by Emily Kovach
It’s a strange kind of irony: The green spaces that surround our homes often aren’t so “green” at all. While many city dwellers might not have a lawn of plush, green grass, homes on the city’s outskirts do. Rooted in ideas of class and respectability that stretch back hundreds of years, perfectly manicured, weed-free and vibrant patches of turf are still a point of personal pride for many homeowners. But the resources required to plant grass and keep it maintained are responsible for significant pollution.
Many lawn fertilizers and pesticides contribute to the slow poisoning of streams and rivers, and some pose potential health risks to children and pets. Irrigating lawns is a huge stress on the water supply, while, unfortunately, the soil in many yards is so compacted it cannot absorb natural rainfall and causes massive runoff. Then there are the gas-powered mowers and other lawn-care equipment required to keep resilient grasses from growing “out of control”—just one more way that our society is consuming fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow.
There is another way to approach what it means to have a yard. Many green-minded homeowners are doing away with their lawns entirely, seeding them instead with fast-growing, ground-covering plants, mosses and wildflowers to create wildlife-supporting meadows, or planting low-maintenance ground covers, such as Pennsylvania sedge and clover.
The result is a yard that’s alive with the energy of pollinators, birds and other small wildlife, and that can offer privacy, beauty and comfort to the humans who use the space, too. Sure, some neighbors might raise an eyebrow at a meadow instead of that picture-perfect lawn. But it’s high time societal norms about what a yard can—and should—be catch up with the efforts we must take to preserve the ecological stability of our planet.