Tuesday, November 15, 2016

When the bylaw officer comes calling: What makes a naturalized garden palatable?

Photo credit, Julie Sthalbaum.
What makes a pollinator friendly garden acceptable? That is, what will keep the bylaw officer away and the neighbours happy?

Recently, people have emailed us to say that their gardens are drawing unwanted attention--the grass is too long, there are weeds. One lady says that an order was left by a by-law officer claiming that under the By-law Section 3(1)(a)(c)(i) she had to remove all long grass and weeds from entire property and maintain to a maximum height not to exceed 21 cm (8 1/4 inches). The bylaw officer wrote that this should include the entire property, "Front, rear and side of property."

Dundas garden. Photo credit, Julie Sthalbaum.

As far as this local Dundas resident is concerned, her garden is flowers and grasses, but there were a few weeds that might have been on the bad weed list and she removed them. Apparently, the officer even took issue with Goldenrod!

We chatted with Tamara Reid, Supervisor for Municipal Law Enforcement at the City of Hamilton.

How do we make naturalized, pollinator-friendly gardens fit into a neighbourhood? That is, according to by-law, what constitutes a native plant/natural garden and what is just a garden that has been let go, of which the neighbours are justifiably upset about?

Demonstrating intention is key. "It is helpful to have even a hand-drawn image of what you are aiming for--what your garden is intended to look like," says Tamara. "You can show that to a by-law officer and that helps."

Tamara suggests having some visual demarcations like logs or rocks, different heights of grasses or plants just helps guide the eye and looks more like a planned garden. "The idea is to have boarders, again so the garden looks planned."

We contacted the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Agricultural Information Contact Centre. We were told that in fact, the Weed Control Act is in place to protect agricultural and horticultural operations from weeds. It does not apply to noxious weeds or weed seeds that are far enough away from any land used for agricultural or horticultural purposes so it wouldn’t apply in an urban area like the City of Hamilton. "It would be bylaws that need to change if bylaw officers are asking residents to remove goldenrod," the correspondent said.

We were also told that in 2015, nine weed species were removed from the noxious weed schedule of the Weed Control Act. Some of these species are considered a food source for pollinators, such as bees (e.g., wild carrot, goat's-beard, scotch thistle, nodding thistle, yellow rocket, and tuberous vetchling). These and other species that are being removed are no longer considered significant threats to agricultural or horticultural production and can be managed through modern management practices.

Goldenrod is not on the noxious weed list but can be a weed if it gets into cultivated fields and that is why we see it in the Ontario weeds gallery.

Now it's time to think about what action we can do as a community to change the bylaw and make it easier for people to plant native gardens!

Signage: We're Feeding Pollinators

Signs like our "We're Feeding Pollinators" do wonders. Many residents have told us that putting up our sign as part of our certification program has really helped in deterring complaints from neighbours who don't get it.