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Sure, it's only a few feet wide and barely above eye level, but the hedge that separates the Slemmings from the McIvors has pushed the two neighbours worlds apart.

On one side is Ann Slemming, a trained gardener and landscaper who "doesn't believe in grooming the countryside."

On the other is Bruce McIvor, who believes a good hedge is a trimmed hedge. For three years, he's been complaining to his local township about his neighbour's "eyesore" - a cedar row mixed with numerous prairie grasses, fescues, and lilac.

"I just stare right at it and it makes me so mad," says Mr. McIvor, 61. "Good Lord! The weeds are higher than the trees."

This is more than just your classic property-line spat. The two residents of Gore's Landing, Ont., near Hamilton, represent a simmering turf war among gardening enthusiasts: natural and eco-friendly versus manicured and weed-free.

It's a battle that naturalists say they are winning, as more gardeners - and cities across Canada - recognize the environmental benefits of native plant species that don't require water, pesticides or mowing.

But they also hit a setback late last month, when news broke that Toronto resident Deborah Dale had come home to discover that her pesticide-free garden - a tiny jungle of native prairie grasses, Brown-eyed Susans and milkweed - had vanished.

It was razed by city officials after a neighbour complained that Ms. Dale's property was a blight on the neighbourhood.

"This isn't supposed to be happening any more," said Larry Lamb, an ecologist who teaches a course in natural landscaping at the University of Waterloo. "The [natural landscaping]movement is so entrenched and has been accommodated by so many municipalities. I'm really just stunned."

For years, these battles have been making their way out of neighbourhoods and into city hall and even the courts.

The first high-profile case occurred in the mid-1990s, when city officials handed east-Toronto resident Sandy Bell a $50 fine for keeping an unkempt garden. The young singer refused to pay, saying her garden was "naturalistic," not neglected.

An Ontario Court Judge ruled in 1996 that Ms. Bell had the right to garden the way she saw fit, according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Naturalists hailed the victory over what Ms. Bell once derided as: "the sterile, square, short-grass, weed-free, popsicle-tree aesthetic that we've all grown up with."

Then, in 2002, graphic artist Douglas Counter, who had planted 100 species of tall native grasses and wildflowers to the road's edge at his suburban property, tangled with city officials.

After an angry neighbour complained, the city brandished its shears, but before they could snip, Mr. Counter launched a court battle that took him all the way to the Ontario Superior Court - and won.

The Bell and Counter cases have given credibility to an environmental movement that followers say has been growing across Canada for decades.

"It's a huge movement for lots of reasons," said Carole Rubin, a British Columbia-based author of two books on natural landscaping, including the 2002 guide How to Get Your Lawn Off Grass: A North American Guide to Turning Off the Water Tap and Going Native.

"You can have your kids see butterflies and birds in your yard. You don't have to mow. You never have to water. It just makes sense ecologically."

Ms. Rubin runs courses across North America, advising gardeners on how to swap their manicured lawns in favour of white clover and prairie grasses, which can be selected so they grow only to a manageable height.

Municipalities are also jumping on board as they seek ways to alleviate or prevent water shortages and pollution.

The city of Waterloo, Ont., scrapped its bylaw requiring lawn mowing several years ago. Dozens of communities in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia have limits on pesticide use. Others, including Ottawa and Toronto, have planted native species on municipal properties - including Toronto City Hall - and encourage residents to cultivate natural gardens through education campaigns.

The movement is steamrolling so quickly, Mr. Lamb says, that "I see a day when lawns will be a [key political]issue because of the requirement for water, mowing, and pesticide use."

Which is why last month's city-sanctioned razing of Ms. Dale's front yard left so many naturalists dismayed at what they say is a major step backward.

"I'm just flabbergasted," said Ms. Dale, who is seeking $10,000 in compensation from the city for the plants, which she says took a decade to cultivate and included fragrant sumacs, giant purple hyssops and several types of milkweed.

"I'm doing exactly what the city promotes. I don't use chemicals. I don't water. I'm growing the showier species of native plants. I've stayed away from the weedier items."

But on a recent afternoon, several neighbours on her street applauded the slashing of Ms. Dale's "jungle."

They said it attracted raccoons, lowered property values and swallowed children's tennis balls. One neighbour pointed disgustedly at a raccoon carcass partly hidden under a tree beside Ms. Dale's house.

"That's not a garden," said the man, who did not want to be named.

Added his son: "It's a forest!"

In the end, the biggest challenges a natural gardener faces lie not in their own yard - but across the fence, says Ms. Rubin.

"The first thing I ask people to do when they're going to go native is talk to your neighbours," Ms. Rubin said. Bylaw officers generally only move in after a neighbour complains, she says. A little education goes a long way.

Back in Gore's Landing, Ms. Slemming, for her part, is content to let things lie. She and her husband don't interact with the McIvors any more. They've complied with an order from Hamilton Township to build a six-foot-tall fence along the outside of the hedge.

"I garden for myself," Ms. Slemming says. "I don't expect everyone to like it."