RANGELY I Taking on Town Hall is never easy, but Rangely resident and gardener Jeremy Coleman has decided it’s worth the fight to try to save what has become his controversial garden.
Coleman’s garden is not typical. He makes extensive use of tree branches and even an old boat to grow more than 100 species of plants and provide habitat for insects and birds. However not everyone sees the value in his garden, instead seeing danger.
On May 17, Coleman received a notice from Town of Rangely Code Enforcement informing him that he had 10 days to clean up his yard or face fines and penalties.
Coleman is distressed.
“I am quite upset at the thought of removing my work of the past two years after only one harvest from such an exciting and appropriate project,” he said.
Coleman began work on his yard two years ago. At that time, he explained, the soil was in very poor condition and wouldn’t grow much.
“Even when the soil was wet, it would crumble in your fingers,” he said.
He began putting in hours of work to create his dream garden with the goal of “using the natural services which God put at our disposal,” he said.
For Coleman, that has meant the use of some non-traditional gardening items. The most striking and perhaps unusual item in the yard is an old boat, which Coleman describes as a family heirloom.
He uses the boat to concentrate water into part of a garden bed where he grows water-intensive plants such as mint and cattails. It also provides a water supply to a birdbath creatively made of shale rocks. As it rains, water collects in the body of the boat, which sits at a tilt. When the plants need water he simply releases a plug on the boat, flooding the area with water.
Another resource utilized in the garden is the widespread use of tree branches.
Coleman has used branches to construct raised garden beds, which he claims save water, as well as to protect plants from hungry deer, wind and evaporation and greatly increase the amount of space available for plants. The branches also provide support for crawling plants such as squash and are designed to “mimic a forest,” he said.
Coleman has spent the last two years seeding the logs with Golden Mushroom Spawn, which provide edible mushrooms for his kitchen and nutrients for the soil.
Coleman also likes to use the space to experiment. He describes one particular garden bed in the yard that has struggled to maintain moisture. Coleman had the idea of placing old window screens in front of the bed to help preserve the moisture.
After several months of observation, he felt it wasn’t working and removed the screens. This sort of trial and error is something he enjoys.
Coleman believes his efforts have been successful. He says the soil in the yard has gone from very poor condition to very good without the use of fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides and with little irrigation. He also cites an abundance of earthworms as a sign of healthy soil, saying that he typically finds three to six earthworms per shovelful of soil in most places.
Another organism found in abundance is mushrooms, which Coleman believes are part of a strong ecosystem. He says the “wild elm and straw mushrooms that are sprouting are evidence that a mycelial network is quickly breaking down the wood and distributing nutrients among about 100 mostly edible species of plants.”
Another measure of success for Coleman is the wide variety of plants he has been able to grow. This spring he has sprouted radishes, spinach, wheat, clover, cherry trees and Siberian peas.
The future of Coleman’s garden is now in question, and, according to town Code Enforcement Officer Vicky Pfennig, for good cause. Pfennig said the primary concern about the yard is fire danger due to the large piles of branches in the yard
“The neighbors are worried that if the branches start on fire it would spread to their houses,” Pfennig said.
She says the branches are classified as “refuse” under town code and are in clear violation of the municipal code, which means they must removed.
“When you move into a town you need to look at the ordinances; if you don’t like what they say, then you don’t move in there,” Pfennig said.
Because of the neighbor concerns, Coleman received a notice from Rangely Code Enforcement giving him ten days to “remove all of the tree limbs, branches, weeds, screens of windows and anything else that is not serving the purpose it was created to serve.”
The notice cites numerous complaints from neighbors about the appearance of the yard. “Of course people are going to stop and look. But nobody ever stops and talks to me about it,” Coleman said of the complaints.
Coleman was given the opportunity to explain his garden before the Town Safety Committee on Thursday evening.
The committee, made up of Mayor Frank Huitt and council members Dan Eddy and Kristin Steele, was concerned about the fire hazard and code violations the garden presents.
Huitt was also concerned about the aesthetic impact on property values saying, “If I was your neighbor I would be very upset.”
Coleman quickly offered to remove the branches despite the loss that will cause for his annuals, and by the end of the meeting both parties had agreed that Coleman would develop a plan working within the codes and ordinances that would still allow him the creative use of his garden.
For now, Coleman has removed several items from the garden, including screens and a raised boat trailer he had intended to cover and turn into a shade area this summer.
He also acknowledges a need for better fire access and says he’s planning a formal sidewalk in the near future as well as removing the hazardous brush piles.
Despite the changes he’s been agreed to make since receiving the letter from the town, Coleman remains hopeful, saying, “Soon enough, people won’t be worried about it, it’s going to be beautiful.”