A GOOD SEMINAR in plant identification seems to be in order for those overzealous agents of the city's Environmental Control Board. Not only do they have problems distinguishing tomato plants from weeds (TJI, Nov. 3), but they don't seem to be hip to fruit-bearing vines and ground cover, either. In Charles Village, reports Steve Sakamoto-Wengel, several residents were cited for out-of-control "weeds" that were, in fact, plants with a purpose.
"In August, an inspector issued $50 citations to myself and several of our neighbors with regard to plants growing behind our houses," he says. "In my case, the `weeds' included a grapevine that we share with our neighbor, morning glories and Virginia creeper. My neighbors were cited for plants that anyone with a plant guide would understand are not weeds, but plants featured annually on the Charles Village Garden Walk."
Sakamoto-Wengel, who happens to be an assistant attorney general in the consumer protection division, appealed his fine to the Environmental Control Board. The hearing was 12 days ago.
"The board called all of our cases together, since five consecutive rowhouses had been cited at the same time," he says. "Richard Krummerich, the executive director of environmental control, explained to the board that we and our neighbors had an `agreement' to allow vines to grow on our common fences and to share plants where our gardens merge. So while the vines and other plants may technically violate the prohibition against plants encroaching on your neighbors' property, he didn't think it was a problem. He also said that he had spoken with the Charles Village Civic Association, which described [our] block of Guilford Avenue as one of the best in Charles Village."
And then there was the issue of one Chuck Villager's ornamental grass. Apparently, the city's environmental control regs prohibit weeds of more than 8 inches in height.
"It took several attempts before the board members understood that ornamental grass was supposed to be more than 8 inches high, that it's not something you cut, like the lawn," Sakamoto-Wengel reports. "In the end, the board decided to waive the fines, but found that we had engaged in a technical violation of the regulations and ordered all of us to get a horticulturist to explain what insects - like the butterflies hanging out on the butterfly bush and the bees pollinating the morning glories - and rodents might be attracted by our plants, a kind of horticultural group therapy."
Sounds like a horticulturist is needed, but not for the Chuckers.
As we've said before, the efforts of the environmental control agents are much-appreciated. But the focus should be first on trash, then on weeds - genuine weeds on abandoned lots and neglected back yards - and not on urban gardening.
A one-day seminar at Cylburn Arboretum on plant-weed differentiation should do the trick.
Then again, maybe not ...
The `avenue' part was right
Miriam Schoenbaum, who keeps a vegetable garden and rose bed behind her home on Remington Avenue, went before the Environmental Control Board last week to appeal a $50 fine for "tall grass and weeds throughout the property." She went armed with photographs, botanical inventories, legal definitions and letters from her neighbors. Board members compared Schoenbaum's photographs with one taken by the environmental control inspector to support the citation. "The board concluded that it was of a different property - probably 3033 Huntingdon Ave., instead of 3033 Remington Ave. Case dismissed."
Ah, well. Looks like much of the O'Malley administration - a work in progress.
Helping a family in need
Two weeks ago, we reported the death of Wendy Alexander, an up-from-welfare single mother who died of cancer, leaving six children. Co-workers at Deep Creek Middle School in Essex, where Alexander was a school assistant, have been trying to raise a little money for the family. If you're interested in helping, contact Sharon Dohony, a Deep Creek special-education teacher who helped organize the fund-raising effort, Tuesdays through Thursdays at 410-887-0112.
Chance to share the bounty
One more follow-up:
In a recent column, we mentioned Earl's Place, a transitional home for men trying to move away from homelessness and drug abuse. The 17 men residing at 1400 E. Lombard St. must keep a job, attend school or be enrolled in a treatment program. They have to remain drug- and alcohol-free, save a percentage of their income, pay a small monthly fee and help out with chores around the house. Earl's Place, operated by United Ministries Inc., is named for Earl Johnson, a homeless man who was once a regular diner at a soup kitchen of the First United Evangelical Church of Christ. He became a soup kitchen volunteer and member of First United. He drowned in 1993.
Earl's Place, like all shelters, has a wish list, and this week, as you give thanks and head for the malls, you might want to make some simple gifts: sugar, tea bags, canned goods, cereal for the pantry; sheets, blankets and pillows for twin-size beds; laundry detergent, trash bags, freezer bags, plastic wrap; and guy stuff - bath soap, shampoo, razors, shaving cream.
TJIDan@aol.com is the e-mail address for Dan Rodricks. He can also be reached at 410-332-6166, or by post at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.