That lady who fought the city over milkweed plants in her garden once ran for city council.

News 100 yellowBy Pepper Parr

July 7th, 2018



The story about the milkweed plants in a garden was, for the most part, gathered electronically.

There wasn’t a chance to meet and do an interview with the woman who got a note from a bylaw enforcement officer saying the milkweed plants on her garden had to go.  Burlington, Ontario considers milkweed, the only plant that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on, a weed that must be destroyed or removed.

In Burlington bylaws are enforced when someone complains – and someone did complain.

Doreen Nicol - Raise the Hammer

Doreen Nicol – an actionist!

They chose the wrong women to push around.

When she read the bylaw notice Doreen Nicoll began making phone calls and lining up support and contacting local environmentalists to see if there were any alternative solutions. “I did this’ said Nicoll, “because trimming milkweed to the required height of 8 inches or less means that the tops of the plants containing all of the leaves, which are home to valuable monarch eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalis, would be removed and that would have devastating results.”  Nicoll argued that the milkweed was a plant – not a weed and that it was an important part of the environment.


A milkweed plant – home to valuable monarch eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalis.

She reported that a very wise environmentalist, who wished to remain anonymous, told her about the time her neighbour reported her for growing milkweed in her naturalized garden. It seems the neighbour wanted the city to force this woman to grow grass instead of flowers.

Nicoll had removed the grass “in my very tiny front yard and erected a very low wall to contain my new garden. Originally, I planted native, heritage plants, most of them edible and all of them able to survive on rain water alone.”

“Over the years there have been plenty of transitions. Some plants thrive for years only to suddenly decline or disappear and be replaced by a completely different variety. This was survival of the fittest playing out in my garden thanks to the effects of climate change.”

The end result was the city notice being withdrawn and Nicoll being told that the bylaw on weeds is being re-written to allow milkweed plants.

No croppedDoreen Nicoll is an  actionist; a word that isn’t part of the lexicon most of us use. She has been politically active in the past; she ran against Carol D’Amelio for a city council seat in 2003 – came in second and wasn’t able to give D’Amelio much of a run for her money.

D’Amelio got 55.5% of the vote; Nicoll got 25.9%; the city wide turnout was 16.55% of the eligible voters.
Born in Scotland Doreen came to Canada in 1963 was raised in Ajax, went to Ryerson to where she studied food and English. She also went to George Brown College and described herself as a Journeyman Chef.

Nicoll worked for a period of time in the hospitality business and went back to school at Western University and became a teacher. She now teaches Family Studies for the Peel Board of Education.

The family moved to Burlington in June of 1997

Somewhere along the way, after the five children were born and raised, she began to write. Her focus was gender violence. In a piece she did for the Hamilton Spectator on the relationships between men and woman she wrote: “Their actions send a clear message to their own wives, daughters, sons as well as the neighbourhood at large, that men feel they have the innate right to mistreat and intimidate women.”

Maggies posterNicoll writes from a social justice perspective. There are some things that are just plain wrong and she has the courage of her convictions to stand up and say so.

She has won several awards; a couple of “Maggies”, (Hamilton Independent Media Awards) and an Anvil – both awards that come out of the Hamilton community.

This time Nicoll was fighting for the environment – the right to grow milkweed in her garden.

We have no idea what it will be next: but of this we can be certain – there will be a next.







Return to the Front page
Print Friendly

2 comments to That lady who fought the city over milkweed plants in her garden once ran for city council.

  • Allen Jones

    “The end result was the city notice being withdrawn and Nicoll being told that the bylaw on weeds is being re-written to allow milkweed plants.” Thank GOD …. and someone who has enough brains ast City hall to support this … BRAVO whoever!!!!!
    PS “whoever” should contact the neighbour about water regulations:)
    PPS we have Milkweed plants on the side of our house … tell your neighbour I’d love to meet him/her 🙂 🙂

  • Doreen Nicol.

    Thank you everyone who contacted city hall about this issue. You made a difference.
    And, just so you know the next door neighbour who reported my milkweed has been continuing to water his grass all during the heat wave.

Leave a Reply