Even as city leaders are touting greener practices for residents and city services, one woman’s fight to grow a water-friendly, no-mow meadow rather than a lawn is landing her in court in violation of the city’s “overgrowth” code.
Chattanooga Neighborhood Services officials say the issues of saving gasoline, reducing the city’s carbon footprint and conserving water never have come up as discussions in lawn overgrowth code enforcement. According to the code, grass and ground cover growth cannot exceed 10 inches tall.
That is, unless it’s kudzu.
“My yard is a goat hill. It’s too steep to mow, so half of it is a reseeded meadow of native grasses with new small trees and wildflowers. The other half is kudzu,” East Brainerd homeowner Lana Sutton said. “I’ve been cited for the meadow, but the city inspector told me the kudzu is legal.”
The inspector, Randy Ridge, is out of town this week, according to his boss, Neighborhood Services head Beverly Johnson, but Ms. Johnson acknowledged that Neighborhood Services doesn’t challenge kudzu growth.
Trying to rid ridge areas of kudzu “could create erosion problems,” she said.
But overgrown yards can be controlled — especially when one woman’s wildflowers are another man’s weeds, she said.
Ms. Johnson said the city inspector responded to a complaint from a neighbor that Ms. Sutton’s yard is overgrown and unsightly.
“When we get out there, we have to follow the code,” Ms. Johnson said.
She said Neighborhood Services “tries to work with people” to avoid serious consequences.
Ms. Sutton, a self-employed musician, promoter and yoga coach who seven years ago was a Times Free Press employee, questioned whether the city is putting its policy where its rhetoric is. At a time when Chattanooga’s carbon footprint is under scrutiny and city officials are organizing green committees, residents should have an option other than kudzu with which to grow no-mow, no-water lawns, she said.
“But Mr. Ridge told me to raze the meadow, seed it (with lawn grass) and mow. And I cannot have a wildflower garden or a forest in it. It can either be kudzu or grass. So I can landscape with kudzu, but not a native grass and wildflower meadow,” she said.
City forester Gene Hyde, who is charged with heading up Mayor Ron Littlefield’s “Green Committee” to bring down the size of Chattanooga’s too-large carbon footprint, said perhaps the city should review ways to find creative solutions to both kudzu and lawn-centric attitudes.
“It’s an interesting idea that may be worth a second look at as we go forward with all of our goals and action items,” he said. “I would be happy to help the city come up with some kind of out-of-the-box kind of thinking.”
A typical suburban lawn uses 10,000 gallons of water a year over and above that provided by rainfall, according to a National Audubon Society Web site.
PATH LESS CHOSEN
Ms. Sutton’s property is not typical. It measures an acre, and she has learned by trial and error that growing a wildflower meadow — especially one on a steep hillside — is not as easy as it looks. And clearing kudzu is even harder, she said.
“I can’t just mow it,” she said. “Besides being too steep to mow, there are flowers and small trees and blueberries scattered in the native grass. I had to buy tiny plants because I don’t have the money to put in large ones.”
She’ll be making her case on June 19 in front of City Court Judge Sherry Paty.
It won’t be the first time.
Ms. Sutton was cited to court the first time in July 2006. That time Judge Paty sided with her and dismissed the case, city and court records show.
Mr. Hyde and Hamilton County Extension Agent Tom Stebbins said reclaiming yards from kudzu and establishing native meadow gardens cannot be a quick turn-around.
“I’d say it might take at least three years” before it might look more pleasing,” Mr. Stebbins said. “She needs some support. I would think she could be a pretty good prototype for the city to help people add diversity to their property — especially from kudzu.”
Kudzu, an invasive, non-native vine from Japan, grows up to a foot a day and is very hard to kill.
“Right now the government can’t take care of the problem,” Mr. Stebbins said. “Now it’s up to homeowners to take charge.”
Ms. Sutton is hoping her second day in court will bring hope, not just for her but for other Chattanoogans, too.
“On one side in my yard is a tidal wave, a tsunami of kudzu coming from a neighbor’s property and the city easement,” she said. “On the other side, my meadow is supposed to be ‘illegal.’ It just doesn’t make sense.”
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...