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.
And a view that shows the other side of the alley and dead plants there as well:
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:
And inside my gate?
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).
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:
Inside my fence, the plants within the spray zone have begun to die.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, my fence continues to look worse as the honeysuckle dies back further. Hopefully the garden side of the plants will pull through.