Olga Slutkovskaya has maintained a garden in front of her home on South 16th Street in Tacoma for 20 years.
In her raised bed, she grows peas, lettuce, tomatoes, turnips, sunflowers and herbs like coriander, basil, fennel and dill.
On June 3, Slutkovskaya received a noxious weed notice in the mail from Pierce County Noxious Weed Control regarding a common infestation of fennel in the southwest corner of her sidewalk planting bed. The county considers common fennel a noxious weed because it forms dense infestations, crowding out native plants and reducing habitat for native wildlife.
The plant, says Slutkovskaya, is actually dill.
Slutkovskaya said she has several fennel plants growing in her garden. She confirmed with a friend with botanical expertise that the fennel is Foeniculum vulgare Azoricum, or bulbous fennel, which poses no threat and is not an invasive problem or listed as a noxious weed in Washington, according to the Pierce County Weed Board.
Under Washington law, landowners are required to control and prevent the spread of noxious weeds from their property, the release said.
Morgan Heileson, director of the Pierce County Noxious Weed Control Program, told The News Tribune on Wednesday that the program issues 1,400 to 1,600 notices a year from March through September. Inspectors investigate noxious weeds throughout the county and within Tacoma city limits, work with the Environmental Protection Agency or receive reports of noxious weeds from neighbors.
For Slutkovskaya, the garden is a reminder of her homeland – she is an immigrant from Russia.
“The memory of your home is very comforting and healing for immigrants,” she said.
She spends about 15 minutes in the morning and evening tending her garden. She shares her knowledge and the food she grows with her neighbors, which she thinks is a very human thing.
Slutkovskaya said the city and county should focus more on cleaning up the streets or building more mental institutions, rather than on their garden.
“Is that what really pissed me off, finding the resources and taxpayer money to do it?” she said. “Can you use your time for something else? Go clean up the trash.”
Heileson said weed control notifications often lead to a solution and it’s rare to mortgage a property to recoup cleaning costs, which can vary depending on a contractor’s workload. The last charge was a few hundred dollars.
Slutkovskaya has previously grown dill in her garden. This is the first time she has received complaints.
She did not see an inspector looking at her garden on May 25. She called the county after receiving the June 3 letter, but no one answered, she said.
“After that, I got even more angry,” Slutkovskaya said. “I was so scared that they would come and take my money and time and everything it took to grow.”
The notice included a control option for common fennel, stating:
“If you grow fennel, only buy non-invasive, annual fennel varieties. Also, be very careful when removing plants with mature seeds. Cut off and bag the seed heads before digging up the plants, or scattering seeds to other areas could make the problem worse. Fennel germinates quickly if the plants have been sown in previous seasons.”
The letter also included a copy of the Tacoma Municipal Code’s obligations of property owners to maintain rights of way.
If she didn’t remove the plant, Pierce County Weed Control would remove it and charge her, she said. Slutkovskaya said she hopes it will be resolved before the June 14 notice due date.
Heileson said the office received Slutkovskaya’s call and the inspector and education specialist will meet with Slutkovskaya to confirm whether or not it is a noxious weed. Heileson said she was made aware of Slutkovskaya’s notice on Wednesday and is in the process of receiving more information.
If the plant turns out to be dill and is allowed to stay, Slutkovskaya plans to pickle her cucumbers with it.
This story was originally published June 10, 2022 5:00 am.