One neighborhood dispute about a lawn changed state laws about natural plantings in yards

Fascinating story in the New York Times about a Maryland couple, the Crouches, who decided to stop using pesticides on their yard, and start planting and nurturing naturally occurring plants that encourage a thriving bird and insect ecosystem.

This pissed off a nosy neighbor, who decided to start a campaign against them because he wanted them to plant a turf lawn instead. He even got the neighborhood association involved, and that association started threatening the Crouches with court action if they did not remove the indigenous plants and replace them with a conventional turf grass lawn:

For the Crouches, giving in was not an option. They hired a lawyer and contacted every wildlife and environmental group they could think of, along with local legislators. After a year and a half, still at an impasse with the homeowner association and fearful that one day they’d come home to find their garden mowed down, they filed a complaint in Howard County Circuit Court. A chief claim was that in 2011 they’d been told there was no issue with their gardens, and also that before 2017, they’d received no violations for their yard despite regular inspections.

“The overall principles are bigger than us,” Mrs. Crouch said. “We had an opportunity and even an obligation to see it through as best we could.”

Two months after the Crouches filed their complaint, a Maryland state representative asked if they would allow their case to form the basis of a new environmental law.

Maryland has contended with devastating floods — among them the 2018 submersion of Ellicott City — and mounting concerns about pesticide runoff to Chesapeake Bay. A bill was drafted that forbade homeowner associations from banning pollinator plants or rain gardens, or from requiring property owners to plant turf grass.

Dozens of states have passed legislation to promote the health of pollinators, which include bees, wasps, bats and butterflies, while some have curbed the authority of homeowner association edicts during droughts.

But the Maryland law was the first in the country to limit homeowner association control over eco-friendly yards, said Mary Catherine Cochran, former legislative director for Maryland State Delegate Terri L. Hill, a Democrat who co-sponsored the legislation. The measure gained bipartisan support, passed with near unanimity, and became law in October 2021.

“It’s a really small effort in the face of the international work that needs to be done,” said Dr. Hill, a physician. “But it’s nice that individuals in the community are able to feel that they are empowered to make a difference.”

I live on a creek, and I do not use any chemicals on my lawn, nor do I plant anything on my property that requires insecticides or any extra water beyond what plants get as rainfall.

But I watch people on my street — whose property also abuts this creek and its adjoining woods — as they dump tons of chemicals on their manicured lawns.

I don’t say anything because, well, it’s not my job to antagonize neighbors about what they do with private property. But I do wish more of them would stop with the lawns and ornamental bushes and go natural.

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