“American as apple pie,” the saying goes, but who has time to make pies these days other than maybe at Thanksgiving? The more appropriate expression might be “American as a well-trimmed lawn,” since a green, grassy expanse of yard has been an overt sign of the American dream for generations.
That’s changing slowly, and I for one am glad. If I want to experience a patch of uniform green grass with no weeds, I’ll go to a golf course.
Truth about Lawns – at Least How I See It
In my own space, I prefer a little wildness and a lot of diversity as opposed to growing traditional green lawns, and it’s better for the planet. Here’s why.
Well-Kept, Green Lawns Signal Conformity
The American lawn, green, uniform and well cut, is a manifestation of the American dream of home ownership. It signals to others that the owner is a success and will be a good neighbor. It also suggests your socio-economic character, since maintaining a traditional lawn is expensive and time-consuming.
In fact, many homeowner associations require lawn maintenance in their regulations. It gives a house and a neighborhood a certain status, suggesting both that status is important to the homeowner and conformity to the rules of status. No thank you.
Lawns Involve a Battle Against Nature
A deeper truth about lawns is that they may look “natural,” but they are not natural. Have you ever found a typical American lawn in the middle of a wild area? Nature loves diversity like that found in a meadow or a prairie, where many different life forms can be sustained by a vibrant mix of plant life.
To create and maintain a lawn is to fight against whatever landscape and ecosystem nature provided. All that grows on the land naturally must be removed before the lawn is seeded, and that’s just the beginning. Think of the work required: the constant fertilization, irrigation, weeding, care and mowing. That takes out an entire ecosystem, from beneficial bugs, butterflies and birds to native habitat.
Traditional Lawns Destroy the Environment
Traditional lawns not only remove natural ecosystems, but they also pollute the environment. Americans rely heavily on toxic chemicals to take care of lawns. We fertilize our lawns with chemicals, get rid of bugs and grubs with chemicals, and mow the grass with gas-powered movers.
When you hear that some 40 million acres of lawns exist in the contiguous United States alone, it’s easy to understand the detrimental impact that much habitat loss and that many chemicals will have on the earth. How much better – and to my eyes, more beautiful – it would be to replace a uniform, one-species lawn with a mix of different native plants. These lawn alternatives are much better.
Native plants require little maintenance after establishment, need minimal irrigation and no fertilizer, and provide forage and housing for pollinators and useful insects. It’s a win-win option that could make a significant difference in the health of the planet.