Christine and Jerry Schultz would like to see their home on the cover of House Beautiful. Kathleen and Carroll Johnson fancy theirs couldqualify for the cover of Audubon.
Trouble is, these two Sunset Knoll families live next door to each other and have trouble toleratingeach other's ways.
"That property depreciates the value of the entire area significantly. It's OK to have forest if it's in a natural area, but this is residential," said Jerry Schultz, visibly proud of the deck, swimming pool and immaculately trimmed lawn and other "improvements" to his property.
Predictably, Kathleen Smith-Johnson, a former secretary ofthe Anne Arundel County Chapter of the Sierra Club, disagrees with that assessment.
"I've been nurturing these plants for 5 years. These are my babies and they're calling them weeds," she said, proud of the wildflowers, hummingbirds, Queen Anne's Lace, Poke Berries and rabbits that can be found in her yard.
Smith-Johnson, seeking maximum protection for wildlife and the best possible drainage for the Chesapeake Bay, joined the Department of Natural Resources' Wild Acres program this year for advice on how to develop her quarter-acre lot.
The program recommends laying dead-wood and twigs around the property to harbor snakes, birds and rodents.
The Schultzes, saying they want to be protected from rats and retain the highest possible property values for their land, have gone to the county Health Department and Office of Law.
The Health Department, citing "potential rodent harborage," ordered Smith-Johnson to bundle up her sticks and store them on her driveway.
After issuing a $25 fine and an unheeded warning to mow the lawn Aug. 5, the county filed a lawsuit last week against the naturalists for violating the Grass, Weeds and Rank Vegetation ordinance by allowing grasses and noxious weeds to grow over 12 inches.
"How does the county get these laws passed that say you can not grow a blade of grass above 12 inches," asked an incredulous Smith-Johnson.
A trial is scheduled for Oct. 21 in District Court in Glen Burnie.
The county attorney prosecuting the case is unmoved by Smith-Johnson's claims that the laws of nature take precedence over the county code.
"I can't do less than prosecute this to the extentof the law. She has posted no trespassing signs up, or we would havehad a contractor go in and mow the grass already and have the bill for services added to her property taxes," said Senior Assistant County Attorney Robert Pollock.
"If she thinks the law is wrong, she should try to change it in the legislature or find it unconstitutional.I have witnesses from public works and the health department who I believe can establish that she is in violation of the code," Pollock said.
To his knowledge, Anne Arundel County vs. Smith-Johnson wouldbe the first test of the county's weed laws.
Glenn Therres, who administers DNR's Wild Acres program, said it does not protect its members from local laws.
"We're not always in agreement with local laws, but it is their jurisdiction. Grass cutting is the most controversial point of disagreement right now," Therres said.
"American society is geared toward things being mowed and looking clean. When people come across a dead tree they complain, even though it belongs and is an important part of nature.
"We ask people to take their neighbors into consideration and work things out with them," Therres said.
But the Schultzes and Johnson families are not talking. They havefiled criminal vandalism and assault charges against each other after a tug-of-war incident with a fence on the property line that both parties claim to own.
Both parties, who have been in court several times over similar incidents, videotaped the minor struggle.
The Schultzes were detaching a fence from a pole on their property while Smith-Johnson watched. At one point, Christine Schultz pulled the fence that she claims is owned by her daughter toward her. Smith-Johnson pulled back, and claims to have been injured on her hand.
Later, off-camera, Smith-Johnson allegedly slapped the Schultz's grown daughter, Kim, in the face.