Meleah MaynardMy garden verges on law breaking

For me, the words “neighborhood sweep” bring to mind the busting up of meth labs and prostitute rings, or maybe less dramatically, a big litter cleanup day in which everybody pitches in. But on Friday, we got a letter from the City of Minneapolis Department of Regulatory Services Housing Inspection Services Division advising us that we were being cited in response to a NEIGHBORHOOD SWEEP (yes, all caps) for the “conditions” of the gardens along the sidewalk on one side of our house.

Our law-breaking gardens along the sidewalk

Our law-breaking gardens along the sidewalk

Failing to correct the NUISANCE CONDITIONS (perhaps they should be cited for errant use of all caps) could, they advised, result in the city arranging to do the job one way or another at some future date.

What were those nuisance conditions, you ask? Fall flowers, mostly New England asters and a couple of varieties of golden rod, but I admit that a few black-eyed Susans and blackberry lilies also ran afoul of the law by encroaching here and there on the public sidewalk. Growing primarily in our boulevard gardens and heavy with seeds, in the case of the lilies, and blooms in the case of the rest of the flowers, the plants were indeed lolling out onto the walkway an inch or two in a few places.

Black-eyed susan

Black-eyed susan

And there was one rogue aster leaning out at an awkward angle at about fourth-grader height. We also have a river birch in our yard and its wispy branches, which we routinely trim, are at least six feet above the sidewalk. The rule, we now know, is seven feet.

Mug shot of the unruly asters

Mug shot of the unruly asters

Even with all of this mayhem and out-of-control bramble, two people could have handily pushed a couple of shopping carts or strollers side by side down the walk and been brushed only slightly, if at all, by plants. There are no fat shrubs hogging space or heavy, low-hanging tree limbs threatening to bump heads or poke eyes out. So while it is understandable that in a civilized society we need to have rules about things like keeping public sidewalks clear, this citation seemed outside the bounds of reasonableness to me.

Our neighbors can attest to the fact that we spend a lot of time pulling weeds, pruning and trimming plants, and just generally working hard to keep our yard looking good and out of people’s way. We’ve never had anyone complain about problems getting down the sidewalk. Honestly, people walking by often go out of their way to stop and tell us how much they appreciate the peaceful pocket of nature we’ve cultivated in the city.

Swamp milkweed going to seed on the boulevard

Swamp milkweed going to seed on the boulevard

Families stop to watch the bees, butterflies and dragonflies flitting from plant to plant. We answer all sorts of gardening questions, and have learned a lot from other gardeners too. People as far away as several blocks often stop to tell us that we’ve inspired them to start their own gardens, and many of us share seeds and plants.

It pained us to cut down flowers that bees and birds were actively feeding on last weekend because rules are rules. And I couldn’t help wondering how many other gardeners had been cited and were experiencing the same thing. So I want to ask whoever is listening, what can we do as a city to rethink rules that require a level of obedience from nature that simply isn’t possible while ensuring that our sidewalks remain safe and traversable? For every person whose day is made brighter by urban gardens, and every creature, especially pollinators, that seeks those gardens out for habitat, it’s a question we need to consider.

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Meleah Maynard

About Meleah Maynard

My name is Meleah Maynard and I garden in crazy-ass cold, zone 4 Minneapolis, Minnesota. My first book, co-authored with Jeff Gillman, Decoding Gardening Advice: The Science Behind the 100 Most Common Recommendations, was recently published by Timber Press. I don't have a hort degree. I'm a longtime journalist and master gardener who loves asking people questions, doing research and learning something new every day. I hope you like my blog here on GardenDrum and you read my full blog at Everyday Gardener

7 thoughts on “My garden verges on law breaking

  1. It looks beautiful and delight to walk through.

    But it happens all around the world. The Port Phillip (Melbourne) sent me a LETTER saying I had to cut back my daisies etc which were poking through the fence as there had been complaints. If I didn’t do it, they would. I thought best I do it (even though I didn’t want to cut anything back) because I couldn’t trust the council to do it sensitively.

    I feel for your bees and insects.

  2. The only thing I could see as a potential issue is the leaves being slippery once wet. The garden is gorgeous. Some people just need something to complain about.

  3. These type of complaints are typical 1st World problems. People should think of all the 3rd World problems to put it all in perspective.

  4. You have established a truly beautiful garden and surrounds on your footpath(sidewalk) You should be encouraged and commended for your efforts, not discouraged. I wish our street looked like yours!

  5. Perhaps you could direct the City of Minneapolis Department of Regulatory Services Housing Inspection Services Division( gee whiz, that is a mouthful) to this webpage for our local council, here in Sydney. Where they are working with residents to make streets sustainable, with rules of course… but working with the ratepayers to make the area a better place for all.

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