Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Brief History of Lawns

I am in the process of digging up more of our lawn and turning it into perennial gardens. I have been working on it for almost as many years as we have lived in Minnesota, and little by little the lawn is disappearing. I just turned off a sprinkler that was watering some of the lawn we have left. Here in Burnsville we have an ordinance that you can't water lawns during the peak of the day, and only every other day. So, since we have been very dry recently my lawn is a mix of green and brown. I would be tempted to let my lawn go to weeds but we also have a city ordinance about keeping weeds under conrol and under 6 inches. I know this because every spring at the church our lawn service saves us for last and until they get to us we have usually received at least one letter from the city reminding us that our weeds are too high.

Not too long ago I read an article in the New York Times about a man who was touting the benefits of a moss lawn. If we had mature trees in our lawn I would definitely be interested. I don't know what the city would say about that. I do know that it is now possible some places in the midwest to get a waiver to turn your lawn into a prairie.

In any case, I read an interesting article in the recent New Yorker about the history of well-kept lawns, how un-natural and resource consuming they are, and the recent green movement to do away with green lawns. What was once the mark of European gentry has become the expectation of every suburban property in the country. And although it is now normal, it still isn't natural or healthy for the environment:
The essential trouble with the American lawn is its estrangement from place: it is not a response to the landscape so much as an idea imposed upon it—all green, all the time, everywhere. Recently, a NASA-funded study, which used satellite data collected by the Department of Defense, determined that, including golf courses, lawns in the United States cover nearly fifty thousand square miles—an area roughly the size of New York State. The same study concluded that most of this New York State-size lawn was growing in places where turfgrass should never have been planted. In order to keep all the lawns in the country well irrigated, the author of the study calculated, it would take an astonishing two hundred gallons of water per person, per day. According to a separate estimate, by the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly a third of all residential water use in the United States currently goes toward landscaping.
And then there are all the fertilizers and chemicals it takes to keep them perpetually green and weed-free. And the pollution-spewing machines that we use to mow them. It's not a pretty picture to turn our landscapes into picture-perfect lawns.

1 comment:

spl said...

What is the morality of using treated drinkable water to irrigate a lawn?