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Grow the Best Lawn of Green Grass
Or Let Mother Nature Do It for You

There is competition in my neighborhood to see who can grow the best green lawn. When they say "best lawn", people mean a uniform expanse of bluegrass standing at attention, clipped to four inches high, as green as if it were on steroids, devotedly watered through the dry summer months, unmarked by dandelion flowers and decorated with the criss-crossed tracks of the industrial-sized mower. The contest for best green lawn is probably going on in your neighborhood, too.

What in the world is happening to our yards?

What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistles and the wildflowers that grow naturally? They create a perfect no-maintenance garden. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought, and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of songbirds. Wildflowers give you a vast garden of color.

Down the street, all I see are rectanges of green lawn. Grass is so boring, so monochrome. It doesn't attract butterflies, bees or birds, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental when the temperature gets too hot or too cold.

Do we really want a lawn of grass growing in our yards? Apparently we do, because we started calling the wildflowers "weeds" and go to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

Apparently, yes, everyone does want grass growing. We want grass, but just not too much of it. Because after it has grown a little, we cut it, sometimes twice a week. They we rake it up. Do we bale it like hay for the livestock? Do we sell it as a cash crop? Just the opposite. We cut it. We rake it. We bag it, and then we pay to throw it away.

Now let's get this straight. We fertilize the grass to make it grow and when it does grow, we cut it off and pay to throw it away.

During the hot, dry days of summer, when the grass stops growing, you'd think we could relax at little. But no, we drag out the hoses, and pay more money to water the lawn, so that we can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of the clippings. Then we spray the lawn with poison to kill off the "weedy" wildflowers, and stick little flags in the ground so people will know to beware of the poison.

What nonsense! I think baseball is mainly to blame for this lawn mania. The emerald green grass diamonds at the stadium, groomed like a work of art, show to perfection on a color television screen. So while the catcher is chatting up the pitcher, what else is there to do but admire the exquisite craftsmanship of the grounds crew?

Then there are the trees to consider. Trees are a sheer stroke of genius in the plant world. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade the lawn in the summer. In the autumn leaves fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep the moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves become compost to feed the trees. It's a natural circle of life.

No, that's not the case with trees in my neighborhood. As soon as the leaves fall, we rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away. So now, after throwing the leaves away, how do we protect the shrubs and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose? We go out and buy bags of something called mulch. We haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves. And where do we get this mulch? We cut down the trees and grind them up to make mulch.

If there were a movie about growing grass lawns, it would be called "Dumb and Dumber."

I'm not without blame myself. I also play the Green Lawn Game, mostly so as not to disgrace the neighbors with a patch of wildness. "Think of what you're doing to our property values," they would complain to me. In fact, there's a zoning law in this town, that your lawn cannot be allowed to run wild. It must be cut back. That's a lot of peer pressure to deal with.

But in my backyard, there's a different story. Here I break with the neighbors' philosophy and let my rebellious side show. My backyard lawn is au naturale, growing with benign neglect. Look around and you'll find patches of violets, dark streaks of creeping euonymus vine, a star-shaped white wildflower, and dandelions blooming in their madcap way. There are toadstools that come alive after a day's rain. There is a wild honeysuckle bush, the fragrant kind. Green moss grows under the spreading maples. Wild grapevine covers the fence. The soft, fuzzy rabbit's ear has a delicious scent when you walk on it.

There is still enough green grass growing in the backyard to keep the mud in check, and crabgrass has established itself in browned-off patches. The crabgrass I could do without. It does not add to the ambiance. Similarly with the thistle. Some gardeners actually plant thistle and find it beautiful. I beg to differ. With its stickers, its thorny leaves, its ability to wound anybody who messes with it, its unattractive flowers that reseed profusely, its long enduring tap root, its general hostility, thistle is, in my estimation, a weed.

I still mow the backyard occasionally to keep the neighbors happy, but not while the violets are blooming. Can you imagine the pleasure of looking at a spring lawn covered with purple violets? It's enough to put a song in your heart.

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

William Wordsworth

I've said all I'm going to say. A growing lawn is a work of art. It just depends on what kind of artist you are. You may be a hard-edged abstractionist working in monochrome green. On the other hand, I am an impressionist painter; my canvas overflows with variety.

I'd like to tell you about all the animals, birds, beasts and bugs, that come to my wild backyard. But they will have to wait until the next installment. Nature is amazing.

I hope life brings you much success. I wish you a very happy day.
-----     Surfer Sam  

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