RICHMOND — April left the lawn mowers of New England in hibernation.
Only those truly obsessed with grass needed to gas up when it was too wet to plant, too rainy to mow, too cold and often too gray for growth. But now it’s May, and the reprieve is over.
It’s the time of year, the maples suddenly coming to life, when you mow the lawn and two days later, it looks as if you hadn’t. On the lawn here, some dandelion stems were so rubbery they bent under blades that probably need sharpening. So they popped right back up, followed by the new blooms on their many cousins.
Dandelions, crabgrass, plantain, those 12-inch pretty white flowers and the midget blue-flowered plants are all anathema to those who seek a perfect turf lawn. With pesticides and fertilizer and fungicides and watering, perfection may be possible, but not at this house. On a limited basis, we spray our five apple trees — because, otherwise, opening pretty fruit may involve facing a worm or other serious defect. We pretty much avoid pesticides in other spaces.
Americans seem to love lawns almost as much as they love cars. Both attachments are detrimental to the environment, which is why the government tries to put controls on the emissions of millions of car exhaust pipes. The moves to de-emphasize lawns have been mostly personal choices until the No-Mow movement has openly confronted the American lawn.
It’s a movement that comes up against municipal regulations in some communities, where property owners are required to mow weeds and grass that are 8 to 10 inches tall. The No-Mow movement has started to challenge those regulations on the basis that a natural landscape is environmentally better.
In Fresno, Calif., which bills itself as the food capital of the United States, my niece Alison wanted to grow her own stuff and wanted little to do with a lawnmower. So she dug up her entire back yard, creating paths through pomegranate trees, lettuces, Brussels sprouts and more. She created a landscape of green and color and charm and kept a handkerchief-sized lawn out front.
Another friend, in North Carolina, horrified her grassy neighbors when she planted vegetables in her front yard. They got over it when she started sharing her fresh zucchini. A niece in Chicago is expanding shrubbery plantings and hardscape.
A lawn means hiring mowers and weed wackers — we had a teenager once who insisted on mowing barefoot, which I refused to watch — or spending a lot of time on a tractor or walking a mower. I happen to like mowing the lawn.
In the early days of lawn-owning, the noise of the self-propelled kept me from hearing the phone (or the non-needy calls of the children), so it was an odd kind of escape. And when the job is done — weedy or weed-free — it looks, as if it weren’t half weeds.
One problem, as No-Mow points out, is that those who spray pesticides and then water send poisons into our streams, rivers and ponds. And the butterflies, bees and birds — all essential parts of our lives — are happier and healthier with weedy lawns or lawns gone wild. Some insects and pollinators apparently take care of some of the pests.
Nationally, the lawn impact is great: 40 million acres of lawn, 3 trillion gallons of water, 59 million pounds of pesticides and 3 billion gallons of fuel. Lawns are thirsty. They consume not only enormous amounts of water, but also eat gas and time.
Ed Osann, policy analyst with the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council, asserts that the nation is “on the cusp of a transition” that in the next 10 to 15 years will see a move away from “mowed turf.” He doesn’t want to eradicate lawns, but he wants to convert many. Here, flowers and fields take up more space each year — I’d rather weed than mow.