By Becky Mickel
Lexington residents Don and Mary Faulkner don’t grow grass in their front yard, and they don’t grow flowers: They grow weeds.
The Faulkners left their organic farm in Vermont three years ago, trading in grass farming and horse plowing for a “woodscaped” front yard with mulch, logs and native plants.
Don Faulkner attended the Lexington City Council meeting March 15 with concerns about the city’s revised yard maintenance ordinance. The new ordinance prevents private property from having grass – and weeds – that exceed 10 inches in height.
The previous ordinance allowed 15-inch lawns, but Capt. Bucky Miller of the Lexington Police Department told City Council earlier this year that 15-inch weeds create an eyesore.
“There’s a difference between a yard going to a natural state, and a yard being a jungle,” Miller said.
Don Faulkner said weeds have medicinal value and shouldn’t be considered “debris,” as the ordinance reads.
The Faulkners cook dandelion, mustard and plantain weeds from their front yard.
“Onions and bacon make anything taste good,” Mary Faulkner said.
The Faulkners don’t grow grass because it needs fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that harm weeds and contaminate local waterways.
Other Lexington residents see the issue differently. They told City Council that overgrown lawns attract mosquitoes.
But insects don’t bother Margaret Kirkby, whose home on Overhill Drive in Lexington is surrounded by Woods Creek, pine trees and native plants.
“People say if you want yards like this, you should move to the county,” Kirkby said.
Kirkby’s backyard is certified as a wildlife habitat. The National Wildlife Federation certifies yards that have water, food, shelter and a place for animals to raise young.
Waddell Elementary School and at least five other yards in Lexington are habitat certified.
Kirkby told the City Council the ordinance should allow wildlife yards, woodlots, meadows and native grasses to be taller than 10 inches. Riparian buffers — land within 25 feet of waterways — should also be exempt from the ordinance because buffers prevent erosion, she said.
Kirkby, a Lexington Planning Commission member, proposed these exemptions at a Physical Services Committee meeting last fall.
Neighbors can report overgrown lawns to the Lexington Police Department. There is no fine, but the ordinance requires homeowners to mow their lawn within 10 days of a citation.
If residents don’t mow, then the city hires a mower and sends a bill to the property owner, Vice Mayor Bob Lera said.
Miller said several residents complained about two overgrown yards in Lexington last year, but most complaints are about vacant and foreclosed homes, where no one is responsible for mowing.
Lera said the change from 15-inch to 10-inch lawns is the only permanent revision in the ordinance and is already in effect.
Other ordinance exemptions will be discussed at a future City Council work session, he said.
“There are issues about what’s considered a weed and what isn’t,” Lera said, “and how to make a distinction with what’s overgrown.”