You know spring has arrived when the aisles of big-box stores are filled with sacks of grass seed, lawn fertilizers, and garden poisons. The suburban obsession with green lawns is not ancient; probably inspired by the manicured landscapes of grand estates in Britain and Europe. It fills the coffers of lawn-care companies. I read we have more acreage under lawns in America than farming.
The public is coming around very slowly to see the harm. Lawns are barren deserts for wildlife above and below ground. A lush sward requires pouring pollutants into the soil and hence runoff, as well as the air (from motor mowers). Nothing breaks a peaceful weekend in the garden more than a booming mower except a blasting leaf blower. And yet, homeowners are still in love with a green curbside view of their property. Moreover, local ordinances and home-owner associations sometimes impose penalties on those who neglect to give their lawns a regular short-back and sides. This is happening in the Land of the Free where people otherwise have a castle mentality toward their property.
I won’t preach the conversion of lawns to shrubbery and native plants because many “radicals” have already made the case. Besides, I still have beautiful green lawns, although they are undergoing a succession from grass to clover. Call clover shamrock if a glamorous Celtic name is more appealing.
Fescue browns under the hot summer sun, warm season grasses yellow in winter, and Zoysia enter hibernation. But white clover has the virtues of a perfect mantle. It is green all year-round and drought resistant. Fertilizers are redundant for a plant that improves soil fertility. Clover competes with weeds, resists plant diseases, and can be mowed or grown ankle-deep to make flowers that feed pollinators. Did you know clover is edible in a pinch? And it is a lucky plant that keeps children busy on their knees searching for a four-leafed clover. Lawns shouldn’t be defined by grass. Clover isn’t a weed since weeds are plants in the wrong place.
I prevented our dogs from wading at Jamestown Beach today. The rising tide carried a floating mat of yellow scum. I suspected pollution, which made me wonder about the meaning of the word.
Pollution is as hard to define as when Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was stumped for a precise definition ofpornography. He lamely replied, “I know it when I see it.”
So it’s in the eyes of the beholder. I remember the public outrage when the rock musical Hair came to the English stage from Broadway. The censors allowed it on technical grounds: it wasn’t obscene if the nude male and female actors remained perfectly still. How could they condemn it when Michaelangelo’s sculpture of David stood displaying a full frontal in a museum open to the public?
I asked a park attendant about the yellow scum, not though from idle curiosity. I am a registered River Rat, a volunteer monitoring river health for the James River Association. “You will see bigger slicks of pollen next week,” he said.
Aha! I should have guessed it was from pine and cypress cones shedding gobs of pollen. My weather app reported exceptional levels of pollen. Early next month our cars will have an annual coat of fine yellow dust, but I had never seen so much floating. And only seen in excess did I regard it as pollution, prompting questions.
Is pollution by definition man-made and harmful?
It flashes images of oil pouring from a damaged oil tanker and plastic detritus on the high seas. Only we are to blame! But we aren’t the only species that foul our environment. Gazing at the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth last week I saw the island whitewashed with uric acid excreted by the gannet and gull colonies. The ammoniacal odor of bat guano has taken my breath away in caves and seals have deposited tons of guano on islands, especially the Lobos. It makes a fine fertilizer after dilution but is toxic in its raw state.
You can think of other examples of natural substances that might be called pollution. Of course, those examples don’t mitigate our guilt. No other species has polluted all seven continents and five oceans with myriads of artificial chemicals, some of which will persist for generations to come.