Friday, July 17, 2009

Lawn Quality

The Lawn. Not too long ago a lawn meant mostly grass, green most of the time, brown in hot summer weather, mowed to a few short inches by some kid in the neighborhood. Then it evolved and the ideal lawn seems to be a strict monoculture, no clover allowed, maintained by a professional service who comes out periodically and sprays who knows what on the lawn and mows it once a week, on Thursday, followed by the use of a leaf blower, during my most productive computer time. Or at least that's what happens in a couple of lawns in my neighborhood.

This week I watched as a lawn care profession pulled up in truck with a big tank on the back, put on coveralls, a mask, goggles, gloves, and rubber boots and sprayed something on my neighbors' yards. I'm not sure what she was spraying but she didn't want it to get on her. At this time of the year I hope it wasn't a fertilizer - we're about to go into summer heat when grass should be resting, turning brown or patchy (depending on rainfall) and mowing is less frequent. But I wonder about all the sprays that go on their lawn. If she needs that kind of gear I really don't want that stuff on my lawn where my dogs (and I) go barefoot and I grow my vegetables. It makes you wonder what the real price of lawn perfection turn out to be.

I have heard of a scientific study on the rate of cancer in a particular breed of dog (I think it was Boston Terriers but it might have been Pugs, one of those small but not too yippy breeds). The study found that dogs whose people had a lawn service had a higher cancer rate than those whose owners either applied their own chemicals or did nothing.

Anecdotally in one of my former neighborhoods there was a lawn obsessed man. He mowed multiple times a week, edged, and sprayed obscene amounts of chemicals. Downhill from him a neighbor's house had well water. In the downhill house the couple had tried to have a family but kept having miscarriages. They finally got their water tested. It was full of all kinds of strange chemicals used for lawn care, including several that were banned in the US. Were the miscarriages coincidental? Remember that what is apparently safe now may be banned in the future - there are a great many herbicides and pesticides that have been taken off the market due to long term health risks.

When I moved in my lawn had been professionally maintained. I couldn't find any weeds (see the first two images). So what did I do? First off I cut my lawn off from synthetic chemicals, cold turkey. Then I bought some clover seed. Not only is clover good for the soil (it helps make Nitrogen available to other plants) but I can remember spending warm afternoons serching for four leaf cloves. I knew where all the good patches were - including one that routinetly and five, six or more leafed clovers.
I don't have many of these "weeds" yet but I'll do my best to encourage them. This is a native violet. Not the ragged edges on the leaves - this plant is a host plant for some butterfly species (meaning the caterpillers will preferentially eat this plant). It also blooms in the spring and thrives in shady conditions where grass has trouble growing.

I transplanted some violets from my neighbors yard into my flower beds to provide a seed source for the lawn. I did get her permission first. Really, I did.

My yard is kind of small and my dogs are kinds of rowdy (and they dig) so my perennial beds have to go in front. Yipee, less lawn to mow. I am following the newest trend in front lawns - no lawn. This picture shows my first phase.
You may notice that I have one-of-each-itis in this bed (ie one liatris, one society garlic, one Asclepias tuberosa etc). This is the year of experimentation. One I see what does well in my new climate I will plant more of them (and I'm really happy with that liatris). What doesn't perform will go in the compost bin. Harsh, I know, but I have a limited amount of space available. My long term plan is to replace that narrow patch of grass by expanding the beds on both sides (to the left is my foundation plantings - more on those in another post) and leaving a single mower width of grass. And that only until I replace it with a path. But first I have to do the other side of my front walk (about the same distance behind the camera). And the side of the house where the tall perennials will go, and the foundation plantings, and some more shrubs in the backyard for the dogs to run around and...

No comments:

Post a Comment