Let’s Talk About Lawns

“What does your garden look like?” I asked. “We don’t call it a garden,” he replied. “We call it a landscape.” 

The American lawn has become a cultural norm and an absolute necessity of suburban life. The image comes to my mind quickly: freshly mown grass with the smell still hanging in the air, bright green color without any yellowing dead spots. But what if I were to tell you a lawn is a dead spot? In fact, it’s an “ecological dead space,” according to Professor Douglas Tallamy of the University of Delaware. And he’s right. Freshly mown grass, however sleek and beautiful, does not support wildlife, insect life, or plant life. Essentially, it destroys its own ecosystem. There are over 40 million acres of lawn in the United States. Imagine what could be done if that cultural norm changed. 

In California, lawn-conversion programs have been implemented due to severe drought. The state of Pennsylvania and several nonprofits are financially supporting residents in their lawn conversion program. Even Minnesota has a lawn-to-legume program where the state pays its residents to take out part of their lawn and put in native plants instead. These programs erase the cultural barriers surrounding the pristine front lawn. It’s making nature normal again. 

Humans have tried to live separate from nature for years now: going so far as to create wildlife conservatories and state parks to try and force it into one closed-off area. A place to visit, not a place to live. In doing so, we have distanced ourselves from the very thing that gives us life.And as products of nature, our quality of life is dependent on the quality of our local ecosystems. Professor Tallamy teaches a course on this very subject entitled “Humans in Nature.” It breaks down the nitty-gritty details of how we came to be and how tied we are to the natural world. 

“We have to learn to live with nature, not apart from it. There’s no place for nature to hide.” 

 

In order to come back to nature, to restore ecological dead spots, and give this planet (and therefore ourselves) a fighting chance, some things need to change. This separation is a global crisis with a grassroots solution. Here are some simple steps to start heading in the right direction: 

  1. Plant a tree
  2. Plant a pocket prairie in your backyard. Check out our article here on how to get started. 
  3. Use grass in your yard to create pathways, not for a lawn. 

 

Remember, plant natives. To have a successful and productive ecosystem, at least 70% of plants need to be native. Be sure to eradicate invasive species to give your garden the boost it needs. If you want monarch butterflies, you need to plant milkweed. If you want birds to nest in your yard, you need to have food for them to eat. Seeds and berries only support adult birds. Caterpillars are what birds rear their young on. And finally, if you want a future for your grandchildren and many generations down the line, it’s time to plant that prairie. 

“We’re at the point where we get to choose our own future right now.” 

 

Getting involved in the climate crisis can mean a lot of different things: phonebanking, calling your representatives, switching to low-waste alternatives, voting, thrift shopping, or eating less meat. Planting natives is yet another easy way to get involved. Changing the norm around lawns is an essential step in not only closing the rift between humanity and nature, but ensuring a livable future for all.

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