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The 'New American Lawn'
More than 67 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides are applied to lawns in this country each year.

My neighbor’s front lawn is brown; every green leafy thing has died. It looks as if a horrific drought or plague singled out his property while the surrounding yards are verdant.

It was, however, not an act of nature that brutally killed the plant life between his house and the street. It was an herbicide, applied by the homeowner himself. The motive for this extreme measure: a dislike of lawn care.

Somehow, it made sense to him to unleash a toxic chemical upon the plants with their offensive habit of growing. When he did that he tipped a row of dominoes, affecting beneficial insects, birds, toads, and other wildlife moving through the yard, exposing pets and people to the toxins, and adding contaminated runoff to nearby wells and marshland.

Among the implications and the reactions to this man’s drastic deed is a potent idea: the concept of lawns is ripe for a revolution.

Over 67 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides are applied to lawns in this country each year. That these chemicals are more extensively used in suburbia than on farmland is mindblowing. Lawns receive between 30–60 percent of the water consumed by residences along the East coast.

The percentage skyrockets to over 70 percent in the Southwest. Emissions from gasoline powered lawn equipment comprise approximately 9 percent of one type of air pollution in the United States. Grassy, emerald green yards are a big environmental problem.

Among those calling for a lawn rebellion is an organization not often associated with radical behavior. The venerable Garden Club of America has taken a bold stand in favor of “greening” our yards by relinquishing the need to keep them perfectly green.

For example, the GCA declares that watering the lawn is a waste of precious water and not to worry if during a summer drought your grass gets brown and crunchy underfoot.  “...It is probably dormant and will recover when it rains.”

When I lived in Florida, during a dry month I did not water my lawn and indeed the centipede grass took on a tawny hue.
“Your grass is dead,” my neighbors moaned. It was an interesting possibility. I began planning more flower and herb beds and gravel pathways, but a moderate rain quickly revitalized the lawn. This illustrates several things:

1) The Garden Club is correct about the resurrecting power of grasses.

2) There are creative and useful alternatives to grassy spaces.

3) People will take issue with an apparently lifeless lawn (or one that is misbehaving in any way).

Prepared for resistance, the GCA is promoting their plan as The New American Lawn.  Patriotism!  Civic pride!  Peer pressure! These people know a bit about marketing. These are the people who once encouraged the very lawn aesthetic they are now attempting to overthrow.

At the beginning of the 20th century the Garden Club of America expended a lot of effort and money selling Americans on the importance of a weed free, single grass, neatly manicured lawn. 

Their mission was greatly assisted by the invention of the lawnmower, the garden hose and a proliferating number of chemicals geared to the pursuit of the perfectly controlled yard.

The New American Lawn is insouciant about weeds. As the GCA points out, “Nature abhors a monoculture.”

Clover, once a villain in the lawnscape, is welcomed for its ability to add nitrogen to the soil. Moss, if it appears in shady spots, is lovely and doesn’t need mowing.  Wildflowers provide nourishment for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

The Garden Club recognizes that we have a dysfunctional relationship with our lawns. We love them and yet we have addicted them to dangerous chemicals. We love them, yet we are indoors most of the time.

It’s time for a new appreciation for the green spaces around our homes.  Less is more. The expense and labor of lawn tending can be greatly reduced if you don’t pump up the grass with water and fertilizers and mow less often. Whether or not you enjoy spending time in your yard, it can be hospitable to birds and other creatures.

We don’t have to give up lawns, but we do need to relinquish our manic domination of nature. Then as the Garden Club promises, “You will have clover and dandelions and be able to walk barefoot safely with your pets and children.”
It will be good. It will be the New American Lawn.

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