B.K. and Marjorie Showalter walk carefully through the yellow tar weed and star thistle in the Eastwood Cemetery located near their home. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell

Not in our backyard

A shiny, red lawn mower sits unused in B.K. Showalter's garage at his home next to Eastwood Cemetery in Medford. Since the city ordered him to stop mowing the grass and planting flowers at the city-owned cemetery two years ago, Showalter hasn't had a use for the new riding mower.

"It's appalling," he said, maneuvering through the dry grass and pervasive star thistle in the cemetery.

Showalter, 75, and his wife, Marjorie, 76, have lived next to Medford's oldest burial grounds for 13 years.

The two have planted flowers and shrubs in the cemetery and mowed up to 2 acres of grass near their home. They also removed star thistle near their home.

"All we want is to care for the cemetery," Marjorie said. "We're willing to put in the time, energy and money into the upkeep."

After the Showalters continued doing yard work despite multiple letters from the city asking them to stop, the couple received a cease-and-desist order from the city attorney in June 2010. The order prohibits them from mowing the cemetery's grass and from planting any non-native species in the cemetery without the city's permission. If the order is violated, the Showalters could be cited for trespass or mischief.

Now, the couple are trying to have the order removed so they can care for the portion of the cemetery near their home.

"It's really a joke to let this cemetery go to pot like this," B.K. said, shaking his head.

The 20-acre Eastwood Cemetery, which was established in 1890, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Although the overgrown grass and star thistle bother the Showalters, state and federal regulations require the city to keep the pioneer cemetery as close to its 19th-century character as possible.

The city developed a 60-page maintenance plan in the 1980s, about a decade after it acquired ownership of the cemetery in 1972. The plan outlines regulations and guidelines to preserve native plant species.

The plan also says the grass should not be cut shorter than 2.5 inches and that it should be mowed only several times a year.

"We're not a modern cemetery," said Beverly Power, cemetery records clerk and volunteer coordinator. "We don't want to be a modern cemetery."

The city has a $20,000 two-year budget for cemetery restoration and renovation, Power said, which does not include mowing or caring for the plants. Power recruits volunteers to mow and water the grass during specific days each month. She has eight volunteers who work every month and about 800 volunteers total each year.

Power oversees what is planted and removed in the cemetery. With her approval, residents and volunteers can choose from more than a dozen native species to plant in the cemetery.

Although Power said the Showalters' "hearts are in the right place," they never contacted her about mowing or planting flowers and shrubs.

"They don't call, they don't ask," she said. "They just do, do, do."

"We don't come in and mow your yard," she added. "We don't plant photinia in your yard."

A local biologist in 2010 observed the area the Showalters had been mowing for years and found the frequent mowing had wiped out a section of wildflowers, Power said. The Showalters' star thistle removal also removed yellow tarweed, a native species that grows side-by-side with the star thistle in the cemetery.

Still, the Showalters aren't convinced their actions are damaging.

"There were no wildflowers here," Marjorie said.

B.K. said some neighbors have even used Roundup herbicide and power-line trimmers to remove weeds. According to the cemetery's maintenance plan, the use of pesticides and high-powered tools should be minimal to prevent damaging headstones.

The couple said they feel responsible for maintaining the grave sites near their house, adding that it's disrespectful to the dead to leave the graves covered in weeds.

Power said the Medford Parks and Recreation Department has been working with the city attorney to decide whether to remove the cease-and-desist order in its entirety or just permit the Showalters to volunteer under Power's oversight.

Power sent the couple several letters in 2010 asking them to volunteer to mow and weed parts of the cemetery in accordance to the cemetery's maintenance plan. The Showalters didn't respond.

"The cease-and-desist letter doesn't say they can't volunteer," Power said.

Reach University of Oregon reporting intern Josephine Woolington at 541-776-4368 or

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