My bet is that many of us face the same dilemma. We may have a town lot with a largely grass yard and a few trees or shrubs. Or, we may have a larger, but similarly uninteresting, area in a more rural setting. I just happen to have both: a “new” older house in town with nothing but grass, three or four pine trees, a dying maple tree, and one old juniper planted along side the house; and, a grassed rural area north of a pole shed that has had a couple of unsuccessful efforts made there trying to make it more inviting – yet it still feels derelict. Both are biologically barren and uninteresting.
I am not a turf-grass fan. I don’t enjoy endless, or even occasional, hours of loud and exhaust-spewing mowing. Furthermore, I understand the science which supports the conclusion that lawns are biologic deserts. Though this is empirically true, lawns have become status symbols in our society with large well-tended ones seen as signs of wealth and good citizenship. Consequently, we now have over 40 million acres of turf-grass lawn in the US, and we add 500 more square miles of lawn annually! These areas were once diverse native plant communities which provided complex ecosystem services and harbored a wide variety of wildlife.
For the above reasons and because of the water use all this lawn demands (8 billion gallons of water in the US on a daily basis), as well as the fertilizers and pesticides used for their maintenance (40% of the chemicals used in the US on lawns are banned in other countries because they are carcinogens, and 50% of all fertilizers used in the US are put on lawns, equal to agriculture’s use, which often end up in surface water), I am uneasy about being part of this.
This is the first in a series of blogs in which I will explore the steps I am and will soon be taking to try to do something different. To quote Douglas Tallamy in his book “Nature’s Best Hope,” “Lawns are terrible at delivering the essential ecosystem services we all depend on.” In subsequent entries, I will be chronicling my efforts to become better informed and to contribute to the enhancement of local biodiversity by planting native species and growing less lawn. I can only hope that this will be interesting might inspire similar efforts.
Tom Lukens, VSN Board Chair