When Abby Hansen returned home from a long day of work and dinner on Wednesday night, she noticed the bungee cord on the fence was unlatched. This tiny detail magnified as she lay in bed that night and she decided to check the video of her backyard just to see if perhaps someone had been in their yard while she was not home.

In 2019, she and her husband Kurt Hansen installed a camera when they moved to the 1300 block of Elgin after a landscape crew surprised them. Apparently, the landscapers were never told the home had exchanged hands, so they came just as they had for who knows how many years and were busy cutting the lawn and edging the sides. 

Since then their yard has transformed, as she and Kurt, an ecologist, have created an intricate native woodland and prairie garden with over 100 varieties of species that grow in their unique private space. It was even featured in the 2021 Garden Walk.

Abby’s backyard camera revealed there was indeed a visitor in their yard — a man with a hand-pump canister spraying their yard and their plants with an unknown substance. An unwelcome visitor to say the least. She immediately sent the photo to Kurt who had left that morning to meet with clients in Indianapolis on an environmental sustainability development. He happened to be with a team of environmental scientists when the photo came through, and he shared the image with them.

As part of his training, Kurt has been licensed as a commercial pesticide applicator, so his first thought was pragmatic, he needed to find out what was in the canister — a pesticide, a fungicide or an insecticide.

“If it was a broadleaf pesticide,” he said, “not only would all of our clover in our patio die, over the next three days almost all of our plants would have perished.” It was too late to try to reverse application, hours had passed, so there was no going back, the damage was done.

Their collection of plants each comes with a personal story, functional as well as valued for their beauty.

The horseradish was from Abby’s sister, pussytoes were transplanted from a project Kurt did in Crystal Lake, the dutchman’s breeches were salvaged when he was working on a development project at the University of Notre Dame, the compass plant and prairie dock were rescued from an environmental control project in Hawthorn Woods, the chives they eat regularly during meals, and even plants from a local neighborhood plant swap have found a thriving home in this yard. Every plant has a valued history, a personal relationship to the past and present.

After posting on the Forest Park Town Hall Facebook page to help identify the perpetrator, Kurt and Abby reached out to neighbors and kept an eye on the garden. Hope was in the air when Abby reported that the plants were not wilting on Thursday. It wasn’t long before the detective work came through.

“It was the best-case scenario,” Kurt explained. “The neighbor’s lawn next door has a case of rust creating yellowing areas of grass and had hired someone to spray fungicide.” It was a instance of a mistaken address. The unknown chemical was a fungicide, which did leave some scorch marks on the clovers, but “it is just minor damage, mostly because the application was in the midday sun; the spring growth will recover.”

To prevent any future house misidentification, Abby and Kurt put a sign on their fence to ward off any unwelcome future visitors. It says, “No lawn care required. Do not enter.” Unannounced visits, however, from the less bipedal — bees, birds, and worms — are always welcome.