Grumpy Gardener: Time to End Our Obsession With Lush Green Lawns?




Lawns, it is thought, first originated in France and Britain during medieval times when castles were easier to defend if an approaching enemy were not offered the protection of taller shrubs and trees.

A striped lawn, loads of work and no help to bees (Credit Wikipedia - Pauliefred)

A striped lawn, loads of work and no help to bees (Credit Wikipedia – Pauliefred)

During the 16th century Renaissance wealthier merchants and nobility began cultivating lawns and they remained a status symbol available only to those rich enough to afford their upkeep but when in 1830 an Englishman named Edwin Budding invented the helical bladed mower the lawn became an indispensable part of our gardening culture.

This was of course way before today’s (contested) concerns about anthropogenic or man-made climate change and while lawns specifically are not on the agenda , France is gearing up to host what it considers to be a vital year-end summit , the COP21 Paris Climate Change conference. This aims at convincing world governments (some of which are sceptical) to commit to reducing carbon emissions designated by the UN’s IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change committee as the main cause of climate change.

This summer and specifically during the July heatwave, more than 50 mainland departments in France imposed some form of water restrictions and according to the European Commission there will be significant drought conditions across much of Europe over the next 30 years.

So while the summer heatwave and drought which hit so much of France has broken, is it now time for gardeners to consider just how big a part we want that lush, rolled green carpet to play in our gardens?

To get a handle on how bad things can be for the lawn it might be an idea to take a look at America where some states are going through the worst drought in more than a century.

The Americans took up the lawn obsession with great gusto after World War II.  There they devote more land surface area to lawns than any other single irrigated crop. There is three times as much lawn under cultivation as there is irrigated corn and it is estimated that 17 million gallons of petrol are accidentally spilt each year whilst refueling mowers. That is more than leaked during the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989.

With ongoing water shortages becoming more common, Los Angeles officials now pay people to rip up lawns and replace them with drought tolerant plants. Front lawns are banned in Las Vegas new developments and in Texas you may only water at night. Small companies are suddenly making big money by offering a service to dye your lawn so that you are still able to have that indispensable green patch, even if it is only a little horizontal “trompe l’oeil”. I prefer not even to talk about artificial turf!

Despite French seasonal rainfall this summer being down in some departments by as much as 83%, our woes are not yet anywhere near those of the poor Californians. The figures do however offer an example of what could lie ahead, so perhaps the time has indeed come to take a long hard look at how we garden.

Water is not the only factor we need to take into account. As frequently mentioned in this column (and no apologies for banging on about this — it is important) pollinators are under intense pressure at the moment and that green desert offers little to help their cause.

In natural terms the lawn fails to provide sustenance to almost all wildlife. Those invertebrates that are able to survive in our grassy garden mono culture are normally deemed to be pests and promptly done away with.

Plans are in hand to reduce emissions from petrol mowers but at this stage most mowers give off the same emissions in an hour as forty modern cars run for the equivalent amount of time. Any audacious plant growing in a lawn is considered a weed pointing to a negligent or depraved gardener and its eradication is almost mandatory, usually involving the use of toxic chemicals.

It may seem easy to maintain a lawn but after mowing, weeding, fertilizing, spiking, top dressing and watering don’t we perhaps need a rethink on exactly how much of our gardening time is devoted to this one area of horticulture.

This is not a demand for the total eradication of your patch of turf; after all lawns have provided the backbone for my livelihood for more than two decades. What I am suggesting is that we give them less prominence in our gardens and consider the wealth of alternatives available. These include expansion of flower beds, use of alternative ground covers or wildflower meadows among just some of the possibilities and you will note I’ve not dare suggest you might turn some of the ornamental garden into food producing veggie patches (potagers as we know them here and very popular in France) or orchards.

In an act of horticultural hara-kiri I am even going to propose that it might not be a bad idea if a few daisies or even dandelions (sharp intake of breath) be allowed to survive in the hallowed green lawn that some of us have decided we cannot live without.

Writer: Mike Alexander
mike@mikealexander.fr
Follow Mike on Twitter 

About Mike’s regular column the Grumpy Gardener
Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Mike also contributes regular pieces about nature, the environment and French cuisine. A selection of his published work can be found below.

triangle down21 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan

 

Previously – click an image below
wisteria alba 1501 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
honey bee 1501 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Prune for Results
A World Without Bees?
apple tree fruit 1501 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
prize winning rose 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Fruit Tree Pruning
Wars of the Roses
forsythia 1501 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
cistus salvifolius 1501 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Prune When Finished
Herald of Spring…
cherries tree 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
lavandula angustifolia 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
You’ve got to be quick!
Un-thirsty Lavender
nettles 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
star jasmine 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Grasp the Nettle
Star Jasmine – Madrid
stachys byzantina 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
autumn arrives 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Jihad – on Bunnies Ears
Autumn Arrives
wellies 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
newton gravity 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Designer Chic?
Gravity – not to be ignored!
snowdrops 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
habenero 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
If Winter Comes….
Hottest chilli in the world
daffodils 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
irises 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
Dog Days…
Fleur de Lys
marqueyssac hedges 01 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan
To read a previous article
– click an image –
Hedge Your Bets
www.french-news-online.com

blue31 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan

blue111 The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan

 

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One Response to Grumpy Gardener: Time to End Our Obsession With Lush Green Lawns?

  1. Pingback: Save Our Picture Postcard – Halt the Mass Cull Of Shade Trees Lining France’s Rural Roads | FrenchNewsOnline

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