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2007 08 31
Update: Now City Goes After Backyard Woodland Garden

Not content with razing the natural garden Deborah Dale maintained for over a decade in front of her Scarborough residence, the City of Toronto is reportedly now going after the woodland garden the horticultural expert maintains in her backyard. As a follow-up to Tuesday's Reading Toronto post on this subject, Dale writes,
I could use your help as the City is now threatening my backyard woodland garden…referring to baneberry, wild ginger, various ferns, bloodroot, tall coneflower, hoary vervain, etc. as “thick undergrowth”.
In her note, posted here (scroll down), Dale invites readers to contact Mayor David Miller's office "before City staff destroy more natural gardens."

The Toronto Star reports this morning that Bill Blakes, the Scarborough District manager for Municipal Licensing and Standards whose office brought out the lawnmowers, affirms the City's decision to destroy the wild garden, observing that "a properly tended natural garden would never be razed" and referring to a dead raccoon he alleges had aroused neighbour antipathy. In response to what the Star describes as a growing sense that the City is "waging war against natural gardens", Blakes cites procedural dictates: that the City had sent two notices asking Dale to "remedy" her garden; that she could have applied for a "natural lawn exemption." For her part, Dale claims she never received the second notice, and suggests that her response to the first letter was ignored by City staff.

Bill Blakes sounds like a nice guy. He seems genuinely perplexed by the uproar. In the media reports I've seen he comes across as a hardworking, conscientious manager. I have no doubt that he is.

But that doesn't mean he's not, metaphorically speaking, talking out of his ass.

I have several problems with the City's expressed position on Deborah Dale's natural garden(s).

First, the raccoon. As I wrote yesterday over at the Spacing Wire (where a similar discussion has occurred), there are raccoons living -- and dying -- under people's eaves all over this city, but we don't tear down entire houses in order to remove them. Nor should Deborah Dale's entire garden have been destroyed in order to remove one (alleged) dead raccoon. A shovel and box would have been sufficient.

Second, by seeking to protect itself behind a paper wall of procedural requirements (notices sent, an "exemption" Dale could have applied for), the City exposes how untenable its position is. Blakes' own admission -- that had Dale applied for such an exemption, "all action against her would have been stopped" -- underscores the reality that there was nothing inherently objectionable about Dale's garden.

Third, in the context of the City's other policies encouraging Torontonians to maintain natural gardens (see the City's Guide to Natural Lawn and Garden Care), the idea that residents must apply for a special exemption in order to do so is ludicrous. In the interests of fulfilling its own policies, the City should instead require residents to apply for special exemptions if they want to grow conventional lawns (monocultures requiring costly overseeding, clandestine applications of pesticides, aggressive fertilizing, and wasteful applications of water).

For these and other reasons, the City of Toronto needs to settle with Deborah Dale and restore her wild garden. At the same time, it must re-align its policies to fall in line with its overarching principles espousing ecological sustainability. We'll follow up here at Reading Toronto when there's more to report.

[Amy Lavender Harris usually writes about Toronto literature and the imaginative qualities of cities in conjunction with the Imagining Toronto project. She grows tall grasses, wild violets, sumac, coneflower, and columbines all over a west-end Toronto property and accordingly is keeping an ear out for the City's encroaching lawnmowers.]

[The 'before and after' images of Deborah Dale's garden are reportedly by Deborah Dale and have appeared in National Post coverage of this issue as well as at the Spacing Wire (which credits them to Treehugger).]
[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 08/31 at 10:15 AM

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