Weed All About It! Neighbors Vow Lawn War After a Suburban Couple Says, 'Hell No, We Won't Mow'

updated 07/25/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/25/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Walter and Nancy Stewart call the seven acres of grass, weeds and wild-flowers surrounding their redbrick colonial home in Potomac, Md., a "meadow garden." Their neighbors in the upscale Washington suburb, however, say it's a jungle out there, and they want the Stewarts to cut it.

When the Stewarts—he's a research scientist, she's a Justice Department lawyer—bought their $440,000 home three years ago, they were all for lawn order and had no intention of becoming grass-roots rebels. But their mower kept breaking down. So, abandoning their seedling rivalry and deciding that mower is less, they let the lawn revert to a natural state.

As the grass began to grow, the neighbors began to crab. Some lawn ranger slipped an anonymous note in the Stewarts' mailbox: "Please cut your lawn. It's a disgrace to the entire neighborhood." The Stewarts responded by circulating a five-page reply on the environmental benefits of their meadow, which requires no weed killers or insecticides.

Unimpressed, the neighbors complained to local officials. In May of 1987, Montgomery County cited the Stewarts for violating an ordinance prohibiting home owners from allowing grass and weeds to grow more than 12 inches high. The Stewarts sent around another letter, warning that if forced to destroy the meadow, they would consider other uses for the land, such as turning it into an enormous pumpkin patch.

For now, the case is lying fallow while the county reviews its regulations. The Stewarts, meanwhile, enjoy walking through the meadow with their children, Andrea, 6, Adam, 3, and Kirsten, 2. "When you mow, you deprive a whole bunch of birds and small wildlife of places to live and eat," says Walter. Adds Nancy: "Andrea said she realized why we had bunny rabbits on our property and her friends didn't—the bunnies have a place to live here."

Neighbor Robert Droege demurs. "It's not just a question of the environment," he says. "It reflects on the person in the house. It's like a matter of personal hygiene." Clearly, the seeds of discord have taken root in Potomac, though the courts may yet decide that it's all mulch ado about nothing.

From Our Partners