I’ve been reading the Tulsa Code of Ordinances, not because I prefer legalese to sleeping pills, but because I am trying to figure out what on earth prompted the city to rip out Denise Morrison’s garden.
So far I can find only one report, from NewsOn6.com. (Other reports are all based on it.) It tells the story of a woman who would be an interesting neighbor. Here is what the article says about her garden, which had over 100 plant varieties before the city ripped it out:
She knows which ones will treat arthritis, which will make your food spicy, which ones keep mosquitoes away and treat bug bites, but she said none of that matter to city inspectors.
Last August, Morrison’s front and back yards were filled with flowers in bloom, lemon, stevia, garlic chives, grapes, strawberries, apple mint, spearmint, peppermint, an apple tree, walnut tree, pecan trees and much more.
They are gone now. Someone complained; the city sent her a letter. Morrison photographed her yard and asked city inspectors to come tell her what she was doing wrong. Their response was, “Everything, everything needs to go.”
She met the city in court August 15, 2011. When the judge issued a two-month delay, the city sent in the rippers, who tore out every plant over 12 inches tall — in other words, pretty much everything. You can see the before and after photos on the News 6 Web site.
It seems any plant over 12 inches has to be edible if it’s growing in a Tulsa yard. Morrison’s garden was entirely edible (or consumable since some plants were to treat her chronic conditions).
That’s why I’m puzzling over the Ordinances. I cannot figure out what prompted such radical destruction of her beloved plants. “Chapter 10. Landscape Requirements” has nothing about what can be grown. I tried “Chapter 11. Planned Unit Development” because the summary promises information about landscaping. Unfortunately, the link takes me to this message: “We’re sorry, this application has either experienced an error or the content you are looking for is not yet available.” I get the same message when I click on “Chapter 5. Urban Space Standards” and “Appendix B. Index of Land Uses.”
So I am left guessing that someone with a manicured lawn was offended by the useful sprawl of Morrison’s edible and medicinal plants. They probably also objected to the dead truck parked by her house. She has filed a civil rights lawsuit so perhaps some answers and remediation will come to her via the courts. In the meantime, she is out of plants and out of luck.
I have lived next to people whose standards for house and lawn care were different from my own. I never complained to the city, but I cannot judge the person or people who did so in this case. The facts are too sketchy.
Still, Tulsa has taken a sledge hammer to Denise Morrison’s life. For her and her plants, that seems like overkill.
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Photo 1: Thinkstock; Photo 2 of sprawling edible school yard from amdoyne via Flickr Creative Commons