This drought and heat wave are just the impetus you need to finally get rid
of your lawn. While most trees and shrubs are still fairly green, lawns
everywhere are brown and unsightly. We are at a turning point in the
reputation of an American icon.
Lawns are destructive to the environment. Recent research indicates that
fertilizers seriously pollute Long Island Sound. The herbicides used on
our lawns have been associated with cancer in dogs. Insecticides and
fungicides not only harm beneficial organisms in the soil, but also create
toxic environments in their manufacture. And, lawn mowers are many times
more polluting than automobiles.
Maybe you've heard the lawn industry's response which talks about how much
oxygen grass creates and how it absorbs air pollutants. And, this is true.
It is certainly better to have a lawn than say, asphalt or gravel.
Compared to nature's environments: the forest, meadow, wetland, pond,
thicket, or even an organic garden, lawns (especially chemically-maintained
ones) are deserts - inhospitable at best or toxic at worst to most living
things except grass and geese. A sprawling lawn invites Japanese beetles
to take up residence where they thrive and reproduce bountifully.
Most natural environments are complex, multi-leveled polycultures. From
the tops of mature trees to the tips of their roots deep in the soil, we
find intricate webs of relationships between plants and animals. Oaks and
maples provide habitat for lichens, insects, mammals and birds, and shade
for lower growing trees like dogwoods, which in turn may shelter blackcap
raspberries or blueberries, ferns and fungi. Food and homes are provided
for millions of living things. Reproduction, growth, death and decay all
occur constantly and simultaneously. In most environments, these
relationships have evolved over millions of years. They are fairly stable,
yet paradoxically, they are flexible and always changing.
So how do we start to restore diversity? First, except for paths and
seating areas, stop mowing your lawn. Second, this fall plant some trees
and shrubs. Choose native species with shapes, mature heights and root
systems which are appropriate for your site. You'll want to create summer
shade around your house and outdoor living areas, without blocking winter
sun from the house, or summer sun from your vegetable garden.
Although we may not think of vegetable gardens as natural, they have been
an important feature of our region for thousands of years. Humans must
eat. There is no more ecologically-sensible way to feed ourselves than to
grow food near where we live. An organic vegetable garden is very friendly
to diversity and to the environment.
The large lawn is an artificial creation, encouraged by those who want to
sell us lawn mowers, chemicals and irrigation systems. It is also part of
the "dumbing down" of human beings. In earlier times, in order to survive,
everyone had to know hundreds of different plants: ones that were good for
food, flavoring, medicine, fence posts, or even roof rafters. Now, with
enough lawn, all you need to know is how to mow and how to apply an
ecologically-disastrous, 4-step lawn-care program.
Forget your lawn and focus on your vegetable garden, flowers, native shrubs
and cooling trees. With a reduced area to mow, hand tools will be
sufficient. Soon your lawn will fade away, and you will find yourself
surrounded by the ever-changing beauty and complexity, the sheltering and
nourishing bounty of our lawn-free, native environment.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C) 1999, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
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