My Garden Has Been Killed by the City of Evansville

I anticipated that this week I’d be posting happy photos of my recent vacation to Northern Michigan. Instead, I’m mourning my garden.

It was my artwork, and I’ve been creating it for over 6 years.

It was my sanctuary.

It fed me.

It fed the birds and insects.

It provided a secure shield for our back yard against random passers by.

And now it is dying because the city sprayed poison in my back yard and in other back yards up and down my block.

The whole alley was treated the way they would treat the edge of a forest that’s encroaching on a freeway.

Except this is a residential area with small houses packed one on top of each other on tiny lots. The alley is small and was brick-lined until the new house construction and the water department tore it up.

There was no warning.

They poisoned any green, living thing that wasn’t grass and that was more than 6″ tall and was within 4 feet of the alley.

The green wall at the back of my garden got completely drenched in poison.

If the spray shot over the top of the fence  or through the chain links, then the poison landed on the other plants in my back yard.

They even sprayed through my fence and killed the sunflowers planted more than 4 feet from the alley.

And I’d maintained my little stretch of alley. I’d just cut back some mint that was creeping under the fence and had just cut down the weeds along the alley.

It makes me sick to think of my neighbors who also got poison sprayed into their back yards. I’m not the only person with food plants in a garden near the alley.

We’re just in the undesirable section of the city where apparently you can just spray poison everywhere.

Here’s the damage along my fence on the alley.

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And a view that shows the other side of the alley and dead plants there as well:

the whole alley

Here’s a closer view of the neighbor’s trees. There are yellow leaves several feet inside his fence and crispy, silvery, dead leaves and chopped off branches and more of my dying honeysuckle:

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And inside my gate?

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Here’s the sunflower. You can see how the parts facing the fence have been sprayed and are dried and dead while the parts facing further from the fence are still alive (for now).

dead sunflower

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But it’s been hot and dry, right? Maybe this is just lack of water? Here’s a cross-section of the honeysuckle that you can see when you open the gate. The difference between the alley side and the yard side is dramatic:

good and evil

Inside my fence, the plants within the spray zone have begun to die.

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And the lima beans that I’d been looking forward to? They’ve vined into the honeysuckle and may be showing signs of poison, as well.

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And additionally, I have eaten produce out of my garden in the last few days–before I had any idea it had been poisoned. Clearly the poison was applied liberally and with no regard for my garden or my safety.

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And it was up and down the block. There is death everywhere. It was difficult to fully capture the way that the entire alley has a brown lining now. It contrasts with the green that starts a few feet back from the alley and makes it clear that this was not routine summer dryness affecting the plants.

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Postscript: The morning after I discovered the destruction, John tracked down the city department that was responsible. Want to venture a guess which department it was?

The Department of Urban Forestry.

I credit Evansville’s arborist, though, for coming out to talk to me. He confirmed that this was the work of his department. Apparently when city utility workers decide that an alleyway has gotten too overgrown, they request that the Department of Urban Forestry go in and clear it out. What I experienced is the standard procedure.

The arborist explained that 99% of the time, the overgrown alleys are the result of property owners who don’t care, and because they don’t care, they won’t respond to letters asking to clear the alley or warning that the alley will be cleared. So the city does nothing to inform anyone that the alley will be cleared because they assume no one cares.

And truthfully, many of my neighbors probably don’t care and probably will not notice that anything happened in the alley. The landlord for the property next door will even celebrate this clearing. It’ll save him the trouble of spreading his own weed killer for a time.

Several friends on Facebook suggested that at least the city could post it in the newspaper. They do at least that much when they spray for mosquitos so people can keep their children and pets indoors.

The arborist did apologize. He said that my honeysuckle was not a plant that his crews would have had to poison. It’s not massively invasive and was clearly serving a purpose as a privacy screen for my garden.

He was hopeful that everything that is going to die had died and that most of my garden, including the honeysuckle, would be OK. He said that his department does not use a systemic herbicide (like RoundUp). He told me to call him again if anything more started to die.

He apologized that there was nothing he could do to reverse the damage already done, but that he’d add my address to a list that should not be sprayed in the future.

I am the 1%.

The arborist was not a jerk, so I didn’t feel like arguing with him. I probably would have started crying anyway. But, it still seems crazy to make it a policy to assume that every plant lining the alley is unwanted and untended. It seems crazy to not differentiate between my clipped, green privacy fence and the mass of weeds and saplings growing with abandon among trees on an empty lot. It seems crazy to me to spread so much poison on a neighborhood without any warning.

Second Postscript: After telling many people about what had happened, my friend Jane realized that her alley had also been sprayed with poison. Her Jerusalem artichokes had looked really bad and she hadn’t thought anything more about it till she heard my story. She lives further down Adams Ave. I checked it out.

It illustrates the city’s policy. The city crew apparently recognized that she was gardening and spared everything except her Jerusalem artichokes. The other side of her alley shows the contrast: nothing was spared.

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Meanwhile, my fence continues to look worse as the honeysuckle dies back further. Hopefully the garden side of the plants will pull through.

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8 thoughts on “My Garden Has Been Killed by the City of Evansville

  1. This is horrible, horrible! An evil thing has been done! I had been following your garden, your creativity, and your joy in it! The city should have distinguished between yards like yours and others! I don’t know what to say. I’m weeping . . .

  2. I’m heartbroken and angry for you Amy. You have been such an inspiration to me in so many ways. This seems like an event that illustrates so many of the things that need to be addressed in our city. You are right in the middle of it and have been such a good influence on your little spot of the world. You and your garden will both recover from this, and if you’re not too quiet about it, maybe some policies can be changed and some awareness of the good people in the neighborhood can be enhanced. If I can be any help in your garden (cleaning up, replanting, or just talking it out over a glass of wine) please let me know. I’m on vacation next week, but my schedule is open after that.

    • Thanks, Linda. I’m hoping things won’t get as bad as I first feared since the poison is meant to kill the leaves and not the roots. I at first I didn’t think I’d have the heart to work out there, but I got a lot cleaned up this morning. It’s tough, because what the city did is not particularly worse than what my neighbor does when the city tries to require him to clean up his own property. He sprays RoundUp everywhere and blames me for his problems with the city. I added another postscript to my post after Jane V said she’d had some plants sprayed as well. Checking out her alley, the crews apparently recognized her garden and didn’t spray. So it looks like it’s an issue of workers following policies and not policies that need to be changed completely. Still, it’s hard when you live in a section of the city where everyone assumes no one cares.

  3. Pingback: Drying Up | Squirrels and Tomatoes

  4. OMG, I don’t know where to begin except that although I clicked “like” of course what I mean is WHAT?! Sorry to shout–this is a really troubling story on so many levels. First, I thought we were over this kind of random bombardment approach, whether aerial, roadside or other. Secondly, what if you were out there with your infant or young child? Or just enjoying your property? Third, no warning at all? That doesn’t seem right. So, these are my humble suggestions to defend your rights– maybe you should take this up with your local elected representatives? City council or whatever? There must be some governing body that could look into the matter. It doesn’t seem right, to me, at least, that children and other living things should be willy-nilly exposed to random herbicides. And, btw, what was it they were using? They should really be able to tell you guys that much so you can do your own research. Finally, I have to say that this “war on weeds” is getting out of hand. It’s one thing if it’s farming (and even then!) but it’s entirely something else if it’s about aesthetics. There’s gotta be a better way! Wishing you best of luck & hope that you can find other like-minded souls who will also speak up about this in your community.

    • Thanks, Lori. It was really horrible and its horrible to look out my back door and no longer have the green privacy fence along the alley. I’m working though the stages of grief, and I’ve never looked forward to fall so much so everything dies back, hiding the poison damage somewhat and preparing the garden for a fresh start in the spring. I’m really hopeful that it will be a good fresh start with most of the damaged plants coming back. You’re right–I should have asked which chemical they used. I was still in so much shock when I met with the arborist that it took a few hours to register in my brain that it wasn’t Roundup or something systemic. It’s also frustrating to live in a section of the city where it’s accurate for the arborist to say that people don’t care about cutting their weeds and plants out of the alley so the city has to do something and then the same neighbors don’t care when the city takes care of the weeds for them. We’ll see what happens next year. At least one neighbor uses worse chemicals when the city tries to force him to take care of the weeds on his own. I’m hopeful that it won’t happen to my back yard again. If I didn’t have some hope, I’d be way too discouraged.

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