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”.
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.
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)
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 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!