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Since when did flowers become an environmental 'hazard?'

As I put my gardens to bed for the winter (my zinnia and cleome are still blooming, due to warm autumn days), I'm finally writing a letter I've been meaning to write since my court date in October, when I contested a hefty fine received from Baltimore's Environmental Control Board.

Last summer my gardens attracted many a hummingbird, gold finch and butterfly, pollinating and going about their heavenly business. Any neighbor will attest that I am militant about the upkeep of my yard: One neighbor calls my gardening attire (camouflage Dickie's, knee pads, tool apron) my "urban warfare" outfit.

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When I purchased my house, little did I know that the tree plot out front, which measures the width of my property at approximately 50 feet, and is actually city property abutting the sidewalk in front of my house, would become my biggest gardening challenge.

What could I do to make this ugly, barren space more beautiful? With the help of a neighbor, who has a Master's in Horticulture from Longwood Gardens, I filled the barren tree box with annual seeds of all kinds: Sunflowers, cleome, zinnia, cosmos, Hollyhock, Bee Balm, St. John's Wart and more.

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Year after year, these annuals magically reseed themselves, resulting in a show of glory each summer. I have lived in my house since 2008, and year after year, this tree box brings joy to my neighbors who thank me for the beauty and serenity I provide the neighborhood. Even former Sen. Paul Sarbanes, en route to local errands, drives by regularly to thank me.

Imagine my surprise then on returning home from vacation in August to a citation from the city for "failure to prevent hazards," and "overgrown shrubs."

In a city riddled by violence, what hazards are presented by my sunflowers, goldfinches and rainbow-colored zinnia? Do these bureaucrats have nothing better to do, or is this merely another source of revenue in an already overtaxed city?

After taxing rainwater, it appears they've moved onto flowers. Moreover, my yard was recently designated as a wildlife habitat by the World Wildlife Foundation.

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With the recent media coverage about the plight of the honeybee, I fail to see how my insect pollinating-attracting annuals are a hazard. I do not use any kind of pesticides or "hazardous" chemicals in my yard.

I attended a hearing in October to question the fine, as I did not intend to fatten the city coffers until I received further clarification about what "hazards" my sunflowers present. After all the trouble I took to appear in court, my inspector didn't show up and my fine was dropped.

The judge of this prestigious board, however, did inform me of the many pesticides I can avail myself of next summer in order to kill my "hazards." Here I thought that we were all supposed to be saving the Chesapeake Bay by not using pesticides. That's about as much clarification as I received. But I've already got my seeds for next summer.

Sarah Hoff, Baltimore

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