Friday, September 30, 2011

Yards - 18th Century or 21st?

Greetings, Useful Gardeners!

Fall is coming and the lawn care companies are once-again launching their huge campaigns encouraging homeowners to spray, reseed and otherwise spend money renovating their lawns. Is this kind of lawncare really a part of useful gardening?

It is fascinating that modern day homeowners are still emulating the estates of 17th and 18th century Europe by maintaining large swaths of cropped grass around our personal "estates". In feudal Europe, those large estate lawns were the result of flocks of sheep and livestock being grazed. Rather than being a useless grass exhibit, these rolling green lawns were obvious signs of prosperity. Even today, while touring the lovely, grand English estates now maintained by the National Trust, one often encounters sheep on the grounds.

Today, however, grass lawns - be they American or otherwise - really represent an huge amount of effort for little usefulness. Families with children enjoy the play space. Adults may enjoy the space for entertaining - although I notice most cookouts and such have moved onto porches and decks as folks avoid sun and mosquito exposure. Nevertheless, we spend an amazing amount of time, money and pesticides on our grass. And grass is the only truly useless part of a natural lawn or open area. A natural lawn, even nicely mowed at a good height (4" or so), has growing within it clovers, wildflowers, herbs.... and all of these flourish and provide sustenance for honeybees and other beneficials.

Check these statistics from the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment (interesting blog by the way) from the webpage:

Amount of lawn in the United States: 40.5 million acres

Total amount of money spent on lawn care: $30 billion
Amount spent on pesticides in 2001 for home and garden use: almost $2.2 billion

Ratio of pesticide use per acre by the average homeowner versus the average farmer: 10 to 1

And, perhaps my favorite of their lineup of lawn statistics:

The Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons of gas while U.S. citizens spill some 17 million gallons refilling gas mowers annually.

Not filling them, mind you, just what was spilled refilling them. Every year?! And don't tell me you've never overflowed that little hand mower tank opening.

So, for some eye-opening education, hike on over to the Duke U. Nicholas School blog, read and start thinking about useful ways you could use that space. Perhaps just as a more useful kind of lawn.

Meanwhile, I'm shopping for sheep. Don't tell my husband.


  1. Sybil, these are some eye-popping stats! I heard (not read) recently that almost 1/3 of all drinking water is used for lawn irrigation. I need to verify those numbers, but regardless, lawns are absolutely wasteful and these Duke University stats prove this point. Hope all is well with you and Rob on the farm.

  2. Very interesting information! Thanks for sharing.


The sharing of ideas, experience and helpful information between one gardener and another has always been the very best of gardening traditions.