Update on Toronto Garden Destruction

The destruction of Deborah Dale's garden has drawn a lot of attention. She wrote to TreeHugger:
"Thank you for all your kind wishes! As for the "lazy gardener" comment...who ever said propagating, planting, rescuing, purchasing from ethical local sources was easy? I still had almost 50% of the front yard maintained as turf grass to allow access to the beds for weeding. The City is now threatening my backyard woodland garden...which was in the midst of having a stream/pond installed. It too contains a range of native plants..although confined to areas away from the hardscaping work...including bloodroot, blue cohosh, various ferns, wild ginger, tall coneflower, pagoda dogwood."

The Star says about the City employee who did the deed:

He's been called a grass Nazi and a pompous bureaucrat who overstepped his authority and he's even been called a jerk, but Bill Blakes stands by the city's decision to raze a woman's front lawn garden in east Toronto.

"Honest to God, I have never – and I have dealt with some pretty controversial issues – never in my life have I had a reaction like this," Blakes, the Scarborough District manager for Municipal Licensing and Standards said yesterday. "Never. That's dealing with body rub parlous, strip clubs, lap dancing, smoking. Never."

There is the touchy issue of the alleged dead raccoon. Blakes says:

"This natural garden – I'm sure there was some wild grass and stuff like that in it – but there was also a dead raccoon. The people next door were complaining of the stench."

She [Deborah Dale] admits there was a dead raccoon on her property, but says she had covered it in mulch to suppress the odour.::The Star

Amy Lavender at Reading Toronto notes:

Bill Blakes sounds like a nice guy. He seems genuinely perplexed by the uproar. In the media reports I've seen he comes across as a hardworking, conscientious manager. I have no doubt that he is.

But that doesn't mean he's not, metaphorically speaking, talking out of his ass.

I have several problems with the City's expressed position on Deborah Dale's natural garden(s).

First, the raccoon. As I wrote yesterday over at the Spacing Wire (where a similar discussion has occurred), there are raccoons living -- and dying -- under people's eaves all over this city, but we don't tear down entire houses in order to remove them. Nor should Deborah Dale's entire garden have been destroyed in order to remove one (alleged) dead raccoon. A shovel and box would have been sufficient.

Second, by seeking to protect itself behind a paper wall of procedural requirements (notices sent, an "exemption" Dale could have applied for), the City exposes how untenable its position is. Blakes' own admission -- that had Dale applied for such an exemption, "all action against her would have been stopped" -- underscores the reality that there was nothing inherently objectionable about Dale's garden.

Third, in the context of the City's other policies encouraging Torontonians to maintain natural gardens (see the City's Guide to Natural Lawn and Garden Care), the idea that residents must apply for a special exemption in order to do so is ludicrous. In the interests of fulfilling its own policies, the City should instead require residents to apply for special exemptions if they want to grow conventional lawns (monocultures requiring costly overseeding, clandestine applications of pesticides, aggressive fertilizing, and wasteful applications of water).

For these and other reasons, the City of Toronto needs to settle with Deborah Dale and restore her wild garden. At the same time, it must re-align its policies to fall in line with its overarching principles espousing ecological sustainability. We'll follow up here at Reading Toronto when there's more to report.

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