More city codes vs native plants

The Orange County Register has had a series of articles on naturalist Joel Robinson describing his cantankerous neighbors' reactions to his native plants. Now it seems that everyone has agreed to play nice, even if they all aren't yet singing Kumbayah together.

The first two were carried in the main paper in the Science and Technology section, while the third was in "greenOC" which is either a supplement or a blog. There is a linked slide show (the same one) from each article.

For those reading this from out of the area, Orange County is widely considered a bastion of conservativism in all things.

The article headlines tell the story:

Friday, August 22, 2008
Yard wars: Neighbors nettled by nature gone wild link

In which we read, "We pull weeds, and he's growing them," said neighbor Joanne Woltz, 82, who, like others on the block, has a manicured lawn and carefully trimmed ornamental plants. "We just look the other way when we drive by. We just don't like what he's done."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Yard wars: Naturalist threatened with jail or fine link

In which we read, One neighbor who dislikes Robinson's yard, Gary Redfern, said he approved of the city's letter.

"I'm still very much opposed to what he's done," Redfern said. "I'm glad to hear now that the city has taken some action. He had the right idea; he just went about it the wrong way. He did a worse than horrible job in planning his garden."

So it's all about the garden design aesthetics now?

December 23rd, 2008
Yard wars: homeowner, city declare a truce link

Where we read:

A naturalist who ran afoul of his neighbors — and Orange code enforcement officials — after filling his front yard with wild-looking native plants appears to have reached an agreement with the city, ending months of sometimes heated conflict.

Joel Robinson recently received the all-clear from city code enforcement officials, who said they would close his file if he keeps his yard well maintained


the neighbors, who have manicured lawns and carefully trimmed, ornamental plants, said Robinson’s yard looked like it was filled with “weeds.” He received nasty notes, a tongue-lashing or two and, he feels certain, had herbicide sprayed surreptitiously on some of his plants.

When some of the neighbors complained to city code enforcement, officials went to Robinson’s house, snapped pictures of his yard, and told him he had to keep it trimmed and remove dead vegetation.

The conflict reached a high point two months ago, when the city sent Robinson a letter threatening criminal prosecution — six months in jail or a $1,000 fine.

Robinson got an attorney. And, it appears, city code enforcement officials got an earful about the difference between dead weeds and dormant, but living, native plants


For his part, Robinson is keeping his plants well trimmed, giving them extra water, and growing evergreen natives, such as laurel sumac or toyon, on the outside perimeter of his yard to try to make it more visually appealing to his neighbors.

So I guess it was all about the design aesthetic after all. Here's a photo of the new and improved garden design. Yep, definitely a design issue. That's a large picture. Try pressing F11 if using Firefox (or IE?) to view it full screen. F11 again returns your browser to normal.

One of my lessons here is that if you aren't using the tried and true recipe of exotic foundation shrubs + exotic tree + wall-to-wall turf grass then you better make it pleasant to look at or people will complain. From what I've been able to tell, Joel is a do-it-yourselfer like me. But poor Joel probably had less garden design sense I had when I first started with natives, he was saddled with less tolerant neighbors, and he probably didn't introduce his garden with a ginormous spring wildflower display to set the unfriendlies at ease. In fact, I don't recall mention of a single wildflower in the three articles and slide show. The idea that pretty compensates for flawed design isn't half baked - at least in a hearts and minds struggle like this one on Valley Forge Drive in Orange County. In Joel's case maybe wildflowers could have made it tolerable for those who want the conformity of turf grass and azaleas. A little more design could have helped too.

1 comment:

  1. That was fun! I read through all the comments too.

    If I ever have a front yard I'd make a native garden very landscapey as opposed to naturalistic, and I would lay it out in phases depending on what I'm starting with.

    Toyon is a better choice than that anaphalis for a front yard after all, don't you think? Better for wildlife too I imagine as anaphalis has a short season in hot, dry Orange County. Ceanothus, manzanita, arbutus, romneya, verbena, galvezia--there's a lot of summer green loveliness to chose from.

    It's hard to take seriously the complaints of lawnists--especially in a desert like Orange County (still fun to read tho'). Millions of us live in fire zones and fire is a real and present danger all summer long, and summer IS long. Blithely expecting people to accept a fire hazard next door seems unrealistic.

    Manzanita and ceanothus still pose a fire hazard, but being green, most people probably wouldn't know it!