Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Friday, October 29, 2004

Lawn Morals

In two Northern California suburbs, native plants and flowers assume legal and ethical proportions.

Two recent stories from California suggest that the front yard may constitute the church of 21st Century. Before choosing what to plant, residents would be wise to search their souls (and consult an attorney, too.)

People magazine reports on a couple battling neighbors over a wildflower garden. Jeff and Carolyn Seigrist found that the neighborhood association in their Sacramento suburb had fined them $2,700 for breaching the group’s floral tastes.

“They claimed the native flowers and grasses violated community rules because they didn’t fit the more manicured look favored by the board. ‘(Seigrist) may call it ecologically friendly,’ says a spokesman for Sterling Pointe’s management company. ‘The homeowners’ association calls it unacceptable.’” The homeowners association has gone so far as to put a lien on the Seigrists’ property.

But horticultural self-righteousness isn’t limited to Edged-Lawn-Ites. Today the Sacramento Bee reports on an embattled Xeriscaper in Roseville.

Heather Ogston

Photo: Sacramento Bee

Heather Ogston conscientiously ripped up the turf on her property “and replaced it with what some gardeners call a water-wise, sustainable approach to landscaping,”  manzanita, lavender, Japanese pine trees—all plants that can withstand Western drought.

Pictured clutching her infant son, Ogston spoke out with the fervor or a herbivorous Jeanne d’Arc: “I was aware of all the damage that fertilizers and herbicides can do to our rivers. I also wanted to be conscientious and reduce my water use.” Ogston told the paper, “It was a moral stance on lawns.”

Nearly a hundred years ago Max Weber, philosopher and sociologist, wrote that a trait of modern society was to turn from ethical concerns to aesthetic ones. “The refusal of modern men (sic) to assume responsability for moral judgments tends to transform judgments of moral intent into judgements of taste.”

But the green martyrdoms of the Seigrists and Heather Ogston suggest another turn of the sociological sunflower. We’ve made aesthetic choices into moral issues. In the 1970s, some feared that relativism would mean the end of moral society, but it’s not relativism we have to worry about; it’s aesthetic fundamentalism—the kind that can and will damn you for growing the wrong landscape plant.

Posted by Julie on 10/29 at 11:21 AM