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Natural Landscaping Upsets Some Neighbors

For many people the front yard consists of grass, a couple of trees - boxwoods might line the walkway to the front door, and there may be some flowers for added color. At least two Upper Arlington residents want more. They prefer an environmentally-friendly landscape that requires less manicuring. WOSU reports on natural landscapes and what the neighbors think.

"You could've told me it was the yard with the forest. Because I'm always like it's the peach flat house," Alison Pierce said.

That's the dialogue 20-year-old Alison Pierce said she has every time a friend comes over to her mom's house for the first time. And Pierce is right, from the street her mom's mid-century home is barely visible behind trees and prairie flowers.

"I'd always wanted a woods," Gretchen Kruger said.

Kruger said when she moved into her home on Mount Holyoke Road in Upper Arlington more than 10 years ago the lawn was pretty bare, mostly grass.

"So I decided to get some river birches. Over here in the corner I have three or four river birches that have really done well over the years," Kruger said.

Kruger's "woods," as she calls it, circles her entire property. In addition to Red Maples, a mature Sycamore tree towers in the front yard. Much of its old bark lies on the ground. Kruger said her house lacks central air-conditioning and the trees offer terrific shade. And there's another plus...

"After I did this I've been getting some great birds and I started putting out some bird baths. And the past couple of years I've been getting a lot more different birds because I've been putting out birdseed as you can see," Kruger said.

Kruger's yard is, well, less than traditional for this Upper Arlington neighborhood. Most of the yards are well manicured with bright green grass. But Kruger's not alone. Her neighbor, Clyde Dilley, has natural landscaping. The aptly-named Virginia Creeper covers much of the front lawn. Along the side of the yard are varieties of prairie flowers which basically look like different kinds of daisies.

Dilley's proud to say his yard, with the exception of a few, consists only of plants native to Franklin County. One-hundred-twenty-one different species have bloomed in his yard. Yes, Dilley, keeps an alphabetized list on his computer.

"Not all have survived because all these plants are struggling with one another to dominate one another and some of them win and some of them lose. In fact while we're talking we may be able to see a hummingbird right out side the window here drawn to these trumpet vines that are in bloom right now," Dilley said.

Dilley, who's a retired Ohio State art professor and a vegetarian, said he had a traditional lawn at one time. But he said after going on some field trips with the Audubon and Nature Conservancy about a decade ago, he started to realize his lawn required lots of work and chemicals and had displaced the native flora. So he gradually started replacing the grass with native plants.

Dilley's backyard is designed to be a sanctuary for birds and butterflies. He has a bird bath year round - a built-in heater keeps it from freezing in winter. Dilley said he's spotted 77 different birds and 15 different butterflies in his yard.

"A basic lawn that you see everywhere won't do that. It won't have a large number of birds," he said.

But yards with native plants are not just for attracting birds. Dilley said he does not have to water his native plants and he lets the leaves fall as they may - they serve as fertilizer.

"With a natural landscape using native plants you don't have to water, you don't have to fertilize, you don't have to add insecticide to prevent the plant from being killed when insects start munching away," Donna Van Buecken said.

She's the executive director of Wild Ones, an organization that formed in the late 70s to promote native plants and natural landscapes.

Van Buecken said native plants' root systems go deep in the soil. She says that's where they get their water and nutrients.

"And also because the roots are so deep if there is some damage from insects or even from rabbits or deer they generally will come back because the roots themselves have not been hurt," Van Buecken said.

But these Earth-friendly yards are not necessarily neighbor-friendly.

Since 2002, neighbors have filed seven separate complaints about Dilley and Kruger's yards.

According to Upper Arlington's City Code as long as grass, weeds and plant growth are less 10 inches high the yard is OK. And there's a list of nine noxious weeds homeowners must remove from the yard including poison ivy, ragweed and milkweed.

Some of Dilley and Kruger's neighbors have complained about the property being overgrown or having weeds. In three of those cases the city found no violations. Dilley was asked to tie back his prairie flowers a couple of times. And Kruger has been asked to trim her trees.

One of the neighbors who filed a complaint lives directly across from Kruger and catty corner to Dilley. Andy Swartz said he and his wife, Margaret, stay in their backyard because they do not like to look at Kruger's yard. Margaret calls it a "jungle."

Andy said he worries about the two yard affecting his home's property value and thinks the city should do more to protect neighbor's rights, too. Home prices in this area average about $200,000.

"I know people are decorating with those tall grasses now. I mean, you know, but if it's in a well landscaped area and trimmed up it looks very attractive. But when it's just everywhere," Swartz said.

And he said he's afraid he will not see a child playing near the intersection due to the trees or prairie flowers, so he takes an alternate way out of the neighborhood.

"I drive a relatively sizable truck and I sit up high and I still can't see around the corner," he said.

But the complaints do not seem to deter Kruger or Dilley. Kruger plans to add to her "woods." And Dilley continues to enjoy the trumpet vines and the hummingbirds they attract.

"There's the hummingbird! Right now! See it?"