Meadow project plants worry for neighbours

Saanich woman fights to reclaim nature

Maleea Acker nurtures a Garry Oak meadow in her front and rear yard.

Saanich woman fights to reclaim nature

One Saanich woman is planting a few persistent seeds in the minds of local residents and the City of Saanich — but while a few people are hoping to weed her ideas out, they may be out of luck.

Maleea Acker, 36, an author and resident in Burnside/Tillicum, has spent the last few months nurturing a genuine Garry Oak meadow (or a Garry Oak ecosystem) in her own back — and front — yard. The project is, in part, for a book contract Acker received from Vancouver publisher New Star Books and, in part, for her love of Garry Oaks. The trouble comes from a few threatening neighbours who complained to the city that Acker’s efforts looked more like a severely unkempt lawn.

“I’ve grown up on the island, and the Garry Oak forests were always a part of my environment … but I didn’t get really serious about researching them until writing this book,” says Acker. “I wanted to use my space as a real example about what can be done.”

On Canada Day weekend, Acker received a notice from Saanich Bylaw ordering her to cut her grass due to possible “noxious species” growing in her yard, or be faced with the city doing it for her, but by appealing the order, she may have found her way out of tangled grass.

Acker received a visit from Saanich Manager of Environmental Services Adriane Pollard on Tuesday, July 12, who says Acker will likely be given an exception — though she still has to receive final approval from Saanich Bylaw, and Acker will also be visited by the fire department to ensure the property is not a fire hazard.

“It’s simple procedure that our notices go out as a result of complaints, giving the resident 10 days to mow their lawn. But, in this case, the restoration project is good grounds for an exception,” says Pollard. “That said, it has to be done in a way that respects the urban environment … these cases are very rare.”

Due to Saanich’s principles, which support the formation of “nature scapes,” Pollard says Acker will actually receive some help from the city in preserving her meadow, in the form of visible signage and educational notifications to neighbours. The city won’t yet allow Acker to plant Garry Oaks along the border of her boulevard without a permit, and Pollard did recommended Acker mow a one-foot boarder around the sidewalk to show intent.

“In the early stages of any project it’s a risk if neighbours don’t know what’s going on, and we encourage all people interested in creating [a nature scape] to let the city know, as well as register with Nature Scape B.C.,” says Pollard. “Once people know this is on purpose and not neglect, most will come around to even watch the results.”

While Monday was photographing Acker’s meadow, one aggressive neighbour demanded to know when she was cutting her lawn. When Acker told him she may not and proceeded to offer an explanation, the neighbour began yelling about where these said Garry Oak trees were, and then threatened to cut Acker’s lawn while she wasn’t looking.

“It’s taken some time for the grass to get long enough for people to notice, but now it’s hard because these Garry Oaks are nestled within the grass, but it’ll be months and months before they really start to grow,” Acker says. “Some people still need time to understand what’s happening here.”

Her book, with the working title Garden of Fire, is due out next spring and will comment on the special nature of the Garry Oak ecosystem, as well as the uniquely high biodiversity the meadows house.

“Garry Oak meadows, which used to cover most of Victoria and Metchosin, are now down to five per cent on the Island,” Acker says. “I used to think people should exist as quietly as possible, but these meadows have changed that — they rely on us to remove the broom, ivy and blackberry bushes that can suffocate them, and there are so many passionate people on the island, just committed to protecting them.”

Acker’s lawn resembles a quiet farm field. The grass is a local mix, interspersed with special native plants: chocolate lilies, shooting stars, nodding onion, snowberries and flowering red currents.

“Manicured lawns do nothing to encourage our native species to return, and I see this as a way of honoring what was here before us,” says Acker. “This could really be an example for the rest of the neighbourhood — I think it looks beautiful.”

Acker will host an open house on Saturday, July 23, from noon to 2 p.m. at 175 Regina Ave. For more info, contact maleeaacker@gmail.com. M

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