A Farewell to Lawns

When Spring finally does arrive, the grass will grow, the dandelions will bloom, the chirps and tweets of our song birds will be drowned out by the roar of lawnmowers, and my friends and family will have to suffer through by grousing about lawns.  When there is a noteworthy and immediate threat to the health of our environment, such as the coal ash spill in Eden, environmetally-minded citizens band together to demand justice and reform, as well we should.  However, when the threat is less immediate or has become familiar we can't see it.

 Consider the American lawn.  A satillite view of our Chapel Hill and Carrboro reveals great expanses of green grass.  We maintain these areas at great environmental cost.  Lawn mowers have spectacularly inefficient motors which generate significant amounts of carbon dioxide as well as smog inducing emmissions.  Many residents, myself included, must cut it every week from March to October to avoid the nasty-gram from the Home Owners Association.  In order to keep this unnatural ecosystem alive atop the Carolina Red clay we need to add fertiziler to keep the grass alive and weed killer to discourage other plants which are enjoying the fertilizer we intended for the grass.  Much of this fertilzer runs of into our watershed causing enviromental damage and complicating water treatment.  Other reasonably common elements of the arsenal used to maintain the grass include pesticides and irrigation of the grass with water for which the expense and effort has been expended to make it potable.  Given the almost heroic effort put in to maintain these zones of green you'd think they were the most important part of our personal and civic space.  Yet if you could zoom in a bit on the camera taking the satillite pictures would show you that these lawns were almost always completely empty except for the grass cutting and application of chemicals.  The cumulative impacts of all of these measures on so many lawns easily dwarfs the impact of a coal ash spill.

 

This situation is really quite absurd and I feel certain that future historians will have much to say about it. If we truly aspire to become a leading-edge environmental community we need to allow and encourage people to convert much of this square footage to natural areas and meadows.  Within the constraints of my HOA I am trying to move that way a little bit every year.  A great way to support local farmers is to plant pollinator gardens in your yard.  This is neither difficult nor expensive.  As the local population of butterflies and bees grows, their fields will become more productive.  I also notice that many of our town-owned gardens, for example the little triangle by the Carrboro sign on West Franklin, are planted with symmetric rows of non-native annual flower, such as pansies, which are of little interest or value to pollinators.  Here again, use of perrenial, native flora would be less expensive and more environmentally friendly.

 Many thanks to the OP for letting me post this little rant.

 

 

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3 Comments

Pollinators

While my post focussed primarily on the absurdity of the modern American lawn, the secondary focus on supporting local pollinators is just as important.  I stumbled across this report today about the losses of honey bee hives in the mid west due to the cold winter (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/03/24-8).  While their are many factors contributing to the loss of honey bee hives, it is also important to consider that commerical hives are artifical structures which house imported Italian honey bees.  Understanding and preventing what is happening to the bee hives is certainly important, but making urban and suburan environments pollinator friendly can have a dramatic positive impact. It can start here if we chose.

ldhintz's picture

Lawn and pollinators

I agree that we should revisit our lawns. Right now we have a number of wildflowers including Bluets blooming in our unfertilized lawn. The NC Botanical Garden has a number of ideas for native species which are good yard plants. One corner in your yard could be converted into a Rain Garden and trap some storm water.

Ruby Sinreich's picture

Lawns are not a neccesary evil

I'm with you, Jeff. That's why I live in a townhouse in densely wooded neighborhood. There are lots of recreational opportunities that we share, like a pool and nearby parks,we don't need a private lawn to get outside.