As a child growing up in the 60s and 70s I have many memories of my Dad spending hours of his free time tending our lawn. The lawnmower was seldom idle during "growing season". He meticulously used a lawn drum roller to even out the ground. He regularly applied fertilizer, and, for all I know herbicides and pesticides. In the autumn he traded the drum roller and lawn mower for a rake and a leaf roller. He sweat and grunted, but our lawn was as perfect as the next. Once my siblings and I were tall and strong enough we were employed in lawn duty. It was as much a part of American life as anything else.
When I moved out of the house and into multiple family dwellings - with yards - I, too, became a part of the Constant Lawn Care Culture of America. It is ingrained into our psyches - Must. Mow. Lawn. -- Must. Mow. Lawn. Like zombies we march out to the garage, fire up the mower, and clip and trim our way to turf grass perfection. Some of us are so creative we mow patterns into our lawn. Most of us curse the task at hand. Those with enough income hire others to do the task. And enterprising people everywhere make a living tending to lawns.
In an act of defiance people around the country are challenging city and homeowner
ordinances that require a certain style of lawn. Rather than slavishly attend to this patch of greenery people increasingly let the grass and weeds grow - and are amazed at the amount of life that returns to their yards.
The truth is the Great American Lawn is a food desert for our wildlife. Pollinators, birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals all rely on food sources in their environment. That ain't happenin' on lawns in our country today. The use of non-native (and often invasive) plants, shrubs and trees in our landscaping does not provide the proper food, habitat or host plants our wildlife needs. In addition current lawn care practices produce an immense amount of air and noise pollution.
In Springfield some homeowners converted their front and/or back lawns to native plants - to dramatic results. While it may take a few years for the plantings to mature the immediate results are stunning. Suddenly the blah and bland bowling green lawn is a lush and interesting landscape of tall plants, low-lying vegitation, and different flowers in bloom throughout the season. Where once no butterfly would "tread", suddenly the yard is alive with insects and birds and other critters. Even during the winter the dried, deceased plants provide an interesting tableau of shapes and dreams of what will be the next year. Indeed, the standing stems are not truly dead as many provide habitat for insects who overwinter in the flower stalks.
Over time these native plant yards will become the norm, but until then we have a lot of work to
do to convince homeowers, landowners, business owners, Home Owner Associations, cities and municipalities that rather than being a dangerous eyesore, properly landscaped Native Plant yards are the best option for our wildlife and humans as well.
The best time to start this endeavor is NOW! If you are in Springfield, join me on Saturday, September 19 from 10-2, and Sunday, September 20 from 12-2 for my event Free Seeds for Bees. This Native Plant seed & seedling swap will be held at Pickwick Park next to Homegrown Food, 603 S. Pickwick. Rain or shine, I will be there with seeds and seedlings to share.