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Londoner whose perennial garden was destroyed by city workers describes ‘utter shock’

London, Ont., resident Susan McKee returned home from a vacation to find her 20-year-old pollinator garden destroyed. Neighbours had allegedly seen city staff members cut down the various perennial wildflowers while she was out of town, according to McKee. Robin McKee (supplied)

After leaving for a summer vacation earlier this month, Susan McKee returned to her London, Ont., home to find the perennial garden she’d been tending for some 20 years had been weed-whacked to within an inch of the ground.

“I was in utter shock and disappointment,” McKee said, recalling the last two decades she’d spent maintaining the property. “What was so wrong?”

According to McKee, neighbours said they had seen city staff members cut down the various perennial wildflowers in her front yard and on the boulevard while she was out of town.

McKee, initially believing her property had been vandalized, described a troubling experience in trying to contact the city.

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“They basically ignored me and like for a week,” she said. “They just wouldn’t answer the phone.”

McKee reached out to her local ward counselor who suggested she try contacting the bylaw officer in charge.

“After that call went to voicemail, I called one more time and they said ‘Susan, if you call here again, we’re going to call the police,’” she explained.

McKee later received a $125 bylaw ticket.

“The only information I received from the city was that it was based on a complaint from last year and again this year,” McKee added.

A photo of Susan McKee’s 20-year-old perennial garden before it was chopped down by the City of London.
A photo of Susan McKee’s 20-year-old perennial garden before it was chopped down by the City of London. Robin McKee (supplied)

According to McKee, she had spoken with a city employee last year after one of her neighbours called to complain about her “wild garden.” After answering some of their questions, she said that the city employee seemed satisfied with her answers as there had been no further discussions or problems since.

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“(But) this year, the city trespassed on her property, and slaughtered all of her flowers,” wrote McKee’s daughter, Robin McKee, in an email to Global News.

Click to play video: 'Gardening 101: How to create your own “Pollinator Patch”'
Gardening 101: How to create your own “Pollinator Patch”

In a statement to Global News, the city said that they are not able to speak about specific bylaw contraventions and that “the city does have a clearly defined process when we receive a complaint, which includes notification to the property owner.”

However, McKee said she never received any advanced notice that her garden would be cut down.

“I checked my mailbox two or three times, and nothing was ever there,” she said. “I did end up talking to a bylaw officer and he told me that the reason they didn’t give any paperwork is because there was the complaint filed last year,” McKee added, referencing the previous conversation she’d had with a city employee.

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The city said, within their statement, that all yard complaints go through a clearly defined process in accordance with the Weed Control Act. However, the city did not clarify if McKee’s yard ran against the Act.

“They hacked down hundreds of wild and domestic flowers – food for all pollinators, including the endangered Monarch Butterfly,” Robin McKee said in an email.

Included in those chopped down were more than thirty milkweed stems, a common hosting plant for monarch caterpillars.

A monarch butterfly rests on one of Susan McKee’s flowers in her 20-year-old pollinator garden in Spring 2022, before the plants were taken down by city workers in July.
A monarch butterfly rests on one of Susan McKee’s flowers in her 20-year-old pollinator garden in Spring 2022, before the plants were taken down by city workers in July. Robin McKee (supplied)

Jeremy McNeil, a professor in the department of biology at Western University, said that several decades ago milkweed was considered an “agricultural pest.”

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“It was declared a weed and there were active programs designed to eliminate milkweed,” he explained. “I would argue now that possibly the destruction of habitat, where there were wildflowers and lots of things that were available for them, has taken its effects.”

Recently, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature added the migratory monarch butterfly to the ‘Red List’ of threatened species—an international comprehensive list of the global conservation status of biological species.

In 2016, the monarch butterfly was classified as endangered in Canada according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife.

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McNeil said that local communities should start thinking about maintaining biodiversity, commenting on the news of McKee’s pollinator garden being destroyed.

“If more people planted nectar sources, it would help a lot of birds and insects directly or indirectly,” McNeil said. “It’s a very small contribution, but it’s one thing that will cope with one aspect of the very complicated problem.”

McKee added that days before her garden was torn down, some neighbours collected caterpillar eggs for their young children to learn and take care of.

McKee said that while on a fixed income, she hopes to someday rebuild her garden so it can not only become a home for passing pollinators, but an educational tool for all.

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