Archive for August 9th, 2007

A close call

While I was out gallivanting around in Colorado, we had a close call with the wildflower strip.   Our Fair City has an ordinance that is intended to keep people from letting their yards turn into trash pits and tall weed patches.  We even have a Compliance Officer who is supposed to go around making sure that people are complying with the ordinance. 

Around four years ago, the city decided that our little street needed to be widened.   Along with the widening process, they also installed new water lines and water meters,  checked the sewers (which they did not replace), and installed curbs and storm drains.   This process took them months to accomplish, and winter intervened before they finished the job.  

Part of the process involved removing all the dirt in the area, our street became a trench that was about four feet deep.   Then they put in road base and compacted it, followed by the installation of the water lines and storm drains.   Then the curbs went in, and more road base.   Then, finally asphalt, and repairs to the driveways.   That was as far as they got before winter set in.   They still had to backfill with what they referred to as “topsoil” but what turned out to actually be really nasty rocky subsoil from another street project.   Then they seeded with fescue, and mulched the backfilled area.

I had all winter to look at the ten foot wide strip of right of way along the front of the property.   It was 300 feet long, and still needed to be back filled.   I had a vision: a nice long and narrow tall grass prairie wildflower garden.   I knew about the ordinance, which mandates that things in lawns should not get taller than twelve inches.   I also knew that my strip of tall grass prairie was going to get a lot taller than that, so I thought I’d go and ask permission to do this thing before I spent the well-over-one-hundred dollars required for seeds.

After I explained what I wanted to do, and what I perceived the benefits to be (habitat and feed for birds and benficial insects), the City Manager graciously gave permission for me to do this.   The mayor was even in on the discussion.   Interestingly enough, I really didn’t have to do a lot of convincing.   They were all for it.

This is what it looks like in May:


And June:


Unfortunately, by July it gets pretty untidy:


It was while it was in the stage after the May and June glory and before the fall spectacular that the new compliance officer happened to drive by.   He wasn’t going slow, or really looking at the right of way, he just noticed that it was very tall and unruly.

A few days later, a team of the city’s mowers arrived, with a work order to mow down the wildflower strip.   They weren’t too happy about what they had been ordered to do, since several of the crew were involved in the actual planting and mulching operations when I first initiated the project.   So, instead of just putting the bars on their mowers down and proceeding as ordered, they came to the front door, and explained to Jim that they had this work order.

I have to give my husband a lot of credit.   He is very good at talking to people.   He said, “I really rather you not mow this.”  So the guy said, “You need to call this number and talk to our supervisor, “Joe”.  We have another job we can take care of, we’ll be back in about an hour.” 

So, Jim got on the phone and called Joe.  Amazingly, he got through on the first try!  He explained that we had gone to a lot of trouble and expense to establish the wildflower strip, that it had been there for several years and it had never been a problem before.  Joe responded by saying that he would tell his guys not to worry about the mowing job until he had discussed the situation with the Public Works director. 

Tuesday, after trying unsuccessfully to get ahold of Joe all morning,  Jim  went over to the Public Works building to see if he could talk to him personally.   It turned out that Joe was in Jefferson City for the day, so Jim got referred to Joe’s assistant, “Ronnie.”  At ths point, Jim asked Ronnie if he was familiar with the situation, and if he knew whether this section of street was scheduled for mowing because of citizen complaints.  If it was from citizen complaint, well then we’d just have to mow it and then we’d have to spend some time trying to educate people about what the wildflower strip was about, and hopefully change their minds.    He went on to explain that we usually mow it off in October right after the first cold snap when the monarch butterflies and the gold finches are done with it.   He allowed as how right then, in the July doldrums when the spring flowers have gone to seed and the late summer bloomers hadn’t come on yet, it doesn’t look like much.  

“It may look like a bunch of tall weeds to some people,” he told Ronnie.    “But to me, it looks like a 300 foot long bird feeder.”   Jim added, “However, it this has got to get mowed, it has to happen before my wife gets home from her vacation.  If they try to mow her wildflower strip while she’s at home, she’s gonna pitch a fit and the police may become involved.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that.”

Ronnie told him not to worry about it, nothing was going to happen any time soon.  “We can put this off for a long time. ” 

Next day, in the early afternoon, Jim finally heard from Joe.  Joe told him he had finally gotten a chance to talk to the Public Works Director.   Basically, the PWD told Joe that the City was aware of the existence of this garden.  At some point in the conversation, the Mayor walked in and joined the discussion. 

 “Oh, we know all about that garden strip,” was the Mayor’s contribution, according to Joe.   “You tell the Compliance Officer that it is not a problem.” 

At this point, Joe told Jim that when it was time to mow the strip in October to give him a call.  If they still have their mowers out, they will come and knock it down for us so we won’t have to tear up our pitiful little lawn mower trying to beat down Prairie Coneflower and switchgrass, and Cheyenne Indiangrass (which right now is taller than I am and still hasn’t put up its seed stalks.)

So instead of being mowed off, the wildflower strip now looks like this:


Along the fence, which is four feet high, there are Prairie Coneflowers:


Bronze Switch Grass:


Cheyenne Indiangrass:


If I know the guys at the City Public Works department, there will be one mower that has not been put away come October.   After all, I bought them six dozen doughnuts a few years ago.   They haven’t forgotten me yet!

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