Neglect versus naturescape

The debate over foregoing the lawn mower gains steam

1388 Hillside Ave: natural or nuisance

After a rainless summer, knee-high grasses lie trampled against the rocky ground at 1388 Hillside Ave.

To some, the grounds of the apartment building is an eyesore and a sign of a neglectful landlord.

To others, including the landlord under fire, it’s a commitment to a more sustainable way of living free of gas-guzzling mowers, and artificially green plants nurtured with treated city water.

On Thursday, apartment owners Rosalyn and Gordon Alexander stood up to public scrutiny for their practices at a city bylaw hearing. Given 14 days to adhere to a clean up order by the city, they chose instead to appeal.

“Over the 28 years we have owned and managed this building, several residents … have indicated their pleasure in the bluebells in the spring and the golden grasses in the summer,” the couple wrote in a letter of appeal.

They also acknowledged one or two complaints, and the existence of some invasive species, such as ivy and broom, which have since been cut back.

“What remains is tall grass of various types consistent with the Garry Oak ecosystem of rock outcroppings so typical of Victoria,” they wrote.

It’s an argument that struck a chord recently at Municipal Hall in Saanich.

In July, Maleea Acker successfully appealed an infraction notice, delivered in response to her back-to-nature lawn.

“Naturescaping,” as opposed to traditional landscaping, isn’t a new concept but one that’s gaining ground.

Saanich encourages its principles of providing a diversity of native plants to enhance wildlife habitat, such as butterflies and songbirds. The Greater Victoria Public Libraries hosted a seminar on the concept this spring to inform gardeners wanting to make the switch.

While a naturescape is intended to look more natural, it isn’t about letting the yard go wild. It still requires maintenance, albeit of a different kind.

The distinction between messy and natural is proving controversial in urban areas.

In Victoria, bylaw officer Andrew Dolan deemed the long grass and weeds at 1388 Hillside to be unsightly, as well as presenting a risk of fire and of aggravating seasonal allergies.

At today’s hearing, city council saw merit to the native plants, but found the Alexanders too far on the laissez-faire end of the spectrum.

The issue has been postponed, giving the Alexanders four months to further tidy the yard of some unkept garden beds and other materials.

“I suspect at a later date, we might get some direction from council to figure our how we can accommodate property owners who wish to maintain the native look and feel to the yard,” said Rob Woodland, director of legislative and regulatory services. “When the (yard maintenance bylaw) was drafted and adopted, those types of things really weren’t in people’s minds.”

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