I received a great deal of response to my recent column on suburban America’s obsession with big lawns and the need to plant more trees as an answer to the climate crisis. Aside from a few readers who complained that having more trees means more leaves to rake in the fall, the responses ranged from simple agreement with my point (suburban lawns are much bigger than they need to be) to examples of individual efforts (to plant more trees and native plants and grasses.) I thought it would be helpful to present some of the positive responses here and provide additional links to information about turning empty lawns into “victory-over-climate-change” gardens.
From Neal Naff, in north Baltimore: “My partner and I have been steadily reducing our lawn space since we moved here 13 years ago. We have populated the 1 ½-acre plot with native plants we buy from the Herring Run Nursery, created rain gardens, and have never used pesticides or inorganic fertilizers. I would say our work together on that project has been one of our most enjoyable activities through the years. I am encouraged that your advice may fall on receptive readers when I see the number of like-minded folks who come to the Herring Run Nursery every weekend.”
From Bob Mayes, Friends of Herring Run Parks: “Please see our Final Fall Events for the Friends of Herring Run Parks and the Flowering Tree Trails of Baltimore. Our groups are working to increase and protect the trees in Herring Run Park and Baltimore City.”
From Leslie Nelson Inman: “I just wanted to send you a link to Doug Tallamy’s article on lawns. He takes it one step further with crucial information about the plants we should use to replace lawns. Using the native plants that evolved in North America for millions of years will make all the difference to our pollinators and birds.”
From John H. Clemson: “Along with the ‘I have made it, I don’t have to grow my own food’ egotism of lawns is another factor in why we have so many of them: Developers love lawns. They are a cheap way of hiding the multitude of sins they have wrought in getting the land ‘suitable’ for houses. Topsoil tends to get trashed and underlying clay exposed, which can lead to flooding issues as clay does not absorb water. A lawn is a quick and dirty, camouflaging blanket to cover quickly rather than last long without all the chemical supplements. What is underground is out of sight and out of mind for most people. My ex and I got rid of at least 60 percent of our lawn on our less-than-one-acre lot, added ponds (with a pool that looks like part of the pond system), and 90 percent local plants. I was looking for beauty, walkways, and views and calming sounds in the design, but we got so much more: Critters! Symphonies of tree frogs, dragonflies, the goldfish attracted herons and, once, a bald eagle. We left a snag, dead tree, standing for woodpeckers. We were not aware of the need for butterfly habitat 15 years ago. I found a green snake and sent pictures to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, who replied that it was the largest they had ever seen. Word of the garden got out, and we had professional visitors and a spread in Chesapeake Home magazine in May of 2008.”
From W.H. Earle in Parkville: “Your column on lawns — and trees, and natural areas, etc. — is a very worthwhile contribution to the discussion about environmental issues. I hope you will return to this theme again and again. It will take quite a while for the possibilities to sink in with people who are accustomed to sticking with the same-old/same-old of traditional lawns and lawn care. If you pursue this theme, you’ll find a wealth of material on which to comment, such as Ethiopia’s recent tree-planting campaign, a similar effort a few years ago in India, Maryland’s Tree-Mendous Maryland program, and so forth. One thing you might not stumble on unless I tell you about it is battery-powered lawn mowers. We have had one of these for maybe 10 years, and it works fine. You have to charge a battery, then load the battery each time you cut the grass, but it’s no big deal. It certainly beats buying gasoline and tugging at a start-up cord. The fact that the battery has to be recharged means that there’s ultimately fossil fuel behind it, but the burning of that fossil fuel at a power plant, rather than at the tailpipe of the lawnmower, means that it can be subjected to emission controls/limitations far more effectively than could be the case with a gasoline-burning device. . . . We have about an eighth of our small plot of ground left to grow wild. I mow it maybe twice a summer. The patch in question is out of sight to the side of the house. We call it ‘the meadow.’ Again, I urge you to campaign on this theme. It would be a very worthwhile contribution to addressing an important and growing problem.”
From Eric Greene, in Annapolis: “I got rid of my Gravely gas walk-behind mower and bought a 33” electric machine made in Ohio. All other lawn equipment is Mikita electric. I got the website AllElectricLawnCare.com and what I’d like to do is put together small trailers of equipment (with government grants) that could empower local young adults to save the planet one lawn at a time. I’m working with the equipment this year to demonstrate the viability. Added benefits are workers’ health and less noise.”
Here is what the University of Maryland Extension says you can do as an alternative to an all-grass lawn.