Saturday, September 05, 2020

The tyranny of lawns

I am heartily glad not to have a lawn to maintain. Our garden really is not big enough anyway, but, even if it were, I would be loath to turn any of it over to boring old grass. We don't have a sheep or a cow to feed, and I don't have any fond childhood memories of playing on a verdant sward to sway me, so why would we want a lawn? And yet, for many, a perfectly manicured lawn is still a thing of beauty, a statement of success, prosperity and respectability.
There is a lot not to like about lawns. Lawns are a colonial import from Europe, and a tribute to 19th century colonial attitudes on the subjugation and control of nature, the exact opposite of the attitudes of North America's native peoples: they are a definitive statement that the land belongs to us, not we to the land. Lawns are repositories of vast amounts of chemical fertilizers and herbicides, and require huge amounts of scarce water to maintain in pristine condlition. Lacking in native plantlife, they are biodiversity deserts, and rely on imported (invasive) species of plants like Kentucky bluegrass, Canada bluegrass, rye grass, and tall fescues, all of which (despite their names) are originally European imports and not native species. Research shows that lawns don't even mitigate heat in the same way that trees do, making the urban areas where they thrive an uncomfortable heat sink in summer. Furthermore, they need constant mowing, and who will admit to enjoying mowing the lawn?But, militating against all these cogent and convincing arguments, there are all sorts of societal pressures, and even legal rules, that keep that green desert in our back yard as the default design in urban planning (see a recent blog of mine about municipal laws on cutting down "overgrown" wildflower gardens). We do have a choice, though, and if you care about the environment at all, that choice should be to ditch the lawn.

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