June 27, 2005
Where the wild landscapes are

I read with great interest this front page story about a homeowner in my neighborhood who's drawn both praise and flak for her wild yard.

For a stranger, approaching Kelly Walker's house on Arlington Street is a lesson in navigation. One almost needs a map to find the front door.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the plants were so tall by her blue Saturn station wagon that they appeared to have grown up around it. A funnel full of sunflower seeds hung from a wooden fence.

An orange Gulf fritillary butterfly hovered around her mailbox. And on the porch sat three glass jars with spiky caterpillars inside, a basket with gardening gloves, seed packets and clippers, and numerous pots with the seedlings of milkweed the plant that monarch butterfly caterpillars like to munch on.

"Welcome to the jungle," she said as she opened the door.

You need to see the photo to get a real appreciation of what we're talking about here. For my part, this house is between where I live and where I take Olivia to day care, so I'll be doing a drive-by later today.

I have a fair amount of sympathy for Kelly Walker. I don't believe one must have a manicured lawn to be a good neighbor. If you've ever visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, you'd probably agree with me that there are better uses of one's soil than another plot of Saint Augustine grass. And with all due respect to the Houston Police Department's Neighborhood Protection Division, I'm not greatly impressed by their case:

"You just can't let everything go wild," said [Jodi Filva, a spokeswoman with the Neighborhood Protection Division]. "It is a safety issue. Neighbors get very concerned when they live next door to a property with high weeds, because they are scared and they have children."

I'm sorry, but unless she's harboring Audrey II in there somewhere, I'm not sure why weeds are a safety issue.

That said, Filva did bring up the issue of vermin earlier in this article. My previous house in the Heights was across the street from a woman whose yard was also an overgrown tangle of mostly weedy foliage. In this case, it was due to neglect rather than a conscious choice. Though it was ugly, it didn't really bother me until the woman who used to live next door there told me that the place was a haven for rats. If the same is true with Walker's yard - and the article never says anything like that - then it's a serious concern.

This, however, isn't:

"We've tried everything," said Margaret Warner, 84, who lives two houses down. "I think it's terrible. In the back, they have snakes. I'd like to see it mowed down and cleaned up like a decent person's yard."

Unless we're talking about one of these, the presence of snakes is a good thing, if for no other reason than they'll likely be eating any rats that may also be there. Ophidiophobia isn't enough to move me.

Walker has a court case pending to resolve the fines she's been levied for her noncompliant yard. I'll be very interested to see what happens.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 27, 2005 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

Interesting, it seems that the compliance officer is over stating the case. The ordinance that appears to apply (10-451) makes it unlawful to permit the existence of weeds, brush rubbish, adn other objectionable etc matter to cover a lot. Weeds though are defined as all "rank and "uncultivated" vegetable growth over nine inches or any vegetable growth that is likely to give rise to vermin etc. If there are rats she is sunk.

Assuming no vermin though, the question will be what is "uncultivated" (not "landscaped") Thats where those certifications will come into play. Just because it looks "wild" does not mean it is "uncultivated"

Posted by: Antinome on June 27, 2005 5:39 PM

I also was moved by the touching story of the crazy lady who won't mow her yard.

Posted by: Jim D on June 27, 2005 8:54 PM

I'm in my sixth month of a three-year term on my home association's board of directors. Stuff like this is among my worst nightmares now.

Posted by: Sue on June 28, 2005 7:50 AM