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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Julianne Harter of Fort Wayne stands in her front yard, for which she has received a notice from Neighborhood Code telling her to trim her weeds.

Sunday, July 23, 2017 1:00 am

City, gardener continuing to weed through complaints

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

When Julianne Harter's bought a house on Ferguson Avenue off Parnell Avenue 10 years ago, it had a standard yard of grass and dandelions.

Harter wanted to change that. She's an urban gardener, whose methods are designed to protect pollinators such as bees and plant species.

She's also taken the master gardener class at Purdue University and taken a locally offered rain garden workshop, in which runoff from her home's roof is directed to her gardens and not down storm sewers.

If it sounds complicated it's because it is, and Harter's yard is complicated.

The front yard is a dense mix of sunflowers and what appear to be giant irises, herbs, and other plants. Her backyard is what she calls a food forest, with raised gardens with a profusion of more sunflowers and a slew of edible plants.

I'd never have a garden like hers. It's way too much work.

Even though it's crowded, it's attractive if you like that kind of gardening.

Not everyone does.

In 2015, Harter got a letter from the city advising her that it was weed season and someone had complained about her yard.

It was intimidating, Harter said, but she contacted the city and explained how she gardened. She was allowed to continue her methods.

Then last year someone complained again, not just about the garden but also some firewood that wasn't stacked correctly and an old refrigerator she was throwing out and not cited for. Someone also complained that a morning glory was impeding sidewalk traffic.

A city worker visited and brushed the morning glory aside, solving the pedestrian problem. Harter stacked the logs, the refrigerator was hauled away and the problem was solved.

But she got another letter this year.

It's frustrating for Harter. She knows there's a noxious weed ordinance that prohibits people from having tall grass and weeds. That's because overgrown grass, besides being unsightly when neatly trimmed lawns are coveted, can become a haven for mosquitoes that carry encephalitis and West Nile virus.

But her plants don't attract mosquitoes, she says. They attract honeybees and lady bugs and finches and other creatures.

In her backyard she grows tomatoes, pumpkins, mint, cucumber, kale, squash, potatoes, peppers, beans, onions, cabbage and lots of herbs.

But the letters she gets every year keep citing the weed ordinance, and she has no weeds.

It seems it isn't what the rule is, it's how a garden looks, she says.

“I'm in my space,” she said. “Let me live my life my way.”

To be fair, the city has. Harter said she was told the city is considering an urban garden program. Officials would be able to put her on a list, and when someone complains about her garden, they'll be aware she's on the list and leave her alone.

When fall comes, she trims her plants and composts the clippings. They turn into mulch.

Harter, who complains about herbicides and pesticides and genetically modified foods, doesn't claim to be flawless.

“I'm not going to say I'm the perfect neighbor,” she says. “I make mistakes.”

But she has noticed one thing. More people are walking on her side of the street, past her explosion of plants.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.