For the first time, a prairie-style native plant gardener got the City of Chicago to back off a $600 fine for “uncut weeds”.

Cup Plant, Silphium perfoliatum
Cup Plant

The violation was issued in September of last year, and the fine withdrawn by a city hearing officer in December. The background story, by Margaret Tazioli, appeared recently in the online journal Block Clubs Chicago

The gardeners in question, retirees Pete and Noreen Czosnyka, were growing prairie plants with big personalities on their tiny city lot, including Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum), Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum), and Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii).

Joe Pye Weed
Joe Pye Weed at its peak.

Ironically, the Czosnykas were given their native plants free by the Chicago Department of Environment. (What’s that about the left hand not knowing about the right?)

Prevailing in court required considerable effort by the Czosnykas. They had to get an attorney. They had to pay for documentation showing that their garden was not infested with rats. (Why do so many people think that prairie-style gardens are full of rats? The city inspector simply made this assumption without seeing any actual rodents of any kind.)

DSC_0577 front garden summer
Our front yard at Garden in a City, in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. No doubt some city inspector would like to fine us for “uncut weeds”. But maybe now they won’t, thanks to the Czosnykas.

Also, they demonstrated that prairie plants have value in the sense that people pay actual money for them. Finally, the Czosnykas testified that their garden was carefully maintained – cut back, deadheaded, weeded, etc.

chicago seal

Let’s hope that the City of Chicago inspectors will learn a lesson from this, and that other gardeners will not require a day in court to save their native plants. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that Chicago’s official motto is Urbs in Horto – city in a garden.

55 Comments on “Breakthrough for Chicago Native Plant Gardeners”

      • We believe that there is an element of political retaliation involved. When we were in administrative law court, all of the other tickets had addresses from the south and west sides of the city. The south and west sides in the segregated Chicago are relatively poor and predominantly minority, so a ticket on the northwest side was odd. There are many private gardens and the City Dept of Transportation has started planting natives on street improvements including a street two blocks from home. third, the inspector who issued the ticket has a documented record of being involved in political retaliation schemes.

    • There is a group of people working to change Chicago’s weed ordinance. Fines were raised to $600 in Rahm Emanuel’s administration. When we were in court, we heard the Administrative Law court official read off addresses, predominantly on the less well off south and west sides of the City. no one showed up for those tickets, the fines were assessed and the owners would also be liable for accrued interest and penalties for non-payment. Some say this is a way to force poor people out of single family homes in the City. We are fighting that, too.

      • I didn’t know that the fine had been increased under Rahm, but somehow I am not surprised. Does the group you’re working with have a facebook page, newsletter, etc? I’d like to follow what they are doing and maybe help out if possible.

      • No Facebook page just people who were already involved when the story of my ticket came up. People like Kathy Cummings who got an award for Best Native Planting Garden from Mayor Daley and then a $600 ticket for the same garden from Mayor Rahm.

  1. It blows my mind that anyone, from neighbors to officials, should think they have a right to interfere with a gardener. I’m happy to learn of their success, but it makes me uneasy about my own garden. I know there is a squad of middle aged nosey parkers that prowl my neighborhood, keeping an eye on grass height and paint condition on garages. Hmph.
    Your garden is a shining example for all of us. It is beautiful.

  2. That story definitely deserves a “What the heck!” What the heck! There’s a new saying popping around the Internet, and it applies to various people, especially those at the very top: Even duct tape can’t cure stupid. However, sounds like stupid got a punch in the gut. May those prairie plants grow tall and high.

    • We have a path and a bird bath in the garden. We think the combination of a vague ordinance and political retaliation was the cause of the ticket. First planted in 2011 and there was never a problem until the Alderman currently in office showed up.

  3. Gads! I remember this. It made me so angry. I got complaints from a neighbor that my vegetable garden was feeding rats too. It was weird. I mean, it was really weird. I have enough to be concerned about in my own garden without looking over the fence to see what my neighbors are up to.

  4. I’m very glad the Czosnykas won as it helps set a precedent and demonstrates that common sense can prevail, sometimes. The whole issue looks to be part “jobsworth”, dated rules and part a horticultural training issue. Perhaps the city department should hire them to deal with the latter?

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