The lawn is taking a beating these days. It’s accused of all manner of environmental crimes, starting with reducing biodiversity and sucking up excessive amounts of water. Mowing it with a gas-powered mower is, by one account, responsible for five percent of our nation’s carbon emissions. Fertilizing it causes runoff that pollutes water, so do herbicides that kill off weeds. It is our largest irrigated crop; according to a 2005 NASA study, the U.S. has 63 million acres of it.
In some circles, having a lawn is becoming a cultural stigma. An article in the Guardian even claims that lawns are racist because owning a home with a lawn comes with a history of racially exclusionary redlining and racial wealth disparities. That made me wonder about people who rent a house and mow the lawn. Is their lawn racist? How about the lawns in parks that we all share?
Sweeping statements like that trivialize the very real impacts of racism and add nothing to our knowledge about lawns. Honestly, sometimes it seems that in America today, opinions on every topic get taken to jaw-dropping extremes.
After reading way too much about lawns, here’s a distillation of the available common sense:
One caveat to the tall-lawn idea: dry brown grass can be a fire hazard.
And now a digression: Years ago in Indonesia, I never saw tall grass, because wherever there was grass, there were boys tending small flocks of goats that ate it – even in the median of busy urban boulevards. A man who hired out to cut the grass in people’s yards with a scythe used it to feed the pony that pulled his cart. Grass was a resource that was never wasted.
I don’t suppose we could emulate that way of thinking about and using grass, but I do sometimes imagine sheep or goats grazing on those sweeping suburban lawns.
A gardener reported that the house she and her husband now live in had a lawn at one time, but a new owner pulled it out and planted gardens. The next owners pulled out the garden and replanted a lawn for their kids to play on. She and her husband have now pulled out that lawn and are planting gardens. The moral of that story: If you have kids, you probably want to keep your lawn. (And if you don’t have kids, maybe you have time to dig up your lawn.)
We are all free to make up our own minds about whether to have lawns, how big they are, how to manage them, and how to be at peace with our consciences. And we are all free to choose among the various points of view and conflicting data online.
Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers, and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at jill@theJOLTnews.com
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