This story gets more outrageous as it unfolds. As I reported in this post about the persecution of a Buffalo gardener, my friend Jean (shown above) will indeed be going to court over her over-exuberant (by housing inspector standards) front yard. She does not yet have a date, or a specific charge, but when I visited her this morning, she showed me an old write-up from July, 2006 that cites her for “overgrowth.”
The problem with that charge is that nothing is overgrown. What grass there is has been cut, and the trees, perennials, and shrubs are all their normal height for their particular habits and ages. Today we went through the garden, and ID’d a few of the plants, which I apologize for not properly describing in my earlier post.
The central shrub is prunus virginiana or chokecherry. I’m really loving all the berries on it and I like the early summer flowers even more. Jean got this, as she has gotten many of her plants, from a county-sponsored leftover plant sale. God knows what kind of gulag these municipal cultivars are stored in before they finally go on sale! They must be hardy specimens. It’s an unusual choice to have a stand of shrubs in the middle of your yard, but I like it. They’re much more interesting than her inherited foundation shrubs (some tall spirea maybe) planted in the usual spot.
She’s also got young cherry, peach (not doing terribly well), and mountain ash trees, as well as the Kentucky coffee tree I mentioned before. Other shrubs Jean’s trying in the front include viburnum opulus americanum (highbush cranberry). Most of the trees are fairly immature, though there is some inherited (and storm-damaged) ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven) in the city-owned spot between Jean’s house and the overpass wall that abuts her house and ends her street.
Flowers include rudbeckia triloba (the basic type), peonies, cosmos, and zinnia. I think the main reason housing inspectors are quick to flag Jean’s yard is that they don’t understand it. They’re building inspectors, not plantsmen. To them, it’s overgrowth. As for the neighbors, Jean tells me that at least three of her closest neighbors will be with her in court testifying on her behalf, saying how much they love her yard. My sense is that it is really one person. And here’s where the plot gets sordid.
This neighbor is a city official. He supports other candidates than the ones Jean supports and he is a big player in the local political machinery.
I am not saying this is the sole reason—he probably truly hates Jean’s yard, judging from his grass, shaved within an inch of its life—but I bet he hates her politics (environmental activist, peace activist, anti-casino activist) even more.
Can we prove this? Absolutely not. The other piece of the inspection puzzle is that for some reason Jean does not have a sidewalk (it ends at her neighbor’s), and they may make her put one in at her expense. It would be a sidewalk to nowhere, as it would end at a wall with a twelve-foot drop on the other side. Jean’s told me that because of the position of her house, the city uses it as a dumping spot for snow, with the resulting salt build-up adding to her troubles. She has to use a lot of compost to make up for this. Indeed, one of the reason she has a lot of woody plants in front is to impede this dumping.
How can we help Jean? I think emails of support would be good. You would need to reference Jean Dickson of Crescent Avenue and send them right to the top—Buffalo mayor Byron Brown’s email address is email@example.com.