Heyday of Grass is Past as Ferndale Approves Natural Landscape Ordinance Changes

mbrew brought to you by top adHeyday of Grass is Past as Ferndale Approves Natural dickeys_graduation_ad_ferndaleLandscape Ordinance Changes

(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 22, 2015)

The picture perfect suburban lawn was a nearly impossible, and ultimately disappointing dream for Rebecca Hammond who would joke that she made sacrifices to the “Grass God” each year as she paid for seed, fertilizers, and endless cuttings. She knew firsthand that grass “doesn’t grow in sandy Ferndale without constant effort, money and water.”

So gradually she began adding other plants, to reduce the size of the grassy space, until eventually her yard became an almost artistic rebellion to the status quo. She’s since taken the issue of earth-healthy lawns to heart and worked with the Ferndale Environmental Sustainability Commission (FESC) to modern natural baby inprogresspromote them, and the City to create a new ordinance encouraging them.

The ordinance passed at the April 13 City Council meeting changes the regulations of lawns and encourages “Planned Natural Landscaping,” which “means a planned, intentional and maintained landscaping of native plants, ornamental grasses and groundcovers, rain gardens, shrubs and trees. Non – native plants and invasive species of plants shall not be allowed. Planned natural landscaping is not intended to allow a property owner to ignore lawn care duties.”The ordinance references Michigan State University’s Native Plants and Ecosystems to guide on native plant species http://nativeplants.msu.edu/.Judy_Palmer30years

The ordinance also requires homeowners to register their planned natural landscaped yards with code enforcement to help them in knowing where such yards are.

Last month the Ferndale Garden Club hosted a presentation about using front yard space to grow food. Lucas Harrison-Zdenek of Ferndale Permaculture gave the presentation and wrote a follow up story called “Let’s tear it up! The front lawn I mean.”

“There are so many benefits to planting an edible garden over a grass lawn, that it quickly became ridiculous to me that so few people are actually doing it,” Harrison-Zdenek said.

“Turf grass, that is the kind we use in our lawns, is the largest irrigated crop in the U.S. It seems hard to believe, but it is true. The acreage of lawns in this country is more than that of corn, or soybeans, or wheat individually. And last I checked, we don’t eat grass. Actually, we wouldn’t want to eat it if we could, thanks to the toxic chemical fertilizers that are often used on our gardenfreshADlawns. Between the incessant over-fertilization, unnecessary watering (many times during or just after a heavy rain), and the other labor intensive, carbon creating activities we engage in to maintain a non-productive grass lawn, doesn’t it make more sense to replace it with something that doesn’t pollute the watershed or waste fresh, potentially drinkable water? Like I said, it is ridiculous that we aren’t all doing this!”

For Hammond the change came gradually, but her passion grew along with her yard. “I started filling in the worst bald spots with tough plants like irises and day lilies.  I was out for a walk one summer afternoon and someone in PR had dug up all their irises, so I brought home as many as I could carry. Didn’t even know what color the blooms would be till the next year.  People gave me starts of tough plants like sedums, natives like coneflower. I divided hostas and let some seed_dc_08_elida_quesada_april2015ground cover spread.  I’ve grown lots of tomatoes and peppers out front, but this year may fill in that space with native plants for butterflies.

“I have lots of bees and butterflies and even dragonflies and fireflies now.  No grass except as weeds among the interesting, useful plants,” Hammond said. “It became important to me over time after reading about the huge emissions from gas mowers, something like 10 times the emissions of a car, and the amount of gas spilled filling them, more each year than the Exxon Valdez spilled.”

Hammond said she’s counted 16 homes in her NW Ferndale neighborhood that had gone completely natural, 63 that had gotten rid of at least half their lawn and 80 that had gotten rid of a sizable portion of grass. “Often people think we’re getting away with something illegal, but new way 04 veggieburgernaturalizing your yard in Ferndale has been legal forever or for a very long time.  The new ordinance just makes it official, and gives homeowners who naturalize some legal standing and backup.”

Councilperson Melanie Piana connected Hammond with the FESC to do the work of researching and crafting a suggested ordinance, which Piana then brought back to City Council.

“The members of the FESC have been advising the city on multiple initiatives that enhances our community’s environment. From energy efficiency, green house gas reduction and long-term sustainability, the FESC is an important volunteer commission dedicated to improving quality of life for everyone,” Piana said. “Many Ferndale homeowners take pride in beautifying their front yards by choosing to plants, flowers and edible plants to save on water, grow their own food and attract small wildlife like birds and butterflies. ferndale_pride_2015_02

“Lillian Dean, an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborist and Environmental Planning Consultant and Coordinator of the Southern Oakland County Water Authority Healthy Lawns and Gardens Program provided guidance to city staff and the FESC.  Ms. Dean advised how to achieve FESC’s ordinance update goals, educate on the best local resources for native plants and advised on how to incorporate oversight with code enforcement.” She noted that the Beautification Commission also weighed in.

Mayor Pro Tem Dan Martin raised objection to asking residents to register their natural vegetation yards, to which Piana responded that registration helps provide balance between the desires of the residents to be creative and the need for the city to have good enforcement. She steele lindbloom adadded “If people do register it will be easier for the Beautification Commission to go look at the properties and give out awards.”

Enforcement concerns would be if plants are attracting rodents, are unsightly or are otherwise disruptive to neighbor’s health or property values.

City Manager April Lynch said staff is putting together a brochure with suggestions for residents and examples of how to do natural landscaping right. The City of Ferndale will also have a demonstration at the May 16th Clean the Ferndale Up event.

Another useful event may be the “Can you dig it… Perennials” class on April 25 hosted by Two Women and a Hoe and Ferndale Beautification Commission.

To learn more about the ordinance visit the City of Ferndale website and watch the April 13 City Council meeting.

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