Mow it, pick it or replant it, please

Letters to the editor, Washburn County Register – September 8, 2010

by Lauralei Anderson, Shell Lake Alumni, Cumberland

This was the bad press received from a critic of natural habitat.

Over the last few years, I have to commend the city of Shell Lake for taking pride in the appearance of this little city. This has been accomplished by doing improvements such as the storefront renovations, the beautiful hanging baskets that adorn the light poles and the well-groomed lawns of the beach/pavilion walkways.

The last two  Registers have featured articles of two different area gardens. Two weeks ago featured the cut little village garden by te Washburn County Historical Society, with it beautifully weeded perennials, welcoming visitors from the south end of town. Last week’s feature was of the twilight garden at the Spooner Ag Station, with its sweet sitting benches and well-groomed plants. So, I was wondering if this week’s paper was going to feature the butterfly garden on the north end of town? However, I could probably answer my own question with a solid “No.” Why write a feature about an over-grown railroad bed?

So this brings me to the meat of my letter. Why do we keep seeing this unkempt, fence-in weed patch year after year? Yes, you I know that it was designed to attract butterflies, but on close inspection we see scant black-eyed Susan’s and nothing more than wild weeds and few bugs! Couldn’t we find some eye-appealing greenery that attracts butterflies as well as scenic onlookers, making it more welcoming than a back-40 field that needs to be hayed?

It amazes me that this has been allowed to go on for as long as it has. When looking at the area on the old railroad tracks, we see sitting benches that are longing to be sat on, a grown over walking path and a very nice pergola that is vacant. Mostly, I think, because of the lack of care and the uninviting appearance of the place.

So I ask whomever is in charge of this “Garden of Weed-en”…Could you mow it, pick it or replant it and make this sanctuary as welcoming to people as well as our six-legged, winged friends.

I am hoping that letter will spark those of you who agree with me, that have been quiet about this eyesore, to speak up and ask for a little more improvement to this pretty little city.

Happy Tonics officers and board of directors will address this article in this week’s paper if the Editor chooses to publish our response.

EPA Position on Native Habitat

The Native Restored Remnant Tallgrass Prairie in Shell Lake, Wisconsin, received some bad press in the newspaper this week re: Washburn County Register.  The article was in the Editor’s Column. One of our board members did some research and found an informative position paper. We are noting the Weed Law vs. Native habitat as follows.

V.  SOME VILLAGES STILL DON’T GET IT – WHAT TO DO IF YOUR VILLAGE IS ENFORCING ITS WEED LAW AGAINST YOUR NATURAL LANDSCAPE

The types of old weed laws used by municipalities to prosecute natural landscapers generally suffer from a variety of legal flaws. These flaws can be exploited by natural landscapers who are targeted for prosecution in order to win his or her case, or hopefully, convince his or her village that the weed law should not be applied to natural landscapes. The flaws are constitutional, practical and evidentiary.

A.  Natural Gardening as a Fundamental Right.

1.  Landscaping as Speech and Art

Natural gardening can be constitutionally protected speech and, therefore, any weed law must be closely related to a compelling state interest. While not all natural landscapes are obvious to even a casual viewer, many are. Indeed, this is often the real “problem.” Symbolic speech is as protected as oral speech. One of the best ways a person can announce his or her concern for what humankind has done, and is doing, to the environment is to restore a portion of the environment to its natural state. Restoring natural vegetation can, therefore, be a form of speech and, as such, is entitled to the same protection that speech receives under the First Amendment.129

The attempt made by natural landscapers to politically express themselves through the cultivation of wild plants is one that parallels historical and traditional precedents.130 The political use of flowers as symbols is as important today as it has been in the past. The red rose is the symbol of the Socialist Party in France and the British Arbor Party. In the War of the Roses, opposing sides took roses of different colors as their symbols.131

Natural landscaping can also be artistic expression protected by the First Amendment.132 State law recognizes the beauty, artistic expression and virtue of landscape gardening.133 Landscape architecture is defined as “the art and science of arranging land together with the spaces and objects upon it, for the purpose of creating a safe, efficient, healthful, and aesthetically pleasing physical environment for human use and enjoyment.”134 A weed law, as applied to natural landscapers, denies the landscapers’ ability to express themselves, through an activity statutorily recognized as art.

Neighbors and government officials need not concur that the natural landscape is “art” before First Amendment protection attaches. In interpreting art as speech protected by the First Amendment, the court in Piarowski V. Illinois Community College 135 stated, “[t]he freedom of speech and of the press protected by the First Amendment has been interpreted to embrace purely artistic as well as political expression (and entertainment that falls short of anyone’s idea or art…)…”136

One of the most spectacular examples of natural landscaping as art lies in the heart of Chicago’s Grant Park. The Wild Flower Works II is the creation of Chicago artist Chapman Kelly.137 Kelly sees his garden of wildflowers, legumes and other native plants not merely as dirt and flowers, but rather a giant canvas on which he does his “most spectacular work.”138 The ecological painting is a socio-political work that symbolizes the proper role of humankind within Nature.

In 1988, when the Park District sought to have the Wild Flower Works plowed under, Kelly went to court and obtained a temporary restraining order arguing his First Amendment rights. The lawsuit was later settled by allowing the Wild Flower Works to remain in Grant Park and the Park District to receive regular reports on its maintenance.

“Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint and the soil and air as the canvas – working with nature provides the technique.”139 More remarkable examples of gardening as art are the efforts of the French Impressionist, Claude Monet. Following the death of his wife, Monet moved to Giverny, France in 1883. There he planted the gardens that were the subject of his most famous paintings. Focusing on color relationships and the effects of light, Monet carefully arranged pure colors in the abstract form of flowering plants to “create richly patterned textures and mood by contrasting or homonizing color relationships.”140 In the later, and most productive part of his career, Monet used his flower and water gardens at Giverny as a living studio. “With the living, growing and changing plants, always subject to light and weather, Monet created an organized concentrated color environment where he could live, breathe, observe and walk, forever having his painter’s eye challenged by the effects of light.”141 Many of the plants Monet employed, and much of the layout of the gardens, are the same or similar to many of today’s natural landscapes.

Enforcement of a weed law denies the artist the tools of her art, Nature. A city’s weed law enforcement is as devastating to a natural landscaper as declaring music a nuisance would be to a musician. Absent a showing of some compelling municipal interest, a city does not have the power to restrain a natural landscaper’s freedom of expression. The unjustified restraint of freedom of expression consitutes a violation of the First Amendment.

Sources: EPA, Landscaping with Native Plants; Green Landscaping Green Acres,  The John Marshall Law Review
Volume 26, Summer 1993, Number 4. You can view the whole document at http://www.epa.gov/greenacres/weedlaws/JMLR.html 

 

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