Ed Borchardt wanted a natural yard, filled with native plants and flowers that would provide a haven for birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife. The city of North Mankato disagreed with his vision, passing a resolution declaring Borchardt's unmanicured yard a public nuisance.
On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals said: Let it grow.
In its ruling, the court wrote that a city cannot declare a nuisance "based on little more than neighbors' displeasure with the property's appearance." The court held that the city failed to produce enough evidence that Borchardt's admittedly overgrown yard was a hazard to public health or safety.
"This is great," said Borchardt, who is retired from teaching botany and physics for 33 years at Minnesota State University, Mankato. "It's been a very, very heavy burden on me, the actions of the city."
Borchardt began planning the natural yard soon after moving into his ranch home nearly 40 years ago. The yard bursts with milkweed, goldenrod, peonies and hostas; high bush cranberries; and crabapple, pear, plum and elderberry trees.
But in recent years, serious health problems prevented him and his wife, Ann, from keeping up with yardwork, and neighbors began to complain about the explosion of vegetation.
Although Borchardt made efforts to trim it back, the City Council last year labeled the yard a public nuisance.
And despite the court ruling, the city isn't done with Borchardt and his yard, City Administrator John Harrenstein said Monday.
"The property in question still remains, in our opinion, a nuisance according to our existing code," Harrenstein said. The appeals court decision faulted the city for not offering enough evidence to back its contention that Borchardt's yard is a nuisance, and Harrenstein said the city will be consulting with its lawyers on how to proceed with "the new existing nuisance" on the property.
In February, North Mankato adopted an ordinance to encourage naturally managed lawns and embarked on an education campaign to inform citizens about how they could adopt a more nontraditional approach. The city has restored dozens of acres of prairie to their natural state and even went so far as to plant a natural lawn outside City Hall as a demonstration.
Harrenstein said he's proud of those efforts, but added that Borchardt's lawn still doesn't meet the standards of the new ordinance.
Borchardt said he's received support from people throughout the state as he's fought to keep his natural lawn. Many came during the summer to help with trimming and other maintenance.
"I didn't start out to be a crusader," he said. "I wanted a place to have butterflies and not have to spray and fertilize. But it's kind of turned out to be that I am.
"I'm happy that so many people are recognizing the problem" of overuse of chemicals and destruction of natural habitat, he said. "We've had a drought this summer. And I haven't had to cut or water or fertilize. The plants are just taking care of themselves."