Gardens - Specialty Gardens

The politics of gardening: Bygone bylaws

Katharine Fletcher

More and more gardeners are challenging dusty bylaws to renaturalize their front yards. Here’s what you could encounter despite your good intentions.

What gardeners need to look out for
Unfortunately, many Canadian gardeners have been confronted by neighbours, served with bylaw violations and threatened with removal of their gardens. Some, like Toronto’s Douglas Counter, took legal action.

Counter created a tall-grass-prairie habitat garden featuring more than 80 native species. It evolved into a storm-water infiltration garden on the adjacent city boulevard. When neighbours complained, he took his case to court—and won.

Counter recalls, “It was the first time in Canada that a provincial court of appeal recognized that expressing environmental beliefs is a form of expression protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the first time anywhere in Canada that a court ruled that citizens have a Charter-protected right to express those beliefs on public land.”

Exonerated, Counter offered support to the Joneses. Such garden politics prove being aware of local bylaws is prudent—before planning and planting. Hank emphasizes, “By proceeding innocently, without knowing we were infringing the law, and then both firmly and politely standing up for our rights, our case alerted the City of Ottawa, media and the public that their bylaws are out of step with the times. Our project as well as Doug Counter’s court case are establishing precedents and encouraging both city and rural politicians to rethink outmoded laws that remain on the books.”

The Joneses, as well as Counter, are demonstrating how gardeners need to stand up for our growing rights.

Two ways to avoid bylaw troubles
1. Communicate with your neighbours.

2. Contact your municipality or city's official website and research bylaws governing lawns and gardens. For instance, the City of Ottawa lists their property standards on their website.

Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer, author and editor.


Read more in Gardens and Specialty Gardens

Follow Style At Home Online



Latest Contests

more contests