Spring Musings 1.4

I was overwhelmed when I bought my first house.  I had imagined that I would not buy one until I was married.  Buying one as a single woman just never occurred to me.  Until I suddenly owned one!  A small lake front cottage  with a very bumpy road bisecting the house from the lake that was extended and somewhat winterized up in Waterford, MI.  Immediately after closing, I came down with tonsillitis requiring a tonsillectomy as well as mononucleosis!  I moved in and spent an overwhelming couple of years in that house before my life dramatically changed and I sold it and moved on.

Creeping Charlie
The yard was mostly a viney weed I later learned is called “Creeping Charley.”  I had oak trees, ancient yew bushes by crowding the house and Creeping Charley.  That was it.  The Creeping Charlie creeped me out, but I never did get around to trying to get rid of it before I moved on. It seemed the way to get a perfect American lawn was through chemicals:  weed and feed, poison and food.  Now, a couple of decades later, I welcome Creeping Charlie.

Creeping Charlie is a member of the mint family, and evergreen weed from Europe.  It spreads by seeds and rhizomes, making it difficult to eliminate.  Interestingly, it was used by the ancient Saxons for brewing beer and was brought from Europe and brought to the US for medicinal purposes.  Another alien species that took over!

Currently, I foster a “freedom lawn.”  My neighborhood looks like a putting green, with all the houses back from the road about thirty feet, with perfect green grass, and the only trees are on the berm along the road.  Some yew bushes cling close to the houses, but as far as the eye can see, there’s pure, even green grass, no weeds, no dandelions, and no gardens.  Just grass.  Except for my diversified yard, some freedom lawn winding around gardens of Michigan native wild flowers.

I occasionally TruGreen trucks stopping by to ask if I would like them to weed and feed my ragged lawn.  Heavens no!  The weed part is poisons and the feed part means I’ll have to mow more often!  I have a few dandelions, as I have hand dug out most of their golden carpet each spring.  It’s good exercise for the legs and wrists.  And once I pulled up a root a foot long!  And without using chemicals, I know my yard is safe for my four cats and for me to walk in barefoot, my usual mode in warm weather.

A host of interesting plants have arrived.  Creeping Charlie started in the back yard and has been making steady progress to the whole property.  I have spread several bags of White Dutch Clover all over the lawn, which now predominates over grass.  It fixes nitrogen in the soil, the element that keeps plants green. The clover doesn’t need fertilizer or water.  When we have a dry spell and the grass turns brown, the clover continues to be green and inviting. It’s soft on bare feet unless it’s blooming and attracts too many bees.  It’s safe for my four cats and me to walk on.

Diversity brings strength.  My yard has a wide variety of broad leaf plants and some flowers (violets, Johnny Jump Ups) with new ones sneaking in each year.  If the grass is killed by a drought, the clover and chickweed, buckhorn plantain, carpetweed, pokeweed and purslane fill in the empty areas, bringing a variety of green colors that remain.  The soil is healthier, supporting worms and bugs and all sorts of larva and bacteria that break down debris and eat pests and create a healthier environment.  In the long summer evenings, I enjoy lightning bugs flashy display.  The TruGreen lawns are dark, empty.  The diversity lawn offers flowers and habitat to the dragonflies, moths and butterflies.  I have lady bugs and praying mantises feasting on various bugs, protecting my gardens and caterpillars of moths, black swallow tails and monarchs growing and morphing in the yard.  Diversity helps the lawn, the environment and the world.  Being different from one another, we can take turns being the support or being the lead.  We can fill in for each other when one is weak, the other is strong.

Praying Mantis          and JazzPurr the cat

                                            with mantis on defense

Chemicals and fertilizers have brought us a host of problems, as Rachel Carson first documented in her groundbreaking book “Silent Spring” exploring how pesticides have killed off not just weeds, but song birds.  And as more fertilizer is spread on American lawns than all of our farms combined, the runoff creates toxic algae blooms, most recently in Lake Erie a year ago, causing water restrictions for Toledo, Ohio.   Some environmentalists encourage Americans to abandon their perfect putting greens for vegetable gardens and prairies full of “weeds” and wild flowers, or in the drier climates, rock gardens with native cacti and creosote bushes.   There is a movement to restore the milkweed plant to the plains, after big agriculture has sprayed so much pesticide so as to remove all of this plant.  It is the only plant on which the Monarch butterfly lays eggs on, which hatch into caterpillars, who munch the “milk” of the milk weed to attain a toxic taste, that birds know to avoid them.  They spin their cocoon, wait and transform, and then a new generation emerges.  They winter in Mexico, migrating up to the middle and eastern part of the US to northeastern Canada during the summer, but only if there is a path of milkweed creating the map for them to travel.

Perhaps you are too busy to weed and feed your lawn this year.  If so, you now have the perfect cover!  You are not neglecting your yard, but instead joining the Wild Ones http://www.wildones.org/ in healing the Earth, one yard at a time!  Check out this New Yorker article http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/07/21/turf-war-2, which reviews these issues in depth.  Go wander barefoot in your yard, with your cats and dogs, children and friends, enjoying the strength that comes from diversity.


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