In these challenging times, lifestyles that we once accepted as normal are now being called into question. To move forward towards a sustainable future that will guarantee a quality of life for future generations, we have to rethink how we live. One of the seemingly benign things we are now reconsidering is the lawn. The lawn may seem innocent enough, maybe even wholesome, but some are asking us to think again about the patch of grass we lovingly tend all summer long. To take a closer look at the lawn and its environmental impact, we consulted Renée LeBlanc. Renée is a graduate of Acadia University. She has a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Environmental Science and Geology and she also studied Environmental Sustainability during her time at Acadia. She is passionate about the well-being of people and the planet. Her interests include regenerative agriculture and herbology and she is very excited to be starting a small permaculture farm with her partner, Mike, in Clare, NS. They are both passionate about gardening and connecting with the land and they hope to inspire others to make eco-conscious decisions in their lives as well.
Why do you think people love lawns and where did this love affair begin?
Renée: I think the love of lawns was grandfathered in and its origins have eluded us. In a nutshell, from what I understand, having a well-manicured lawn is associated with wealth and power in society. In the past, the wealthy landowners of Europe, such as royalty and the upper classes were the ones who could afford to employ people to tend to their landscapes. Thus, this became a symbol of status or class. This practice continued over generations throughout European society and eventually became the ‘norm’ in all colonized regions of the world.
Why should people reconsider their lawn habits?
Renée: People should question their habits about everything, not only lawns, especially at this point in history on this planet. We have many harmful habits that we have adopted over centuries and have simply never questioned them. Having a well-manicured lawn is an indicator of how you invest your time and energy, as well as what you value. Whether these are conscious decisions or whether you are just following the status-quo, a lot of energy and resources are spent maintaining grass lawns and it may be worthwhile to reconsider these practices. I believe having some knowledge of ecology and the current state of the planet could help people make more informed decisions around land stewardship.
What are some better uses for lawns?
Renée: Depending on the capabilities of the landowners, there are many alternatives to a grass lawn. Planting and tending a garden is a great alternative for those who are able to do so. This is a fun hobby and a valuable skill that comes with many benefits, including a sense of food security and connection to the land. Another great alternative to grass is planting clover or other pollinator-friendly ground covers. This is a low maintenance approach and is a not-so-small way of helping the bees, butterflies and other pollinator species who have shown a decline in population over the past few years. One other alternative to grass lawns is to ‘rewild’ the space, or to let it go fallow. Rewilding helps restore natural diversity and resilience in the landscape. It provides the chance for an ecosystem to regenerate in an otherwise ‘sterile’ environment.
How are traditional lawns harmful?
Renée: Traditional lawn care practices are harmful for several reasons. The application of synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides contribute to environmental pollution and degradation. Monocultures (the planting of a single species in an area) are more susceptible to pests and disease. The removal of grass clippings after trimming the lawn can result in depletion of soil health as the clippings will decompose and feed the micro-organisms in the soil beneath the surface. Another harmful effect of traditional lawns is that we are losing valuable knowledge of the native species that normally would have thrived in our yards. Some of these plants are medicinal, and together they create ecological balance.
Are you seeing a shift in attitudes towards lawns? If so, why do you think this is?
Renée: I am seeing a shift in attitudes towards lawns. However, I would like to mention that even I find it difficult to break free from the social norm. I think a small part of me is afraid that by letting the lawn grow wild, others may think I do not care for the land, when in fact it is the opposite. This fear is not a valid reason to plead ignorance of the environmental issues on our beautiful planet. I would much rather stand with my tall field of wildflowers than to miss seeing bees and butterflies. I believe people are waking up and educating themselves; realizing that we each have the ability to make a difference. True power and wealth is knowledge, not a grass lawn.