By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
Lawns became a status symbol in the 17th century when elite families of the European aristrocracy could display their wealth by the size of their “launde”, a Middle English word for “glade or opening in the woods.”
Only the rich had enough cattle, sheep or hired help to scythe and weed the grass surrounding their homes.
Fast forward to 2021 and it’s not much different. Only the wealthy can afford large acreages with large lawns, though keeping these lawns mowed is much easier with riding lawn mowers.
In Canada alone, we have over six million lawns equaling over 14,000 hectares of largely useless grass.
I say useless, because we now understand the dire situation of our native bees, crop pollinators and other beneficial insects. Farmers needs pollinators yet agriculture and its conquests of land, along with our use of sprays, have contributed to pollinator decline. So has mining and the growing number of humans on this planet.
All those humans want a home to live in. Outside that home, they want a nice, tidy lawn. Some lawn is necessary for sure ... it’s where we can sit outside, watch the kids play and create pathways to other parts of our property. However, we don’t need acres of lawn that extend down the ditches on both sides of our property. We don’t USE that space. Why are we spending time and fuel mowing it?
Honestly, I cringe at the habitat-killing lengths of deadscape down farm ditches when we could be creating insect and pollinators habitat. If we alter our lawn-status to embrace multi-specie-meadows or “laundes’, they will play an active role in pollinator regeneration. These pollinator lawns will become symbols of the the intelligent, proactive, creative, earth-loving, pollinator-blessing, habitat-healing people on this planet. Plus, they are sustainable, regenerative and beautiful while can draw down and store carbon dioxide.
Confession: I have a LOT of lawn. I also love cutting lawn. And I very much admire neat homesteads with tidy flower beds and professional landscaping.
However, once you KNOW something and are aware that all that carefully-cut grass does little to promote pollinator success, those manicured lawns don’t look so pretty anymore.
So I’m changing my lawn. Last year, my family helped install a large cedar rail fence from the road to the field. The lawn behind that fence was left to become a naturalized meadow for native plants and insects to thrive, along with two honeybee hives. I mow a pathway through it so I can walk amongst the grasses and wildflowers. This area is literally teaming with bees, insects, butterflies and birds. I love it.
A large, winding perennnial bed was created in front with one-third of it dedicated to native plants.
One of the lawns at my farm is beside the shed, and we cross it to reach the horses and chickens housed there. This patch is full of white clover, birds’s foot trefoil, chicory and plaintain. I dislike the plaintain (an invasive) and while the trefoil and white clover are imports, they are considered ideal habitat for pollinators. This section of lawn is full of bees.
I mow the edges of this lawn and create pathways through it. The swathes of white and yellow are so pretty and the mowed parts keep it tidy.
I am excited about these changes but I have much to learn. First, I need to increase my knowledge of weeds and native plants so I can effectively manage these naturalized areas.
As I learn, I watch. I encourage everyone to do thes same. Sit on your cut lawn for 20 minutes. What do you see? Then leave a patch of grass unmowed for a few weeks and sit in it for 20 minutes. Again, look around you. What do you see? Ask yourself how you feel about the habitat you have created.
On my cut lawn, I now see an absence of life. In the meadows, I see an abundance of life.
What I will do for my remaining lawn is something to consider. I’ve seen farms where the owners fence in their lawns and let grazers feed for the summer. That’s cheap lawn mowing! I’m not sure I want manure that close to my house, though.
I just know I want to change how I’ve done things. I don’t need all that lawn. In contrast, the pollinators don’t have enough flowers, grasses and wild areas to thrive. So why not give it to them? ◊