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April 2010 - Tall Grass & Weeds Part 2 - Weed Wars

Natural Garden Exemption: I did it my way…or at least I tried to do it my way. But they wanted it their way…oh crop! Check out the cases of encounters with the Weed Whackers.
"Restore freedom to the City..." If only it was that easy. If only that was the outcome. Yeah, right...more science friction! We haven't moved very far from long time ago. Gardeners are still being strung up, only to be summarily cut down; isolated by virtue of the desire for a natural way of gardening different from that ingrained in the psyche of those in power and the un-enheightened. Many are misunderstood, maligned, identified by complaints from neighbours ... subjected to a form of a witchweed (Striga spp.) hunt and left alone to defend property rights that don't exist. We salute the maverick gardeners that push the edges of aesthetics in their garden plots. The Scoop is tired of endless prequels and sequels. But really - when will this all end? Let's hear it for the freedom to garden, as you please, on your property! No derelict yards need apply!
After the Bell v. Toronto (City) decision, to placate the masses of gardeners trying to garden in a natural style and to try to separate the derelict (neglected) yards from better tended yards in 1997, the City was forced to devise a system for exemptions to the bylaw.
In 2007, ML&S passed the inspection of Natural Garden Exemptions to the Division of Parks, Forestry & Recreation (for our purposes, PF&R). A Natural Garden Inspector (NGI) was appointed to assess non-compliant gardens. When ML&S handles the initial investigation, they have to inform the property owner that they can apply for an exemption to the bylaw. When the property owner applies for an exemption, the NGI does the follow up inspection. The Scoop knows the NGI is a shape-shifter and keeps a few aliases to avoid being a target. They can be listed also as a Natural Environment Inspector or a Natural Resource Specialist. But are they an appointed 'Weed Inspector'? Ultra vires? We'll know something is up if we hear of a Natural Garden Officer (NGO)...oh...the acronym has already been taken. If it walks like a duckweed (Lemna sp.) and talks like a duckweed...
After a complaint is filed under the Municipal Code, Chapter 489, Grass and Weeds, the standard procedure is to have an ML&S inspector visit the site and issue a violation notice giving the owner an option of cutting vegetation or applying for an exemption. The usual wording is "the subject property has plant growth in excess of 20 centimetres in the front and rear yard areas for which the owner has applied for relief to be exempted as a natural garden." If the property owner applies for an exemption, there is no fee, at least not yet – according to ML&S Manager, Bill Blakes, Scarberia Unit. Toronto has a land transfer tax and a vehicle's only a matter of time before we have a garden tax. A NGI from PF&R comes to inspect the property with the homeowner present and compiles a general list of the desirable species and a list of the "invasive" species or "inappropriate" species for a report to be presented to Community Council. The inspector gives direction to the home owner to remove the undesirable species which could include species that the homeowner had not intended to cultivate. The NGI told the Scoop that she had no problem with thistles growing in Toronto gardens as long as they weren't close to a chain-link fence, sidewalk or road where there was a possibility of injury. Yet she told one gardener to remove milkweed pods before they opened...because they weren't far enough away from - ? The Scoop wonders if the NGI handled this complaint in Scarborough – "two foot obnoxious weeds (thistles) growing in the front yard".
After the property owner completes the work order, the garden is then re-inspected. If the garden passes muster (Tagetes minuta) then the exemption is granted. If not, the home owner has an allotted time to remove the offensive vegetation or the Weed Whackers descend and to add insult to injury, bill for the 'work'.
There is a provision in the Weed Act that Weed Inspectors not cause unnecessary damage when eradicating noxious weeds. There is no damage control provision under municipal bylaws, such as Chapter 489, when they get caught up in their feeding frenzy, cull small saplings, and remove the evidence. Ask Deb Dale – how necessary was culling her shrubs and trees? Should they be required to take an annual competency, coordination or vision test? The only recourse for the property owner is civil court.
In December 2008, a review of the NGE process was given in a report: Delegation of By-law Exemptions for Art Murals and Natural Gardens and presented before Council Toronto and East York Community Council – February 9, 2009 Minutes TE23.16 with the goal being to give a definitive recommendation for each natural garden exemption report to Community Council: "...we are seeing increasing numbers of natural garden exemption requests. Although many are legitimate, some requests are an attempt to stall or avoid enforcement action by the City. Staff of Municipal Licensing and Standards have reviewed the current Natural Garden exemption process with staff of Parks, Forestry and Recreation and have implemented changes to facilitate a more effective process. As part of the revised process, community councils will be provided with a definitive recommendation in each report."
Did the result of the Deb-auchery in the Dale Garden in Scarborough in 2007 precipitate the review? If ML&S receives over 3000 LGW complaints per year, it's pretty pathetic that they can't handle a few exemptions that they deem illegitimate.
The Scoop take on definitions
The City of Toronto is loose with their wording in many bylaws. We have vague wording, particularly, "inappropriate", "tall" vs. "long", "excessive growth", which has turned up in many of the cases viewed. A synonym of inappropriate is 'unsuitable'. Heck, the weed that found its way into your garden, didn't find that particular spot to grow, unsuitable.
The Scoop takes special aim at the 'tall vs. long' wording, with both words bandied about interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing. Long refers to length; tall refers to height. You can have long grass that exceeds 20 cm but does not have a height of 20 cm. Many fescues have long, thin blades, but they flop over when they reach a certain height and they wouldn't be considered tall. Again, the wording would not stand up in court. So, long grass is a misnomer. It is a height issue, and density issue that pushes ML&S' buttonbush (Cephalanthus sp.).
As stated "...the owner has applied for relief to be exempted as a natural garden." ... the relief from government persecution, no doubt. Is it something that you would normally pick up at your neighbourhood pharmacy along with relief from heartburn, indigestion, gas, etc.? The Scoop would like to find relief from over-governance, ultra-vires, etc. Where can we get a prescription? But does it have bad side effects like more stress, decreased pleasure, death, pursuant after death clause (creditors), etc.?
Diane's Garden
Diane Way's case is the latest in the series of strung-out gardeners; a case of an unrelated ML&S matter morphing into a grass & weeds violation.
Diane had applied for a NGE and was rejected. She then had to defend herself in the court of Community Council and was given a conditional pass, even though the NGI inspected the garden and recommended it be passed. The Scoop confronted the NGI with the report for the garden, in particular to ask about goldenrod being included in the list of inappropriate weeds. The NGI told The Scoop that including goldenrod "was a mistake" and "the revised report excluded goldenrod". The Scoop could not find a "revised" list online for Diane's garden. In fact, the NGI sent The Scoop a fact sheet with goldenrod listed as a recommended alternative plant to the common invasive plant – ragweed! She further alluded to the fact that Diane didn't know that a dandelion was there, and that it is therefore by definition, a weed (i.e., an unintentionally-placed plant). Boy, these inspectors are very thorough if they can root out a weed evading scrutiny by hiding underneath an object in a yard. Or was the evidence planted?
From Defender Deb Dale's notes: "Diane's garden isn't the most pristine example of a native plant has periwinkle as a groundcover in the front yard...but neither is it a health & safety concern. Even according to the staff report and the seriously unflattering pictures taken of it, there are no noxious weeds as listed under the Ontario Weed Act and no grass of any kind...tall or there are no infractions of Bylaw 489. Nonetheless, it was turned down for a "natural garden exemption" and she was billed $63."
Our Defender elaborates further
"The problem with this process is that:
1. it is extremely arbitrary...depending on what a garden looks like on a particular day.
2. it depends more on aesthetics (as per the particular bias of the bylaw inspector) than on whether or not the bylaw is actually contravened.
3. the exemption process applies only to "natural' gardens. Once it is determined that the property is not harbouring noxious weeds or tall grass, that should be the end of it. Instead, if you mention native plants, you're drawn into a silly approval process...and that approval, if granted, is only valid until the next complaint, so it is worthless."
So, really, even if Diane was awarded the NGE, it is only viable until the next complaint is lodged. While it buys Diane time for the next round, it can be revoked like the Order of Canada. But the NGE is an exemption unlike other is much more transient in nature.
Other Case Studies
The Scoop has been digging through some case studies (more than 20 in total) to try to make sense of it all. All of these cases can be viewed on the ML&S Investigation Activity website or in Community Council meeting agendas on the City website. It's all fine and dandelion for Parks to naturalize, but if you try to, you are not doing it correctly.
The Scoop would like to keep the identities of the property owners, somewhat private, but it is weighed with getting the word out. To illustrate how ridiculous the whole issue can be, please take a look at 14 Salem Avenue. The garden strip in the front yard (in the middle of the photo) was in violation and the property owner had to go to council to defend it. Although the property owners were granted an exemption, they still had to go through the process.
One particular property in Etobicoke, 0 Pinewoods Drive, was cited for a litany of invasive and inappropriate plants, (none noxious) and ... gasp ... tree branches and bushes without foliage! Scandalous! Naked vegetation! Avert your eyes! The Americans have some right to bear arms. We don't even have a right to bare least for our vegetation, in summer.
Subsequently, the owner of the scantily-clad vegetation was denied a natural garden exemption, and in the decision document (EY20.18) was given a directive: ... to remove all weeds and keeping with the City's zero tolerance for excessively tall grass and weeds on properties." Mind you, it was a vacant property (no buildings), yet the accompanying photos did not warrant the vitriolic response from City Council (amazingly the comment was from Council and not from the ML&S office). Nevertheless, the heavy-handed wording illustrates a real and not just perceived bias. Can you imagine if the police handed out parking tickets with the added statement: in keeping with the City's zero tolerance for exceeding the time limit on this parking space or zero tolerance for speeding tickets? Funny how a few tall weeds are perceived as more of a safety risk than a moving violation.
It's made to look as if ML&S has no discretion (police with ticketing powers do). The Scoop has a friend, an ex-councillor, who was called by ML&S about a complaint lodged concerning a homeowner who planted and staked a few tomato plants against the fence in their front yard encroaching on the city easement. The councillor asked if the plants looked messy. The ML&S inspector replied, "Well, no, they looked rather beautiful" (the aesthetic police actually giving a compliment about a garden, but still had to call for back up?). The matter was dropped. But the councillor told The Scoop that the spiteful complainant would probably trash the plant in a fit of veg-eance.
Another case study involved a church property. The Reverend seemed quite incensed that the property had been cited for violations when the surrounding properties were just as bad, in his estimation. In an entertaining three-page defence letter, he even tried to guess the identity of the complainant, gave environmental reasons to keep the cuttings on the property, and fretted about the timeline to do the work. He had just taken over the property and it was cited for two of the nastiest invasives – dog-strangling vine and garlic mustard. The Scoop believes that the pastor pulled a few strings with a Higher Power and was granted a natural garden exemption. D'vine intervention!
[Note: ML&S recommended that Etobicoke York Community Council approve the NGE request on "the condition that the garden is maintained free from any noxious weeds and invasive plants." Ultra vires? There will be no mercy for ML&S, PF&R, and any Community Council from The Scoop's wrath when they misinterpret the Weed Control Act. Note: At The Local Scoop, we don't have nor will we ever have a complex where we think we are above anyone's law. We are a hired power...not a Higher Power.]
The President of a local gardening club, and a Master Gardener, has been hit with numerous infractions over the last few years. She had been turned down for an exemption by the Natural Garden Inspector (NGI). One species of noxious weeds was found – ragweed. As in Diane's garden, native species – goldenrod, beggarticks, yellow avens, were cited as invasive and inappropriate. She had the usual suspects, e.g., plantain, burdock, dandelion, nightshade, ground ivy, which are not noxious.
All violations for the past two years on her property are available for viewing on the ML&S Investigation Activity website, including problems with the eaves and West Nile Virus issues. The latest attack involved a work order in which the Weed Whackers raked the leaves from her perennial beds and removed disks of a tree trunk used in landscaping – seating for neighbourhood kids to learn about gardening. Hopefully, the children weren't around for the ML&S 'gardening' lessons. And if they were, the Prez could have engaged them in the children's song, a variant of "Old MacDonald had a farm":
"Old MacDonald had a yard, N-Gee-I....Gee...I...Oh!
And in her yard she had some weeds, N-Gee-I....Gee...I...Oh!
With a milkweed here and a bindweed there,
Here a weed, there a weed, everywhere a "local" weed..."
Note: also works with NEI (Natural Environmental Inspector)
The sad and sordid fact is the whole situation could not have been avoided even if the Prez had obtained "Entitlement" Insurance, an option under home title insurance to deal with neighbours that feel entitled to do all manner of things to or on your property. In the Prez's case, it would normally protect her from indulgent neighbours who allow their child's basketball to play in her front garden. But in the fine print, cases are not covered where an immature neighbour retaliates and it escalates into a complaint lodged to and processed by the bylaw enforcers at ML&S.
How can a gardener, yet alone, a Master Gardener, predict how the City is going to react? The City gives mixed messages in every directive. On the City website, under the Yard Waste Collection Program, they say, "you can compost your yard waste or spread fallen leaves as nutrient-rich mulch on gardens. Any eligible yard waste you have left over may be put out for curbside collection and composting by the City." If you have missed the last leaf collection of the year, they tell you to put the leaves on your garden beds. Then under the direction of ML&S they will remove them from your garden? Hypocrisy! Is this a make-work project to generate extra The bill for "cleaning" the rez of the Prez was $500! An honest day's pay? And you can bet the Prez will have another visit by the Weed Whackers prior to June 1, 2010.
Many would consider the ill treatment or targeting of natural gardeners exhibited by agencies employed by the City as bullying. Bullying is a form of abuse which comprises repeated acts over time that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful individual or group abusing those who are less powerful, socially or physically. It can be defined in many different ways and can occur in any context, including in neighbourhoods. Bullying consists of three basic types of abuse - emotional, verbal, and physical.
At the Jump into Spring Event at the TBG, The Scoop heard an earful of stories from a distressed Leslieville resident. Several gardeners in the area had been issued grass and weed violations, including a breast cancer survivor undergoing chemotherapy who could not physically pull or cut weeds. The ML&S Officer was sympathetic enough to tell her that the order still stood and to hire someone to cut the grass and weeds. There is a perception among many that women who live alone have been the subject of extra scrutiny. It is the neighbourhood bully that is targeting these victims, aided and abetted by ML&S.
The City forgot that under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Treatment or punishment (12): Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. Hmmm...guess you can toss that one out with 'Freedom' of Expression.
Records for infractions under the bylaws
The Scoop delved into more City records in an effort to find out about the acquisition and disposition of records. For our purposes, these are records relating to routine investigations of residential properties to ensure compliance with the bylaws and also non-routine investigations in response to complaints and/or reports of violations with respect to property standards, long grass and weeds, and fences. The Bylaw and Business Licence Enforcement records (Code L4020) for ML&S active cases are closed upon resolution of the investigation and retained as inactive files for 6 years before they are destroyed.
The Scoop then found Weed Control records (Code N0061) that originate from the Technical Services Office relating to weed control for aesthetic and safety reasons and to protect the land's native biodiversity from invasive plant species. It also includes weed complaints, destruction work orders, and charges for failure to control weeds in compliance with regulations and legislation. The records are kept as active for the current year plus two more years and then as inactive records for an additional four years before they are destroyed.
The Scoop has tried to make sense of this as it relates to the ML&S Investigation Activity web tool. Why are ML&S active cases that were resolved up on the website when they are supposed to go inactive immediately? If ML&S is using the criteria set out for the disposition of records from Technical Services, why is there a discrepancy in the timeline to remove records from active service? ML&S posts their records for two years with the clock ticking down from the time of resolution of the infraction. However, Technical Services keeps their records active for the current year plus two years. There could be almost a half of a year more of active service by the files in the offices of Technical Services. Which time limit is the correct one? Potential ultra vires?
The only reason that The Scoop could find that might explain why Technical Services have the weed records is their section, Survey & Mapping Services, provides a service for the location and certification of Ravine Protection By-law limits. Perhaps they only keep violation notices pertaining to properties bordering ravines. However, Chapter 658, Ravine and Natural Feature Protection, deals only with trees. There is no mention of weeds or their control. Still, the integrity of an urban ravine within the City of Toronto is not to be protected under the Weed Control Act, i.e., they are far enough away from commercial agricultural or horticultural lands.
More information is needed on the content of the files, i.e., the bylaws involved, the location of the files and whether there is any overlap, duplication or conflict.
Search for The Local Weed List
The Scoop made inquiries through the City's departments in an effort to find the "Holy Grail" (and we're not talking Monty Python, but the shenanigans that ensue leave you wondering). The Scoop is not asking for the "Holy Dandelion" (Glyptopleura setulosa) either, since it's not a local species. But finding a Fringed Puccoon (Lithospermum incisum) in our concrete jungle would be easier. Put it on par with cracking the Da Vinci Code. Maybe the Reverand who was granted a divine NGE could help. We'll just settle for the list of local weeds for the City of Toronto.
One contact at Parks, Forestry & Recreation emailed a very interesting shoot: "Natural environment has a list of plants that require to be controlled like the dog strangling vine, garlic mustard and bind weed, but nothing official that would pertain to the public." In a subsequent email (after consulting with the NGI), the contact elaborates further that there is no local weed list for Toronto: "rather we work with the provincial list with modification as this list was drawn up with agriculture in mind. Currently, each area is assessed on an individual basis and control of invasive species is done through our natural environment section." Yet, Mr. Aceto of ML&S told The Scoop that they defer to Parks to identify noxious weeds and they should be the ones to contact to obtain said list. Hmmm...are you thinking what The Scoop is thinking? That Parks has blurred the public and private realms of the City? Maybe Parks is operating without an official or legal "local weed" list for Toronto? That they may be selecting weeds on a whim? Ultra vires?
More fuel for the cause is found in Appendix II of Report 5 (1998): "Please note that Dandelions, Burdock and Goldenrod are not considered noxious weeds under the Weed Control Act, therefore complaints regarding these weeds cannot be accepted." Ok ... then why are these species appearing on grass and weed violations notices in Toronto? Ultra vires?
The Natural Garden Inspector has been undertaking inspections for over two years. A very important question – is the name of the NGI on the list of Weed Inspectors for Toronto? From the online 2007 list in a bylaw and the 2009 list emailed to The Scoop from OMAFRA - NO! Then, the NGI is not an appointed Weed Inspector for Toronto. Ultra vires?
Has Waterloo met its Waterloo?
It appears that Toronto is conducting pre-emptive action on weeds that they consider noxious weeds and weeds that would not be given the time nor day, let alone, the designation of noxious by the provincial government. If it takes time to get Giant Hogweed on the list, you can imagine that it is not a priority to include even garlic mustard.
In the region of Waterloo, The Council for the Township of Huron-Kinloss requested that Giant Hogweed be declared noxious so they could immediately start control measures in agricultural and residential areas. They recognized that the Act limited immediate action until the weed was declared noxious.
The Director of Council and Administrative Services for the Regional Municipality of Waterloo headed off two other of its municipalities, which wanted to take pre-emptive action on the not-yet-designated noxious weed. The letter to the Mayor of Wellesley Township (pg 5/last page) was sent to all the townships to "clarify the legal procedures the region must follow when dealing with any designated noxious weeds, including the *locally designated plant, Giant Hogweed: "**The Noxious Weed Act or Regional by-law 08-024 does not provide any legal means for weed inspectors or Regional staff to enter upon private property and carry out preemptive eradication of noxious weeds." The Director in Waterloo further lamented: "Our Weed Inspector has been extremely busy with Giant Hogweed calls this year. Regional Staff would however like the Provincial government to accept that Giant Hogweed is an evasive weed and health risk. The Province took action with similar weeds including poison ivy and purple loosestrife. Without Provincial recognition and action the problem of Giant Hogweed will continue as we have no control over what happens in neighbouring municipalities." Apparently, Giant Hogweed has taken evasive action by avoiding designation under the Weed Control Act. Has Waterloo met their 'Waterloo'?
* Even the Director got tripped up. The plant has not yet been listed legally as a local weed by a bylaw and cleared through OMAFRA, and as such, cannot be referred to as a "local" weed.
**Someone should tell Waterloo that the Noxious Weed Act has been updated and renamed the Weed Control Act.
Park it!
According to a City fact sheet emailed by a Parks employee to The Scoop, What qualifies as a Naturalized Garden?, requests to remove specific noxious weeds may be issued if a plant threatens a person's health, native plant communities in ravines and parks, or personal safety. Request and demand are two different words in The Scoop's dictionary. In a fact sheet, it is a 'request'; in a ML&S violation order, it is a 'demand'. In their directive: "A request may be issued" – no, it seems they always issue a demand to remove non-noxious weeds based on a non-existent local weed list.
The fact sheet lists "common invasive plants" and "recommended alternative plants". However, for the Toronto location, the plants listed as invasive are really a mix of noxious (ragweed, poison ivy, and purple loosestrife) and other weeds (dog strangling vine, garlic mustard, and European buckthorn), that are considered invasive but not noxious, and hence, just another weed. The buckhorn would be considered noxious if it was near commercial horticulture or agriculture industries, otherwise in this context, it is just another weed. What is interesting is goldenrod listed as a recommended alternative to ragweed. But isn't goldenrod listed in many garden exemption reports, such as Diane's, as "invasive" or "inappropriate"?
What gives? Have Parks employees been kidnapped and brainwashed by ML&S? Are they replacement pods introduced along the lines of Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Why have they gone over to the dark side? What was the lure - an offer too good to refuse, like pretty WOW gardens, unlimited plants....more flower power? The Parks people have taken their mandate beyond protecting ravine areas by prospecting on private properties near ravines, as well as properties not anywhere near a ravine. Through their website, Parks displays an invasive species fact sheet asking residents to avoid cultivating non-native species and then allows it to morph into a demand to remove all sorts of weeds through the NGE process! Yet, a background file, Staff Report for action on Area Weed Inspectors for 2007 from Brenda Librecz, General Manager, PF&R, to the Parks and Environment Committee states: "The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has advised municipalities that the purpose of the Weed Control Act is to protect agricultural and horticultural land from noxious weeds and that horticulture encompassed only commercial horticulture. These interpretations limited the utility of the Act in dealing with noxious weeds in a built up urban area." Well...HELLO?! These interpretations are the Law! Why are you not following the Law?! Ultra vires???
There is ignorance of the Law which is the public domain. There is misinterpretation of the Law which is the realm of Council (as evidenced by Report 5 in 1998). And then there is flagrant disregard for the Law when the legislation is acknowledged but ignored. Remember – the origin of the Weed Control Act is to protect agricultural integrity. Yes, the interpretation of the Act limits the use of the law against citizens. That was the intention. There is already a City division that is experienced in and deals with force. But, as a division with a kinder name, like Parks, Forestry & Recreation, it can still use a gentle, more effective form of instruction – namely, education. Spare the rod! (goldenrod excepted, of course)
PF&R should clean up its own yard (public property consisting of parks and ravines) before even thinking of venturing onto private territory. And if they do by some wild stretch of the truth, have the authority to conduct enforcement on private property, it should be with a wild carrot (Daucus pusillus) and not a broomstick (Trichilia hirta) approach. Besides, many invasions onto private property originate from weed sources along roadsides, parks and ravines. The City has overstepped the boundaries in their all-out zeal to "keep Toronto, clean and beautiful". This is a public relations fumble in containing the threat of invasive species and definitely a very odd, punitive way of 'educating' the public.
The Hypocritic Oath?
Even Toronto Public Health misinterprets the Act within the urban realm: "Please note that the Weed Control Act applies only to plant species specifically named under the Act. Broadcast or spot application of pesticides to lawn areas where noxious weeds are not present is inconsistent with the Act and the Pesticide By-law." Someone forgot to tell them about the 'far enough away' clause, so only ragweed, poison ivy and purple loosestrife are to be considered unless the City of Toronto Act officially trumps the Weed Control Act.
Out of sight is not out of site! Nevermind...
The war on it all for nought? Weeds fight back. "Weeds are capable of learning patterns or of 'learned behaviour', e.g., the ability of dandelions to shorten their flower stalks in response to repeated mowing" (Evans, 2002). Clever plants! But it is really part of the package of being an invasive species – the ease of adaptation. This begs the question - where are you going to set your mower to get rid of them? Putting the metal to the petal is not going to work after awhile. They'll still be there, albeit shorter. In fact, you've just aided that dandelion. It doesn't have to grow as tall to compete with other tall weeds; therefore, it is not putting its energy into vertical growth, so it can concentrate its efforts into a longer flowering period, producing more flowers, and a more robust root.
Therefore, since you can't mow some of them out of existence, how are you going to get rid of them? Herbicides? Remember the Pesticide bylaw (Chapter 612)? They're not "noxious" weeds under the Weed Control Act. Get over it...dandelions are not the problem. We have higher priority concerns such as invasive species that do diabolical things like DSV which coats the landscape, covering and pulling down saplings; which tricks Monarch butterflies into laying eggs and then their progeny starve to death because it's not the preferred milkweed species. Dog-strangling vine (DSV) spreads readily by vegetative means and mowing is ineffective according to A Strategic Plan for Managing Invasive Plants in Southern Ontario (Appendix 4). But, it works for garlic mustard, unless like dandelion, they will eventually evade the mower.
The Scoop predicts that DSV will be so clever as to escape detection of Weed Inspectors by going underground, totally, as part of the underground resistance.
Natural Garden Exemptions are not the way to grow
The City prattles on about diversity as if it pertains to just humans. What about diversity of all living things? The United Nations declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity. It is a celebration of life on earth and of the value of biodiversity for our lives. The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth. The way things are going, the rest of the world might as well just by-pass Toronto.
The City boasts that it is multicultural and inclusive of all cultures. Diversity and multiculturalism are based on tolerance. Culture and diversity encompass types of gardens and gardeners, and styles of gardening, too. As gardeners we have green thumbs, speak with garden-fork tongues, talk trowel language, and wear all matter on our clothing. Some are called Master Gardeners and enjoy special privileges; the rest are servants to their gardens or are oblivious to their plantation in life. The Scoop thought that if gardeners were united under the same umbel-la, then why are natural gardeners who tend heavily to the side of gardening with native species, made to feel excluded from the rest and specifically targeted? Is there a parallel with the treatment of native plants and the treatment of First Nations?
The Natural Garden Exemption (NGE) grows against all that we stand for and actually isolates types of gardens and gardeners from others. Check out the definitions of exemption: exception, exclusion, freedom, release, discharge, immunity. The antonym is inclusion. At NANPS, we are inclusive. We accept all who support our mandate, whether you have one plant or all native plants, or no garden at all. The NGE does not give us freedom to garden. You are "granted" a NGE. It doesn't give you freedom to garden your way; it imparts no release and no immunity at all from future persecution.
We are fortunate that our Natural Garden Inspector (NGI) is a botanist and is cognizant of the importance of biodiversity. She is sympathetic to native plants, gardens, gardeners and the NANPS mission. We should be grateful to have her administering the NGE rather than a regular Weed Inspector. However, she also has to kowtow to a misguided task master, so we are beholden to her. What happens when the NGI is not available by virtue of illness, vacation, or a change in jobs? What if the weeds that should be listed as noxious, like DSV, rise up, entangle and hold her hostage in a Great Weed Rebellion? We risk being at the mercy of a new NGI, perhaps who is not quite as sympathetic to plants or gardeners. We could also be stuck with a regular Weed Inspector...or parking attendant.
Root note
If a Natural Garden Inspector asks you if you want to keep a certain plant and you inadvertently blurt out that you didn't know it was there...WRONG ANSWER! The old style of thinking is a plant that is unintentionally placed is a weed. The new thinking is that all weeds in Toronto are evasive species, trying to evade their enemies. The correct answer (and take time to rehearse this): you embrace all weeds; that you have "deliberately implemented" every one of them on your property. You take in strays. You consider every one of them as part of your Family, particularly that dandelion over there, affectionately named "Daisy", and you couldn't live without her (cue the tears). Could the Inspector's question be considered entrapment?
Flower Power! Hippies back in TO? WOW?!
Wait a minute...Give The Scoop a break... Not so WOW...More like scam WOW! This has to be part of the reason why the City and Parks are so persnickety about gardens. How can anyone compete with their flower power?
Parks, Forestry and Recreation have a Power of the Flower city program. The project grew out of Mayor David Miller's Clean and Beautiful City action plan and Parks, Forestry and Recreation's 15-year strategic plan, adopted by Council in 2004. The plan, called Our Common Grounds, places renewed emphasis on the importance and value of City parks and open spaces, and calls for the City to engage in a Parks Renaissance. The WOW garden tour is a website featuring 28 new and innovative horticultural beds that were planted in Toronto's parks, gardens and public spaces in 2005. As well, Parks cleaned up and beautified 48 orphan spaces, and increased grass cutting and controlling litter in parks.
According to the message from General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, Brenda Librecz, "It is about staff, Council and the community coming together with a newfound sense of pride and ownership for our parks and open spaces - it's about the power of the flower and the marvellous things we can do together to make our city a more beautiful and welcoming place."
The General Manager talks of pride and ownership of parks and open spaces. Why not own up to the fact that your open spaces are helping to seed invasives into our properties? And then you blame us for harbouring fugitives. Please note that "Our Common Grounds" and the Orphan Spaces that you've adopted do not include our private properties.
The Scoop thinks that Parks and the City have gone too far. Since many of us haven't been seduced into creating their kind of WOW gardens, they are coveting our private properties as their parks for a renaissance treatment. Take the Flower Power WOW garden tour on the divisional website. The before shots are mainly bleak, unflattering, winter shots. The after shots are from summer with flowers in full regalia from different angles to showcase the flowers. But in many cases it is difficult to match the sites. Definitely it's misleading - sort of like false advertising. And the plants are almost entirely non-native (and mostly cultivars, if they are), annuals that require irrigation. Where are the water conservation programs? Parks should include a few natural gardens and/or exclusively native plant gardens in the mix. A perfect spot would have been the High Park Bloor St. gates which could have been planted with locally-sourced native species to highlight the natural area. By not planting more native species, they clearly show a bias against natural gardens and we should not be surprised at the disdain they show when we garden this way, particularly in street-facing gardens.
On the other hand, since Parks is half way there, it might not be so bad, after all. There may be a silver lining after all, in NANPS' 25th year. As long as the City has taken over control and maintenance of our yards and is running them like parks, they might as well go full hogweed and include us under their agreement with the Conservation Authority. Then, we would be exempt from paying municipal taxes City of Toronto Act, c. 11, Sched. A, s. 451 (3)(b).
A few parting plant pot shots
A press release from November 30, 2004: Boost for Clean and Beautiful City program to come from new integrated bylaw enforcement team announces that Enforcement Officers from three divisions have overlapping duties to provide seamless service for dealing with tall grass and weeds, and various cleaning jobs. The three divisions include ML&S, Urban Development Services, and Parks, no doubt. Are they all performing Weed Inspections too? And are any of them appointed Weed Inspectors? Ultra vires?
Clean and Beautiful City Appreciation Awards: The City of Toronto's feature garden – "Get Growing Toronto! Urban Agricultural in our City", which won three awards at Canada Blooms this year, was a collaborative effort between the Toronto Environmental Office, Parks, Forestry & Recreation and six other City divisions. Bet the division of ML&S got stuck with the tear down and clean up....
Miller's recent announcement of the City's intention to have the Don and Humber River Valleys designated as part of Ontario's Greenbelt is a first step in the permanent protection of natural areas along the lines of the Rouge River Valley. This is welcome news, but can property owners backing onto these valleys expect a little more scrutiny of their backyards in the near future?
"Last fall, Toronto's auditor general warned that the $233 million backlog in park maintenance and repairs could grow to $600 million by 2018." (David Rider, Urban Affairs Bureau Chief, Toronto Star, March 29, 2010). Well, if PF&R stuck with public parks only, it might help ease the backlog.
On the Flower Power Garden Tour site, the link to Media Materials includes 10 Garden Tipsi. Maybe they mean tipsy? The Scoop thinks someone was sucking back on the flower fumes a little too much, especially with this tip: "Make sure you weed your garden one last time in late October this will get rid of any perennial weeds that start growing in the fall and take off with leaps and bounds in the spring." We hope they mean any perennials that you didn't want in your garden. And it's not a good idea to cut plants down for the winter, if you want to provide habitat for overwintering species, like bees. There's another reference to leaving leaves on the ground for insulation and leaving some stems standing for winter effect – ML&S should check it out. Can you tell The Scoop is getting a little testy about the whole weed thing? Dead-heady stuff! Then it's time to move on to bigger things....namely shrubs, hedges, trees...all manner of wood...fences, anyone?
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