Ottawa

Couple battling municipality over 'nuisance' wildflower garden

A western Quebec couple is in a battle with their municipality over a specially designed yard containing milkweed, tall grasses and wildflowers. 

La Pêche, Que., couple says their vegetation is a habitat for bees and butterflies

Samuel Cloutier and Jazmine Maisonneuve say they are finished with mowing their yard. (Stu Mills/CBC)

A western Quebec couple is in a battle with their municipality over a specially designed yard containing milkweed, tall grasses and wildflowers.

Last summer, the municipality of La Pêche informed Jazmine Maisonneuve and Samuel Cloutier, both 37, that the tall-growing vegetation on the commercial property surrounding a new workshop facility in the village of Masham constituted a "nuisance."

Last month, the municipality sent them another warning and told them they faced a $400 fine if they didn't mow it.

"We very deliberately and intentionally did not sow grass. We don't want to mow our lawn. We don't want a lawn, in fact — we want a meadow," said Maisionneuve, a landscape designer.

The municipality told the couple that a neighbour complained the yard — which is filled with milkweed, thistles, purple asters, Queen Anne's lace and other flowers that attract pollinators — lowered neighbouring property values.

Maisonneuve rejects that assertion.

"We feel this is much more beautiful than our neighbours' scorched, mowed, brown lawn right now," she said.

'We very deliberately and intentionally did not sow grass,' said Jazmine Maisonneuve. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Asked to catalogue plants

Cloutier, a custom home builder and metal fabricator, said he got a call from a municipal employee who told him the municipality would take the couple to court over the tall plants.

La Pêche's bylaw requires lawns be kept shorter than 15 centimetres.

Cloutier also defended his yard, saying the plants and flowers are valuable to pollinators and calling it healthier than a yard with short grass.

I think any judge in court would use their common sense and say, 'Hey, we're wasting our time here.'- Samuel Cloutier

The municipality, Cloutier said, told them they'd be able to keep the yard if they hired a biologist to catalogue the different wildflowers growing on the property.

But when they paid the biologist $400 and sent photos and descriptions to the municipality, it rejected the report, Cloutier said, as it didn't include a site plan with the locations of the flowers.

Cloutier said he told the municipality he wouldn't spend any more money on flower reports and now welcomes an opportunity to fight it out legally.

"It's insulting. It's pretty surprising that in 2020 we're having this discussion right now," Cloutier said.

"I think any judge in court would use their common sense and say, 'Hey, we're wasting our time here.'"

Carolyn Callaghan, a biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, says many people love the look of a freshly mown lawn, but letting wildflowers grow instead is much better for the environment. 0:52

Campaign for wild lawns

The dispute comes as the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) has a campaign urging utility providers and municipalities not to spray and to permit public lands, power corridors and right-of-ways to grow over with pollinator-friendly flowers and vegetation.

CWF researcher Carolyn Callaghan said the campaign is targeting the roughly 6.2 million private residential lawns in Canada.

"As Canadians, many of us have a long-standing love affair with [a] cut, mown lawn. We think it's neat and tidy and beautiful," said Callaghan.

"Unfortunately it's a desert — it does not support many species, and it certainly doesn't support pollinators because there are no flowers."

La Pêche Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux, seen here in 2017, says he believes the bylaw is unenforceable and would like to eventually see it removed. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Bylaw 'obsolete,' says mayor

In an email to CBC News, La Pêche Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux said the bylaw was "obsolete and unenforceable."

Lamoureux said he wasn't aware of a case where a property owner had been fined under the bylaw, and he would like to see it removed in a future review. 

He pointed to a recent grant of $10,000 to local off-grid honey producer Apiverte as evidence of the municipality's alignment with environmental aims.

"People who wish to encourage pollinators and wildlife are free to do so, but should try to limit the spread of invasive or allergenic species," he wrote.

Lamoureux also said he couldn't be sure if the municipality would make good on its threat to take Cloutier and Maisonneuve to court.

We're talking to that resident about the tall-growing vegetation on her property, which the municipality says constitutes a nuisance. 6:18

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