An oasis rich in ‘joy’ with a few complaints: why it takes guts to grow a naturalized lawn

Obscured by a thicket of trees and shrubs, Cory Morningstar’s house is barely visible — yet it’s a local landmark.

“Every day, there are people coming over from the hospital, staff and people pushing patients in wheelchairs,” she said. “The daycare kids come here every day.”

“People even come here from other parts of the city and park here and spend an hour looking around at everything.”

There’s lots to see: periwinkle, native plumb, smoke bush and milkweed sprout beneath a canopy of Norway Maple and Spruce. Rare plants, such as cucumber magnolia, pawpaw, native dogwood and shiny sumac, all grow here.

An oasis rich in ‘joy’ with a few complaints

So do peaches, pears, cherries and grapes — all with the purpose of providing food and habitat for birds, butterflies and other insects.

The thicket of trees and shrubs on Morningstar’s property stretch right to the boulevard, which sometimes draws complaints to city hall. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“It’s hard to express how many people come here and the gratitude and joy they express when they come here.”

Not everyone is grateful for what grows on Morningstar’s property, however. Surrounded on all sides by groomed lawns — cut, edged and watered with military precision — her yard does get complaints.

“[The city has] one complaint, and they have to follow up on it, but they don’t hear from the 500 people who come here a week, and it does so much for them,” she said.

Untidy lawns rank number one for complaints

Canadians take their lawns seriously. According to Statistics Canada, we grow some 21,000 hectares of new sod each year, enough to cover Fundy National Park.

People in London take their lawns seriously, too and apparently, they think others should show the same devotion. Of the 8,300 complaints the city’s bylaw department deals with each year, about 3,000 are complaints about unkempt or overgrown yards.

“It’s our number one bylaw that we enforce,” said Orest Katolyk, the city’s chief bylaw enforcement officer. In fact, complaints about lawns are so numerous—they outnumber everything else. Noise, like dogs, parties, and even leaf blowers, are number two, and they don’t even come close.

Things are beginning to change though, according to Katolyk, who said council modified its bylaw a number of years ago to recognize that a well-kept swathe of grass isn’t what everyone wants, or should have.

‘The city is supposed to be working toward this’

“Over the years, we have recognized that there are properties that want to have naturalized areas,” he said, noting the city has modified its bylaw to balance the competing interests between those who want their yard to run wild and those who like a tame Swathe of grass.

A perfectly cut lawn is the ultimate symbol of suburbia, but some think that should change. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

It means homeowners must keep a one-metre buffer strip at the edges of their property at all times and, in most cases, this is where people often get into trouble — and that’s where Morningstar gets the most complaints.

She said they’re easy to work out, especially in a city that declared a climate emergency in 2019.

“The city is supposed to be working toward this.”

Fighting climate change where you live

Morningstar believes she can fight climate change right where she lives, by cooling her house with natural shade while at the same time making her property more hospitable to wildlife.

While her neighbor’s air conditioners are buzzing away in the summer heat, Morningstar doesn’t use one. The shade keeps her house cool, even when the sun is molten and relentless.

It’s why she’ll keep working on her leafy oasis — a place she turns to for refuge from the outside world.

“It keeps you sane.”

“When things get really bad, you can come out into the garden and find solitude and joy. The world may not make sense, but the garden makes sense.”

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