In 2022, 73-year-old Kentucky resident Jacquelyn Hawkins-McGrail was ordered by the city of Prospect to remove half of her native plant garden or face fines of $50 per day, the Courier Journal reported.
Hawkins-McGrail, a retired psychologist and certified master gardener, had maintained the garden for 16 years, she told the Courier Journal. She designed it to be a haven for pollinating insects and birds, pruning it sparingly to allow the beneficial wildlife to use the plants as shelter.
Spaces like this one are vital, as pollinators are necessary for many important food crops and other plants to reproduce. At one time, Hawkins-McGrail had signs in the garden from the Audubon Society that declared it a certified wildlife habitat, although she was asked to remove the signs due to a local ordinance.
However, one neighbor saw it differently. According to the Courier Journal, Susan Srouji first voiced her complaints about Hawkins-McGrail’s garden on the social platform Nextdoor. She later deleted the post but then took the issue to the city of Prospect’s website.
“4 foot tall weeds in a yard masquerading as a ‘wildlife habitat,’” Srouji wrote. “With each passing month this house moves closer to looking like abandoned property … The Audubon Society would be appalled that someone used their good name to advertise this mess.”
Unfortunately, Prospect’s Code Enforcement Board took her seriously, and the yard was cited as a “nuisance.”
According to Prospect’s nuisance ordinance, plants can only be over seven inches tall if they are edible, useful, or decorative, the Courier Journal explained.
But despite testimony from supportive neighbors and experts who said Hawkins-McGrail’s plants were both useful and beautiful, and despite the fact that Hawkins-McGrail grows only identified ornamental plants from garden centers and plant sales, the board still cited her plants as a nuisance and required that she replace at least 50% of her garden with grass.
Hawkins-McGrail intended to fight the ruling, she told the Courier Journal. As she pointed out, the board had offered to relocate some of the plants to the city park — not something they would do if they actually considered the plants a nuisance.
The article was shared on Reddit, where users were on Hawkins-McGrail’s side.
“Letting weeds grow to 7” due to lack of maintenance is not the same as planting flowers and shrubs and plants intentionally,” said one user. “The city is in the wrong here based on their own ordinance … they should have just told that neighbor that complained to mind her business.”
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