NORTH MANKATO – Ed Borchardt's yard doesn't look like any other on his block. And that's his intention.

"The bees and the butterflies love this," Borchardt said, pointing out plant varieties. "They'll be out here working all day."

Borchardt, who taught physics and botany for 33 years at Minnesota State University, Mankato, has lived in his modest ranch home for nearly four decades. And from the start, he planned his yard as a natural haven.

The yard bursts with milkweed, goldenrod, peonies and hostas. With crabapple, pear, plum and elderberry trees; with high bush cranberries.

Borchardt's plants are leafless now, of course, but in the springtime, "this will all be flowering, and it's beautiful," he said. "The whole yard will be beautiful."

With the flowers and berries will come bees, birds, butterflies and other insects, providing endless fascination for Borchardt and his wife, Ann.

But not everyone enjoys looking at Borchardt's yard. After a series of complaints going back several years, the city of North Mankato last week cited him for maintaining a nuisance property, calling out the "rank growth of vegetation" that "unreasonably annoys a considerable number of the members of the public." The citation also mentions "the infestation of the premises by plants, animals, and birds."

"We have … complaints about growth of vegetation on the property," said Michael Fischer, the city's director of community development, as well as "reports of raccoons, woodchucks, mice and feral cats on the property."

Borchardt said he's been working with the city to trim back his plants and trees, and officials at last week's City Council meeting praised his efforts. But it's not enough, they said. Photos taken in early autumn show plenty of vegetation. But is it too much? That answer is in the eye of the beholder.

Several of Borchardt's friends and neighbors testified at the council meeting, saying there should be room for a yard that's not a simple stretch of lawn.

"Ed does not want a yard with three shrubs, plastic mulch and an expansive lawn," said Tom Hagen. "He has not been uncooperative. He just doesn't like your idea of what his yard should look like."

Barb Church echoed those thoughts.

Who decides if a yard is "unsightly?" she asked. "What birds are part of this infestation? Are you going to outlaw bird feeders?"

Two of Borchardt's neighbors testified against him. Jordan Johnson called the Borchardts "wonderful people," but added, "The yard does get to be a little bit of a mess."

Diane Anderson said Borchardt's yard "has been an eyesore for 30-plus years."

"We work hard to maintain our house and yard," she said. "It's not fair that our property value is compromised."

The 80-year-old Borchardt, who is awaiting back surgery, said he's spent countless hours over the past year trimming and tidying, but he believes the natural benefits of his vegetation outweigh any further aesthetic considerations. Ann Borchardt has chronic health problems and isn't able to help with yardwork.

In the end, the city gave Borchardt until June 1 to get his yard into what officials consider an acceptable condition.

His situation is ironic, Borchardt said, given that the city is now considering an ordinance to encourage pollinator gardens, and state environmental officials are urging Minnesotans to plant less grass.

"The mayor, City Council members, park superintendent, city attorney, city budget [on one side] and a retired elderly couple on fixed income," he said. "I think that's where the expression, 'You can't fight City Hall' fits."

John Reinan • 612-673-7402