© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City Man's Plea For Native Flower Justice Unites Gardeners Around The World

Dennis Moriarty's overflowing wildflowers drew the attention of bees, birds and other pollinators. But it also drew the attention of a Kansas City code enforcer who gave him a warning.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Dennis Moriarty's overflowing wildflowers attracted bees, birds and other pollinators. But it also drew the attention of a Kansas City code enforcer who gave him a warning.

Dennis Moriarty, 80, planted 1,500 square feet of wildflowers in front of his home to attract pollinators. Now he faces a city citation and and a possible court date if he doesn't trim the garden back.

Dennis Moriarty’s yard overflows with milkweed, coneflowers and other native wildflowers designed to draw hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators. The greenery spills over retaining walls and creates a lush tunnel when a visitor walks up the steps to his home.

Kansas City has ordered him to mow it down.

Moriarty says he was shocked when he was given a warning last Wednesday for violating a city code that prohibits the overgrowth of “rank weeds and noxious plants.”

So he decided to sow some social media seeds. When he tweeted that his pollinator garden could land him in Kansas City Housing Court, he got the attention of not just pollinators, but politicians and those who advocate for native plants.

“If everyone did this, you know how many bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to this?" Moriarty says. "Their (city) code isn’t realistic in the first place.”

The 80-year-old U.S. Army veteran says his yard is so steep, he wasn't able to continue mowing it. So in April 2020, he covered the 1,500 square feet with plastic to kill the grass. Then this year, he planted wildflower seeds, which quickly bloomed.

The wildflowers cover a terrace in front of his house near Prospect Avenue and 26th Street. Moriarty says he enjoys watching the plants sway in the breeze and the visitors they draw. Getting rid of the flowers, he says, would damage the ecosystem.

“I was doing it for my neighborhood, not just for myself," he says. "It’s fun to sit out here on this porch and watch the plants dance.”

A butterfly lights on one of Dennis Moriarty's wildflowers Friday afternoon in front of his home.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A butterfly lights on one of Dennis Moriarty's wildflowers Friday afternoon in front of his home.

After he took his cause to Twitter, Moriarty says Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas direct-messaged him, hoping to resolve the issue. Thousands more from as far away as Australia have Tweeted back at him and retweeted his message.

But Moriarty says he wants a discussion, not direct messaging. He wants the city to change its codes — and he’s not alone.

Kansas City resident Amanda Lazorchack says she spent much of the past year battling with the city over a code violation she received for noxious weeds growing more than 10 inches tall.

She refused to settle by paying a fine and ended up in housing court this past spring. She eventually won her case, proving she made efforts to contact the city by attempting to negotiate and explain what plants were in her yard and how she cultivated them.

“At some point we were in a cycle of harassment,” Lazorchack says. “I’m really trying to play fair here. I cut a bunch of my wildflowers down to make it look less weird.”

Alix Daniel, a native landscape specialist at the Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center, says often the difference between being cited for a weed code violation is the difference between the definition of “noxious” weeds and how a patch of plants are maintained.

“There are things you can do to make native plantings more tidy looking,” Daniel says. “Like keeping nice clean edges.”

Daniel says it makes a huge difference to have that clean line in whatever planting a homeowner is cultivating.

“It makes more sense to people,” she says. “It looks less chaotic to have an edge to it.”

Daniel also says it helps to educate neighbors who might call 311 to report a violation. She suggests using yard signs from organizations like Grow Native and Monarch Watch who supply signs that tell people what the purpose of the growth.

Moriarty does not want to trim his wildflowers. Nor does he want a court battle or a fine.

“They need to change their codes to reflect the fact that we need to take care of our environment," he says.

And if he got the city code changed?

“I’d be an environmental hero,” he says. “Not for the applause, because it would impact so many people.”

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.