Lawns Of Purple and Gold

May 16, 2013

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Image RemovedRain and good old-fashioned laziness kept us from mowing the lawn until the first week of May this spring. By then the yard was so beautiful with wild flowers, I didn’t want to mow, but if I waited any longer I’d have to make hay out if it. As the photo above shows, major parts of the lawn had exploded in yellow dandelions, purple violets, whitish spring beauties and pinkish Quaker ladies. Other areas were blooming with wild phlox, grape hyacinths, daffodils, white violets, trillium, toadshade, mertensia, bluebells and even some vagrant tulips. I daresay no horticultural display, requiring hours of skilled work, could have produced a flower garden any prettier. In fact, I doubt very much that human handiwork could achieve such a garden, no matter how much effort and skill were put to the task. All these flowers come up every year without any help other than not mowing them until they are mature. Only nature could produce such a striking carpet of gold, blue, purple, white, pink, maroon and green grass. Who could want to mow such a lovely landscape?

Almost everyone would, that’s who. The Lawn Culture of modern civilization forever amazes me. Green swards of clipped grass are beautiful, no doubt about it, and quite necessary in many instances. Wherever we quit mowing close to the woods we live in, sapling trees spring up five feet tall in two years. But like all things good in the human world, we carry our love for manicured grass to extremes. There are more acres in lawns in the U.S. than in commercial food crops and in fact lawns are the largest irrigated “crop” of all. If you look at the figures, like on Google as I just did, the amount of water, gas, and pesticides we put on our lawns is ridiculous. On something over 40 million acres of turf, we spend $30 billion. Homeowners use ten times more pesticides per acre of lawn than farmers do per acre of crops. In fact, one of the most audacious examples of hypocrisy in this country is the suburban homeowner who piously criticizes farmers for polluting our waterways.

We burn 800 million gallons of gas mowing lawns, and statisticians say that we spill 17 million gallons every year just refilling our lawn machines. If so, that beats the Exxon Valdez spill of 10 million gallons.

We mow a whole lot more than we have to, (he says in defense of laziness). Okay, so I finally mowed the dandelions and clover. They just popped back up again but not nearly as pretty the second time. If I had procrastinated longer, the jungle would have grown so tall the mower wouldn’t handle it. Waiting as long as I did, our lawn looks shaggier than it is supposed to look with all that horrid mowed grass lying on it. It looks okay to me. This craven penchant so many of us have for ultra-neatness is going to be the death of us. Literally in some cases. One of the local farmers lost his life trying to get that one last tuft of tall grass mowed along his creek bank. His tractor turned over on him.

Lawns, say there defenders, provide a neighborhood with more air conditioning than air-conditioners do. They certainly soak up more rain than driveways and parking lots. Lots of other good things too, but now I read in Urban Lehner’s column online at DTN/Progressive Farmer about a new study that finds lawns emit more CO2 than corn fields. Oh what a lowdown attack on our most sacred of all Sacred Cows. Our lawns might be causing climate change.

Gene Logsdon

Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio. Gene is the author of numerous books and magazine articles on farm-related issues, and believes sustainable pastoral farming is the solution for our stressed agricultural system.

Tags: Culture & Behavior, grass lawns, nature, Oil