I didn’t quite get to the one task I had planned for this past weekend – mowing the lawn. It’s quite the suburban ritual – keep it trim and keep it green. It turns out this little ritual isn’t so great for our yards. I did a little research (even though I didn’t have time for actual mowing) and here’s what I discovered – some pretty interesting bits of information about what we are doing to our sacred ground by keeping our yards all nice and tidy:
– Every year tens of millions of tons of yard clippings and other organic materials end up in landfills instead of building up soil. A 2000 sq. ft. lawn produces 600-800 pounds of clippings per summer on average.
– Tens of millions of gallons of city treated water are used to irrigate landscapes where native vegetation once grew in naturally mulched soil, sustained by rainfall. According to the EPA, 30 to 60% of urban fresh water is used to water lawns each year.
– Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are applied to lawns and plants, with residential users applying more pounds per acre of these chemicals than do farmers.
– Lawns cover 20 million acres of residential land in the US, and lawnmowers account for 5% of the air pollution. A 3.5 hp lawnmower pollutes as much in one hour as an automobile driving 350 miles.
So, now what do we do with our yards? Well, we can just retire the lawnmower and see what happens. That is certainly one option – the natural look. Another choice is to create a more utilitarian landscape. Why not use the majority of your yard for gardening? Instead of grass, we grow food. Instead of mowing, we harvest. There is no need to hide the garden in the backyard. What could be more beautiful in your front yard than vegetables and fruit bushes filling out the landscape . . . and there is nothing quite as satisfying as harvesting your own salad.
I think Michelle Obama and the kids got it right. If the White House can have a huge garden in their front yard, (1,100 square feet of raised beds with 55 varieties of vegetables, berries and herbs) then certainly the rest of us live in neighborhoods where that would seem like pretty acceptable landscaping.
It’s time to rethink the lawnmower.