Posted in Behind the Scenes, Bookworming, Conservation, Creatures, Plants

It’s time to change the standard for American lawns

“For nearly as long as they’ve been popular, lawns have served as a totem of middle-class vulgarity, conformity, and excess. In her landmark 1962 book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson denounced the wanton use of lawn pesticides. Carson’s contemporary, activist Lorrie Otto, condemned yards as ‘sterile’ and ‘flagrantly wasteful.’ Polemics as cutting as a mower’s blade have proliferated in the decades since, but lawns abide. Spivak and her team come not to bury them, but to adapt them to the insects vital to the entire ecosystem—and our food supply.”

— Tom Philpott,
Your Perfect Green Lawn Is a Buzz Kill.
Mother Jones,

Although this article is from a year ago, more and more I’m seeing articles and social media posts everywhere railing against the typical monoculture lawn.  Honestly, it makes me happy.  I believe it’s a step in the right direction to stop being obsessed with having not much but one type of likely not even native grass trimmed down to near root death around homes.

Sure, it’s commonly accepted that one sits on a riding mower or toddles behind their self propelling and clean up by clearing the grass clippings that didn’t make the catch bin or weedwacker trimmings around the edges with a 2-stroke leaf blower.  But ecologically, it’s a disaster as folks have pointed out time and again, and not just because most folks still haven’t converted to electric mowers and blowers, or stepped back to the reel styles of yore that also can have a catch basket (ask me how I know!).  There are other types of lawns that can be kept just as neat and still function perfectly well for playing Frisbee with your kids, having a party with friends, or simply meandering around in it because the weather is too perfect not to take such a stroll.  Many of them don’t need tons of extra work dumping fertilizers or pesticides on them, nor sprinkler systems either.

I forget now where I recently saw the term “urban ecological homogenization“, but it really stuck with me.  (And in all honesty it will bug me until I can dig out wherever I found it and post about it because I believe it was a good enough read to read a second time.)  I’ve joked that my browser bookmarks on my computer are a private library, but it really is true.  So somewhere in that library, is an article or paper I saw online that gave me a phrase to use moving forward when I try to convince folks that it’s not good that the land around homes at over 80% of the households in my city are comprised of maybe–maybe–optimistically 200 species of plants.  (And apparently we’re in the lead for flora diversity even though we’re still in decline from before.)

200 sure sounds like a good amount of diversity, until you realize that “New England has 388 globally and regionally rare taxa in need of conservation, as documented in Native Plant Trust’s “Flora Conservanda: New England” (Brumback and Gerke 2013)“.  (Quote taken from the Native Plant Trust’s report, “Conserving Plant Diversity in New England“.)  My guesstimate of 200 include severything from the ground level creeping all the way up to the tallest trees.  And sadly many of those species are not only not native to where I live, but are also not native to my continent either and are wreaking havoc because some genius thought wouldn’t it be “fancy” or “elegant” or “proper” or a “show stopper” to have X plant from across the pond, and so those plants are what pretty much every business that sells plants has available within a 30 minute drive.  Sure, you can buy a hybrid or cultivar of such and such native or might even luck into a cutting of a true native from a neighbor or friend.  Yet for all my searching nearby, I often have to resort to buying from nurseries and greenhouses farther away than makes sense.  Why do I have to buy native seeds in Maine?  Why is the closest native plant nursery an hour plus drive away?  It’s mind-boggling to me that this sort of ineptitude is typical here in America.  I know we’re not alone in this sort of thing, but we certainly aren’t the shining example of greatness many proclaim we are either.

All that aside and returning to what came before that related ramble, I’m thrilled and grateful that my current neighbors have been patient and understanding as we’ve been encouraging our property to rewild and allow native volunteers to stay (though we do sometimes move them so they look a bit more typical American “garden” acceptable in their arrangement).  I think they don’t mind the crazy lady (me) because I try to show them what can be done, rather than lecture them on how they’re idiots decimating the habitat humans need to survive on the planet.  (I save the rants for here, and commiserate with other folks as well that also know of these things.)  Some have even learned from casual conversations we’ve had about why I do what I do, and I have seen some small changes for the better happen even without my asking or directing.  Show, don’t tell, really can spur change.  Folks can use their noodles and come to realize things when they see what comes about from such changes.  Then they start asking questions of me or researching on their own.  Armed with answers, they change too for the better, as I did for the same reasons.

It also helps that I currently live where the “acceptable lawn height” is the same as the federal, which also gives me leeway I would not have had in other places I’ve lived in the past.  I also do my level best to make sure no trash that arrives from folks throwing it out windows of cars; nor dropping it when they walk by; nor errant blew-out-of-the-bin-while-getting-picked-up recycling that ends up on our property stays there for long.  So although our front yard looks pretty wild at times, it certainly doesn’t look like a neglected overgrown lot with lots of trashy bits either.

We need pollinators to both eat the things they help grow, as well as to keep the overall cycle that ultimately keeps our habitat beneficial to us as well as them.  I look forward to the day when I don’t feel the need to have posts like this.

Care to share thoughts on this?