To mow or not to mow
Here's an alarming statistic; according to the EPA, lawn mowers alone produce up to 5 percent of total US air pollution. According to the UVM Extension, an hour on your lawn mower spews as much pollution as a 100 mile trip in the average car. Clean air regulations have been phased in for lawn mowers since 2008 and these numbers reflect only the newer and most currently regulated models. If you have an older mower, it could be polluting at twice these levels or more.
There are many ways that we could drastically cut the hours we spend mowing while maintaining vibrant and controlled lawns for our viewing pleasure. You could start by doubling the interval between mowings. In addition to having extra time to yourself, your grass will be more resilient during dry spells. Lawns that are mercilessly kept short by weekly mowings are usually the first to go brown in August.
If extreme neatness and trimming is necessary for your lawn enjoyment, try cutting the size of your lawn in half. Let the remainder grow up to it's natural height, which will vary depending on the plants and grasses growing there. You can go to a friend's house with a shovel, or to a garden store with some money and bring home a few perennials to flesh out your new meadow. Bee balm, rudbeckia, lychnis, comfrey, black-eyed Susan, iris, day lillies -- these and other plants can flourish with very little labor to keep them happy and alive. As they grow and bloom, along with the un-mowed grasses, butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators will start to come around. These in turn will attract a more varied bird population, which can only add to your viewing pleasure. A yard-meadow can be mowed once in the fall, or it can be left standing to provide some vertical contrast as the ground is blanketed by winter snows. If you have more energy, turn some of that meadow into a vegetable garden and start eating your lawn, rather than covering it with a coating of petrochemicals.
What is it that compels so many of us to isolate ourselves from the sounds of nature and attach ourselves instead to a gasoline engine so that we can impose some sort of order on our immediate environment? If it's an urge for control, that can easily be exercised by hand weeding or transplanting. If it's a compulsion to keep up with the neighbors, why not get the whole neighborhood in on the act of mowing less? Imagine scores of butterflies hanging out in the neighborhood, keeping everyone company. If it's the sound of an engine that gives you satisfaction, search eBay for an old V-room motor that Mattel made back in the day to put on our bicycles.
How many toxic chemicals do we have sitting in garages and sheds that are meant to keep our yards "pristine" and green? Why do we care if there are a number of different green plants growing in our yard, besides the designated grass mix? A lawn without any weeds is like a plain iceberg lettuce salad. No variety, no flavor. Is it our own natural inclinations, or have the public relations pros of the agribusiness industries put the notion into our heads that only one look is acceptable for the American lawn. (It's no coincidence that that look only comes with extensive use of agribusiness chemicals and contraptions, all available to you with an easy payment plan.)
In Nevada and other desert states, people are just starting to realize the folly and irresponsibility of trying to nurture lush green lawns where arid plants and sandscapes make more sense while saving them money and effort in the bargain. Why don't we think again about what we could do in our environment to save resources while still enjoying the beauty of a lush, if unconventional, landscape. While some folks hold the image of golf courses as the very essence of the perfect lawn, others, more realistically see them as the artificial result of a marriage of poisons and gas guzzling machinery creating something that is hazardous to the health of golfers and fauna alike. Why don't we start to experiment and find out for ourselves what promise our individual plots of land hold for natural landscaping? Instead of being slaves to convention, we can work as much or as little as we want to create a lawn and garden for our domiciles that reflect our aesthetic values. Instead of every lawn looking the same, let's promote free wheeling diversity and see what authentically takes root.
Dan DeWalt writes from Newfane.