If the grounds around your home have been landscaped like most, then they are no doubt covered with expanses of grass. Lawns, those ubiquitous carpe ts of green (or facsímiles thereof) have been fashionable in this country for the last couple of centuries. It was possibly during Thomas Jefferson's time that lawns carne to denote prestige and status in this country. Gentlemen farmers, during that period, could af ford to allow a portion of their land to remain unülled, and could bear the oost (as enslaved Africans performed the labor) of extensive planting and maintenance of large lawns on their estates. The natural environment was tamed and trained on these estates as the gentry class worked to subdue the greater land and its resources. On the other hand, land held by the gentry 's less affluent counterparts was being used in more efficiënt, practical ways. Here, an alliance was formed betwcen people and nature; the land was encouraged to produce a wide variety of plan ts essential to basic survival. Plants, many of them native "weeds," were cultivated for food, fiber, dye, medicine, and other household necessities. In our modem culture, lawns are still gro wn and often perceived as status symbols, at the expense of ourselves and the environment. Proper lawn care requires heavy use of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. The amount of water needed to keep a lawn green during an average growing season can cost many hundreds of dollars. Consider also the rigorous maintenance lawns require: frequent routine mowings with gasoline-po wered mowers and trimmers; careful (and not so careful) applications of dangerous chemicals; grooming, raking, and removal of leaves and grass clippings (natural mulches no less) to be bumed OT carted away to landfills; not to mention the time consumed in performing these tasks. A lawn is also ecologically unsound, in part because it is a monoculture. The exclusive cultivation of one plant is foolish in ecological terms; under natural conditions, many types of plañís exist together in communities. A population of one type of plant will yield more quickly and dramatically to blight or disease than will a naturally balanced plant community. For example, the Irish po tato f amine of 1 848 occurred because the potato monoculture succumbed to a massive in - festation of blight. To minimize this risk, Mother Nature promotes diversity; she will, if left to her own devices, see to it that dandelions, ground ivy, speed well, and all marmer of green exuberance is expressed in your lawn. Assuming, then, that you don't care to express yourself in weedy abundance, the alternative is to rethink the import anee of your lawn and how you might reduce its size. While a small lawn may be necessary if you like to cook out, play badminton, or lie in the sun, there are hundreds of lower-maintenance, more environmentally sensible plants available to help you enrich áreas where a lawn is not needed. As many of our more practical anees tors realized, a plot of earth can grow much of our food. Vegetable gardens are beautiful in their usefulness, and are dynamic, fascinating displays of the progressions and cycles of nature. Fruit and nut trees are atcractive additions to a landscape, as are berry bushes and v ines. Small beds of as sortedherbs pos sess under - stated charm and have obvious value for the cook. Large beds of herbs can be used as ground covers; some of them, such as chamomile, can even withstand moderate foot traffic. The mints will tolérate occasional traffic and make your shoes smell great. Ground covers of all types exist to firee you from slavery to lawn maintenance, and many can deal effectively with problem areas in your yard. Sloping areas prone to erosión can be protected with dense mats of low-gro wing juniper, ivy, andperiwinkle. Clumpsof daylilies andsedum will add color to the landscape and are especially valuable in that they are resistant to drought. Ground covers that thrive in deep shade include pachysandra, lily-of-the-valley, violets, and sweet woodruff . Many ground cover plants will provide food and cover for birds as weU. It must be pointed out that ground cover plants are low-maintenance, not maintenancefree. Good gardening practice includes preparation of the planting area with supplements of organic fertilizers such as composted manure and leaves. A yearly trimming helps promote denser growth. Raking off leaves in the fall may or may not be necessary, depending on your attitude toward nature's recycling process. Insects and disease should not be a serious problem, especially if you have a variety of plants, as there will more likely be a healthier balance of beneficia! insects, birds, toads, and other creatures. With increased diversity in our own plant ing s and those of our neighbors, whole communities could become gardens in the finest sense. We would have occasional yard work, but have much more time to cultívate relationships with our plants, ourselves, and our friends. Leave the green crew-cut look and the chemical residues on the golf course, and form your own alliance with nature. There's more to life than a lawn.
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