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The Globe and Mail

One neighbour's garden is another neighbour's blight

When Sara St. Vincent looks at the tangle of yellow kale flowers swaying in her front yard, she sees a nutritious vegetable, soon to be part of her dinner plate. What her neighbour, Ken Dyck, sees are unsightly weeds, eating away at his property values.

A messy urban conflict has erupted on a quiet east Vancouver street, pitting a lawn-loving homeowner against a group of young counterculture renters who've turned their front and backyards into vegetable crops.

Mr. Dyck has complained to the City of Vancouver, saying the garden is an eyesore and nuisance. Last summer, the metre-high weeds crept onto his lawn, reducing his bungalow's property value, he says.

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But Ms. St. Vincent said she and her housemates planted the ambitious garden as a way to live ecologically ethical lives. They've dubbed the tiny bungalow The Farmhouse and have a lively blog that charts its progress. A front-door sign welcomes visitors and urges them to live "consciously."

"It's super-rewarding to put your hands in the earth," Ms. St. Vincent said, nibbling a leaf of homegrown arugula during a backyard tour. Ms. St. Vincent and housemate Ander Gates spent hundreds of hours researching, planning and planting about two dozen vegetable, herb and berry plants. The goal: to feed their house of five and maybe others too if their crops are successful.

"It makes me feel like I'm putting something back into the earth, making a contribution - not just consuming," Ms. St. Vincent said.

Caught in the middle of the conflict are staff and politicians in a city with a bright green agenda, which has encouraged homeowners to rethink their old-school lawn and garden habits.

City initiatives have urged homeowners to avoid pesticides, leave their grass clippings on the lawn and even tear up portions of their grass and plant vegetables and flowers instead.

The Farmhouse, a tiny 1940s-era white bungalow, does stand out on the eastside street. Nearly every house has a tidy, manicured lawn, many framed by a row of spring perennials. The Farmhouse yard has a wild, unkempt look, but on close inspection, the garden beds are carefully maintained.

Mr. Dyck said the yard is an eyesore. In the summer, dandelions and other weeds grow like wildfire, spreading to his property. "Why do I have to put up with it?" he said.

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He complained twice to city hall, citing a bylaw that requires occupants to keep their premises tidy.

The city responded by warning the Farmhouse tenants to clean up the front and backyards, remove the mulch and debris and take out the plants from the patch of boulevard beyond the front sidewalk, which is owned by the city. If not, a landscaper would be called to clean out the yard at the landlord's expense.

The occupants spent last weekend weeding and cleaning the yards.

The effort was noted at city hall. Barb Windsor, assistant director of licensing and inspections, said the house looks far better now than a month ago when Mr. Dyck first complained.

As long as the occupants keep the yard tidy, the city will withdraw its previous orders. Ms. Windsor said the city encourages these gardening initiatives and hopes the two neighbours work out their dispute.

"The city fully supports the vegetation and garden," she said. "Neighbours just need to respect one another … and work together."

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