I had a conversation the other day about turf. Sports field turf. I was sharing some thoughts on sustainable methods of maintenance and suggested that it may be OK to lessen the amount of chemical controls used to keep it a soft sea of green.
“You mean, you would be OK with weeds?”
This strikes me as funny, and challenges our perception of what is acceptable and what is not. If a weed in a ball field, mowed down to 3” along with the bluegrass or fescue is not easily distinguishable, why do we care?
Why must our lawns and ballfields be a monoculture of single-textured shallow-rooted turf?
Some feel that there is no substitute for grass—the thickness being spongier under foot, and the speed of the ball being controlled by its height. But at what cost to the kids playing on that field and the environment surrounding it?
Perception of our environment is an interesting thing and if we start to question some of our methods of control, we may find that a lot of time is spent on things that may not actually be necessary. Why do we prefer the texture of grass to that of a dandelion or clover, and who has told us that the latter is unacceptable? Why do we shear shrubs into tidy forms? And why do we feel it is necessary to “clean-up” the garden at the end of the season?
After all, a garden is a garden no matter what time of year and should be beautiful in all seasons—but what is beautiful to you, to your neighbors?
Does controlling our landscape in these ways give us pleasure? Does it send the signal that “we’ve got this?” Does it let our neighbors know that we have means—not constrained by the cost of cutting and clipping? Whatever signal this might project (and why) may be up for debate, but there is no question that our desire to keep our outside as tidy and controlled as our inside is taking a toll on the planet. These practices are diminishing available habitat for birds and insects, and polluting the air and water with the use of gas-powered machines, not to mention diverting valuable time that could be spent…napping. As we close out this fall season and shift gears, it may be time to re-evaluate and usher in some new practices when caring for our landscapes.
Integrate clover and (dare I say) allow a dandelion or two. Your lawn can still be short and picnic-able without the use of chemicals. Leave your garden in place this year—tidying only the edges if you must. Native gardens provide tons of additional function when they are not cleared and cleaned. And, please, put the hedge trimmers away. I guarantee your shrubs will look better in their natural form.
Pictured above: A garden is a garden no matter what the season; Monarda fistulosa (bee balm) dusted with snow.