A homeowner in Arlington’s Forest Glen neighborhood says she plans to fight a county inspector’s order that the abundant plant life in her yard be dramatically trimmed.
Lori Brent says her front yard at 665 S. Harrison Street has been a certified wildlife habitat for well over a decade and is beloved by many of her neighbors.
But it was a complaint from a neighbor earlier this year that prompted a county inspector to pay her a visit.
“I found it really weird because I’ve lived here for 15 years and everyone loves my yard,” she said.
Acknowledging that her garden had become “a little overgrown” after she had been away for three weeks, Brent said a “very adversarial” inspector stopped by, called the yard “a jungle” and said “you’ll be getting a letter from us.”
According to Brent, the letter ordered her to trim all of the plant life, even bushes and trees (the county disputes that), to a height of 12 inches. A follow-up inspection, to ensure her compliance, is scheduled for tomorrow (Friday).
Brent, however, said she has trimmed all that she intends to trim, making the yard — which now include Halloween decorations — look “more like a proper garden,” even if it might not meet the letter of the law.
“I cut more than I’d like to… in good faith, to be a good neighbor,” Brent said. “It kills me to get rid of the food sources for the animals before the winter. We can’t have just grass, that’s horrible for wildlife.”
“I flat out refuse” to do more trimming, said Brent. “Frankly it’s against my religion, I’m Pagan. You can’t get me to rid our animal habits and put in cement or whatever they want.”
Arlington County officials, as you might imagine, have a bit of a different story.
“Although, it is not our practice to discuss the details of active enforcement cases, I’d like to provide clarity regarding the issues generated at this particular property,” said Gary Greene, Code Enforcement Section Chief for the county’s Inspection Services Division, via email.
“In 1988, the Commonwealth enabled localities to adopt an ordinance to deal with nuisance conditions like excessive vegetation overgrowth and vegetation that encroaches upon sidewalks and streets,” he wrote. “Where adopted, the legislation has been effective in reducing the nuisances and public health hazards created by biting, stinging and jumping insects, increased pollen litter and harborage for rodents and the vast number of predators that prey on them.”
“Arlington’s Condition of Private Property Ordinance limits the height of grass or lawn areas to not more than 12 inch height, a limit consistent with international standards used to control vector related pest issues,” Greene added. “Our investigation of the complaint at the address provided, affirmed overgrowth in excess of five feet, vegetation encroaching onto the sidewalk and even extended onto county property immediately adjacent to the private parcel.”
Long story short: Brent’s personal Garden of Eden could be an inviting home for a bunch of bad critters, and that’s why the county is on her case.
“The enforcement is not arbitrary or onerous, but it is equitable to ensure public health; and yes, there are considerations for cultivated areas,” said Greene. (Similar enforcement has taken place elsewhere in the county.)
“The County’s issue is public health, not manicured lawns,” he said.
Brent, for her part, is left to wonder why the enforcement is taking place now, even though her yard has been chock full of vegetation for a decade. As far as wildlife, she said the yard is primarily home to chipmunks, rabbits and birds — critters that aren’t going to harm humans.
“My neighbors are all up in arms, they’re so upset,” Brent said. “The situation has been surreal to say the least.”
Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.
“In the past few years, I got my Master Gardener certification and I began helping friends and family with their gardens,” Carpenter said. “At some point, people started telling me that I should do this for a living, and at first I just chuckled at the idea, but eventually I allowed the idea to percolate and I decided there was merit to it.”
And so Carpenter founded Sprout, an Arlington startup that helps other Arlingtonians realize their dreams of the perfect backyard garden. But simple gardening isn’t the only purpose on Carpenter’s radar.
“As a business woman who also strives to serve a higher purpose with my life, it was important to me to structure Sprout as a benefit corporation,” Carpenter said. “This means that we’re a for-profit business with a mission to make a positive social impact. We have a triple bottom line — that means that we measure our success not just by profit, but [also] by our impact on people and planet as well.”
Sprout’s most popular offering is its backyard organic vegetable garden service.
“There are so many people who want to grow their own organic veggies and herbs, but they either don’t have the time or the know-how to do it themselves,” Carpenter said. This leads them to Sprout. “We build the beds, amend the soil, create a garden map, and sow the plants. We then come back once a month for six months to make sure the garden is thriving, and to transfer our knowledge to our clients.”
Each garden is custom-made, depending on the size, space and other factors. In addition, Carpenter said Sprout will work with clients to ensure that the services work within their budget. The company also offers coaching for people who want to do the labor themselves.
In fact, the company’s goal is to help customers feel comfortable growing their own produce, with the hope that they eventually become independent in their gardening endeavors, Carpenter said.
“We believe that the more people who grow and eat local organic produce, the healthier our community and the Earth will be,” she added.
Other services that Sprout offers include corporate services and cooking parties for individuals. And even more offerings are on the horizon.
“We’re testing several new revenue streams, which will help Sprout to grow beyond the DC area and to develop a national presence,” Carpenter said. “Our goal is to become the first national garden-to-kitchen consumer brand, so we’re actively and strategically pursuing options to make that happen,” including online education, mobile applications and products. “We’re very excited about the possibilities, and we’re looking forward to talking with potential partners and investors in the near future to help us scale the Sprout brand,” she added.
But as the company grows, Carpenter says it will continue to stay true to its roots.
“Arlington provides the perfect client base for Sprout — there is an intense clustering of people who understand the importance of healthy living, and they want to eat local/organic, but they don’t have a lot of space or time to grow their own organic food,” she said, adding, “This is our ideal audience, so we’ve found a wonderful base of clients here.
“I couldn’t imagine basing Sprout anywhere else, and I intend to keep Sprout headquartered in Arlington even as we grow to become a national brand.”
A garden in front of a Columbia Forest home is center of a debate between the county’s Department of Environmental Services and a local resident.
Maraea Harris created a Change.org petition to save her garden, which is planted on a hellstrip, the piece of land between a sidewalk and the road. It all started when a county official told Harris to remove the garden because it violated the county’s weed ordinance due to the plants’ heights, she said.
“Rather than work with me to create a workable solution while maintaining the environmental value and beauty of the space, the only option I was given was to make it grass or mulch,” Harris said on the petition.
Harris appealed the county’s decision. Yesterday, someone in the county manager’s office informed her that the county will postpone the removal of the garden until it can discuss the case internally, she said.
The county reached out to Harris after receiving a complaint that the garden made the sidewalk — located along a dead end portion of S. Buchanan Street — inaccessible for handicapped people, said Luis Araya, a county official with the Department of Environmental Services.
“A DES inspector contacted the owner of the residence and asked them to remove these items from the public street right-of-way as they created a hazard to public safety and were unauthorized use of the public right-of-way,” Araya said. “The county does not allow such uses to the public.”
According to the Arlington County Garbage, Refuse and Weed Ordinance, weeds and grass have to be one foot tall or less. The ordinance does not specifically mention whether flowers can be planted in the public right of way.
“The purpose of grass strips that exist between the curb and sidewalk on public streets are to accommodate street lights, water meters, street signs and other infrastructure-associated items maintained by the County and private utility companies,” Araya said.
Residents must also keep all vegetation off of sidewalk and the road in order to prevent safety hazards. Harris’ garden was becoming dangerous, Araya said.
“There are many potential safety hazards that the public can encounter in unauthorized landscaped areas in the public right-of-way such as tripping hazards, visibility issues for vehicles, narrower sidewalks limiting the width of ADA clearances for wheelchairs and, in this particular location, bee stings,” he said.
Harris said that she had no problem adjusting her garden to make the sidewalk more handicap accessible. However, she did not want to completely remove the garden, which brings butterflies and other insects to the neighborhood.
“It is a small space but there is more life in the 4 x 20 ft. space than all the neighborhood grass lawns combined,” she said on the petition.
Despite the one complaint from a neighbor, Harris said most people on S. Buchanan Street enjoy the garden. As of today, 53 people had signed the petition for the garden, including some of Harris’ neighbors.
“They like to have it because their kids walk by it to what’s in it and what’s growing,” she said.
As a gardener, Harris said it is frustrating that the county has many pollination and environmental efforts, but they want to mow over her garden hellstrip garden and others like it. Helping residents understand the guidelines and working toward a compromise over the hellstrips would be more beneficial, she said.
“Instead of coming after them, why not support them?” Harris said.
Pasha Cafe Changes Name — Pasha Cafe, at 3911 Lee Highway, has changed its name to Bistro 29. Owner Bill Hamrock tells ARLnow.com that “75% of the menu is the same,” but there have been some changes. “Some of our new items include: Fried Green Tomatoes, Shrimp ‘Tempura,’ Shrimp and Crab Potstickers, Bacon Wrapped Scallops, Balsamic Glazed Chicken and a Grilled Chicken Salad with Fried Brie and Mango Buttermilk Vinaigrette.” [Bistro 29]
Cigar Connection Closes — The Cigar Connection store across from the Ballston Metro station has closed after 12 years in business. [Facebook]
Garden Tool Lending Starts Wednesday — Arlington Public Library will restart its garden tool lending program for the season tomorrow, March 11. The program allows Arlington County residents with a library card to borrow gardening tools from Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street). The library says it’s the only such program in the D.C. region. [Arlington Public Library]
Celebrity Spotting in Ballston — Dancing With the Stars champion Julianne Hough and her boyfriend, Washington Capitals center Brooks Laich, were spotted grabbing a bite to eat at A-Town Bar and Grill in Ballston over the weekend. We’re told the couple arrived after the Caps beat the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night.
Arlington Startup Gets Acquired — Veenome, an Arlington-based tech startup, has been acquired by New York-based Integral Ad Science. Veenome’s software analyzes video content on web sites on behalf of advertisers. [Washington Business Journal]
Police Pose for Breakfast Club Scene — Five Arlington County school resource officers recreated an iconic scene from the movie The Breakfast Club, as part of a recruiting campaign for the police department. [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
The community garden on S. Four Mile Run Drive will grow by almost 10,000 square feet, giving space for 40 new gardeners to grow herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers.
The Arlington County Board unanimously approved the garden’s expansion, entering into agreements with the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority — which owns the land — and Dominion Power, which runs power lines above where the garden expansion will be.
“What a great example of thinking outside the box to find solutions,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a press release. “This is a win-win for everyone. Not only will the County be able to provide more garden plots, the space is currently overrun with invasive plants, which will be removed when the garden is built by Parks and Recreation staff.”
The expansion will tack on 9,900 square feet to the garden, which is directly adjacent to the W&OD Trail, and across the street from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The garden will be on the NVRPA’s land, and as part of the agreement, if the park authority deems it needs the space, or the garden is encroaching too much on trail users, it can terminate the agreement with 60 days’ notice. The county is responsible for maintaining the garden, and the gardens are each run by a community association and an appointed “chief gardener.”
The expansion will add space to help whittle down the ever-expanding waiting list of gardeners hoping to use county space to grow their plants, a recommendation of the Urban Agriculture Task Force. According to the county, there are about 350 people on waiting lists for plots and half-plots of space at one of Arlington’s seven community gardens.
One plot costs $60 a year with water and $50 without water. The expansion will bring the total number of plots in county gardens to 265. Full 20-foot-by-20-foot plots are given on a first-come, first-served basis, and those interested in joining the waiting list can apply online.
Election Day in Arlington — Voting started at 6:00 a.m. this morning and will continue through 7:00 p.m. There are 52 voting precincts in Arlington. Virginia voters must provide a photo ID when they go to the polls. [Arlington County]
State Honors for Pike Affordable Housing — Arlington County has won two state awards for its plan to preserve affordable housing along Columbia Pike. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe lauded the county’s affordable housing and transit plan for the Pike. “Arlington’s Columbia Pike Planning Initiative provides a vision for transforming the Pike by improving transit, preserving affordable housing and creating great public spaces,” McAuliffe said in a press release. “At the heart of this plan is a modern streetcar that will spur high-quality development along this vital corridor and generate new tax revenues for Arlington, Fairfax and the Commonwealth.” [Arlington County]
Local Singer Wins ‘Arlington’s Got Talent’ — Teague del la Plaine, a local singer, won the annual Arlington’s Got Talent competition last week. Travis Tucker, a pop-funk and R&B singer, placed second and Euphonism, an a cappella group, placed third. [Leadership Arlington, InsideNova]
Growing Season Is Over — There will be no more frost advisories and freeze warnings this year. The National Weather Service has officially declared the growing season over for the D.C. area. [National Weather Service]
Photo courtesy @dcaman
The three winners out of 16 entries to Rock Spring Garden Club’s 2014″Garden of the Year” were announced last week. The winners, pictured above, mix natural beauty with sustainability in their backyard gardens.
“We are so thrilled to win!” first place gardener Mary Jennings told ARLnow.com. “I love that the garden gets some exposure and might encourage others to think of big ways to transform our Arlington outdoor living spaces to be enjoyable and conservation-minded.”
Jennings, a gardener for 20 years and art teacher at Salamander Resort in Middleburg, has an underground rain water collector in her garden. She said her husband installed the rain garden because it catches overflow from their koi pond and keeps water away from their home with a series of buried downspouts.
Susan Murnane, the second place winner and director of training for the AIG’s environmental division, also re-purposed items to create a greener garden. Murnane said she reused bulbs and stone slabs found in the lot undergoing construction behind her house.
“I remember as a little kid making clover tiaras or crowns and now we live in a world where you can’t step in the grass,” said Murnane, who plans to certify her garden as a monarch waystation.
Although none of the three winners are official Rock Spring Garden Club members, each said they appreciated the recognition and camaraderie.
“I might take one Thursday off a month and go to a meeting for people whose finger nails look like mine,” joked Murnane.
Judy and Raoul Wientzen, the third place winners, utilize rain water in their garden as well. The rain water collects in a re-purposed barrel from when Raoul made his own wine, and they use it to water their plants and vegetables, according to Judy.
“We were delighted to win third place,” Judy Wientzen told ARLnow.com in an email. Wientzen, an interior designer for Bevacqua/Wientzen Associates, said she enjoys the seclusion of her garden created by the mature azaleas and oak trees. But she has more avant-garde plant life in mind for future competitions.
“All the plantings, while pretty, are pretty standard items,” said Wientzen of her garden. “We hope to add in some specimens that are a bit more unusual in the future.”
Earth Day apparently isn’t just for humans. The animals at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (2650 Arlington Mill Drive) in Shirlington will be getting a special treat in recognition of the day.
Girl Scout Troop 1251 from Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church has been helping to construct a “small companion animal garden” at the shelter. Animals at the shelter including rabbits, guinea pigs and birds will soon be able to munch on the fresh, organic produce that will be grown in the garden.
The scouts will put the final touches on the garden on Monday, which is Earth Day. At that time, they will finish planting the produce such as cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, parsley and carrots.
The event was to include “docent led tours, potting stations for your own rose rootings, poetry readings, cookies and lemonade” at the garden, which contains some 2,000 roses. Instead, the event was called off last week because of a midge infestation that decimated most of the rose buds before they had a chance to reveal their fall blooms.
“The reason for lack of bloom was due to an insect (i.e. midge),” Arlington County Environmental Landscape Supervisor Patrick Wegeng said in an email. “We found the midge’s work approximately three weeks ago. We sprayed last week to halt the infestation… It has been determined however that most bloom will not recover this season.”
“According to staff that have worked in the rose garden for numerous years, midge infestations have occurred before within the garden,” Wegeng added. He said the rose plants are in good shape and should have a full bloom this coming spring.
“We had a terrific season until this insect started eating the buds,” Wegeng said.
In place of the public event, the Arlington Rose Foundation — which helps support the rose garden — will instead be holding smaller gathering at a private residence in Reston.
The Gangs of Arlington — As of 2011 there were 10 active street gangs in Arlington. According to a speaker at a panel discussion held earlier this week, the gangs often try to recruit youths who have recently immigrated to the country. Arlington, however, has an extensive gang prevention program that limits the influence of gangs within the county. [Washington Examiner]
National Drug Take-Back Day — The Arlington County Police Department will be participating in National Drug Take-Back Day next weekend. From 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, police will be collecting “expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs” — no questions asked — in an effort to prevent possible abuse and theft. Collection stations will be set up at fire stations 1, 8 and 9. [Arlington County Police]
Earth Day Twitter Chat Today — The Arlington County Department of Environmental Services is hosting a live Twitter chat on the topic of “green gardening” from noon to 1:00 p.m. today. “Join us and get answers to all of your questions related to landscaping and lawn care, native plants, and water conservation,” the county said in an email. One participant who submits a question will be randomly selected to receive a free rain barrel. [Facebook, Twitter]
A variety of volunteer opportunities exist throughout the county, but a few might be considered plain fun instead of work. One of them involves being an actor and another involves gardening. Check out the details below. More information about these opportunities and others can be found on the Volunteer Arlington website.
- Arlington’s Medical Reserve Corps seeks volunteers to be actors in an emergency response drill on Saturday, April 28. The drill will test the current point of dispensing plans for oral antibiotics given to the public in case of an aerosolized anthrax attack. No experience is necessary. Volunteers will receive an hour of training, then participate in the drill as actors for one hour. Contact Grelia Soliz at (703) 228-0711.
- Clarendon Presbyterian Church is looking for volunteers to be gardeners for its Plot Against Hunger program. Two plant beds are being built along the Jackson St side of the building to grow vegetables, which will be donated to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). Help is needed for a variety of responsibilities that include set up, gardening and delivery of the food to AFAC. Volunteers will complete a short training session. Contact Gillian Burgess at (646) 284-8894.
- The USO of Metropolitan Washington seeks helpers at Ft. Myer. Volunteers will assist military service members, military dependents, military reservists, National Guard and military retirees who use the USO Lounge at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Volunteers will provide courteous service to guests while answering questions, managing DVD and video game check out, keeping the lounge neat, brewing coffee and replenishing snacks. Occasionally, volunteers will help with USO events in the Lounge. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and have a valid U.S. identification. Access to a computer is preferred. Volunteers are required to attend an orientation. Contact Emily Urban at (703) 696-0958.
Linden Resources (formerly SOC Enterprises) is looking for a few good gardeners.
The non-profit, located at 750 S. 23rd Street near Crystal City, is seeking volunteers who enjoy gardening to help jump start the Linden Gardening Program.
“Volunteers will help to plant and cultivate plants using our greenhouse, plan and plant our outdoor vegetable gardens, provide weekly maintenance and weeding throughout the Summer months, and provide staff and the people with disabilities that we serve with gardening instruction and guidance,” the group said in an email. “If you are interested, please contact Amanda Chenkin at 703-521-4441 or [email protected]”
Founded in 1959, Linden provides jobs, job placement and vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities.
Warmer than normal temperatures have many people experiencing spring fever in our area. While the trails and parks are swarming with revelers trying to soak up the sun, it may not be time to get out the gardening gear just yet.
The sporadic 50 and 60 degree days have some bulbs sprouting early and have even prompted a pollen update today. The Capital Weather Gang reports that January broke our string of three colder than average winters. The average temperature of 40.8 was only 4.8 degrees warmer than the normal of 36, but brought us the 17th warmest January on record since 1871.
So with the early sprouting and continued mild weather, is it OK to start gardening yet? Not so fast. According to Manager Carey Fortnoff at Bill’s True Value Garden Center (4756 Lee Hwy), it all depends on what you’re going to plant. Small ground plants could still die if another cold snap occurs. Frost would harm the roots and kill the entire plant. Fortnoff says it’s best to wait until mid-March when the threat of frost has passed.
If you can’t wait that long and want to take advantage of the mild conditions, soil can be tilled and fortified with peat and lime right now. Some larger trees and bushes also may be able to withstand another chill if put in the ground soon. Pansies are also a popular choice for planting immediately due to hardiness. Another popular option is to germinate seeds in starter pots indoors, then move the small plants outside in March.
Fortnoff said although most of the spring planting supplies are already in or on their way, the rush of gardeners hasn’t hit yet.
“February is our graveyard month,” Fortnoff said. “But if you have something in mind you know you want to do, like seeding grass, come in and browse.”
If you do want to get some yard work in, now is the time. This may be the last dry 60 degree day we experience for a while. It’s also a good time to buy gardening supplies while items are well stocked.
The Arlington Food Assistance Center is asking local gardeners and farmers to donate extra produce to bolster AFAC’s food pantry.
“Each week, over 1,300 client families visit AFAC to pick up supplemental groceries,” the organization said in a statement. “Fresh fruits and vegetables are in high demand among AFAC clients, especially as fuel prices drive up food prices.”
Produce donations can be made at the following locations:
- AFAC (2708 S. Nelson Street) — Monday though Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
- Master Gardeners Help Desk at the Courthouse Farmers Market (N. Courthouse Road & 14th Street N.) — Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to noon
- Rock Spring United Church of Christ (5010 Little Falls Road) — Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to noon
For more information on donating, and to learn about other ways to help, contact Puwen.Lee[at]afac.org or call 703-845-8486. The produce donation drive is part of AFAC’s Plot Against Hunger program.
There are eight community gardens around Arlington, and each has a wait list. At the South Four Mile Run garden, however, one gardener is wondering why the county is allowing the high-demand plots to fall into a state of disrepair.
“I am a co-gardener of a garden plot in the Fort Barnard Community Gardens, [and] if my garden plot looked the way that many of the plots on South Four Mile Run do, my plot would be considered abandoned and the privileges to the plot would be revoked,” the man wrote in an email to a county official. He asked that his name not be used in this article.
“Nearly all of the plots are in violation of one or more of the County Community Garden Rules,” the gardener wrote. “I waited for 2 years to get a garden plot. To see residents [who] have garden plots neglect them and not use them to their full potential is frustrating.”
The man called the Four Mile Run garden an “eyesore” and said sent photos along to prove it. He said the photos show:
- “Many of the plots were never cut back and cleared for the winter. Vines and weeds have overtaken many of the plots and fences. In some cases the vines have grown beyond the boundaries of garden plots.”
- “Many of the gardeners have erected 6-8 ft wooden structures that are crudely constructed to grow vines on. Many of the structures have collapsed, are broken, or leaning.”
- “Trash such as empty buckets, jugs, milk crates, tarps, propped up carpets that are used for weed barriers, wheelbarrows, shoes, lumbar, broken chairs, bed frames, and PVC pipes are some of the items that litter the garden plots.”
- “The fences that create the boundaries for the community garden are in disrepair. Many of the rails are broken and laying on the ground. In one garden plot the fence has been pulled down because of the weight of the weedy vines growing on it.”
The county’s 200+ community garden plots are in high demand among apartment and condo dwellers who have a green thumb but no land to call their own. But Jamie Bartalon, the landscape and forestry supervisor for the county’s parks department, says that regulations only require the gardens to be cleaned up in time for the summer growing season.