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Veterinarian lands in court over seemingly insignificant issue with her garden: 'I can't imagine having to deal with that'

"It became an extension of my house."

Ellen Newsom, organic garden

Photo Credit: Lee Hedgepeth

Alabama veterinarian Dr. Ellen Newsom got into a tangle over her organic garden's growth — and it took a jury to sort the matter out. 

It's an odd test case for the saying "one person's weeds are another person's flowers." The legal battle that brought the gardener freedom in her own yard is drawing attention on Reddit and elsewhere online, where friends of sustainable gardening are rallying to the rogue planter's cause. 

"I can't imagine having to deal with that as a homeowner," one Redditor commented in the r/NoLawns subreddit. 

It started more than a year ago when the veterinarian was found guilty before a judge for "grass and weed" overgrowth after a neighbor complained, according to Alabama-based investigative journalist Lee Hedgepeth, who covered the case for his newsletter, Tread.

At issue is the city of Northport's weed code, which states that grass or weeds cannot grow to more than 12 inches tall. Newsom was fined more than $500 and ordered to cut down her prized plants, Tread reports.

But, Newsom wasn't ready to give in to what she argued were vague city rules regarding gardens. So, she appealed. She got a jury trial on the matter — and won, according to Tread

In a photo taken in April 2023, Newsom is seen smiling while standing among her flowers. While some people may see weeds, she said that it's all part of a carefully planned garden, which also helped to remedy a flooding problem.  

She hired an expert and spent $10,000 on the planting plan, the vet told Hedgepeth. The company she consulted, Thrive Lot, considers sunpath, irrigation, and even bees and butterflies, as part of building a sustainable garden. Native plants, even in urban areas, are important for native pollinators and other creatures needed for a healthy ecosystem. 

The result can also be an inviting place to live. 

"It became an extension of my house. I spend a lot of time out here. It's really nice," Newsom told Hedgepeth.

She also told Hedgepeth that she was unsure how the jury would rule. She thinks that fellow gardeners on the panel may have had a hard time targeting her camellias and other plants for destruction. She wants the town's officials to change the code, allowing for creative gardens that have a plan and purpose. 

"There are many different ways to garden," Newsom said to Hedgepeth.

And, as the story continues to make a buzz on social media, Newsom's viewpoint is gaining some more followers. 

"I'm starting a big project to turn my suburban lawn into a food forest & native plant garden," one Twitter user posted.

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