Madison city ordinances seek to prevent neglect of homes and yards. So long as a property is being appropriately taken care of, however, a wide variety of landscaping choices are legal.
-Conventional lawns of short grass are legal and are still common in the city. In some parts of the United States, lawns are not legal, mostly due to the unsustainable amount of water they require in areas prone to drought conditions.
-Tall grass is legal, so long as the property owner follows the process to notify the city that they have a natural yard.
-Garden beds containing flowers or vegetables are legal.
-It’s legal to have a yard containing many trees, with leaf litter covering the ground underneath them. Wooded lots are generally considered to be one of the most valuable types of real estate.
-It’s legal to fill a yard with hundreds of pink plastic flamingoes, which are the official city bird.
–Large metal sculptures are also a legal addition to a Madison yard.
Most if not all of these choices are in actual use in Madison, bringing a wonderful diversity to our city.
However, the city does not make it easy to find out what rules a homeowner must follow in order to have a natural yard legally. The booklet containing this information can only be found in the historical records library.
Here are a few excerpts from Madison’s official publication:
“Once prairie plantings are established, they require no herbicides, fertilizer, water, dethatching, aerifying, leaf removal or mowing. Prairie Restorations Inc. of Wayzata, Minnesota calculated that prairie maintenance was one seventh of the cost of lawn maintenance.”
“Comparative studies have shown that there is more than twice as much runoff of rainfall off of turf grass as there is from woodland or prairie vegetation. Extensive use of natural vegetation could have a profound positive effect on the water quality of our lakes.”
“Will tall grass attract rats? – Rats are attracted by extreme concentrations of food such as grain elevators and garbage. Whether tall grass is present or not is independent of the presence of rats.”
“What about mosquitoes and other insects? – Naturalized landscapes without standing water will not breed mosquitoes. At least ten days of standing water are necessary for this. People who have landscaped their homesites naturally have no more insect pests in their yards than the more traditionally landscaped homes of friends throughout the city.”
“Will a naturalized landscape lower my property values? – In a recent court case, a claim to this effect was not allowed as evidence because of its hearsay nature. This was in light of the fact that all property (traditionally and naturally landscaped) had increased in value. Because of many factors in house buying, it is difficult to prove the effect of landscaping on the total value. In Madison, the increased existence of and buyers’ awareness of naturalized landscapes has proved to be an advertising point for at least some houses.”