Birmingham woman to be arrested for wildflower garden?

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Crestwood's Verna Gates had planned on being booked and fingerprinted by Birmingham police this week for letting her wildflower garden get a little too wild.
"I guess I'm going to put my green thumb on the black ink," Gates said after receiving a notice from the city about having violated nuisance laws. Now it appears both sides may have planted seeds of reconciliation.
Gates, who has received

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Crestwood's Verna Gates had planned on being booked and fingerprinted by Birmingham police this week for letting her wildflower garden get a little too wild.

"I guess I'm going to put my green thumb on the black ink," Gates said after receiving a notice from the city about having violated nuisance laws. Now it appears both sides may have planted seeds of reconciliation.

Gates, who has received an award from the Alabama Environmental Council for her conservation work, says the city of Birmingham wants her to trim her flowers to four inches high, in many cases harming rare and endangered flowers indigenous only to this area.

Gates, a botanist and founder of an outdoor education group, Fresh Air Family, said she was notified she would have to appear in municipal court Wednesday morning after her garden had been labeled a nuisance.

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She has maintained the garden for eight years and says she has never personally received any complaints from her neighbors.

"I have no idea why this has happened," Gates said. "I have one of the more environmentally friendly yards in the city. I use no chemicals, the garden is drought tolerant. This is a model of what we should all be doing."

Cutting would affect virtually everything in her yard, she said, including her 4-foot rose bushes and rare plants such as the Alabama snow wreath, the Alabama croton and her trilliums.

"Four inches is mighty small for azaleas, or snap dragons, or pansies," she said.

However, Don Lupo of the Mayor's Office of Citizen Assistance, said the city is reacting to complaints from neighbors. Lupo said Gates has begun complying over the past few days by cutting some plants from the front yard, satisfying the initial nuisance complaint. The city will work with her on other issues, he said.

"She is trying to get into compliance, and we thank her for it," Lupo said. "We appreciate somebody who does this kind of thing, but not everything in a yard is necessarily a flower."

Ruby McGuffie lives in sight of Gates' house on Eighth Avenue South and said she thinks the yard qualifies as a nuisance, though she has never reported it to the city.

"Until recently, you couldn't walk up and down the sidewalks," said McGuffie. "When it's all growing, it's a mess. When the ragweed is going, it's hard for people to breathe, and some of those blooms put off an odor."

Still, Gates said she can't understand why her yard is being scrutinized.

"There are burglaries every other day in this neighborhood, and they're coming after my flowers," Gates said. "This is one of the 10 most dangerous cities in America. I can't imagine why growing flowers is something you'd be booked for."



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