Monthly Archives: January 2013

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.


Guelph, Ontario — LEGAL!


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.


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.


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?).


“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) or to telephone them directly (contact info can be found at:
City Staff: “Bob Taylor, Manager Right-of-Way”,  “Tracey Cook, Executive Director MLS”, “John Livey, Deputy City Manager” <>
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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.

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 with a copy to 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