Woman defends native plants in her yard; city says clean it up

Maplewood resident, Alice Hezel, is on probation and says she faces jail time, cited for “failure to control weeds-vegetation, habitual offender.” Her Maplewood court date is Aug. 15. The city says it doesn’t jail people for this offense.

Correction: Maplewood city, said via Twitter @enjoyMaplewood and Facebook that the city doesn’t jail for this violation. Also that “The City of Maplewood views this matter as a maintenance issue (lack of cultivation); the type of plants that are being grown is not an issue.”

Hezel doesn’t deny she has vegetation in her Cambridge Avenue yard, but says the city ordinance doesn’t define what a weed is.

At a previous court date (she’s been going since 2012), she said a county prosecutor couldn’t tell her why she was being fined. “I think a good attorney would look at that and say it’s not enforceable, it’s so vague,” Hezel said. “It defines a husband and a wife but nothing in there that defines a weed.”

The ordinance states a weed is “any growth of grass or weeds to a height of 12 inches or over.” See the ordinance.

In 2013 she asked Assistant City Manager Anthony Traxler for a list of plants that are acceptable so she would know what to buy.

He replied by email, “Nothing in your yard would be considered ‘cultivated’ which is why you were issued the notice of violation. You simply threw some wildflower seeds in your yard so it would not have to be cultivated and/or maintained which is a violation of our ordinances. Note that our ‘jurisdiction heights in inches’ is 12 inches which your weeds far exceed.”

Alice Hezel at her house on Cambridge, surrounded by Milkweed plants and others.

Alice Hezel at her house on Cambridge, surrounded by Milkweed plants and others.

“Now on Aug. 15 I have to go and if I haven’t complied with my probation then they’re going to issue a warrant for my arrest. I don’t have anything in my paperwork that says these are the terms of your probation.”

Hazel lists some of her plants as Purple Coneflower, Bottlebrush Blazing Star, Bee Balm Horsemint, Brown Eyed Susan and others. She said she bought them all at the Kirkwood Farmers Market.

Milkweed at Alice Hezel's house

Milkweed at Alice Hezel’s house

Some are Milkweed, which is food for Monarch butterflies, a protected species, she says.

“You can’t mess with their food supply. You’ll be in violation of the federal law. So their ordinance is really even in violation of the federal law,” she said. “I love my yard because the kids love the butterflies and the bees.”

32 thoughts on “Woman defends native plants in her yard; city says clean it up

  1. I love her garden. It’s full of native plants and all of the beneficial insects that love them. More importantly, it’s not my business to condemn her for having a different idea of beauty than her neighbors. It makes me sad that Mapleweird is so anxious to become staid and ordinary.

  2. Maplewood will throw you in jail for not giving your cat a rabies shot every year even though it will never step outside. Seems this city thinks their shit don’t stank and will fine pretty much anything to make extra cash!

  3. I agree with Ms. Hazel. The ordinance does not clarify what a weed is, as in listing those plants that are in fact weeds, and frankly the person they send out to check doesn’t have a clue either. I’ve had problems over the years with this exact thing and to be honest the citations they send out to you are extremely vague across the board. This is a very real problem and it needs to be addressed.

    What they need to do is get into contact with a botanist or someone from the Botanical Garden and have then send them a list, with pictures, of those plants that are considered weeds and what ones are actually wild flowers so the inspector can tell the difference between the two and so that they can clarify the ordinance. Then they need to properly site offenders from the beginning. If you do have 12 inch weeds then that is what your citation should say and if it’s just an unkempt yard with uncultivated wildflowers then the citations should state that.

  4. I agree with a lot of the comments and wonder about others….In this day of pollution, running a gas mower allows so much pollutants in the air, Native gardening is in…there are other properties in the area with sunflowers, day lilies, golden Alexander, rattlesnake master, cup plant, mints, dill, sea oats…her plants embraces nature and helps butterflies and birds as well as other living creatures….It is her neighbors who feel upset, looking at her eclectic combination of plants and seeing it all “laziness and a hot mess” Let’s focus on REAL CRIME – robberies, drugs, assault, destruction to other’s properties – Beauty is in the eye of the beholder..This could be a teaching tool for MRH schools….as another said and offered help…this could be a project for H.S. students with supervision…encouraging a Botany Major

  5. Cut all the weeds down and plant grass. Your front yard is not the place for a prairie restoration project! It does seem as though she complied and mowed her lawn. Earlier today I saw a news crew there interviewing her and her front lawn looked a lot shorter…I was actually able to see her house.

      • I guess since you mentioned it even though I’m not planning on moving anytime soon. I’m all for protecting the rights of property owners but it seems she is arguing for clarification when clearly the ordinance states that the overgrown mess in her yard is not okay no matter whats growing. Here’s and idea (credit to other posts)…put the garden/weeds/butterfly sanctuary in the back yard! Won’t everyone be happy then?!?

  6. Omg! Leave this this lady alone. Seriously so dumb!! Are there not other things for the city of Maplewood to waste tax payer money on? Who cares if it’s not like every one else’s yard. She’s doing it to serve a purpose and she loves her yard. It’s not like she has a bunch of rusted cars out front, boarded up windows, profanities spray painted on her house or whatever. People are just so sensitive. City of Maplewood need to focus on something else. She isn’t hurting anyone. It’s her piece of art….on her own property.

  7. I love Monarch butterflies! Don’t take their food source away and besides I think her yard is really COOL!

  8. I visited Alice’s yard today. I grow native plants in my yard and study them in their native habitats. I did not see her yard as weedy. I could identify at least seven different types of native plants. She has more Common Milkweed than any other plant. They are standing up tall, straight and orderly waiting for the late Summer arrival of the Monarch Butterflies. Monarchs only lay their eggs on Milkweeds. These Milkweeds are on the migratory pathway of the Monarch butterfly as it heads to Mexico for the winter. The butterfly that deposits its eggs here will die. The eggs laid here will hatch out caterpillars that will turn into butterflies to continue the flight southward.
    I noticed her yard was certified by Bringing Conservation Home as a wildlife habitat.
    I noticed butterflies, beetles, bees and birds in her yard. Native plant enthusiast create their gardens for this wildlife. We try to give back to them what was taken away when our yards were planted in lawn grass.
    Maplewood please change the rules to accept this yard and others like it.

  9. This seems to reflect the signs of the changing times in Maplewood. When the city cited me for weeds some time ago, I protested: “Sir, that is a Native Plant Garden!” Maplewood has historically been a “live and let live” kind of community, or so it has seemed to me. But many beloved “old timers” have passed on; the new era is at hand and new standards are coming into play. So, in the interest of being in harmony with the times, and with our neighbors, “allowances must be made” (to paraphrase Willie Loman). I suggest bringing in native garden expert Linda Wiggen Kraft for advice, and doing what it takes to stay out of jail. As for me, I have at long last given up attempting to grow a native garden, or any garden, on the slope beneath my oak tree, and am surrendering to the grasses–under 12″ high, of course!

  10. Golly gee, Purple Coneflower, Bottlebrush Blazing Star, Bee Balm Horsemint, Brown Eyed Susan are all plants that I have growing in my yard too.

  11. I think it’s beautiful. What’s so great about a manicured lawn? Is it useful? Does it provide food, or complement other components of a sustainable environment? People are complainers, and like to wield city ordinances to punish difference.

  12. No botanist would define any of those plants as weeds. The city’s vague ordinance would seem to make trees into weeds. Trees aren’t weeds you say? Well neither are wildflowers.

  13. I walked by this house a year or so ago, and absolutely admired the owner’s natural landscaping. It is beautiful, and full of wildflowers, and plants which attract bees and butterflies. Are you KIDDING, Maplewood? What the heck? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose, but this woman’s yard is not full of weeds.

  14. this would look nice in a small scale but this looks like someone does not want to cut the lawn.
    I would hate to have to live next door to this when I try to maintain a nice year.

  15. Maybe if it was located in the back yard it would be OK. I’m in favor of growing milkweed to help out the butterflies and give you a high five for that. Good job. Maybe if the city would help out their elderly citizens with a more favorable choice of plants for the steep slope, instead of fighting against them, that would be commendable. Let’s help one another out. Too much fighting and bickering in this world today.

  16. People shouldn’t have to see that, it’s an eye sore. But an elderly woman shouldn’t be expected to maintain a hill like that either. It’d be nice if the city could help the elderly….better in such circumstances.

  17. Monarch butterflies are not a federally protected species and there is no law that says a person can’t “mess with their food supply”. I support growing milkweed for them but the backyard would be a more appropriate place to do that.

  18. The point is here the city cannot arbitrarily decide what is a weed and what is not based on growth inches. I have all the same plants, although not in abundance like Hazel’s, in my front yard on Lyle. Hazel, I’m with you, and if I can I will attend your court appearance. Please call me, 420-6531, I will help in any way I can!

    Your supporting neighbor, Anne.

    • I agree with you on height being arbitrary…..desirable plants grow taller than 12″. I think we all need to use a little common sense here. You said it, “abundance” is the issue here. Her yard could be awesome….it just needs some TLC. If she is in poor health or is tight on money and can’t afford to pay someone to maintain, with all the green thumbs in Maplewood, we could get a group together to help her clean out weeds and properly prune a couple times a year and make that yard the envy of the neighbors. If she is just being lazy or stubborn and doesn’t want to maintain it properly, that is a different story.

  19. This house is on my walking route. I too understand her wanting something different, but it is simply too much. It needs to be maintained better. Even in the winter it looks sloppy and neglected with no fall clean-up and pieces of trash in the beds. I dont know Alice, but am willing to bet she is a bit of a rebel…..lol…..hope she swallows her pride and cleans the place up.

    • If you don’t want to look at it, you’re free to buy it and make it look however you want. But since she owns it, your opinion shouldn’t matter. I’ll bet that you have plants over 12″ in your lawn and I’m sure that they offend some busybody or another, should Maplewood ticket you until jail?

      • Well stated. If it isn’t a threat to health or wellbeing, it shouldn’t be a problem. Even if one makes “cultivation” a standard, it should be clear that if a person knows the species of each plant and its value that they are not just being lazy.

  20. I like the wild flowers! Good Luck Hazel. Maybe there could be some kind of permit issued for citizens who want a more natural yard with some different stipulations than the current narrow parameters. My family and another gardener friend have struggled with this situation over the 23yrs we’ve lived here.

  21. They are worried about over growth but not half built garages?? I live next door to someone that started building a 2 story 3 car garage 13yrs ago and Never finished it. Seems like thats ok as it has sat the same way for the last 5yrs. And now is starting to get rot.

  22. They are worried about iver growth but not half built garages?? I live next door to someone that started building a 2 story 3 car garage 13yrs ago and Never finished it. Seems like thats ok as it has sat the same way for the last 5yrs.

  23. Alice,
    I’m on board with what you’re trying to do in your yard. I’ve heard about milkweed & the butterflies. But I saw someone do this in Brentwood on Florence a few years back, and it really did kind of clash with the surroundings. Didn’t get a lot of favorable comment from the locals. If this were behind your house would that get the city (and undoubtedly one or more of your neighbors) off your back?