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Planting problem on Milwaukee’s west side

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Planting problem on Milwaukee’s west side

By Cody Holyoke. CREATED Oct 7, 2013 - UPDATED: Oct 7, 2013

MILWAUKEE – Plants are growing in David Ryan’s yard. They’re growing much taller than city inspectors would like.

Ryan is a retired biology teacher.  To him and his wife, Jean, their front yard, blossoming with natural plants, is a wonder of nature.

“It's called, ‘wild spinach.’ It's a crop that's been cultivated by humans for millenia," Ryan said of his main crop.

What may look like a group of tall weeds to neighbors is a special wild plant to the Ryans.  Lamb’s-quarters, which can grow up to eight feet tall, took root in their yard 10 years ago.

When cold weather comes, the plants transform.

"If we get a good, hard frost, this will turn a brilliant maroon. A brilliant red that will knock people's socks off" Ryan explained.

There's one glaring problem. Even though the plants are trimmed, they’re too tall.

Last month, Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works ordered Ryan to get rid of the plants, citing a recently updated city ordinance that only allows "hay fever weeds" to grow to seven inches tall.

That rule doesn’t work for Ryan.

“At seven inches, it's just stalk," he explained.

"It's like cutting your grass to the ground.  It just kills it."

The Ryans have until the end of the week to clear their lawn before the city comes in, does it for them, and hands them a bill. 

“I would prefer to do it, but if that's what it's going to be, that's what it's going to be," Ryan said.

A DPW spokeswoman says the department has fielded a number of complaints involving Ryan’s plants, and there's no exception to the ‘seven inches rule.’

The Ryans are more than happy to cut their plants down, after they change color.

Click through our photo gallery above to see more pictures of the Ryans' lawn.