Turf War

About 10 days ago the Washington Post had an article about a fight over one couple’s right to maintain a meadow on their property, which sits within a subdivision consisting of large homes on very large lots. This is in Loudon County, Virginia, which happens to be the wealthiest county in the nation.

DSC_0196
Meadow at the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. Some people would prefer a golf course.

Mike and Sian Pugh’s 5.6 acre lot includes a 2 acre meadow that had been a cow pasture (the subdivision was built on the site of a former dairy farm). The Pughs have been adding native plants and mowing the former pasture every spring. “They love sitting on their porch and watching the butterflies, birds and deer visit,” according to the article.

Even though it was mostly hidden from view, the Homeowners Association (HOA) demanded that the meadow be mowed more frequently, severely limiting the land’s wildlife value. The HOA and the Pughs ended up in court, where the Pughs ultimately prevailed, thanks to the vagueness of the HOA rules.

HOA nirvana
HOA Nirvana

The fight isn’t over, though. The President of the HOA intends to push through stricter rules which would force the Pughs to give up their meadow. The subdivision, incidentally, is called Farmington on the Green. It sounds like the kind of place that ought to be filled with meadows. Maybe it would be more honest to call it Farmington on the Lawn.

My first reaction to this story was: what do the Pughs do with the rest of their 5.6 acres? Is it all lawn? And think of all the acres of useless turf throughout Farmington on the Green. What a waste.

I’m going to make a wild guess that HOAs like this one are full of people who love property rights and loathe regulation of all kinds. And yet, many are ready to sacrifice individual freedom on the alter of property values.

DSC_0577 front garden summer
Our front garden in July. Oh, what I would give to have 5 acres to play with.

After their tactical retreat in court, the HOA newsletter noted with sorrowful sanctimony: “The only real loser is a homeowner who has their greatest asset diminished by a noncompliant neighbor.” In other words, the “noncompliant neighbor” should really put the good of the collective ahead of his own selfish desires. This is not the philosophy found in Atlas Shrugged.

But there’s something more: do the HOA leaders really have any evidence that the Pugh’s meadow diminishes property values? The article doesn’t say, but I doubt it.

The president of the HOA hinted at another motivation when he said: “There’s a principle involved. If you have one exception, how do you hold a neighborhood to a standard?” That sounds a lot like enforcing conformity simply for its own sake. But read the article and see what you think. 

This article makes me consider our own home, and how the neighbors enjoy our front garden of unruly wildflowers. I am so glad we live in a community where a man or woman’s home is their castle, or meadow, as the case may be.

 

63 Comments on “Turf War

  1. This reminds me of my bemusement over local HOAs who ban outdoor clotheslines. Many of them profess concern for the environment, and are willing to sign every petition in sight, and yet they have no patience with people who would like to use the wind and the sun to dry their laundry. Let’s see: solar and wind power are good, but clotheslines are bad. Got it.

    • I have to wonder if it’s the same people pushing for the ban of clotheslines and signing the environmental petitions. In my experience, those would be two separate groups of homeowners in the same neighborhood.

  2. Grrrr! We told our realtor when we were looking for a house that we absolutely wouldn’t look st anything that was in an HOA, for just this reason. I really didn’t want idiots dictating to me how I was required to garden.

  3. We live in a subdivision with an HOA. We did need to get approval from the Landscape Committee when we informed them we were removing all of the lawn front, back and side of our corner lot. Our garden is now 10 years old and most of the choice trees and shrubs are mature. The garden is well known in the neighborhood and has been on garden tours.
    We are now planning to move next year. It will be difficult to leave it but we know we can do it again. We will need to downsize to a smaller lot. I hope we can find a buyer who is a gardener.

  4. If those home owners were interested in the environment in their area or of the earth they would applaud their neighbour rather than taking him to court.

  5. Years ago when we were thinking about building a house we found the perfect lot by a small lake with a few nice sized trees. When we talked to the builder he mentioned the HOA regulations. Killed the deal. We stayed in our little house with no HOA.

  6. When we were at Stone Tower winery for the DC Fling, we were in Loudoun county. This doesn’t surprise me at all. Blind conformity and total worship to the lawn gods reigns supreme around here. when I moved, I moved to an older neighborhood with no HOA. But this is less about the environment and more about power. The HOA president wants to control the homeowner and everyone else through rules that allow for no deviation. I hope the homeowner wins.

  7. Imagine the pollinators and wildlife that meadow supports! So needed in urban areas, the homeowners should be applauded and others should follow suit!

  8. I agree with everything the other commenters have said. What brickheads the HOA’s are. Lawns and the chemicals applied to them are a huge driver in the loss of so many butterflies and other valuable insects! I wish I lived next door to these folks. They sound inspirational!

  9. Brickheads is right! And what is more beautiful than a meadow filled with flowers and creatures that flutter and buzz? The needs of an individual must always be weighed against the needs of the community. Sometimes it is a tricky balance. In this case, it is not.

  10. The Lawn Police is one reason I erected a privacy fence around my backyard where I “experiment”. The front yard is more conventional.

  11. Some people don’t like what they consider untidy. Maintaining a strip of mowed lawn around an urban meadow can sometimes quiet the busybodies as they see the native plants are intentional. I know this doesn’t address inflexible HOA’s but does often keep the city off your back, or front.

  12. Your front garden looks really great, Jason! I am soo jealous!
    Here in my area instead: since April nearly no rain, much too warm for the seasons…
    It’s a disaster! Normal for Germany would be five days per summer over 30°C, now we reached about 20 days!

  13. I think this is about power – unfortunately for the rest of us, people who feel the need to control others are too often Exactly the people who go for positions like HOA President etc. … More relaxed types aren’t interested in taking on those roles just to keep the control freaks out of them which is too bad.

    The meadow owner needs to collect data on home values and the impact of wild flower meadows. I bet they’d find it’s either neutral or an asset and then they need to proactively educate their neighbors. Chances are, the HOA leader(s) are in the minority but the quieter majority is just… quiet.

    “The subdivision, incidentally, is called Farmington on the Green.” … “Maybe it would be more honest to call it Farmington on the Lawn” … or how about Lawntown or Tons of Lawn? It sounds very un-farm friendly, and very un-Green in the sense of ecologically friendly. Think of all the lawn pesticides. Give them a generation and they’ll all sport two heads.

  14. I would love to have the space for a meadow. I wonder how the rest of the homeowners feel about it. This type of situation is one of the main reasons why I have little to no interest in living where their is a HOA. I like being able to experiment with my garden.

  15. UGH. Few gardening topics make me as ragey as this one. For the love of Maude, not every flat space in this country needs to be turf or pavement. Our 3.5 acres of non-woods around the house were ALL mowed, religiously by the previous owners. I’ve spent the last 4 years winnowing it down to a mere 1/2 to 3/4 acre mowed- the rest is ‘formal’ garden and meadow just like the one in this article. I love it, the animals love it, my dog loves it, and it is a fat lot more interesting to look at than boring lawn. HOAs are the worst and our fanatical devotion to turf defies logic. I’ll get off my soapbox now, but thank you for sharing the story!

    • You’re welcome, and I enjoy a good soapbox rant, especially when I agree with it. It sounds like you’ve done a great job managing your acreage and shifting to more beneficial uses. We all profit by your work.

  16. Your garden looks amazing to both people and critters! While agreeing with what everyone else said, i also think that one should carefully review the rules of an HOA before considering purchasing a home that comes with such a thing.. If one doesn’t want to live in Stepford, don’t move there. I have enough problems keeping my jungle from breaking the city code and can’t imagine trying to fit into a ribbon-of-lawn HOA. Yikes!

    • You make a reasonable point. I have similar discussions with people who live near Wrigley Field. If you want a quiet neighborhood, don’t move next to a baseball stadium. But I do think this situation is a little different. The meadow predated the HOA and the original rules did not prohibit it (which is why the HOA withdrew their case). Now they want to write new rules which would prohibit the meadow, which seems spiteful and unfair.

  17. Interesting topic. I’ve lived for short periods twice where there were HOA. Tough to make everyone happy. I wouldn’t choose to try it a third time. 🙂 I’ve also lived near two different neighbors who decided not to mow their lawns and for several years it looked like a pasture with various rodents and wild animals going in and out and being dead in the road. I’d choose not to live next to them either. 🙂 A meadow in the back of a 5 acre yard doesn’t seem like a problem to me, but …

    • True that it’s hard to make everyone happy, but some people have unreasonable expectations. As for rodents and wild animals, we have plenty of those (rabbits, chipmunks, possums, the occasional skunk) in our garden. Fortunately no carcasses in the road!

  18. This is so sad. I’m having trouble coming up with the words to describe how I feel about it. I’m so glad our neighbors like the wild woods behind us, and that they encourage the wildlife it harbors. I can’t imagine living in a neighborhood or community where HOAs were the rule.

  19. Wow. I’m thinking of the lovely field we have out back. It’s all wild, and full of Goldenrod, Asters, and Joe Pye weed right now. I spend time out there almost every day. I’d convert most of our lawn to gardens if I had the time and we could afford it. I had no idea somebody could tell you what to do on your on property (within reason of course!).

  20. Love the ‘long view’ shot of your splendid front yard, and it’s really looking so gorgeous! I, too, read the article in the WaPo and was astounded. You’ve found a hot button topic, for sure. I’ve never had the misfortune of living in an HOA community, thank goodness. I sure hope that couple wins their battle, having paid 3/4 of a million dollars for their property!!

  21. I think your garden is spectacular and I am sure all the pollinators AGREE ! ..
    How sad is it to be held in such conformity when it truly works against nature, when we so desperately need to extend it a helping hand.
    I too have a tall privacy fence to my back garden but thankfully not because of any cause of action similar to this .. I am just a private person.
    When will the line be drawn that when responsible people that enable a natural setting to benefit humanity, takes precedence over bare bones “lawngate” ?

  22. Sadly, this is not at all uncommon. In my former neighborhood, where my ancestors have lived for generations, my neighbors instructed me on the sort of car to drive, what color to paint the home, and even the color for my bathroom (because he could see a glow from the window when I turned the light on at night).

    • The bathroom is a new one. Places like that make me want to buy an old pickup just so I can change the oil out on the street, then put it on blocks.

      • That is VERY illegal! Incidentally, Clint Eastwood owned the property across the street. He used to be notorious for driving old pickups that he liked. They were always in good condition mechanically, but were old American made pickups. It did not go over well.

  23. Hello Jason, I hope not all HOA are like this. This particular one seems to be headed by a bored person of limited imagination and common-sense imposing arbitrary and non-sensical rules for some sort of power trip.

  24. Jason, I’m catching up on blog posts… Your front lawn looks amazing. Would you be able to have the same fabulous combos with 5 acres? I sometimes yearn for a tiny plot that I can make look really good.

    The HOA behaviour is absurd. Good for the Pughs for fighting back.

    • I would need to garden full-time with a staff to help me – and even then I wouldn’t be able to garden most of the land as intensively as our 50′ x 125′ plot.

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