It quoted the Supreme Court of Canada that, “the purpose [of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms] is to ensure that society does not interfere with profoundly personal beliefs that govern one’s perception of oneself, humankind, nature, and, in some cases, a higher or different order of being.” It found that the primary purpose of the by-law was “to impose on all property owners the conventional landscaping practices considered by most people to be desirable” and, as such, infringed Ms. Bell’s freedom of expression. It also found that “as between a total restriction of naturalistic gardens and causing some offence to those people who consider them ugly … some offence must be tolerated.”

The Bell case applied to privately-owned property. In 2002, a further ruling in the case of Douglas Counter (2002 CanLII 26796 (ON S.C.)) extended Charter rights of expression to the city-owned boulevard in front of his home which he was required to maintain.

So, you really are entitled to your back yard meadow in Ontario as long as you believe in it. However, you may well have to fight for it.

On 21 August 2007 the City of Toronto’s bylaws department declared open war on natural areas in the City: the 12-year-old natural garden of Deborah Dale, the past president of the North American Native Plant Society (NANPS), was demolished by City staff.

In defiance of the court rulings, and despite the absence of any such provisions in the relevant section of the Toronto Municipal Code, the City manager of licensing and standards is quoted as insisting, “It has to be a maintained natural garden … an exemption permit is required.” The city not only destroyed flowering plants and plants that were setting seed for use by NANPS in their fundraising efforts, they also removed shrubs, a red oak tree, and even the sign indicating that it was a natural, pesticide-free garden. Although Dale is receiving support from other areas of city government, she has had to go to court to deal with the bylaws department. The City has so far responded by attempting to bankrupt her through expensive pretrial and delay procedures.

The situation is worse in the City of Ottawa. The 2005 Property Standards Bylaw states that yards (all of them, not just those visible to the public) must be trimmed lawns or must be “landscaped or maintained” using “ornamental grasses or flowers”. The standard of judgement: consistent with the surrounding environment, i.e. the neighbours. The same judgmental criteria is used for road verges. There’s no room here for a natural space, only for neighbourhood zealots.