A Scarborough homeowner who spent 10 years cultivating a native plant garden of more than 150 species says Toronto bylaw officers went well beyond their authority by chopping it down without warning last week. Deborah Dale returned home from work last Tuesday evening to find the plants removed from in front of her home.
“I called the police because my garden had been vandalized. It’s not the first time I’ve had plants stolen, but to have the entire garden been taken away … After 10 years it’s not funny in the least,” said Ms. Dale, a former president of the North American Native Plant Society.
City officials confirmed yesterday they were responsible for removing the garden, which was on both Ms. Dale’s property and on the city-owned boulevard, saying they had received complaints that the garden had become unruly and offensive. The cost, about $200, will be added to her property taxes.
The Toronto Municipal Code requires all lawns to be kept trimmed to 20 centimetres or less. Natural gardens, those of free grown plants native to the area, are exempt. But Bill Blakes, the area’s manager of municipal licensing and standards, said the city rarely issues such exemptions. In Scarborough, he issues about 12 a year.
Ms. Dale said the city had no right to deem her property an eyesore simply because they didn’t recognize the plants she was growing.
“The city not only destroyed flowering plants and plants that were setting seed for use by the North American Native Plant Society in their fundraising efforts, but they also removed shrubs, a red oak tree, and even the sign indicating that it was a natural, pesticide-free garden,” she wrote in an e-mail. She listed Cardinal Flowers that attracted hummingbirds and Butterfly Milkweed — finally in full bloom after years of growth — as some of the casualties.
A 2003 complaint about her garden was dismissed, Ms. Dale said. On June 26, the city received a new complaint. She received an infraction notice the next week, she said.
“I know the neighbours complain. I’ve complained about them, they’ve been hacking at my hedge. The city can’t do anything about that. Apparently they can do something like enter private property and destroy my garden,” Ms. Dale said.
Mr. Blakes said the city responds to complaints about unruly gardens and lawns with an “advisory letter”, and then a second warning before sending in the mowers. Ms. Dale said she’s filing a grievance against the city to recoup the cost of her garden, approximately $10,000.
“That’s 10 years of work. I don’t have the time or the money to put back into recreating that garden from scratch. It took years, and it took a lot of courage. When you have a blank slate like that, just digging the first hole and knowing you’re going to be doing something a little different that not everyone is going to understand, it’s very difficult.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Dale is still upset at the loss of her personal nature project. “The city hasn’t responded to my complaints about this. They haven’t even acknowledged they’ve done it. I explained to the bylaw officer again that it’s a native plant garden and it’s exempt from any bylaws. There are no weeds at all in the garden. I invited them to come out and look at it. And that’s the last I’d ever heard.”